A blog of thoughts by Kristi Finch

Monday, March 17, 2014

Brazil Trip 2014: Day 8

This morning is bittersweet as we are packing up and getting ready to hit the road to head home.  Our last day in town was a wonderful time spent with friends we have made this week.  The Sunday morning service at Vila Nova is always a blessing, and yesterday was no exception.  The pastors from the other local church plants came to see us one more time before we left.  Ubiratan sang a special song in English for us, and each church presented us with thank you gifts.  We always feel so spoiled because we come here to be an encouragement, but we end up being blessed by the love and generosity of these people. 

Sunday afternoon was spent enjoying a special lunch with Bárbara's family who live here in town.  They also spoiled us with authentic Brazilian cuisine and the best desserts (pudim and chocolate mousse, anyone??).

The evening service at Vila Nova was also a blessing!  Fabiane shared about her son Yan who was diagnosed with cancer and miraculously healed before his treatments and how the Lord used that time in her life to teach her and grow her faith.  The youth band again blessed us with their worship music, and Pastor Zigomar shared a message.  

Though we will certainly miss our friends here, we are looking forward to being home again though I'm sure home will feel a little different after the experiences we've had this week.  Each time I visit Living Bread's work here, my own lifestyle is challenged in all the best ways.  I pray that I will be sensitive to what the Lord has to teach me as I go back home and serve him in a different context there.  I hope that those of you who have followed along with our journey this week have also been challenged in unique ways.  

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the ministry of Living Bread or how you can get involved!

Some of the youth who lead worship

Ubiratan singing for us!

Pastor Zigomar, the new pastor at Igreja Batista Viva

My sweet friend, Daisy

Bárbara with her mom and sister at our lunch

The team with the kitchen volunteers at IBV.  They work endlessly preparing meals and refreshments for different events including Sunday school breakfast and the monthly feeding service.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Brazil Trip 2014: Days 6 & 7

Yesterday was our last day of visiting the communities where Living Bread is at work.  We walked with Pastor Alexsandro around Vila Safira where he serves the community.  This church body is excited to have a new building, and we are anticipating the ministry expansion that will come from having a place to call their own.  The store front where the church had been meeting after the leaving the extra room built on to one parishioner's home is now a small consignment shop where Christian materials are sold.  

As we walked through Vila Safira, we could see how the government is stepping into the community and working to improve the infrastructure by establishing roads and rebuilding faulty structures.  However, this presents some unique challenges to the needy in this community.  The local officials come in and give residents a very short notice that their home is going to be leveled because it doesn't meet their qualifications.  Alexsandro shared his concern with us that the government is making these improvements in order to use the area for something else, displacing the poor who live there.  His hope is that the local government is going to create more intentional lots and property line and give the current residents official deeds to the land where they live.  This would help establish the community and give them a place to officially call their own.

Yesterday afternoon we spent time with Pastor Magioli and his family.  He presented the current projects of Ministério Pão Vivo and shared his vision for the next year of the ministry.  We dreamed together about the lives and communities that can be changed with the impact Christ can have on their lives.  Our evening was filled with fellowship with the Magiolis and saying our goodbyes to their family since they are traveling this weekend.

Today we were able to enjoy a little sight seeing.  Our day trip took us to Gramado and Canela, towns in the mountains a couple hours from Porto Alegre.  We got to have a little change in scenery and got to see a different part of the state!  Our adventures took us shoe shopping (a big industry in this area), to chocolate stores (also one of the highlights), to visit a 700 year old tree (just as exciting as it sounds), and on a sky tram ride to see a beautiful, mountain waterfall.  
With one more day of ministry at Igreja Batista Viva ahead of us, we are so thankful for all this week has held.  We've been spent emotionally and physically with all we have seen and done.  Though we have been exposed to extreme poverty and dire circumstances these last several days, the truth is we are surrounded with the same hopelessness without Christ everyday in our own communities.  But at home that hopelessness is shrouded in suits and ties, 401(K)s, nice cars and houses, social status, or whatever people use to try to fill the void in their hearts that leave lives just as empty as those living in the slums we've seen this week.  It's a blessing to be a small part of a ministry that is making such a big difference in the lives of the people in these communities.  As Pastor Magioli often says, "We can't do everything, but we do everything we can."

A home in the Vila Safira neighborhood.  Notice the little red house in the front yard.  This is a Macumba (spiritist) house where they believe the spirits live.  They offer sacrifices to the spirits here and live in fear of the spirits cursing their home.

Walking through the community with Pastor Alexsandro

Alexsandro and Bárbara with Septembrino, a resident whose home was demolished by the city.

We made some new friends with the kiddos in the area!

Alexsandro and his wife Luciane

We're so excited for the new building for this church in Vila Safira!

Our time of sharing with the Magiolis and our new pastor for the church at Vila Nova and his family.

Playing tourist today!

