One year ago a disaster struck that drew the gaze of an entire planet. On January 12, 2010, a devastating earthquake hit Haiti. Millions gave, and watched, and wondered who would respond.
EFCA TouchGlobal Crisis Response answered the call as one piece of a collaborated effort of the global church, humanitarian organizations and the generosity of givers around the globe.
A year of turmoil
There’s been much healing and restoration in Haiti. However, it is difficult to get too euphoric about current conditions in Haiti. Since the initial devastation wrought by the earthquake, severe political unrest has erupted as the result of new presidential elections. Cholera continues to claim lives. However, in the midst of some of the most profound heartache and hopelessness, TouchGlobal Crisis Response continues to bring much needed aid and encouragement to some of those most affected by the tumultuous suffering.
God is there
Crisis Response has witnessed an abundance of God’s provision and grace in the recovery of this broken country, despite the ongoing effects of the disaster. Many healthy, loving orphanages have been started to serve an uncountable number of orphaned children; key relationships have begun with a Haitian seminary for the training of healthy pastors to continue planting churches and shepherding the hurting people; partners in Congo, Colombia and Brazil have made preparations to send missionaries to serve their Haitian brothers and sisters. It is a beautiful thing to see the church bear one another’s burdens in such unison.
One Crisis Response worker reported that, after two orphanages had reached the end of their rope on food supply, a series of mysteriously providential events occurred.”That night I thought about the day and realized we provided food for over 100 orphans for at least a month.” Indeed, God is a gracious Father who loves the fatherless with unparalleled tenderness.
EFCA churches answered
In August 2010, TouchGlobal Crisis Response issued an SOS to all EFCA churches to provide teams of 3-8 people to serve in Haiti each week through January. The EFCA churches have answered that call by sending over 200 people and 26 teams. Their service in Haiti has resulted in the construction of over 500 shelters, housing approximately 3,000 people. “Praise God, they are coming to build our home!” exclaimed three Haitian girls as a team of workers arrived.
There is still much to be done in Haiti. The roads of Port-au-Prince are almost entirely choked with debris and pedestrians. Nearly 1.4 million Haitians remain displaced from their homes. Due to the political unrest, many orphanages are not able to get the food that they need to feed all of the hungry children. The rebuilding of more permanent homes must begin soon as the tent cities are breeding dangerous behaviors and poor sanitation.
Imagine that you take a trip to a foreign country for a few days and find yourself staying a few years – behind bars.
Hard as it is to believe, that’s the story told by more than one inmate in the Buen Pastor (Good Shepherd) Penitentiary for Women in Desamparados, Costa Rica. Some women here claim innocence. Others, like the young woman I visit, acknowledge that they were breaking the law when they tried to leave the country with drugs stowed in their luggage.
A fellow missionary of mine in Costa Rica works with a recovery ministry to English-speaking foreigners at the prison. As part of the ministry, she is not permitted to meet individually with the women on visiting day.
One day, she asked me if I would visit one of the young women who had no visitors. There were two that she asked me to consider – one was a difficult person, emotionally surrounded by thick walls. The other was a real sweetheart.
After praying about it, I felt led to visit the more difficult woman. In the end, I developed relationships with both of them. The sweetheart, Jennifer*, is now free and has now returned to her home country.
This story is about the other young lady, though.
A difficult place
Entering the prison for the first time – every time, for that matter – is an experience.
Sometimes it takes as long as an hour and a half just to get into the visiting area. After waiting in three separate lines, you are searched bodily and everything you bring is checked carefully. Drug runners are clever. As a precaution, no metal, glass, phones, cameras or umbrellas are permitted. Any food you bring must be in see-through packaging. Once inside, the visiting area is huge and open, where everyone finds a spot to sit and visit with whomever they like, not only the woman they came to see.
Pain and anger
When I first met Beauty*, a Zulu woman from South Africa, she sat for the entire visit with fists clenched, looking everywhere but at me, venting her anger toward God for putting her there. At that moment, it did not matter that she was caught at the airport with cocaine in her luggage.
She blamed God for not providing for her needs. She said because of Him (and His lack of care), she had to try to do it on her own. She had listened to a man back in South Africa who used her as a drug runner, and she believed that just one run would give her enough money to care for herself and her son for a very long time.
