January 30, 2010
Congratulations to Tiago Fernandes
Talk back to the missionary: Besides Pele and now Tiago Fernandes, can you name any famous Brazilian athletes? (This question obviously directed at our North-American readers). Demonstrate your encyclopedic knowledge of Brazilian sports in the comments section.
January 29, 2010
Brazilian Prosperity Cult--Coming to a Neighborhood Near You
Much like the Holy Roman Empire--which was neither holy nor Roman nor an empire--the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God is not universal, not a legitimate New Testament church, and has nothing to do with the Kingdom of God. These technicalities, however, have not prohibited them from amassing obscene numbers of faithful in Brazil and around the world, as well as extorting equally obscene amounts of money from said faithful. They preach a health and wealth "gospel" that makes the likes of Benny Hinn and the TBN look positively orthodox.
Here in Brazil there are several "spin-off" denominations that are basically clones in doctrine and practice. As Itacyara and I surveyed the city of São Luís earlier this month we were saddened at how prevalent this aberration of Protestantism is in that city. (Martin Luther would roll over in his grave if he knew the term Protestant was commonly used to refer to the Universal Church). For example, in my wife's neighborhood there is a "prosperity gospel" church on almost every block.
Some people art tempted to say "Look, as long as Christ is being preached in some way, we should rejoice like Paul in Philippians 1 and look for somewhere else to plant a church."
For this reason I am making available a paper written by colleague Jim Leonard as part of his Masters Degree coursework. It is very well researched and documented, and will help people understand that what is being preached but the Universal Church and its unholy spawn has absolutely nothing to do with the Gospel.
Jim has provided a very concise history and background of the organization, as well as listed it's various doctrinal heresies and ethical violations.
Here is a quote from Jim's paper:
One does not have to look far to discover various points where the UCKG misinterprets, misrepresents, or simply ignores biblical teaching. But the greatest offense, which is also the most likely to be understood by a person not well-versed in Scripture, is the UCKG‟s greed for money.
Even if you have no interest in Brazil you should read this paper as the Universal Church is growing worldwide--including the US.
Here is Jim Leonard's paper for download: UNIVERSAL CHURCH OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD.pdf.
Talk back to the missionary: Have you spotted a Universal Church in your area, or had any dealings with them in the past? Give us the skinny in the comments section.
January 28, 2010
As we prepare for our first furlough we are filled with trepidation. This, after all, is uncharted ground for us. Therefore it is a help when veteran missionaries share what it is like, as colleague Tim Reiner has done in an excellent way over at his site. Check out his article, and never look at visiting missionaries the same way again.
Talk back to the missionary: What is your favorite memory from a missionary on deputation? Give us the scoop in the comments section.
The Results Have Been "Padded"
It was highly anticipated, full of gimmicks and rhetorical flourishes, and in the end disappointed many. And no, I am not referring to Obama's State of the Union address. I am talking about Apple's announcement of the new iPad.
The iPad comes in several versions. Below, via Justin Taylor, is the one that seems most...um...practical.
Talk back to the missionary: What is your electronic gadget of choice, and why? Tell us all about it in the comments section.
January 27, 2010
Book Review: The White Horse King
If you do not know much about Alfred the Great, have never heard of Alfred the Great, or think that Alfred the Great must be Alexander the Great's little brother, you should add The White Horse King by Benjamin Merkle to your reading list. This book will give you a crash course into the life of a man who--though you may not be aware of it--greatly influenced the world you live in today.Although I had some idea as to who Alfred the Great was going in (thank you, home education) I realized that he was much more than an Anglo-Saxon king who held out against the Vikings. It is quite possible that had it not been for Alfred, we would all be speaking Danish and have names like "Sven". But Alfred's influence extends far more than his amazing "comeback kid" defense of Wessex. The very basis of English common law--and hence the basis of the US constitution--owes it's beginning to the legal codes set forth by the devout 9th-century king.
Benjamin Merkle's treatment of Alfred's life is detailed...but not TOO detailed. I enjoyed his vivid descriptions of battle scenes, as well as the details he gives of the cultural and political scenes of Alfred's day. The side notes are also quite interesting. (Did you know, for example, that the city of Nottingham was originally called "Snottingham" after an Anglo-Saxon ruler named "Snot"? Neither did I.)
The reading is very easy--but informative. Upon finishing the book I had a desire to learn more about this amazing period of history and this amazing individual. I imagine that this was one of the purposes of the author.
On a "missional" level, I was interested to read how Alfred confronted the pagan traditions of his day and established a biblically-based legal system.
