Making an Oasis From Grief

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Ministry offers safe place for women suffering abuse

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — At the bottom of the hill that runs through the slum of Guarari stands a two-room building.

Despite its humble appearance, the building is a refuge for many of the women who live in Guarari. The Costa Rican missionaries who come here regularly seek to make it a place of unconditional love.

“Jesus never intimidates women, hurts them, or sexually threatens them,” Shelley Snitko says while teaching a Bible study to some women here.

For many of the 40 women sitting with her, trusting Jesus is difficult because of both his masculine character and the troubled circumstances they believe he allows them to live in.  Snitko, a member of a short-term team from Huntsville, Ala., appeals to these spiritual obstacles by contrasting the character of Jesus with the oppressive men that control many of these women’s lives.

“Jesus is the light in the darkness, hope for the hopeless, peace for the restless,” Snitko says. “He is everything.”

Melanie Wilson, a missionary with ReachGlobal, initially became involved with ministry to the women of Guarari after going there in January 2012 with a short-term team.

“After getting to know the Costa Rican missionaries, I was really excited to join with them because they pretty much are the only people working in Gurari consistently,” Wilson says.

Serving with street-smarts

The ministry, which has been active in Guarari for six years, is led by Costa Rican missionary Hugo Salas. Salas grew up living on the streets and says that experience gave him a heart for others suffering from hardship.

“God gave me the vision to work in a community like this,” Hugo says. “And I began to get involved in this type of community work. I became dedicated to the ministry and the kids.”

The ministry leads Bible studies for the women and children, and also teaches women crafts like jewelry-making and painting to generate more income for their families. Salas says that in the six years the ministry has been working in Guarari, the spiritual state of the community has improved.

“We’ve been teaching the women how to love their children,” Salas says. “But apart from that, we are doing Bible studies and discipleship. Not just for the women, but also for the teens. All this is simply for the reason to tell them about the love of God.”

According to Wilson, one of the main goals of the ministry is to provide a physical place where the women can take refuge.

“It is one place where the women and children can come and it’s safe,” Wilson says. “Many homes have physical abuse, sexual abuse, alcohol abuse, drug abuse. Violence is everywhere in some form or fashion, sometimes just one of those things and sometimes all of those things. So it’s a safe place where there’s no violence.”

Redemption on display

Wilson says that one of the most powerful testimonies to the power of God’s word that she’s seen in this community happened this past June when a short-term team from Huntsville came to work with the Guarari ministry for a week. In October, Wilson had sent a prayer request asking the team to pray for a young girl who lived in Gurari and was the leader of a drug-trafficking gang.

“We sent them a prayer request to pray that God would work in the gang leader’s life and that the gospel would transform her life,” Wilson says. “We started praying in October, but then kind of forgot about it.”

To the amazement of the short-term team and the rest of the women in the community, the gang leader came with her mother, sister, and daughter every day to the June Bible studies that the short-term team held.

On the last day of that week, the women and the short-term team were trying to fill time while waiting for a pizza to be delivered. One of the ladies from Huntsville came to the front of the room and gave her testimony about her daughter who’s been heavily addicted to drugs. The woman talked about how she copes with that and how it affects her relationship with God.

As she spoke, the mother of the drug dealer cried uncontrollably. Afterward, the mother and daughter came forward.

“This is what I’ve done to my mom,” the daughter said.

“They really were touched by God’s word so we’re praying that the seed was planted and it will grow,” Wilson says.

Despite these small victories, Wilson says spiritual opposition is strong.

“Spiritually, it’s just hard to break through the hold that Satan has,” Wilson says.

As the ministry establishes itself as a place of refuge for the women and continues trying to drown out the darkness of sin with the light of Jesus, the missionaries say their greatest need is prayer.

“I would say to anybody who reads this, pray for the protection of the missionaries there and that the spiritual light that is there will shine brightly and Satan will be thwarted in all of his efforts,” Wilson says.

© 2013 EFCA. All rights reserved. ReachGlobal News is a division of EFCA-ReachGlobal.