Canela's natural beauty

Gremado's downtown area, heavily influenced by the German heritage in this area

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Brazil Trip 2014: Day 5

We started our day with a few stops around town.  Our first destination was the Christian bookstore downtown.  Here we have access to resources for our pastors and an opportunity to see what is available to the local Christian community.  Next up, we hit the flea market to pick up a few Brasil souvenirs.  (Dad, I got yours here today!)

After lunch, we got to visit the local Baptist school that teaches preschool through 12th grade.  The principal gave us a tour of the school and shared with us some of the challenges she faces in her role.  Though the curriculum is governed by the state's accreditation standards, she wants to ensure that Christian principles are being integrated in the classroom.  She also came into her position with the school in debt and declining.  Since she has been there (as a volunteer), enrollment has been increasing, and they are working themselves out of their deficit.  We had the opportunity to pray with her, for the school, and its witness in the city!

We then walked across the street to her husband's office where he is the director of the state's Baptist convention.  He welcomed us to their headquarters and shared with us how he is supportive of Living Bread's work here and why he is on board with our mission.

After visiting these folks and encouraging their work and ministries, we made our way to Planalto, another community where Living Bread has a church plant.  Our pastor there Ubiratan and his wife Cleide faithfully serve their church family, made up mostly of children and teenagers.  We walked through a slum in this area where one of the young girls lives.  Vitória is the only one in this specific area that attends the church, and she is a beautiful witness for the Lord!  We laughed and played with her neighbors and prayed with her for the community.

The evening held a midweek service at Planalto's church.  The youth led the worship as they are learning to fill the different roles of the church.  Pastor Magioli surprised me by asking me to share with the group tonight!  (Enjoy the play by play of Kristi's facial expression while speaking!)  This church serves a community in need of role models and a godly example.  There are few (if any) adult men who are part of this church other than Pastor Ubiratan.  The boys and youth look to him for so much, and we are glad to have this ministry in place!

Today is a little heavy on the pictures, but there were too many good ones to pass up!

Gotta get some Brasil soccer gear!

Touring the school

Visiting the Baptist convention office

The building where our church in Planalto is currently meeting

The slum where one of the girls from the church Vitória lives

The children in these places are simply beautiful.

Estela didn't waste any time making new friends!

A litte futebol!

One of the neighborhood boys, Robson

Bárbara with Vitória, one of the member's of Planalto's youth group

Neighborhood kids getting home from school

This is Leitiane and Nattah, a young couple from the church.  Leitiane is battling cancer, and Nattah is a recent convert.  He was baptized on Saturday night at Vila Safira's new building's inaugural service.  

Pastor Ubiratan, his wife Cleide, and their son Haniel

Love days that end like this!  Sweet baby Anthony slept in my arms through much of the evening's service.

Apparently, I don't make normal faces when I talk.  Caption contest anyone?

Brazil Trip 2014: Day 4

After the craziness of the last couple days, a more laid back day today was welcomed! We made a stop at the Big store (the Brazilian WalMart) to stock up on some necessities (i.e. Brazilian chocolate and coffee) this morning.  

Our ministry focus of the day was the feeding ministry service at Igreja Batista Viva.  We assembled food kits of various necessities like rice, pasta, beans, flour, oil, and more that were distributed to families in need in Vila Nova. 

During the service tonight, Paul shared about the need for men to step up in their families to lead by example and to love their wives and children well.  He challenged them to look to God as the example of a loving father since most families in the area have not come from a home with a good father, if a father was present at all.  The message was well received, and the emphasis this week on godly leadership from the men in the church is one that can transform families as they follow the Lord!

After the service, we served those in attendance a meal and distributed the food kits.  Though it wasn't a day packed full, there is still impact on the community.  We love seeing the church at work as the pastor, his family, and lay people serve the people in their area and give of their time and resources to help their friends and neighbors.

Thank you for your continued prayers for our team as we encourage the pastors and their ministries here!  Tomorrow we will be going into the Vila Planalto neighborhood, and Friday we'll be in Vila Safira.

Estela and several others from the church putting together food kits for this evening's service.  

Some of our best memories are from the opportunities we get to spend down time with the church members, drinking coffee, and sharing life!

Estela and her new friend Gi!

Paul sharing an important message this evening

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Brazil Trip 2014: Day 3

As you can see by the time of this post, today has been a long one to say the least!  Long and tiring, yes, but no less a blessing!

We got to spend the day traveling to and visiting with our two church plants outside the city of Porto Alegre in the coastal towns of Capão do Canoa and Torres.  Both of these ministries are led by men who faithfully serve their communities despite less than ideal circumstances.  Though the stories of their parishioners and neighborhood families are just as simultaneously challenging and inspirational as those we have encountered earlier this week, what has struck me most today has been the faithful work of the missionaries and their families in these towns.