The White Horse King is the perfect book for the history-lover in your life.
Talk back to the missionary: After reading this Alfred the Great became one of my favorite characters in history. Who is yours, and why? Give us the details in the comments section.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
January 26, 2010
São Luís Report
Many are probably wondering about the end result of our trip to Maranhão--besides the adventures with exotic wildlife and culinary novelties. After all, one of the main purposes of our trip was to get an idea of where we will be ministering on our second term.
As we began our trip there were two places on our mind: the capital city of São Luís, and an interior town called Chapadinha. I must confess that I was much more interested in Chapadinha than in Maranhão. Much of this has to do with the fact that I am much more at home in the "sticks" than I am in the big city.
Upon our arrival in Maranhão God clearly shut the door for a visit to Chapadinha. Accepting this as God's leading we began to concentrate on the various needs and opportunities in the capital city. Francisco Bezerra--a Brazilian missionary who has worked in the city for many years--took us around to many areas where there is a tremendous need. One in particular caught our attention.
The above picture shows the greater São Luís area. The three main arrows in the middle show the direction in which the city is growing. Many of the places that are blank on the map are actually blocked off and being sold to residential developers.
This is a closer look at the area we want to target. The large circle to the left shows the Olho d'Agua neighborhood. As you can see it is well-developed. It is also growing very quickly. Immediately to the right of that, in the seemingly blank space marked off by the rectangle (following the road labeled MA 203), are large tracts of land. Some of these are completly empty, while others are marked off for residential development. Many are dotted with houses in various states of construction. There are even some fully functional gated communities.
On the day we did the drive-through we did not have much time to stop and take pictures. We did get this one, however, which shows the residential buildup between Olho d'Agua and Raposa.
This is the entrance to an upscale gated community currently being built. How upscale, you ask? Just to the right of the picture is a helipad.
As we considered this option, God brought a confirmation our way. Valderlene (standing next to Itacyara in this picture) is a graduate of our seminary, and has been working as a single missionary in São Luís since then. We made a point of visiting her, and as we shared our vision with her it became obvious that she is "on the same page". Also, her area of expertise (childrens' ministries) would fill a great need in the inception of a church plant. We do not know how all the details will work out, but we are happy to consider Valderlene as a member of our ministry team.
We also spent some time with a young couple who live in the Olho d'Agua neighborhood who have expressed an interest in helping get the church off the ground.
As we drove along and shared ideas about how a ministry could be begun in this section of town we passed this lighthouse. This gave me an idea: what if we called the church "Igreja Batista Farol do Evangelho" (Lighthouse of the Gospel Baptist Church--it sounds better in Portuguese). Besides the obvious landmark, there is another huge reason why I think that name is hugely appropriate...and I will talk about that in another post.
For now, please pray for us as we wrap up our first term (including several ministries in which we are currently involved), go on furlough, and prepare for this exciting next step in our ministry.
Talk back to the missionary: If you were going to start a church, what kind of ministries would you begin with (children's, music, community outreach, etc)? Let us know in the comments section.
January 19, 2010
I am sitting in the lobby of a hotel in the city of Picos, where we have stopped for the night on our way home. Three years ago this was relatively comfortable hotel, whose main advantage was the low cost. Three years later the cost has remained low, but the hotel has made great strides in service--including wireless internet.
We have much to report about our trip to Maranhão, including some exciting prospects for our second term. For now, however, I will leave you with these pictures from our lunch on the beach with Itacyara's family.
Mikey and I both decided to eat crab the "native" way--pulling them apart, pounding the shell, and extracting the meat. Here is Mikey with his meal.
This is the bowl that was served to us.
This is my crab, sitting on a bed of rice. Notice the granite block and wooden club in the background. These are for breaking the shells and extracting the meat.
Not content with the inanimate crab on his plate, Mikey found the barrel where the live crabs were kept awaiting their fate, and learned how to pick them up without getting pinched.
I have to admit the crabs tasted very good. The only problem for me was that it seemed to be a lot of work for a little meat. Also, one of the sharp spines on the crabs leg punctured my thumb--the crab thus exacting his post-mortem revenge.
Talk back to the missionary: In the comments section tell us about some of your most adventurous culinary experiences.
January 14, 2010
As we approached our destination on yesterday's journey we noticed whole fields full of large termite nests. This, of course, presented a great photo-op, especially for Mikey.
Mikey was thrilled with these termite nests. They are truly amazing examples of the wonders of our Creator. Whole "civilizations" work underneath these mounds which--proportionally--tower above anything man has ever made.
