Chain of Support

When Curt wondered if he had made a difference, he had to pause. Then, he had to throw out his preconceived ideas for gauging mission trip effectiveness.

It’s true that, during his three-month internship with ReachGlobal in Brazil, Curt had not sweated over the frame of a new church building. He hadn’t done any construction projects at all. And he had not gone out in the streets of Rio de Janeiro to evangelize nor had he led any Brazilians through a prayer to receive Christ — he hardly knew enough Portuguese for that.

But isn’t that what people do on mission trips — street evangelism and construction projects? Not always, Curt discovered. God’s story is bigger than that.

Supporting missionaries

Curt arrived in September 2010 expecting to support Jeff and Diane, ReachGlobal missionaries living in Rio, in their ministry efforts.

To both Curt’s surprise and theirs, Jeff and Diane discovered their visa renewals had been denied on the same day that Curt arrived to serve. They were given just 10 days to pack up and get out of the country. [Read Jeff’s account of this startling turn of events.]

It looked like Curt would be supporting them, but in an unexpected way.

More worried for Jeff and Diane than for himself, Curt reflects on the positive, saying, “Coincidentally, or perhaps it was a God thing, I happened to be in Rio for the next three months and could take care of their house, pay their bills, and keep their dogs alive [while they were gone].”

“Ministry happened pretty quickly,” Curt says. With only eight days to learn the ropes, Curt shadowed Jeff and Diane in their three English as a Second Language (ESL) classes in a public school in a slum, jumping in the next week to teach them on his own.

After the first week, Curt, recently certified to teach ESL, was asked by the school to take on an additional six English classes each week.

Supporting local churches

These English classes, along with a variety of other enrichment classes, were offered at the school through a local church in the same slum and a partner church in another part of Rio.

“[During the classes at the school, the church members] would invite the students to more classes at the local church on Saturdays. From there, they would invite the students and their families to the church services on Sundays,” Curt explains.

“Our church noticed a change in many of the teachers’ behaviors,” Curt says. “At the beginning of our volunteering, we always saw the teachers yelling at their students quite angrily and by the final weeks of the program, the teachers were hardly yelling at all. I think they saw some of our love and gentleness, and we were rubbing off on them.”

“The most important part of the ministry, though, and I may never see it [now that I’m back in the U.S.], is the influx of people attending the church in the slum and hopefully the community being transformed by Christ.”

Jeff had a chance to visit Rio for a few days in November, and he confirms, “The connection from the school to the local church was going great. The kids and sometimes their parents were making their way to the church and hearing the gospel message.”

“The local church is bursting at the seams with people, and the church is crying out for help to lead the people,” Jeff adds. “Another church outside of this [particular slum] area has joined the effort and is sending some of their people to serve at the inner city school.”

Supporting the world

Curt participated in a variety of other activities, as well, during his short stint in Brazil. He helped to prepare for a church planting conference and manned the camera at the event. He supported other missionaries and local Christians in their own ministries, offering encouragement, tutoring and even temporary housing.

After reflecting on what to share with the friends and family who had financially and prayerfully supported his trip, Curt realized, “The trip wasn’t about me and how I could change Brazil. I came on the trip to be used by God however He wanted me to be used, which I feel was to support the body of Christ already in place in Brazil.”

“The country is quickly becoming one of the more influential countries in the world,” Curt says. “It’s cool to think that supporting missionaries in Rio de Janeiro is helping to spread the gospel throughout the world.”

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CONNECT

latinamerica@efca.org

SERVE

Contact us to find out how you can serve in Brazil — individually or with a team.

PRAY
  • That the Brazilian Free Church and their partners would continue to make advances for God’s kingdom in the slums of Rio de Janeiro.
  • For the Lord to raise up more servants, like Curt, to serve in Brazil.
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God’s Plans: Sometimes Only He Knows

Last September, my wife Diane and I were feeling like 2010 was turning out to be our most productive year of serving the Lord in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Things were really clicking on all cylinders. We were serving at a very poor school by bringing them English classes and, of course, the hope of Jesus. God had opened doors for us to get into the extremely impoverished and violent areas of Rio. We were working alongside three new Brazilian partners. God had provided some amazing short-term teams. And, last of all, we were preparing to have a young man, Curt, from the States come intern with us in Brazil as part of the ReachGlobal internship program.

