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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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.

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Missionary Pulse: Live Like You Were Dying

by Diane D., EFCA ReachGlobal missionary in Brazil

“Live like you were dying…”

I recently saw those words written on a church bulletin, and it reminded me to always be ready.

It says in 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

I’ve been attempting to be more ready these days. I’ve been keeping an EvangeCube (a Rubik’s cube type gadget that shares the gospel of Christ in pictures) and an extra Bible in my purse and intentionally looking for opportunities to share about Christ.

So in June, while out evangelizing on the streets of Ipanema, a famous beach community in Rio de Janeiro, my husband, Jeff, and I had the privilege of meeting Rosie.

This energetic Brazilian woman was selling refrigerator magnets and key chains while dressed in Carmen Miranda attire. Like the famous Brazilian singer, Rosie was wearing an eye-catching fruit hat and outfit.

After we had spoken for a while, Rosie wanted to give us gifts — key chains with the picture of the Christ the Redeemer statue. We gladly accepted, and I then asked her if she had ever seen an EvangeCube. She said she would love to see it because she is an evangelical Christian.

I showed it to her and told her that I wanted to give it to her as a gift, but that she needed to share it with others. She immediately began to cry. When I asked her why she was crying, she told us that she works at a hospital for terminally ill cancer patients and would love to use it there to share the gospel.

When I saw her a few months later, Rosie told me that the cube helps her share Christ using pictures.  She has held many children in her arms as they pass from this life into the arms of Jesus.

While Rosie is already a Christian, it greatly encouraged her and touched her heart to know that she is not alone as she strives to share the best gift of all — the gift of eternal life through God’s son, Jesus Christ.

Please pray that the Holy Spirit works through Rosie at the hospital and that many people hear the true gospel message.

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Missionary Pulse is a column dedicated to reflections directly from the ReachGlobal Latin America missionaries on the field. See archives.

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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 God uses Rosie at the hospital to bring His life-saving word to those who need to hear the gospel.
  • For Diane and the ReachGlobal team in Rio de Janeiro as they strive to live each day like they were dying, making the most of every opportunity to proclaim the name of Christ.
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The Phoenix Takes Flight

New church plant starts from ashes of another

On July 29, 29 people gathered on a second floor patio in Campo Grande, Brazil, to worship, pray and  study God’s word. Led by Thiago Lehmam, a 21-year-old computer engineering student, more than two-thirds of the group was young adults with the dream of starting a new church out of the remnants of their old church.

Three guest pastors pray over the Phoenix Church at their July 29 worship service, asking for God's blessing and direction.

Eight months earlier, the Free Church that these young Brazilians attended closed its doors when its pastor left. Unable to find a church that both felt like home and aligned with their beliefs, they decided to take matters into their own hands.

“Everything ‘began again’ one afternoon when we talked together and the question was raised: ‘Why don’t we start our own youth group?’” Thiago says. “And why not? One beautiful characteristic of our group is that we seem to have limitless creativity, young people with incredible gifts, and youth who know that they have a strong calling from God.”

Meeting weekly for more than five months now, the group is slowly making the transition from youth group to church plant. They call themselves Phoenix Church, aptly named for the mythological bird that is reborn from the ashes of another.

“We are working together to grow, both spiritually and in term of numbers, and we dream one day of having our own space, with services on Sundays, and a ‘more trained’ pastor leading and helping us to grow,” Thiago says.

Steve, an EFCA ReachGlobal missionary, attended the July 29 meeting and came away impressed with these young adults, many of whom came to know Christ several years earlier through the Brazilian Free Church’s summer English Camps.

“They realize that the responsibility is on their shoulders, and they’re taking that on with full conviction,” Steve says. “They didn’t ask any of the visiting ‘pastors’ to bring the Word. They didn’t ask for a dime for anything. They led us in an evening before the Lord.”

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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 God to lead these young adults in planting the Phoenix Church.
  • That the youth in Brazil would continue to experience the life-changing power of the gospel and that they would help spread the gospel throughout the country.
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Moving Latin America Pictures: Service Opportunity

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what about a video?

Help ReachGlobal Latin America strategically tell the story of God’s work through the creation of short promotional videos. Capture the true spirit of the culture, the people and the ministry in places like Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; San José, Costa Rica; or Mexico City, Mexico.

ReachGlobal Latin America is inviting 4-6 video producers to join us on a two-week video production mission trip in January 2012. Producers will each travel to a different city to film for four days — interviews, b-roll, city footage, etc. — before spending a week in Costa Rica editing and producing the final product. 

Who should apply?

Video producers with:

  • 3+ years of years of production experience
  • An eye for composition, an ear for the story, and a heart for God
  • All needed equipment for video production

If you or someone you know might be interested, find out more about this incredible opportunity. Don’t pass up the opportunity to unite your love of video with your faith in the Lord.

You’ve read our stories. Now help us tell them in a new and powerful way.

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CONNECT

Contact movingpicturesmovingpeople@efca.org with questions or to apply.

SERVE

Check out more details online or download the Moving Latin America Pictures Information Packet.

PRAY
  • For God to raise up the right team of video producers to join the trip.
  • For the pre-trip preparation and planning in each location where filming will occur.
  • That God be glorified through the telling of His work in Latin America through video.
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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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