Sunday, November 29, 2009

November 28th

Boa tarde!!

Well, we've started our 24 hour journey back to Manaus. We're enjoying a relaxing day of food and fellowship on the Linda Esperanca. We currently have a competitive spades tournament going on while people nap, sing songs and read while enjoying the beautiful Amazon scenery. Praise God we have a breeze because the boat is moving!! We've blown up baloons with Bible verses and candy to launch off the boat along with soccer balls as we see young children in the villages along the river. Who knew a baloon launcher would be so handy in the Amazon! It's entertaining to see how kids will jump off boats and swim into the river just to grab the goodies - it's also funny to see the ones who are expecting the boat of Americans and flag us down! We stopped briefly this morning in Itacoatira to say goodbye to our friends Audrey and Lexi who had to catch an earlier flight back to the US. Please pray for their safety as they make the long journey home.

We ended our time in Lake Carada with an adventurous speed boat hunt for alligators. We seriously thought they were joking until we ended up on the boat armed with life jackets, head lamps, and an alligator net. We took 4 speedboats through the same alligator infested canal that our group got stuck in the night before. We sailed through the canal with no light but the moon and a spotlight looking for the perfect gator. Once the glowing red eyes are spotted everyone has to be silent and all lights go off while one of the crew goes in for the catch. Those gators are quick though and out of 4 boats only 1 came back with a prized catch...a baby gator only about 2 feet long...we have proud pictures of Jeff holding the gator now. He might have reacted differently if it was hog hunting. Tonight we have a big boat party planned that involves bowling, coreography, skits, and of course hair braiding. We may or may not take Amazon Glamor Shots...there are no words to describe the look of one who has been in the Amazon for 9 days. Keep in mind the pictures will not do the smell justice!

On a serious note today has been a great time to reflect on the work of the Holy Spirit in the Amazon. We truly believe that we advanced the kingdom in ways that we've never been able to before. The success of the speed boat teams were crucial in not only building relationships and witnessing but in discipling our new friends. Our prayer is that this format of discipleship will forever change mission work as we know it in the Amazon. Because of the positive feedback from the speedboat team of the first 4 days, the entire team was able to minister to the villages of Lake Carada in the same way. We split up into small groups and went to all 4 villages going door to door as VBS was held for the children. It was amazing to see the Holy Spirit at work in ways we had never witnessed...rather than focusing on quantity we focused on quality. We spent most of our time investing in individuals by being intentional with building relationships. Once we built trust we presented the gospel. Some had never heard it before, some resisted, and some are heavily catholic (which for the most part here in the Amazon means that they believe that heaven is based on works). Several individuals from all 3 categories made professions of faith and after that decision was made we poured scripture and encouragement into their lives. Rather than just leaving with a good feeling of furthering the kingdom we stayed longer to make sure they understood their decision fully. We then showed how to study the Bible and taught them what it meant to be a disciple and to spread the Good News to their family and friends. The Evangicube was extremely was especially a success among the younger people as it served not only as a way to share the gospel with them but was an intriguing way for them to share with their friends since it's easy to follow and serves as a prompter as they walk others through the gospel message. A few of our team members were able to share and practice the Evangicube with new believers...what an encouragement to have them repeat the message of the cube with us so that we were certain that they understood the message in order to pass it on. It was amazing to see how comfortable our team became in speaking with these Brazilians. Although there were different bariers, with the power of the Holy Spirit, they were all lifted in that moment. We connected people in the villages and began to set up small groups as we taught them the importance of what Paul said that the church should look like. These villages are so tight-knit that many of them already practice community as it is described to us in Acts 2. That was enlightening and encouraging to our team and presented a great opportunity for us to learn from them. We often go to foreign countries thinking that we have so much to give and bless others with. Our approach this time was different. Rather than meeting a person once, sharing the gospel, and leaving with hopes that they got the message, we were intentional with our time and invested in really getting to know these people over several days. That way, we were not only able to know that their decision was genuine...we were able to teach them to grow in a relationship with Christ. We taught them the importance of sharing and that is could be their first step of obedience as a Christian. We made sure that the people in the villages were aware of everyone who made professions of faith so that they can encourage one another and discuss their faith further. Essentially, these will be the first village small groups. The missionaries for the areas are aware of the decisions as well. They will be following up with the progress of these new believers.