It only took one run, though, to get caught.
Over time, I heard her story. It was a story of a little girl abandoned by her parents and raised by a grandmother who did not love her.
The cake I gave to Beauty in December for her 38th birthday was her very first one. A layered homemade quilt I stitched together as a birthday gift was not permitted by the prison guards. It now sits back in my home, a reminder to pray for this woman and to persevere in loving her.
Finding her way
For Beauty, finding a way to earn money in the prison is very difficult. There are few jobs available, but Beauty is talented creatively. However, only round-tipped scissors are permitted. That makes it difficult to cut fabric and sew handbags or garments to sell to visitors. For foreigners, there is no family to bring them the necessities. And although I try to bring Beauty what she needs, many items (like the quilt) don’t make it past the prison door.
Despite the difficulties, what is most important is that God is helping her make spiritual progress through this journey. Anger from a life filled with pain continues to be an issue from time to time, but the Holy Spirit is working on Beauty as we talk and pray together and as she spends time with the Lord on her own.
And every day is one less day that she must spend in the prison. What a blessing to be a mentor to her, to be her friend, to be obedient to the call of the Lord to visit the prisoners (Matt. 25:36).
[Story shared by a ReachGlobal missionary serving in Costa Rica.]
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
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.
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
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.
Nueva Italia resembles nothing so much as a classic frontier town from a B-grade Western movie. It lies on a wide spot in the Ucayali River, three days by slow boat upriver from the city of Pucallpa, Peru. There is no other way to get here. When you arrive, you feel that, if you have not reached the end of the earth, at least you have come to its jumping-off point.
Pulling into port – a muddy riverbank, really – your senses are assaulted by the bright heat of the sun in this Amazonia community, by the shouts of stevedores (dockworkers) and the rumble of diesel tractors loading giant hardwood logs onto barges. The barges are attended by tramp trawlers waiting to carry the precious cargo of wood downstream, where it will be transformed into exotic polished woods for distant expensive markets. Smaller logs are simply pushed into the water, tied together to make rafts on which the workers live for a week or more as the river carries them to Pucallpa.
Young girls walk down the dusty streets in their gray-skirt-and-white-blouse school uniforms, giggling and whispering. As they pass, they greet you politely, “buenos días” (good morning). But there is little else that seems polite about this community.
The main business in Nueva Italia is logging the jungle, clearing enormous tracts of land far into the forest’s interior, and somehow, without discernible roads, transporting the big logs to massive muddy yards of wood. Houses are tin and thatched-roof ramshackle, a thin veneer of civilization in the chaos.
A bodega on the corner will sell you almost anything for three times the price of Pucallpa’s stores. One telephone services the entire town; a few moto-taxis ply the streets; occasionally a small motorbike will pass carrying a family – father, mother and small children pressed tightly together.
On a mission
We walk slowly, our small band of five – Rosa, a businesswoman from Lima, Peru; Jairo, a pastor and farmer from another village; Abelardo, a Shipibo pastor and orality teacher; Cecilio, a Shipibo church leader and student; and myself. The mid-morning heat is oppressive. The only church in town is abandoned and derelict, its paint peeling and wood rotting. Vegetation chokes the walls and fast-growing saplings push through the rotted roof.
We ask for the house of Maria Paola (name changed). Her father had brought the 16-year-old girl to our boat, the Evangelista II – with its mixed team of medical practitioners from the U.S., church leaders and volunteers from Pucallpa and Lima, and the Shipibo Bible students who live in villages on the river – for medical attention the day before.
Both Rosa and my wife, Ruth, discern in conversation that, while Maria Paola may have some physical and emotional afflictions, she seems to be spiritually oppressed as well. In talking with her father, he admitted taking her to the brujos – practicing witches – when medical help seemed to make no difference in her behavior.
We decide to make our way back to Nueva Italia, seek out Maria Paola, and pray for her deliverance from the demons that seem to hold sway in her life.
We had read the relevant Bible passages. From Ephesians, we read how Christ, raised from death and seated on the throne of heaven, defeated the principalities and powers and had them placed under His feet. We, as followers of Jesus, are also raised to new life in Christ and seated at his right hand. This morning, we fasted and prayed through breakfast.
