Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Growing up in the church, I remember exactly one time that I participated in a fast. It was the summer before my junior year of high school and we were going through several months of preparation before a youth group mission trip to Mexico. We had several Bible verses to memorize, service project hours to complete, and even some essays to write. The preparation culminated in a (non-mandatory, I'm pretty sure) 30-hour fast. My friends and I faced it much as teenagers would, more of a survival of the fittest competition rather than an opportunity for spiritual growth. I made it through the 30 hours, praying often and consuming only water and juice, and celebrated with my friends at Wednesday night church by engorging ourselves on several 6-ft subs brought in by the youth ministry interns.

Fasting, to me, always seemed like one of those disciplines that was often talked about but rarely practiced. And those who practiced it individually were only the spiritual giants, maybe of the John-the-Baptist, eating locusts variety. Or, as was in my case, people fasted in community for a specific reason, more as an experience than anything else. (Note: I am merely sharing my personal impressions. It's quite possible that many people I knew fasted regularly and I just didn't know about it.) When I moved to Natal in 2007 I was intrigued to find a body of believers that included individual fasting in their regular spiritual diet.

Our church in Natal engages in two to five church-wide fasts per year. Usually they are included in a week-long prayer and fasting campaign, where we are given prayer partners and asked to pray together for a specific subject all week long, and then choose something from which to fast. Food is never emphasized, as it's become pretty obvious that many of us have idols whose absence hurts much more when removed than food. :) Some choose chocolate, some the internet, others video games, some choose meat (a daily staple in a Brazilian diet,) others, soft drinks, while others, full food fasts.

In addition to these church-wide fasts, however, it's not at all uncommon to hear our members mention their fasting on random occasions, never in a "look at me, I'm fasting" kind of way, but in a "really, stop offering me chocolate cake, believe me, I want it, but I'm fasting" kind of way. They always have a purpose for their fast, though we don't always know why. Most recently I've known of sisters and brothers fasting before the big college-entrance exam, fasting until a member who had left came back, fasting for the conversion of their parents, fasting to gain full confidence in God over a troubling situation.

Maybe it's nothing special to you, but I sure think it is. I'm so encouraged to be surrounded by people who take their relationship with God so seriously that they are willing to make these kinds of sacrifices for a greater purpose on a regular basis! And, it might be interesting to note, the specific fasts I mentioned above were all young people like myself, in their twenties, people who are learning very early on in their faith the importance of fasting as a spiritual discipline.

This past Sunday was the last day of one of our week-long prayer and fasting campaigns. The theme this time was "be," praying to grow in our being as God's servants. And...what's the best way to end a church-wide fast? With a church-wide breakfast, of course! So before worship we all came together to break our fast and celebrate the ways in which we had seen God grow us in our being throughout the week. After everyone had eaten and everything had been cleaned up, we shared together in communion to mark the end of our experience.

I feel pretty blessed to be a part of this family.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

We have to love our people

Even though I'm younger than all but one of them, I think my Monday night basic conversation students are positively adorable. There's something about beginner English-learners that makes everything they say charming, and, often, hilarious.

I shared in this post last week that our "English class" is actually a Bible study. This past Monday we read the story of the Good Samaritan. At the end of class, after we had done the necessary translating to make sure everyone understood, I asked for them to tell me, in English, what the point of the story was. I wrote their answers verbatim on the board and couldn't bring myself to erase them at the end of class. Nor could I bring myself to erase them the next day, or the day after that. So, knowing that they'd eventually be erased, I snapped some pictures so that you could see what our class is really about.

What does the story of the Good Samaritan mean to you?

We have to love our people-- that we know and that we don't know, too. 
We have to love God with all our heart and soul. 

We must share our life/things with the people who need it. 

How about you? If you had to sum up the story of the Good Samaritan in one sentence, what's the lesson it has taught you?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

1000 Words - And their Number Grew

Sunday was a good day. 