We have both been on mission trips before, but this one is different. As fun as life on the boat with our friends is and being surrounded by beautiful scenery, it is the relationships we built with the people that will be missed the most. We came here to change lives and are leaving with our lives changed just as much. The way we prepared and approached this trip has forever changed our thoughts on missions. We have learned the importance of disipleship and how crutial it is for future and further impact on the world. We believe our group has a new grasp on the Great Commission. We have committed to pray for these communities that we were so welcomed to over the past 9 days. Although praying for them seems like all we can do, it is actually EVERYTHING we can do.

We will be home soon! We will do our best to explain what took place on the trip, but honestly, there are just not enough words to do it justice. Thank you guys for all of your support and prayer. Please pray for our safety back. Also, Josh Rolf's passport cannot be found as of right now. He will be going into the city to work everything out. Please pray for a quick resolution and a quick way to return to the states.

In Him,

Lauren Newman and Cathleen Moffitt


Friday, November 27, 2009

Thursday, November 26th, 2009 - a.k.a Thanksgiving!!!

At the break of dawn we loaded onto the speedboats and wisked down the canal to Lake Carara. Upon the opening we saw crystal clear water (in Amazon terms, meaning mucky brown) and beautiful palm trees lining the horizon. Now that we have painted you a wonderful picture...

Today we split into two groups, the first going to a surrounding village to share the gospel and provide VBS for children, and the second going to host a soccer tournament. We were on the soccer team and upon entering the speedboats to take us to the village, one of our valued members was left behind (that valued member was Audrey). After hiking up to the soccer field in Sol Nasciente we realized we were without a translator and Audrey, but through much smiling, pointing and Spanish we managed to survive until Norman and Audrey joined the team. The soccer tournament was for the four main villages that surround Lake Carara and served as the audience for the grand opening of the mission house that had been built in Sol Nasciente. We provided the teams with full uniforms inculding jerseys, shorts and socks. We played the first two games in the morning: Divino played Bucuzal and Bucuzal was victorious! For the second game it was Sol Nasciente vs. Paraiso where Sol Nasciente was the winner. The two winning teams would play each other in the afternoon for the Championship.

We returned to the Linda Esperanca for lunch and rest and shared our morning experiences amongst each other. Everyone was rather tired at this point and knew that the afternoon session was going to be pretty long. We boarded the speedboats again (this time no one was left behind) and returned to the soccer field. The consolation game was played first, Paraiso was the winner, followed by the Championship where Sol Nasciente took first place. After the tournament was over we walked over to the Mission house where Josh Rolf preached and we presented all of the teams with medals and Most Valuable Player awards. We ended the evening serving BBQ to all four villages. Lindsey and I were on the second to last speed boat to head back to the Linda Esperanca; on the way our driver pointed out the alligators in the water showing there orange eyes above the water reflecting off the light. As we entered into the connecting canal the water level was rather low causing the speed boat to get stuck and turning us around forcing us to conquer the canal by driving backwards. Suddenly there was a splash to the side, Kelly jumped out of her seat over Matt. Upon said startling, Audrey squeezed her cup to its breaking point. We are not sure what caused the splash but Lindsey is "absolutely certain" it was an Alligator. In the end, we made it back unscathed. Needless to say after a long day in the sun we were in desperate need of rest.

The lifestyle of the people inhabiting these villages is so different from ours in America, yet the children just smile all the time and are grateful for things that most would consider minute and meaningless. It is amazing to see how God is working throughout these villages, His presence is in their smiles and in their eyes, they light up at the mention of "el nome de Jesus Cristo". The villages truly embody the church through fellowship and community, through breaking of bread and walking according to God's call. "How Beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news," Romans 10:15. The people wait patiently for us to come, not because we bring them material things, but because we bring hope and good news for them and encouragement to share in their faith with other villagers.