Confronting the darkness
Finally, as we walk around the village, we are told that the family lives just next door. Her father is a shopkeeper; the house is small, dominated by a small store selling Coke, Inka Cola and Guarana. He recognizes Rosa at once and welcomes us into his home.
Maria Paola is just inside, on her bed. There is no door, only a curtain. The room is tiny. Her mother ushers us in, and we crowd single-file against the bed. She is frightened at first, anxious, reluctant to talk; but she recognizes Rosa and allows us to stay.
She looks like a wild-child, emaciated and sitting forlornly cross-legged on her make-shift bed, her long black hair unkempt, dark darting eyes wild, words almost inaudible, and both hands in constant motion, snapping her fingers as if to push away any conversation directed her way.
Rosa introduces our team, and engages Maria Paola simply, asking her name, and whether she knows Jesus. She says “sí” (yes). But her behavior belies her answer. Rosa asks for permission to pray with her; Maria Paola is uncertain. But we begin to pray, Rosa and Jairo in Spanish; I in English; Abelardo and Cecilio in Shipibo.
We invoke the powerful name of Jesus. We pray for the healing presence of the Holy Spirit. We command the spirits who are present to flee. Maria Paola squirms anxiously. She snaps her fingers when Jesus’ name and power are invoked, as if to push Him away from her.
The heat in the tiny room is oppressive, and sweat pours down my hands and fingers onto the open pages of my New Testament.
I take Maria Paola’s hands in mine so she cannot deflect our prayers. She struggles for a moment, but then relents. When I relax my grip, she begins again to snap her fingers. I bend down, my forehead pressed against my hand which holds hers on top of my New Testament. I pray fervently for God’s mercy and Jesus’ healing touch. Maria Paola begins to relax, and her head finally sags against my shoulder.
We pray for what seems an eternity; perhaps it is only minutes or maybe it is an hour. Maria Paola is quiet. Rosa asks her if she can say “Jesús es el Señor” (Jesus is Lord) in her life. Maria Paola agrees.
She smiles at us, her eyes are clear, her demeanor calm. We leave her with a Bible, highlighting the passages that will remind her that Christ has defeated the spiritual forces of evil and rescued her from the power of darkness.
As we leave, her father thanks us, presenting us with the only gift he has, a bottle of warm soda for each. Maria Paola emerges from her room, gives Jairo a shy kiss of thanks. For a moment, the light has shined in the darkness.
Ripples grow from Florida to Costa Rica and beyond
They prayed regularly for the ministry in Costa Rica and the needs of the local church. One of their own members faithfully pursued a call to full-time missions with ProMETA (an accessible, online Master’s-level theological education program for Spanish-speakers throughout the world).
In 2008, Faith Evangelical Free Church in Spring Hill, Florida, deepened its role. To their regular prayers, they added a prayer for how they might be used to serve the churches and pastors in Costa Rica.
The Lord brought them two ministry contacts in Costa Rica: Jorge, a pastor, and Mauricio, a missionary with a ReachGlobal partner ministry. Jorge and Mauricio brought Faith EFC a vision for Ortega, Guanacaste. In this small rural community in northern Costa Rica, a local pastor was working to build his church body, but he lacked a church building. They asked Faith EFC to help.
A big step for a small church
Asking God to supply the necessary funds, Faith EFC committed to the church building project in Ortega. Pastor Jorge encouraged them to come in July – the best time of year for Costa Ricans to participate in building efforts – dodging the worst of rainy season and the peak of sugar cane season.
Funds came in slowly. With July creeping closer, the Faith EFC missions committee decided to postpone the trip until the following July. The next day, a local foundation in Spring Hill called the missions director – through this foundation, God was providing the full $14,000 required to move forward with the trip that year.
With the money in the bank, a team of seven volunteers prepared for the trip and for the construction of a new church in Ortega, securing building materials in time for their arrival. Mauricio had stressed the need for biblical pastoral training, so the team, accompanied by their pastor, also prepared to deliver a five night Bible study on the Panoramic Plan of God to seven local churches in Guanacaste.
God worked out every detail. The team arrived in Costa Rica with arrangements made and the building materials at the site.
A life-changing work
“We worked all day, mixing cement, laying block and building the church,” shares Frank, Faith EFC Missions Director and team member.” At night, our pastor delivered his study to the local pastors and a few wives. Throughout the week, the work continued, and the Bible study grew bigger and bigger each night.