Here Mikey points out one of the large openings.
Nathanael was, shall we say, not quite as thrilled. If you look behind him, though, you can see that the pasture is full of termite nests as big or bigger.
Talk back to the missionary: What interesting things have caused you to make unscheduled stops while traveling? Tell us your story in the comments section.
If you follow our tweets you know that we are currently in the city of São Luís, at the home of my brother-in-law. Our trip was uneventful as far as we were concerned--no major car troubles, no accidents. Just as we were leaving the city of Picos, climbing the ridge that surrounds that city, we found traffic completely stopped. People were getting out of there cars and gathering in small groups to chat. Up ahead, we could see the cause of the delay:
A large truck was on its side, and men were attaching cables from three tow-trucks to attempt to right it. Having nothing else to do, Mikey and I went to investigate.
This is what we saw when we approached the truck. We asked a couple onlookers as to the fate of the driver, and they pointed to him, walking around, taking pictures with his cell phone as if nothing had happened. His wife--who was sitting on the passenger side(!) also survived with no harm. I have a picture of him, but decided not to include it for privacy reasons.
This is the dual trailer of the overturned truck. It was empty at this point, but at the time of the accident it was full--of corn.
Where did all the corn go? These local residents descended on the accident and "liberated" it. By the time we got there they were sifting through the dirt to get the last kernels.
A few of the more enterprising ones had brought burlap sacks, and these were stacked neatly to the sides.
Finally all the cables were attached, and it was time to pull.
As the tow-trucks strained their motors, the truck began to right itself. They soon found that they were pulling, not only the truck, but a portion of the guard rail. For a while it looked like they rail would prevent them from righting the vehicle.
Finally, with a loud "SNAP" the truck pulled free from the guard rail. The picture above shows the exact moment it hit the ground (notice the dust rising around it).
As we drove away I was reminded to pray for my brother David, who, every day, is driving a truck somewhere in the US. We also rejoiced at God's protection--a slight difference in our timing and we could have had a more "participative role" in the accident.
Talk back to the missionary: This was one of the most interesting dramas I have ever seen played out while on the road (that didn't involve mechanical failure of my own vehicle). What kind of interesting things have you seen while traveling?
Media sources have reported up to three million people being affected by Tuesday’s 7.0 magnitude earthquake in
The epicenter of the quake was 15-20 miles from where our missionaries, Roy and Ruth Shelpman, reside. So far, efforts to directly communicate with our missionaries in Grand Goave and our ministry partners in Port-au-Prince and other surrounding areas have been unsuccessful.
You can also give online through BMM World Relief’s web page, or contact the Administrator for World Relief, Larry Beckman, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
January 11, 2010
Brazilian Stamp of the Week: Garantido and Caprichoso
In light of our upcoming trip to the state of Maranhão I thought I would feature a stamp that reflects the culture of that state.
Now, truth be told, what the stamp is showing is actually a celebration that takes place in the Amazon city of Parintins. However, this is one of the many manifestations of a tradition that has it's origin in the state of Maranhão.
Rather than give you the background to the festival here, you can read about it in an article I wrote a few years ago. The video link is broken in that post, so here it is via YouTube:
Talk back to the missionary: Have you ever considered what guidelines missionaries could follow in deciding which cultural manifestations can be used for the Gospel and which are "off limits"? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.
January 8, 2010
Book Review: Perspectives Old and New on Paul
If one is interested in knowing about the much touted "New Perspective on Paul", but has no time or resources to read the major works that have been published--pro and con--then Stephen Westerholm's work "Perspectives Old and New on Paul" (subtitled "The 'Lutheran' Paul and His Critics) is the only book you need to read.Westerholm begins his monumental task (in all it takes over 400 pages) by reviewing the main lines of Augustinian/Lutheran thought. He then reviews the work of those who have tried to deconstruct those lines. Finally, he delves into what Paul actually says about law, grace, and membership in the community of the redeemed. Not surprisingly, the conclusions he draws are of a decidedly "Lutheran" tone.
I can see myself returning to this book--especially the third section--as I prepare messages on any of the Pauline epistles.
Talk back to the missionary: Read any good books on Paul recently? Let us know about them in the comments section.
January 7, 2010
Teachable Moment, Part 2
Today's adventures in the theological training of my son began as we were doing dishes. I was explaining to him why exactly we do dishes (to get them clean, to be the kind of husband God wants me to be, etc). From there we began to discuss wives in general. The last part of our conversation went thusly:
Me: Mikey, when you get to the place where you are looking for a wife, make sure she likes animals.