We were really feeling good about things. We felt right smack in the center of God’s will and blessings.

Changes afoot

On September 10, Diane and I headed to the airport to pick up Curt for the start of his internship. After getting to know Curt during his two previous visits to Rio, we were thrilled to have him joining our efforts and looked forward to pouring some of ourselves into this young man.

While at the airport, we decided to visit the office of the Federal Police (FP) to check on the status of our visas renewals. Each year for the five years we had served in Brazil, Diane and I had gone through a visa renewal process. Apart from the headache of submitting the documents, each previous year had taken little more than a rubber stamp of approval from the FP. We assumed 2010 would be the same.

Yet, several hours after leaving Curt to rest in the waiting room at the FP office, we emerged with news that no one had expected. The FP had denied our visa renewals, and we had 10 days to leave the country.

What was God doing?

We were shocked, and Curt, fresh off the plane and sleep-deprived from an overnight flight, shared our surprise. Not only had he planned to spend 90 days serving with us in Rio, but he was also going to live in our home. And, at this point, he only knew a handful of Portuguese words.

After exhausting our connections, looking for a “bail out,” Diane and I made quick preparations to leave. It felt surreal. So many good things were happening in our ministry in Brazil. Our home was there, our dogs were there, and our Brazilian brothers and sisters in Christ were there. It just didn’t make any sense, but we also knew that God did not owe us an explanation.

Curt received a one week crash course to life in Brazil — including caring for our home, moving forward with the ministry, and a myriad of other details. [Read about Curt’s three-month experience in Rio.]

Diane and I, along with our 17-year-old daughter and 21-year-old son, packed two suitcases each, unsure as to when or if we might return to Rio.

We landed in Iowa the next day, and, a handful of months later, we are starting to make sense of why God would allow this to happen. Even as life as we knew it came to a screeching a halt, God’s plan kept moving forward.

God was working in Iowa

Our oldest daughter, “left behind” as a college sophomore when we moved to Brazil five years ago, was married this February — and what a blessing for us to be nearby to share this experience with her.

My father was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of prostate cancer about a month after we returned to the U.S.  Although that news is always difficult to receive, the difficulty could have been magnified had I received it in Rio. It has been so good to be with him as he and my mother have had some very serious talks and doctor visits.

And, in the midst of researching new visa options, I became ordained as a pastor by my home church. We had discovered that, once I became an ordained pastor, we could request a type of temporary visa that can be converted to permanent after one year.

God continued working in Brazil

Although He gave us great ministry and then took it back, God provided for its continuation in our absence. For the three months he lived in Rio, Curt pressed forward, teaching in the local schools, supporting some of our local church partners, and caring for our home and our dogs.

Even more exciting, after Curt left Rio, our local Brazilian church partners continued reaching out to the local schools and even started ministry in a new school.

And that is what this ministry is all about: Brazilians reaching Brazilians for Christ.

We are still “living in limbo,” waiting on the outcome of our visa application, eager to return to Brazil and this growing Kingdom of the Lord.

Story by Jeff D., ReachGlobal missionary to Brazil

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CONNECT

latinamerica@efca.org

SERVE

Contact us to find out how you can serve in Brazil — individually or with a team.

PRAY
  • For Jeff and Diane as they await their visas and the opportunity to return to the ministry they love.
  • That the work in Brazil continues moving forward, bringing new believers into the churches and adding additional leaders to labor in the ministry.
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Reviving a Church, Starting a Movement

He moved there to pastor a dysfunctional and dying church. After the former pastor left amidst scandal, the church was run by two powerful families and the church’s “vision” was for survival and little else. It was not exactly an ideal scenario, but it was to this church and this scenario in Rio do Sul, Brazil, that Pastor Johny Stutzer was called.

From weak to bold

Pastor Johny

Upon answering the call in 2002, Johny began his second full-time pastorate. While many pastors and members from the Brazilian Evangelical Free Church (CIELB) doubted the recovery of the struggling church in Rio do Sul, Johny’s vision for the church was more audacious.