“By the end of the week, the building was completed, with a wonderful, packed, dedication service. And the Bible study concluded with so many people, still wanting more of God’s word.”
The new church building in Ortega was christened Jehovah Nissi (meaning the Lord our Banner). After seven years of praying, the church body had its building.
“The community kept saying that God had forgotten about them, and He does not see them,” Frank says. “With the finished church standing, the pastor did declare that God, in fact, does see. Many villagers are now attending and being fed God’s Word.”
God doesn’t stop there
The Bible study was so well received in Guanacaste that Mauricio asked the church to create a video version so it could be added to a bigger training curriculum.
ReachGlobal sent a videographer to the church in Florida, and the Faith EFC congregation participated in the five night study as it was videotaped. Afterwards, the study was translated into Spanish, Portuguese and French. Soon it will be available throughout all of Central and South America.
Committed to continuing the relationship in Guanacaste, Faith EFC recently raised funds and helped provide multiple copies of a children’s Bible study (created by a missionary in Bolivia) and 100 Spanish Bibles to the local churches.
What’s next for Faith EFC? The congregation hopes to return to Ortega to build a community center that would serve about 300 local families. As they continue to fundraise and await the necessary resources, they covet your prayers. So does the church in Ortega.
A recent short-term team to Tarma, Peru, saw firsthand the power of the gospel word combined with living life in a gospel-driven community of believers. Read team leader Mark’s story below:
Standing outside the town coliseum in Tarma, Peru, on our first day of ministry in June, I heard someone calling my name from down the street. From the sound of the voice, I knew it wasn’t one of my short-term team members, but who in Tarma knew my name?
I turned my head, surprised but thrilled to see two young Peruvian men, César and Gerson, hurrying towards me!
Three months prior
Back in March, I had accompanied a team to Tarma for a short vision trip. I had met César and Gerson on my final night in Peru, at a good-bye party. Both college students, César was studying to be a tour guide, and Gerson was studying to be a nurse. After hearing the gospel, both had lots of questions. César’s father had recently passed away, and he was struggling to understand how God could be good and why He would let this happen. Gerson was the quieter of the two, following César’s lead.
Neither was ready to trust Christ that night, but I answered every question that I could and committed to praying for them both… and I did. But I didn’t expect to see them again.
Yet, here I was, standing outside the Tarma coliseum three months later, watching these two young men approach! I quietly thanked God for this reunion – and invited César and Gerson to join me for the Tarma high school basketball championship game in the coliseum. They sat with our team and met everyone.
While we cheered from the stands, I thought about our team’s packed schedule. I wanted César and Gerson to hear the gospel again, and I wanted to sit with César and answer more of his questions, but I wasn’t sure where I would find that time. We were mainly ministering to high school students that week… so I invited them to help our team as we presented at their former high school the next morning.
Following the presentation, they joined us for lunch. Although I thought that was it, God desired something different. César and Gerson respectfully invited themselves to join us the next day… and then the next day… and then the next. We gladly allowed them to join us, but we did more than that, too – we welcomed them into our community, and we continued sharing the gospel with them. But this time it was different.
Hearing, sharing, living, loving
César and Gerson had heard the gospel in March, but now, through their help in translating for our team, they were actually helping to share the good news with their fellow countrymen. They heard the message again and again throughout our week in Tarma. And by spending time in our community, they also saw the gospel lived out amongst a group of believers. César and Gerson saw us love each other and the people of Peru in the context of a community. In the midst of the ministry activities on our schedule, we also just hung out together.
On Thursday evening, we returned to the coliseum, and one of our students shared his testimony. Gerson (the quiet follower) trusted Christ – Praise the Lord! But César was still not ready. He had more questions about faith and God. However, at the end of the evening, when one of the national Peruvian missionaries shared the gospel again, César also put his faith in Christ.
The ministry continues…
Although our short-term team had to return to the U.S., we know our friends are in good hands. Due to our partnership with ReachGlobal and the national missionaries in Tarma, César and Gerson have ongoing discipleship and encouragement right there in Tarma – strong believers to come alongside them in their journey with Christ.
It was a privilege to go to Peru and share the love of Christ with the people there – and to see the gospel transform the lives of two young men!