Mikey: (looking at me with a solemn expression on his face) Dad, first I have to find out if she likes Jesus.
That's my boy!
Future wife of Mikey, beware!
Talk back to the missionary: What gems have your kids come up with as you teach them the Word? Tell us about them in the comments section.
January 6, 2010
This morning my oldest son did a couple things that earned my displeasure. My reaction was to deprive him of a much-anticipated ice-cream treat.
As I sat in my office after the "incident" I began to reflect on how much I have offended God in my life, and how much grace I was shown when, 2,000 years ago, Christ died on the cross for those offenses. Suddenly Mikey's offenses and the ice-cream reward seemed paltry in comparison. So, I called for Mikey and we set off for the ice-cream parlor.
On the way I decided to make this a teachable moment to explain to Mikey about the grace of God. Our conversation went something like this:
Me: So you see Mikey, just like I am extending grace to you by allowing you to have some ice-cream, God extended grace to you by sending Christ to die on the cross for your sins so you could go to Heaven.
Mikey: (after a short pause) Dad, let me tell you about the cool bird I saw today.
What will this kid be like in Bible college?
Talk back to the missionary: In the comments section share with us some of the more memorable "teachable moments" you have had with your children.
To Our Lusophone Readers...
Our stats page shows that we have many readers from Brazil and Portugal, and I know that there are many US readers who speak and understand Portuguese. As a special "thank-you" for visiting, I give you this, via Rio Gringa:
We will return later with more English-language programming.
Talk back to the missionary: Se você fala o português, e visita esse blog de vez em quando, deixe seu recado nos "comments".
January 5, 2010
What a Difference Four Decades Makes
A friend here in Brazil sent me the following cartoon:
In both panels the Portuguese reads "What kind of grades are these?" (loose translation). In the first panel, the indignant question is directed at the student. In the second, the teacher has become the culprit.
Talk back to the missonary: This cartoon represents an unfortunate reality here in Brazil. Does the same reality exist in the US education system? Sound off in the comments section.
January 4, 2010
Brazilian Stamp of the Week: Freemasonry
Many people are surprised when I tell them that Freemasonry is very popular here in Roman Catholic Brazil. This stamp should serve to illustrate just what a prominent place it has.
Like in the US, many of Brazil's leaders have been freemasons. Unlike the US, there is even an offical "Masonic Hymn" listed among Brazil's patriotic songs. I have seen Masonic temples in small towns here that rival the Catholic Church in grandeur.
Interestingly, membership in the "Loja Masónica" is quite popular among some evangelical groups (not ours!)
Talk back to the missionary: What is your postition on the Lodge? Benign social club? Vast secret society intent on world domination? Somewhere in between? Share your thoughts in the comments section.
Book Review: The Gospel Driven Life by Michael Horton
An anonymous benefactor sent this book to me from my Amazon wishlist. Whoever it was should know that they made a tremendous investment in the studies and thought-processes of this missionary. Content from The Gospel Driven Life has found its way into messages, Sunday School lessons and counseling sessions since the day I started reading it.
The subtitle--Being Good News People in a Bad News World--is an apt summary of the content of the book. Author Michael Horton is concerned that "the Good News [has] become just good advice". His main purpose in this work (which he says naturally follows his previous Christless Christianity) is to show how the Good News is central to every aspect of the believer's life--not simply at the moment of salvation. For this reason it is important that we "get it right" when it comes to describing what the Gospel actually is.
For me one of the most valuable parts of the book is where Horton expounds on the Biblical progression of Drama (God's vast redemptive plan throughout history) to Doctrine (belief in the objective facts that make up the Gospel) to Doxology (the natural worship that flows from an understanding of those facts) to Discipleship (grateful service as a natural outworking of said worship).
Not a particularly easy read, the The Gospel Driven Life is worth the effort. It should be noted that Horton is quite reformed, which means that Baptists such as myself have to discount the parts of the book where he refers to the ordinances as sacraments (and defends calling them such), the section where he claims that the sons and daughters of believers are "children of the covenant", and, of course, the obligatory disparagin of "premillenialism" (to which he offers no real alternative).
Where his subject is the Gospel and it's fruit in our lives, the book truly soars. If you want to renew a stagnated Christian walk by focusing on Christ and His Gospel, my I humbly suggest The Gospel-Driven Life as a good place to start.
Talk back to the missionary: How does the Gospel affect your daily life? Give us your thoughts in the comment section.