Prior to making the move, he researched the demographics, discovering that Rio do Sul was the principal city in what is known as the “High Valley” of Santa Catarina, Brazil. A city of 65,000 people, Rio do Sul is surrounded by 27 smaller towns of 10,000 to 25,000. While the city is almost 10% evangelical, the other 27 towns are less than 4% evangelical and virtually forgotten by missionaries and most church denominations.

As a strategic thinker, Johny honed in on these statistics and the possibilities.

EFCA ReachGlobal’s challenge and support

Gene W., ReachGlobal Church Planting Director for Latin America, came to Brazil in 2004 and challenged the EFC-Brazil pastors (including Johny) to prioritize church planting in their ministries. Not long after meeting Gene, Johny found himself in a conversation with T.J. Addington, EFCA Senior Vice President and leader of ReachGlobal, discussing Rio do Sul, the High Valley, and the general lack of evangelical presence.

What Johny saw as statistics, needs and possible opportunities, T.J. saw as a church planting vision. He challenged Johny to embrace this God-given vision – a church planting vision that has become the passion of Johny’s life and ministry over the past four years.

Developing a model that works

In the past, a vision to reach a city and 27 surrounding towns with the gospel of Christ would have required thousands of dollars, full-time missionaries, paid pastors and years of work. However, partnering with Mike, the new ReachGlobal Church Planting Director for Latin America, Johny developed a more organic and reproducible model to achieve the vision. It’s a model that calls the church back to its simplest core, focusing on movement, not on method.

Astounded by the impact

Church Planting Bootcamp, December 2010

A December 2010 “vision launch” and Church Planting Bootcamp set the movement into motion. More than 45 lay leaders, pastors and missionaries gathered in Santa Catarina to hear this organic model explained. Johny, now Director of Church Planting for the Brazilian Free Church (CIELB), was astounded by the impact of the Bootcamp.

Each attendee was challenged to consider the essence of church – a return to the simplicity of sowing (and sowing in abundance), making disciples, and forming and developing leaders. Instead of thinking about structure, buildings, and membership, the weekend seminar focused on prioritizing passionate evangelization and intentional disciple-making – specifically growing disciples who, in turn, make more disciples.

Testimony to growing interest in church planting movements

One of the pastors present at the seminar shook his head at one point, lamenting that pastors have gotten away from making disciples and reproducing believers. In front of the entire group, he committed to rethinking his church’s “structure” so the structure would serve the mission and not the other way around.

Guilherme, a pastor from Blumenau, commented at the end of the weekend: “I would like to say that the course on Saturday was truly impactful for me and for my vision of the church. In fact, it was everything I was already reflecting on in my own mind. And, how good it is to know that you [Johny and ReachGlobal] have already been working out this vision for a long time.”

Partnership and moving forward

Training and inspiring pastors to catch a vision for church planting and multiplication of disciples is only one facet of Johny’s ministry and vision in southern Brazil. He’s also partnering with First EFC in Lincoln, NE, to plant 27 churches in the High Valley – one in each satellite town near Rio do Sul.

The High Valley in southern Brazil where Rio do Sul is located.

Headway has already been made in one town. In June, a team of 25 youth from First EFC visited every secondary school in the town, playing basketball with the youth, trading stories and sharing the gospel. Out of that short-term trip, a home Bible study formed and, with it, a desire for a new church plant.

In October, Johny invited Lucas, an intern from southern Brazil, to train with him and to launch that first church plant.  In June 2011, Johny will take full advantage of another youth team from First EFC, visiting the same secondary schools and making more community contacts. If everything goes according to plan, this team will also make initial inroads into a second community.

When Johny arrived less than a decade ago, this church was on the verge of dying. Now, it is a vibrant church, bringing life to an entire region. Out of the ashes comes great beauty and hope.

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CONNECT

latinamerica@efca.org

PRAY
  • That God would raise up Brazilian church planters to work alongside Johny.
  • For the rapid multiplication of churches in Rio du Sul.
GIVE

Make an online donation to Brazil Church Planting.

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