 

Braving bullets to reach the forgotten

Church team survives firefight between police, gang in Rio slum

About midnight, the team heads out, almost 100 of them.

They walk single-file down a narrow road leading into a steamy Rio de Janeiro slum called Arará. They head toward the baile funk music pounding through giant speakers in the town square.

They’re crashing a boca de fuma – a drug-fueled party thrown by the local boss. Around them, prostitutes work the square. Dealers sell crack, meth and cocaine openly on tables. Other drug traffickers, many just boys, tote AK-47s.

Suddenly the music cuts out. Traffickers whip out their cell phones, quickly scanning texts. Motorcycles rev up and bolt out of the square.

Then, gunshots. Lots of them.

It’s the BOPE – a military police battalion charged with pacifying drug-controlled slums like Arará and the surrounding barrio, Benfica. As the party vaporizes, BOPE troops hurry to block both ends of the road with tanks.

Continued gunfire sends everyone still caught in the square bounding for cover – inside houses, apartments, storefronts, wherever there’s shelter.

Most of the team makes it out. The seven who don’t scramble to a walk-up lunch counter and hide behind the garage-type metal door.

Amid the mayhem, team member Chris starts talking about Jesus with a 12-year-old boy who’s also pinned down in the shop. Team members pray for the neighborhood. Soon the gunfire stops, and the seven seize the opportunity to get out of Arará.

“For hours afterward, we sat as a team and just said, ‘Wow,’” remembers Craig, a ReachGlobal missionary who was one of the seven.

“The police were firing into the boca from two directions,” Craig recalls. “Eventually you could hear it right outside our door – guns being fired. We didn’t know at this point who they were. The fear was it could be another gang coming, regular police looking for payoffs; it could be BOPE. Either way, I was worried about where we were.”

Burden for the forgotten

The team, mostly from Baptist Life Church based in the nearby barrio of Caju, is doing a ministry they call madrugado do carinho – literally, middle of the night care.

The midnight care outreaches are the brainchild of Fabio, a 31-year-old pastor from Rio de Janeiro who took over Baptist Life Church eight years ago, when it had two people attending. The church now has almost 700 people in discipleship groups.

Caju is home to about 50,000 people, most of them poor migrants from northeast Brazil who came looking for a better life in the city.

It’s known as a forgotten neighborhood. That reputation deeply attracted Fabio, who for years has felt a push from God to share the love of Christ with “excluded people,” and to go to places that other people don’t want to go.

“So whether that’s persecuted countries – that captures my attention – or going into a favela at nighttime, these are places that most people don’t want to go to, and they are neighborhoods where there aren’t many evangelical churches,” Fabio says.

But those drug traffickers need to know that there’s a place in the kingdom of Christ even for them, says Mike, a minister from California who led Chris’ short-term team. The night before the shootout, in fact, Mike talked with five drug traffickers in Arará. He told them that he’s lived in their shoes, and that they can be forgiven for everything they’ve done.

Mike’s history gives him an automatic in with these guys. He left a life of drugs and gang violence 12 years ago to follow Jesus after God miraculously spared him from a suicide attempt.

“I know from seeing the situation down there that the only hope for that area is the church,” says Mike, who has led teams to minister in the favelas for the past five years. “I don’t see the government or the police being able to fix it. The only way you can kill a snake is to [twist] off its head. So I figure if I can get to the top guys and get them to accept the gospel message and bring the rest of their men with them into the church, then there’s hope.”

Earning respect

Fabio’s years of ministry in the favelas and his willingness to tell even the drug bosses there about Jesus have earned him their respect. He has leveraged that respect to the hilt, going so far as to rescue people being tortured for crossing drug traffickers.

The first person Fabio rescued was a young man who had been shot through both hands as punishment for a robbery. People who break the no-stealing code inside a favela will often get fingers cut off or get shot through the hand by traffickers. The traffickers double as enforcers for the drug bosses, whose word is law in hundreds of favelas like Arará and Benfica and Caju, where Baptist Life ministers.

“By and large, the drug traffickers, they respect pastors – pastors who are serious about their work,” Fabio says. “Unless I cross them over, they’re not going to harm me or the church. The fact that I’ve been doing this a long time and understand the way of the favela, I don’t have the same fear I Íused to have years ago.”