January 2, 2010
Rain Turns to Tears in Southern Brazil
The death toll on Brazil's southeast coast rose to 51 Saturday after more than three days of rain, which caused a large part of a mountain near Rio de Janeiro to collapse as mud Friday, state officials said.
The mud slid onto the Sankay Inn resort in Angra dos Reis, two hours west of Rio, killing at least 22 people and injuring dozens, officials said. Rescuers found 15 bodies floating on the nearby island of Ilha Grande, officials said.
At least 40 people had been staying at the inn, a haven for wealthy vacationers and celebrities, CNN affiliate Record TV reported.
Record TV broadcast the rescuers' attempt to find the family's toddler, Mariana. After sifting through rubble, the rescuers heard her cries emanating from underneath the rubble, dug her out and carried her to safety amid cheers. But hours later, the television station reported she had died.
Talk back to the missionary: Has God turned tragedy into triumph in your life? Share with us in the comments section.
Work Report for 2009
Every year each missionary family in our BMM Northeast Brazil ministry team submits a work report to the group. What follows is our work report for 2009.
The year 2009 has been marked by displays of God's love, faithfulness, mercy, and power in the lives of the Comings family--the same attributes He displayed to us roughly 2009 years ago when He sent His Son, Jesus, to become sin for us so that we could become His righteousness.
Our main work continues to be with the Cariri Baptist Seminary. Andrew taught Panorama of Doctrine I and II, and Lectures in Acts, and Itacyara taught English I and II. 2009 was Andrew's last year as coordinator of ministry internships. Due to the Comings' upcoming furlough, Jim Leonard has assumed this role for 2010.
In the middle of the year Mark and Linda Willson turned over the administration of the dorms to Andrew and Itacyara. Working more closely with the single students this last semester has been a real joy.
Andrew has continued to lead the seminary puppet ministry. This year saw the Amiguinhos de Jesus minister in churches in Juazeiro do Norte, Campos Sales, Exu, Palestina and Petrolina, as well as at the Iguatu and Treasure Island camps. In all they saw over twenty children come to Christ through their work.
2009 also saw the beginning of our Cape Verde project. Students from the seminary (those who participate in the puppet team) and two ladies from the Novo Juazeiro church will travel to Cape Verde in December, 2010, for two weeks of evangelism and training Cape Verdean nationals in puppet ministry.
This year Andrew agreed to teach an English-language Sunday School class at the Igreja da Paz, with the idea of reaching out to university students who are eager to learn the language. His first series was an introduction to the Bible, with a special emphasis on the Bible's influence on English. Currently he is doing a series on "The Real Jesus".
Itacyara and Andrew continue to be active in the music ministry of the church. Itacyara sings with the "worship group" and Andrew plays in the
Since the Igreja da Paz has taken on an assistant pastor Andrew's preaching opportunities at that church have been fewer. On the occasions when he has been able to preach he has continued a series begun in 2007 on the book of Philippians.
Itacyara continues to have a counseling ministry with several of the young ladies of the church.
It has been a privilege for Andrew to serve as Vice President of the BMMB Northeast Region this year.
The Cidade Feliz puppet ministry administered a puppetry course in Juazeiro da Bahia. Another course scheduled for December was canceled. They also put on a Christmas extravaganza at the Novo Juazeiro church on behalf of the Cape Verde project.
Andrew was also able to make a "lightning" visit to the US for the ordination of his brother Daniel, who is associate pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Lakeland, FL. Fellowship Baptist--which is the Comings' sending church--covered all the expenses.
Itacyara continues her studies at URCA. She has had several opportunities to "give an answer of the hope that is within" her to humanist and evolutionist professors and students. She has also been able to publicize our English Sunday School class among her fellow students.
Michael (8) was enrolled in a new school in 2009--Educandário Recanto da Esperança in Juazeiro. He is excelling in his classes, and has developed an interest--some would say obsession--in animals. He also began piano lessons this year. His dad teaches him, and his mom oversees the practice sessions.
Nathanael turned two in July, and continues to be a ray of sunshine in our household.
The great blessings of last year included moving into a house, a relatively problem-free car, the donation of a new laptop, a trip to the Conferência Fiel that involved no unplanned stops in Minas Gerais, and a visit from Andrew's parents.
Plans for 2010 include a trip to Maranhão to survey for future ministry, a final semester at the Cariri Baptist Seminary, and our first furlough.
We count it a privilege to serve our Savior alongside such a dedicated group of colleagues and on behalf of such a faithful group of churches and individuals.
Talk back to the missionary: What were the highlights of 2009 for you?
Image Source: Animation Factory