Lindomar is our worker in Capão, and he has a vision for expanding his ministry in this town. Without any kind of formal Bible training or seminary education and having faced many difficulties with the building where the church is meeting, with raising teenage sons who are rebelling against the faith of his family, and with a lack of resources to do all he would like to do in the area, he presses on and works toward reaching his goals of seeing more people fed, more hearts reached with the Gospel, and more lives transformed with the love of Christ.  He is in the application process for a government program that supplies fruits and vegetables for organizations helping the needy.  He has an ongoing soccer ministry that reaches out to the neighborhood children and is reformatting the activities to involve the children's parents more so it becomes a family event.  He is in the planning stages for new programs that will spread the message of hope in the Lord to more people in the community.  His heart for his people is evident as he continues to dream big for the Kingdom!

Artênio is our missionary pastor in Torres.  He and his wife Lú have an evident love for the people of their community.  Tonight they held their weekly children's outreach where they have special activities and a meal for the children of the neighborhood.  Their work in Guarita (an area of Torres) is in a dangerous location, and they have had to relocate four times in the past two years because of the lack of safety or issues with their landlord.  But these things don't hinder the continuation of their ministry.  Just this morning Artênio was in the home of a couple in the community who have a unique story.  One evening last year Mercedes came home to find her husband Bento hanging by a rope in their shed.  She called for help and by the grace of God, Bento survived this suicide attempt and has since recovered.  However, this was his fifth unsuccessful attempt to take his own life.  When we visited their home tonight, he shared with us his struggle with believing the whole Bible and how he feels hindered when he tries to pray.  Though his wife has made a profession of faith, he struggles to accept Christ.  The spiritual warfare in this home is evident, and Artênio faithfully maintains a relationship with this family, being an example of the love of Christ!

This hardly begins to scratch the surface of these ministries in Capão and Torres, and the few short hours we got to spend at each location just aren't enough to encourage the pastors and their families the ways they deserve and to get to know the people in the communities like we want to.  But we pray that each family we visited, each child we hugged, and each home we walked by will be impacted by the ministries of Lindomar and Artêntio, these men of God with whom we are blessed to partner for the sake of the Gospel!

Pastor Magioli enjoying some chimarrão en route to Capão this morning

My sweet friends Jeisi (left) and Tracy (right)

Pastor never passes up a chance to play the guitar and sing, even if it's just the birthday song!

A quick walk by the beach!

This is in the neighborhood where our church in Capão is.

I can never get over the bare feet on these roads.

Lindomar and his wife Marilu

The mountains between Capão and Torres

Artênio and Lú, the workers in Torres

This is Bento, the man who has attempted suicide multiple times and now struggles to trust Christ for salvation.  Pray for the Lord to soften his heart and for the enemy's stronghold in his life to be released!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Brazil Trip 2014: Day 2

Last night and today we had continued opportunities to spend time with the people of Igreja Batista Viva and its community in Vila Nova.  

The Sunday evening service at IBV is usually the biggest of the week.  Last night there was a great turn out for Trip, one of our team members, to share what the Lord is doing in his life these days.  The church body responded well to his teaching, and several made renewed commitments to live for the Lord.

Today we got to visit several families in the Campo Novo (near Vila Nova) neighborhood.  There are heartbreaking circumstances in many of the homes we visited, but the hope of Christ shines through in the midst of pain and suffering.  It is neat to visit some of the same people over the years and watch the children grow and the Lord continue to transform lives.

We saw children doing their homework with the school supplies they were given through Share Christmas.  We saw the building where IBV held their first service as well as the first building they first called home.  We visited a lady from the church who has gone blind and has been unable to attend services for some time.  We spent time in the home of a family whose husband/dad had recently been beaten nearly to death because of money he owed a drug dealer and will now live in a child-like, limited state because of extensive brain damage.  We were given Fanta (yum!) by a shop owner and his wife who have resisted coming to the church but are always welcoming to the Pastor when he visits.  

And this only begins to scratch the surface of the lives of the dear people with whom we interacted today.  There is so much more to be learned about these men, women, and children, who are precious to our Lord and should be precious to us.  Each story is unique and each heart needs the love of Christ.  It's refreshing to see the ministry in Vila Nova and Campo Novo continue each day.  Though the progress seems slow, the Lord is at work in this area.  Each time I've gotten to visit, I can see homes in better condition, smiles on more children's faces, and hope in places that seem like they should be hopeless.

Trip sharing his testimony at IBV's Sunday evening service

A number of people responded to the message preached.

We sorted out donated items to deliver to each church plant.

Pastor Magioli and Dona Maria (called Vozinha or Granny), one of the first believers in the community.  Her home is next door to the building where IBV used to meet.

Bárbara embracing Dona Bárbara, the woman who has lost her sight and has been unable to attend services

The smiling faces of little girls who love getting their pictures taken and visiting with us

This little guy has been collecting all the different parts for a bicycle so he can build one himself.  His dad is the one who is now suffering from extensive brain damage and won't be able to help with his bike project.