Neighborhoods like Caju teem with people involved in drugs – bosses, sellers, and users. Because those people tend be out more in the middle of the night, Baptist Life has made a point of being out then, too – even at the risk of walking into gunfights.

“There are missionaries and pastors there that are absolute modern-day heroes for Jesus Christ, risking their necks every day to spread the gospel to people the rest of the world would just hate and turn their backs on,” Mike says. “And those are the very people who, if they can be reached, will make the difference to turn that country around.”

Pray

  • For the continued mission of Baptist Life Church – that they would be able to expand their discipleship groups into places like Arará and across Rio de Janeiro.
  • That God would use Baptist Life and its discipleship and evangelism ministries to put an end to drug trafficking in places like Caju and Benfica.
  • That God would protect Fabio and his people as they minister in the neighborhoods.

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Bringing Jesus to the Party

Missionaries weave gospel into every facet of life in Mexico City

During their time in Spain, EFCA ReachGlobal missionaries Joshua and Naomi were forced to rethink two critical issues: How the church multiplies itself, and how the gospel gets spread.

Now that Joshua is ReachGlobal’s city team leader in Mexico City, he and his wife are employing the lessons they learned in Western Europe in a new setting. Tops on that list: Think small, and go where nonbelievers go.

The latter conviction got put to the test recently when Joshua and Naomi were invited to a posada (Christmas party) by a friend that Naomi met at their kids’ school. They ran the idea by some Christian friends — some said go, some weren’t so sure. Thinking back to the many parties they threw and attended with non-Christian friends in Spain, the choice was pretty simple.

“We want to be where non-Christians are,” Joshua says. “So we decided to go and see what happens.”

‘What would you do differently?’

Smith PartyAt the party, the women gathered around a table, the men around a bar. While the other men drank copious amounts of tequila, rum and whiskey, the conversation turned from alcohol to the apocalypse.

“Hey, do you think the world’s going to end in 2012?” one man asked Joshua.

“I don’t think so, but if the world were to end tomorrow, what would you do differently?” Joshua replied.

And so the stage was set. The man replied in a different vein, about if he were to die, what he would leave for his family.

When it was Joshua’s turn to answer, he said, ideally, he wouldn’t change anything, because he was already trying to live every part of his life in light of the gospel. That led right into his testimony of how God saved him from thoughts of suicide as a 15-year-old, his time in Spain as a missionary, and his reasons for coming to Mexico.

The result? A half-hour group conversation about the nature of the gospel. That conversation never would have happened if Joshua and Naomi had been too shy or aloof to attend a party everyone knew was going to involve a lot of alcohol.

“Now these people have a better understanding of the gospel,” Joshua says. “Now I have a relationship with a group of men I would have never met before.”

And from that, Naomi already has had one of the women at the party and a couple of her friends over to their house, and Joshua has plans to meet one of the men, who gave Joshua his business card at the end of the night.

Connecting the dots

In his job as team leader, Joshua is responsible to train, equip and teach other people in ministry. But his job also involves strategy — in the case of the posada, just being intentional about possible gospel-sharing opportunities. “I’m going to show up because these people matter, and if God wants to give me the opportunity, I’m going to be ready for it.”

It’s all part of what Joshua and Naomi think of as a progressive connect-the-dots gospel picture that they try to draw for people through their relationships with them.

“When you bring the gospel to bear in all of life, what you’re doing is creating those dots,” Joshua says. “When I talk about the relationship of the gospel to my children, to my marriage, to suffering, to crime, to politics, to authority structure — whatever it is — when we talk about how the gospel applies to those areas, we may not get the whole thing in it, but what we’re doing is giving people the dots.

“Through daily life, over time, those dots begin to take shape, and the Holy Spirit puts them together, and suddenly they have a pretty full understanding of what the gospel’s really about.”

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CONNECT

mexico@efca.org

View “A New Day” — a short video about the ReachGlobal ministry in Mexico City.