Fred is yet another example of God's perfect timing. He first came in contact with our church in 2008, and three years later decided to come back to learn more about the Bible. 

He's been studying the Bible since late 2011 with two of our members, Edvan and Talis, and decided to give his life to Christ in baptism this past Sunday!

We praise God for Fred!

"Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved." Acts 2:47

Monday, March 12, 2012

1000 Words - Mondays

I'm excited to announce a new feature on this blog called "1000 Words." You may have noticed that my last post a week ago had this title, as well as this one you are now reading. I decided to wait until I'd posted at least twice to tell you about it for the sake of self preservation and avoidance of failure.

In an effort to blog more frequently, I have decided that at the beginning of each week I will post a picture and tell you about it. This will make things easier on me in terms of thinking of content (what to blog about) and frequency (making sure I don't go too long between posts.) This will also, hopefully, allow me to cover a wide array of topics related to life in Natal, as each post will be about a picture. If I know myself, and I'm pretty sure I do, there's a good chance that from here on out all of my posts will be part of the "1000 Words" series, but I also imagine it will be a great way for me to share what's going on in my life in Natal.

This photo was taken at our English class Thanksgiving celebration in November.  But I'm not going to blog about our Thanksgiving feast. Instead, I'm going to tell you about the very special people pictured with me in this photo. Almost all of them are students in my Monday night basic conversation class. I began this class as an opportunity for people whose English is not advanced enough to participate in Let's Start Talking to practice their English in a more relaxed setting with a teacher who speaks Portuguese. :) I have been teaching classes like this since I arrived in Natal four years ago, but never have I had such a dedicated group of students. Each week they are excited to learn and practice what they have been studying. They ask great questions and help each other understand. 

And the best part? We use Let's Start Talking's gospel of Luke workbook as the text for our lessons, which means each Monday night we are basically having a bilingual Bible study. A Bible study with a dentist, two hair dressers, a security guard, a candy vendor, and others. A Bible study in which we read the lesson in English, and answer the questions from the workbook in English, but talk about the meaning in Portuguese. They know that, while I care that they learn and practice their English, I don't care about that as much as I care that they learn and internalize what the lessons are about. So they study, they look up words in the dictionary before coming to class, they help their classmates understand. We spend half the class talking about the meaning of the story, and we don't leave until everyone's questions have been answered. 

And so tonight, when we discussed the lesson of the transfiguration in Luke 9, and their faces went from confused to "aha!" I asked them to remember our last lesson from last semester, in which Peter confesses that Jesus is "the Christ from God." And I asked what was significant about the fact that right after that story, we were reading a story where God speaks to Peter and says "This is my son whom I have chosen. Obey him." And they casually look at me and say "God was confirming what Peter confessed."

And it's really not an English class. We're having a Bible study.

Monday, March 5, 2012

1000 Words

Each Sunday during our worship service, usually between communion and the offering, we have a time of guided prayer. Whoever is preaching that day will spend a few minutes praying with the congregation about something very specific. Sometimes it's a person in our church family who is struggling financially or with their health. Sometimes it's for the victims of a recent natural disaster. Sometimes it's for ourselves, for our spiritual growth as a body.

Yesterday during the prayer time, Osmildo got up and quoted 1 Timothy 4:12, "Don't let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity," then proceeded to invite any of our young people who live in a home with parents and familes who aren't Christians to come up to the front to be prayed for. 

I could have told you that most of our members are young people, and that most of them come from non-Christian homes, but I was not prepared to see it displayed before me. The visual of just how many of our brothers and sisters go home daily, often alone, to a home where their lifestyle and beliefs are not encouraged, supported, or understood was overwhelming. As we prayed for them, I couldn't help but get emotional over how amazing God is to have brought so many people to Him despite the most basic of challenges. 

 Notice all the empty chairs. That's because, yes, more than half of our 66-member congregation comes from non-Christian homes. Please join us in prayer for these members of our family who wake up daily in their biggest mission field.