Friday, November 27th, 2009

This morning we again headed back to our respective villages, to further witness and encourage and to again hold VBS. We had a group of about 40 children in Sol Nasciente attend our VBS, where they learned about Daniel in the Lions Den. We did crafts with them and played with them, but mostly we just loved on them and entertained them in anyway we could imagine. One of the translators explained that the reason it takes the kids a bit of time to get to VBS is that they take showers and put on their best clothes when they hear that we are coming. The amount of joy that we provide them pales in comparison to the amount of joy they provide us; it is humbling to be here and do the work that we are doing.

In the afternoon we went to Paraiso and did another VBS. When walking back we saw and petted a baby armadillo ("Tortu") that one of the villagers had found in the jungle. Then further down the walk back a young child was coming up from the river holding a large fish in one hand and a giant bird in the other, we are truly one with nature here. When we approached the end to begin walking down towards the boat, the sun was setting through the palm trees, seeing God's majesty as we walked down the hill was the essence of breathtaking.

On a lighter note, we leave you with a humorous story...

One of the groups coming back from the furthest town had the privelage of experiencing shallow water, too many people and too big of a boat. One boat took all of the girls. Because of the weight we decided it was best to have a speed boat take two of the men across the lake to deeper water, where they could be picked up later. While that was happening three guys got into a canoe to follow them, because a group of hogs were coming towards the beach (Jeff Summerlin, Jon Lantz and Lucas the translator, were in the canoe). Nelson Crowe was left behind with his bucket hat to fend off the hogs alone. Long story short, the canoe started to sink half way across the lake, Lucas and Jon were laughing while Jeff (our resident banker- who gets queezy watching 'Planet Earth') was more than a little concerned. Keep in mind he had seen multiple alligators the night before. Water kept pouring into the sides of the boat, Jon is trying to keep the boat steady, Lucas is trying to paddle, while Jeff is frantically scooping water out of the boat with his bare hands- trying to keep his body perfectly still so as not to allow more water into the boat; keep in mind the water is only three feet deep! They finally make their way about 20 feet out from the shore when they get stuck in a mud slick. At this point a panicked Jeff began screaming to stop all together and wait for the other boat to come rescue them. He made the comment: "this is the most scared I have ever been in my entire life" to which Jon replied, "this is kind of funny" while Lucas is giggling at the front of the boat. Jeff's frantic response (delivered at the top of his lungs!), "I AM A CONSERVATIVE PERSON!" Jon and Lucas busted up laughing at his concern, in fact he was pointing out "alligators" (mud chunks) around them. Lucas jumped out of the canoe and towed them into shore where they left the canoe and walked around to meet the speed boat. Jeff is still upset about this occurence and we all think, a little scarred for life.

Audrey & Lindsey S. b

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Bom Dia from the Amazon!

It is Prestonwood Young Singles' 5th day here on the river and we have had an incredible experience. Yesterday, our second day of the Youth Ralley, we had hundreds of Brazilian kids, from 5 to 35 years, join us for competitive games. After hours of playing competitive field games between animal inspired teams, our day ended a bit differently; but really it was only the beginning of the next two life-changing days in Parintins.

We split the young Brazilians into two groups, ladies in one and the gentlemen in another. The girls received an encouraging and truthful lesson from the woman leaders from Prestonwood. They focused on self-respect and becoming God fearing woman in Brazil. While the woman led their purity station, our very own Matt Fernandez, gathered the men together to share that Jesus loves each and every one of them. Every man and woman is equally important to God and it is our responsibility as Christians to share that message with others. Each Prestonwood man led a small group with 8-10 young men as we shared with them the Good News, John 3:16, and that God yearns for a relationship with everyone. As we sat in small circles with these men, we encouraged these men to be leaders, to respect the women of Brazil, and to be lights unto the world in a sometimes very dark place. God was working miracles in these men as their eyes began to open wide, and they began to ask questions about our faith and our Jesus.