SERVE

Bring a short-term team to Mexico City. Or contact us about serving long-term as part of the Mexico City Team.

PRAY
  • For new relationships with nonbelievers to be opened up to every member of the Mexico City team this week.
  • For the team’s boldness in sharing the gospel with nonbelievers there.
  • For the ministry of Joshua and Naomi’s small group — that it would grow to include new believers and greater outreach to the city.
GIVE

Make an online donation to the Mexico City general ministry fund.

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Video: Brazil: ‘Everyone is Called’

In one of the most dangerous slums in Rio de Janeiro, God has taken hold of the hearts of hundreds. Caju may be riddled with violence, drugs and brokenness, but rays of light and hope are breaking through — and ReachGlobal gets to be part of the change.

Hear from Daniel, a young believer in Caju; Fabio, the committed pastor who has earned the respect of the drug lords; and our own ReachGlobal missionaries as they tell one piece of the huge work God is doing in Brazil.

Everyone is called to missions. How will you respond to God’s call?

Having trouble viewing the video? See it on YouTube or Vimeo.

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“Everyone is Called” is part of the Moving Latin America Pictures project. It is the first of five videos produced by a short-term mission team of videographers to capture the essence of the ministry and the needs on the field. Please stay tuned as we post a new video each week for the next four weeks.

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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 the church in Caju — that they would continue to reach people in the neighborhood with the gospel of Christ.
  • That God would raise up workers for the harvest in Rio and throughout Brazil. Pray to see how He might be calling you.
GIVE

Make an online donation to the ministry in Brazil.

SHARE

Cutting Through the Haze in Rural Guatemala

Los Olivos builds wood stoves to improve health, share God’s love

In the mountain farming town of El Yalu, Guatemala, wood smoke lingers everywhere. Used by everyone here for cooking and heating, it’s a way of life.

It’s also a way to die.

Lower respiratory infections (pneumonia and bronchitis among them) are the leading cause of death in low-income countries such as Guatemala, according to the World Health Organization. One common cause of LRIs is wood smoke from indoor cooking fires.

Rather than getting vented out, smoke from open cooking fires in the cornstalk-walled houses here often just hangs, slowly meandering out doors and windows. Around mealtime, that leaves many homes here sitting in a gray haze.

Building into lives

To battle the problem in El Yalu, Los Olivos Church – an Evangelical Free Church of about 800 people from the nearby city of Sumpango Sacatapequez – started building wood stoves for people two years ago. With assistance from American short-term missions teams, Los Olivos has built more than 60 stoves here in an effort to care for the physical and also the spiritual needs of local people.

[Check out the related video: Stoves for Life – El Yalu.]

It takes two people four days to build a stove. However, Oscar Chiquitó, project director at Los Olivos, usually has five or six people from a visiting team visit one house. While two people work, the others talk and develop a friendship with the family members.

“With building the stoves, what we are doing is showing people that we care about them because God cares about them,” Oscar says.

Constructed of cinder blocks and bricks covered with cement, the stoves measure about 4 feet by 4 feet and stand about 3 feet high. The cast iron stovetops have four burners with removable caps through which to load wood. A 6-inch steel stovepipe vents the smoke outside.

The cost of materials runs about $250 U.S., but Los Olivos charges the families $30. The rest is covered by local and outside donations.

“What we want by having the families pay 30 dollars is that they would have ownership of the stove,” Oscar says. “And it’s been working well, because we see that families, and especially the women, really care about the stove. They take care of it, and they clean it up, and they keep it in a good condition.”

Saving wood, saving trees

Cooking three things at once on a stovetop rather than one thing at a time over a fire with the same amount of wood, the stoves also help stanch deforestation — a national problem that only gets worse as the country’s population increases.

Every year since 2005, population growth in Guatemala has hovered at or near 2.5 percent, the highest rate in Central America. In that same time period, annual loss of Guatemala’s primary forest almost tripled from the previous five years to 3.72 percent – a trend on display in the bean and corn fields cut into the steep hillside forests surrounding El Yalu.