After the full day of activities, we met our Brazilian friends at a Baptist Church service. Two worship songs into the service, the lights went out. At first many thought it was planned, but the electricity had completely gone out in the area. One would imagine that the church service could not continue; but we are in Brazil and these young men and women didn't miss a beat. The Holy Spirit filled the building with every person singing worship songs and dancing around the chairs. While the church looked dark from the outside, hundreds of bright lights shined from inside as the Brazilians continued to praise Jesus and smile with their eyes wide open.

Our speed boat teams led a group deep into the Amazon villages the past three days, going village to village and door to door sharing the Gospel. While most of these villages were very remote, many had been introduced to the story of Jesus and were eager to grow in the knowledge of Christ. Our team, through intentional discipleship, preached the importance of moral character, living for Jesus and not for this world, and having a genuine love for others around them.

Today, we met our children bright and early on the fields to enjoy our last day of games with our Brazilian small groups/teams. What was once handshake introduction between the Americans and Brazilians became an all out spirit chant as the competiting teams developed cheers and dances to pump up their team and the crowd. The kids absolutely loved this. It's amazing to see how joyful and the sincere enthusiasm they express through their love for others. Dodgeball, Flickerball (similiar to ultimate frisbee), Tug-o-War, and the slipin' slide highlighted today's games. The games proved to be an incredible way to bring all ages together. At the end of the games, our leader Josh, gathered everyone under the shade and shared Jesus with these youth. After the message, a call to ask Jesus into their hearts was given. With every head bowed and every eyes closed, hands began to shoot up when publically asked if these kids and young adults will accept God's free gift of salvation and ask Jesus into their hearts to live for eternity. We pray that this is the beginning for many of these new believers as the old has gone and the new has come. As we walked away from the group, a few young men came to me and said "Thank You"; and I said "No, thank you, and know that I will be praying for you"; They reached out, putting their hand in mine, and said "We have already been praying for you and will continue to even when you leave Brazil." That is such an encouragment. To know that these youth are so eager to know Jesus, but sometimes do not have the means to do so as easily as in America; yet, their hearts are on fire for the Lord and they want to bless everyone around them. As we leave Parintins tonight to head west down the Amazon, we will be leaving our competitive teams and chants, but our love and prayer for those whom God introduced us to the last three days will remain in our hearts, as we will continue to support the people of Parintins.

In Him,

Nelson Crowe

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bom dia!

Hello from Brazil! The group arrived safe and sound in Manaus early Saturday morning, hopped on a boat, and set sail to Parintins. We made a pit stop on the journey in Vila Amazonia, a small village along the way, and conducted a vbs session at a church there. We exercised our acting muscles and portrayed the story of Daniel in the lion's den, complete with Samuel, accusers, and lions. Afterward, we helped the kids with a craft, painted the girls' nails, and played games outside. Later we journeyed on down the river to Parintins and set out on foot to see the church - Primiera Igrejia Batista, prayer walk around the city, and attend the Sunday evening church service.

Yesterday and today have been the first two days of the three day youth rally. We have morning and afternoon sessions with different groups of kids - mostly teenagers - each time. Monday morning there was a slight bump in the road when the site we had planned on using was already under contract for use that day. True to form, the Lord promptly provided an alternate site for the day that worked out perfectly. There may or may not have been a pool on site that some people from the group may or may not have jumped in to cool off. So far, we've only had the morning session today and it went great - other than the fact that I was soaked to the bone by a trash can of water that was unmercifully poured over me. However, I have to be honest, it was so hot so it felt great! One thing about today that was unique is we had a purity station for the guys and girls separately where we explained the value the Lord has placed on our lives, and how we can honor him with our bodies.

Several things continue to ring true - a smile, a handshake, and any form of sports ball can break down language and cultural barriers. It has been such a JOY getting to interact with the people here and seeing the work that the Lord is doing. On the first day, one of our leaders put it best when he pointed out that the Lord has been here long before we even thought about coming, and we are just meeting Him here to continue his work. We're having such a great time I haven't even thought about missing the Thanksgiving turkey. We have so much to be thankful for, I'm just grateful we can share this time with the people in this city. Thank you all for your prayers and support!

Check back for daily updates!

~Dara Griffin