El Yalu resident Maria Rosa Grande Avila has been using her stove for six months. She sometimes still burns an open fire on the floor to keep her cornstalk-walled hut and her five children warm. However, the stack of wood she uses for cooking that once lasted two or three days now lasts a week.

“I used to cook with an open fire on the floor, with a comal [a heavy iron skillet],” Maria says. “When I wanted to make tortillas, I could not cook any other thing, like food or coffee. Now that I have the stove, I can cook many things. So it is working well.”

The stove project represents just one way that Los Olivos is trying to share the good news of Jesus to people in and around Sumpango. Even though 40 percent of Guatemalans call themselves evangelicals, Oscar says, extending the gospel in majority Catholic communities such as El Yalu needs to be a process of show and tell because local leaders can be leery of evangelicals.

“We have to be very careful about coming and sharing the gospel the first time we see them or meet them,” Oscar says. “So what we are trying to do there with the stove project is to reduce respiratory problems and also to save the trees — but more than that, through the action, we are telling people that we care about them, that God cares about them. That’s why we are doing this kind of project.”

Story by Lincoln, EFCA ReachGlobal Missionary Journalist

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Discipleship questions

  1. Read James 2:14-26 and discuss the faith + works model illustrated by Los Olivos in El Yalu.
  2. What impact do you think this ministry has on families in El Yalu?
  3. Los Olivos church is seeing success by charging poor families $30 for these stoves, because the families then take a greater sense of ownership and care. Can you think of other situations where Christian compassion efforts either get this right or get this wrong? Can you find scriptures that support your opinion?
  4. Where is the line between telling people what they’re doing wrong – like deforesting a nation — and trying to Americanize a culture?
  5. What’s the right missional approach to an area where Christianity is present, but perhaps misunderstood? How can missionaries be evangelists without offending or impeding Christians already active in an area?
  6. Now that you’ve seen what Los Olivos is doing, now that you’ve read James, what is the Holy Spirit saying to you?
  7. Discuss how you best keep yourself sensitive to the needs of the poor, both where you live and around the world.

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CONNECT

latinamerica@efca.org

SERVE

To send a team to help build stoves in El Yalu, contact Oscar Chiquitó at chsoscar@hotmail.com.

PRAY
  • That the people of El Yalu will respond positively to the gospel.
  • That the Los Olivos church plant there will grow.
GIVE

Los Olivos wants to build 120 more stoves so that every family in El Yalu can have one. The up-front cost is $250 per stove. Partner financially with Los Olivos to complete this project.

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Making Ministry Look like Child’s Play

Los Olivos Church uses playground to reach community

Watching kids whirl around a tire swing at the new playground in Sumpango Sacatepequez, Guatemala, you’d think they had done this a thousand times.

Truth is, the brightly colored slides and tubes make up the first playground of its kind in this agricultural town of 35,000 people.

The playground was installed in August by a team of 26 people organized by Kids Around the World, a children’s ministry that builds playgrounds, and Lake Wisconsin Evangelical Free Church, Lodi, WI. It overlooks a hillside lot owned by Los Olivos Church, one of the largest churches in Sumpango and the first Evangelical Free church in Guatemala.

Giving kids a place to laugh and tumble around might seem like a low spiritual priority to some; but leaders at Los Olivos see it as a grand opportunity.

The big idea? Reach the kids with the good news of Jesus, and their families will follow.

[Check out the related video: Playground in Sumpango.]

“In order to reach the children and youth, our church needed to have something attractive to them,” says missionary Oscar Chiquitó, who is also project direct at Los Olivos. “That’s why we came up to the congregation and said, ‘OK, we need to build a playground for the children, because we know if we have the playground, children will come.’

“At first it was really hard, because they thought, ‘Why are we doing this?’ In their minds, they always think that the church needs to care only for the spiritual life of people. But at the end, God was able to convince the people that this project would really attract the children and youth.”

City on a hill

The playground is just the start. Reaching older kids also means hosting sports. And in Guatemala, that means building a soccer field.

So on the terrace above the playground, the church is constructing an artificial-turf-over-concrete field. Built to withstand weather and negate the cost of maintaining natural grass, the field is one of only two outdoor soccer facilities in all of Sumpango. The other one is only hard-packed dirt.

Los Olivos is hoping to raise $20,000 for the turf from American partners soon. The church plans to use the field without turf until then.

That the soccer field exists at all testifies to the collective vision of the church, which has about 800 attenders. While the playground and the retaining wall separating it from the soccer field were funded through donations from Kids Around the World and U.S. churches, Los Olivos funded the field entirely on its own — $8,000 for 800 bags of concrete. This, in a town where people typically live on about $300 a month.

All it took to raise the money was for the skeptics to see the joy in the mob of laughing kids at the playground’s opening ceremony in August.

“When they saw that the children were having fun, when they saw that the children were enjoying this place, they got really excited,” Chiquitó says. “So they really bought it. And we really praise God, because we don’t have rich people in our church – we have poor people. But they were giving sacrificial offerings.”

Playing with priorities

Los Olivos’ original plan was to build a new worship facility on the land first, then do other projects – the field, the playground, a proposed school and perhaps a health clinic – later. However, Los Olivos favored the playground over the worship center as an extension of its outward focus on Sumpango and the surrounding area.

“They really felt like that’s what the community needed versus what the church needed,” says Paul Haan, a youth pastor from Hope Free Church in Manitowoc, WI, who has led several youth teams on trips to Sumpango. Haan’s latest team helped build the facility’s retaining wall.

“That’s a real testament to sharing the gospel,” Haan says. “It’s much more of a gift, and a gift is a pretty good demonstration of the gospel message.”

Playgrounds can play a key role in boosting a church’s impact in a community, says Kids Around the World Regional Vice President Chris Marshall. The $10,000 playground erected in Sumpango is a good example.

“What they are saying to that city is, ‘We believe in children, we love children, and we’re committed to your children,’” Marshall says. “It’s a disarming tool to get into a community in an even more powerful way.”

Brian Erickson, senior pastor at Lake Wisconsin Evangelical Free Church, says he values the vision of Los Olivos because of the church’s heavy emphasis on evangelism.

“There is such a felt need down there,” says Erickson, whose church has sent six short-term teams to work in Sumpango. “They don’t have money. They don’t have clean water. There’s a lot of illness. When you go down there and you meet felt needs in the name of Christ, it just sets you up for being able to then build off that and share Christ with people who are very needy and in a good position to receive Christ.”

Chiquitó sees the playground/field project as a lesson in how vision trumps dire circumstance in God’s work.

“One of my goals as a leader of the church is to bring the vision to them,” he says. “The Bible says, ‘Without vision, the people perish [Proverbs 29:18].’ Even though we don’t have the means, if we have vision, we know for sure that God will provide the means so we can really reach the vision that, as a church, we have for this place.”

Story by Lincoln, EFCA ReachGlobal Missionary Journalist

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Discipleship questions

  1. Per capita income in America is almost $40,000, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Per capita income in Sumpango is about $3,500. What can Los Olivos’ generosity toward the work of Christ teach us about giving?
  2. Read Mark 10:13-16. Talk about or consider yourself the value Jesus placed on children and how the vision that Los Olivos has for ministry to children fits in with that.
  3. How can ministry to children reach entire households with the gospel?
  4. Oscar likes to quote Proverbs 29:18. Read that verse and talk about the vision your church has for ministry. What are the strong points of your church’s vision? What might be lacking right now?
  5. Name some ways you and your church could impact your community with the gospel without having all the funds to do everything right away.

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CONNECT

latinamerica@efca.org

SERVE

If you are interested in sending a team to work in Sumpango, write to Oscar Chiquitó at chsoscar@hotmail.com.

PRAY
  • That God will continue to provide means for Los Olivos to fulfill the vision God has given them for Sumpango and the surrounding villages.
  • That children would accept Jesus as savior and Lord through Los Olivos, and that their families would, too.
  • That Los Olivos would be able to replicate the ministries it has begun in Sumpango throughout the villages in the surrounding area.
GIVE

Partner financially with Los Olivos by helping the church meet its goal of $20,000 for turf on the new soccer field.

SHARE