I recently returned home from an AMAZING mission trip to Brazil, and though I have been blessed enough to take many such trips, this one sticks out to me perhaps more than the others. For me there were several bucket list items that I got to check off my list like swimming in a river in the Amazon, fly fishing and landing a fish with big teeth, and holding an anaconda in the jungle to name a few. As cool as those things were though, they weren’t the highlights of the trip. What touched me the most was how deeply I was impacted by what God is doing in the Brazilian church. What we experienced there was nothing short of revival. It was exhilarating to see God doing so much in so many. I am a part of a growing, life giving church here at home, but there was definitely something special happening there, so naturally I couldn’t help but compare the differences, and in doing so I found 4 things that are overrated in the US.
I know that some people will read this point and get triggered for good or for bad, but please hear me out. My native language is awesome, I love to speak it with a bit of an Ozark twang, but there is a certain beauty in other languages. What I noticed wasn’t as much the way they roll their “Rs” while speaking Portuguese, but rather the attentiveness that is necessary to effectively communicate when there is a language barrier.
I notice that here in the States, that we often only hear what we want, when we want to. In the classic American novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee observes that “People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.” You don’t have that luxury when you are trying to figure out what you can eat, what you need to do to be safe, and when you desperately want an accurate description of what is going on. Our translators were awesome because not only did they do a great job of translating the language, they also communicated the emotion. I’m not so sure we do so great at those things even as we speak with other English speaking Americans.
Communication is a vital part of any enterprise, but it is also taken for granted that we do a good job of communicating vital information when the reality is that we often don’t. In 2015 LifePoint had an evaluation that revealed we were really dropping the ball in this area, and it caused some real problems. Since then we have identified the issue, made some big changes, and have greatly improved, but we still have room to grow. One thing our time in Brazil taught me is that if we spent more time ensuring that our communication was actually connecting AND that we are understanding what someone else is trying to say, it would go a long way to eliminate many of the issues that we deal with on a day to day basis.
2. Wi-Fi on demand.
I believe that the next generation will be surprised to learn that they didn’t enter this world iPhone in hand with a high speed wifi connection. It seems that everyone is consumed with being connected to social media, gaming, or scratching that curiosity ending itch with a Google search. In our quest to eliminate boredom we have created a world of pseudo-relationships, highlight reel reality, and surface level “friends” that can’t really fill the need God hard wired into us for connection. What I found in the Amazon was a glorious reprieve from notifications, email, and the latest news updates. It was awesome! I felt like I could have distraction free conversations with my wife and our friends, and we truly enjoyed making those connections. Of course I do know how to turn my phone off, and I deleted the Facebook app on my phone to help with this, but on our trip even the minimal disruptions were eliminated for days at a time and it was healthy for us to take a break. So I have come to the conclusion that we need to unplug from our gadgets and get connected with actual people more often.
OK this isn’t actually a word, but it is a real issue. We Americans live in an amazing country with a strong economy, we have some of the highest disposable incomes on the planet, and because of that, we tend to equate the accumulation of “stuff” to the realization of feeling happy, secure, accepted, etc. What a big, fat, huge, whopper of a lie. Brazil is more similar to our culture than many of the other nations I have traveled to. To be sure I saw people who were broke and others who had lots of “stuff”, but I also saw them freely give it away. I watched them sacrifice their time, talent and treasure in the name of hospitality. They were so giving, so generous, and so loving that it seemed as if the things that we often prize so highly in life simply didn’t matter like they often do here.
Instead of things, they tended to prize relationships. They saw value in other human beings, even the ones who didn’t speak their language or understand their ways. Growing up here I really had the thought that if I could just get this pair of shoes, or this certain toy or game, then I would really be happy, but even when those things happened it was only a fleeting experience. I am positive that they have the same bent and experience, but the people we were with had found a way through it. Love was their answer, and the fruit of that was healthy relationships, lots of laughter, and memories I will never forget. I think if we could back off of the focus we have on things, then we might actually find some real joy in life.
4.Any hint of a superior attitude when it comes to church.
For 12 days I was in awe of what God is doing in the Church in Brazil. Sure we got to see some really cool things, go to some amazing places, and eat some fantastic exotic foods, but none of that was as impactful as seeing these people share their love for Jesus. Of the whole trip, two photos really capture the essence of the experience for me.
The first is this photo to the right of the response to the message at the Men’s Conference. It was like this in every church we stopped in, people just wanted more. The hunger for God was palpable. It wasn’t like experiences I have had at church camp where emotions run high and actual commitments run low. These people were drawn to God, they confessed sin, serious sin, and pled their case before the Lord. They were broken by the compassion of Christ, and they yearned for God to change their lives. They wanted more of God and less of life as usual. I saw people who not only made a decision to avoid Hell, but to live completely transformed lives. They desired a touch from God more than anything else. That kind of hunger and faith is what is driving the revival in Brazil, but the hunger is only part of the movement. What sustains it can be summed up in the next picture.
I love this picture because it communicates the relational spirit of the Brazilian people. My mentor and dear friend, Dwayne Deskins has had a long term friendship with President Montefusco, the denominational leader of the Pentecostal Church of God for all of Brazil. As we were enjoying time in his home, Dwayne sat and was admiring the beautiful table that President Montefusco had symbolically given him earlier in the trip. It’s clear to see in the picture that President Montefusco could have sat anywhere in the room to continue their conversation, but he instinctive chose the seat right next to Dwayne. To me this underscored the value and sacred nature of personal relationships to people of faith in Brazil. The hunger for God was matched by their passion for people, not only to be connected but to actually do life with one another. I didn’t just see friendliness, but also a willingness to have confrontation and disagreement, both of which are characteristic of healthy relationships. It wasn’t forced or faked, but it flowed naturally from them.
I don’t think this is a cultural trait, but rather is another part of the way God is moving in the people. The emphasis was on relationships, not on curriculum, or knowledge like we often see here in the states. To quote Dwayne, “We are educated far beyond our level of obedience.” They have a tremendous Christian Education and Leadership Development structure there as well, but the foundation is built on people. It starts with relationships first.
One of the core beliefs we have at LifePoint is that “Life change happens in the context of relationships.” Even in the secular world, counselors and psychologists are only effective because they establish solid therapeutic relationships with their clients. All the training in the world is virtually worthless if the client doesn’t trust you enough to take your conversations to heart. The same is true in the church world as well. What I witnessed and partook of was a people who prayed intently for someone that they could reach out to to make into a disciple.
After one service in Pastor Jo-el’s church I prayed with a young man who received Christ. It was a powerful moment, as these moments often are. Then before he even turned to find his seat, I saw a leader in the church pair this man up with another young man who agreed to meet with him one on one for a year. In that moment he agreed to walk with him through this new decision, to be there helping him to learn to read the Bible, to pray, and how to live the Christian life. Both young men looked equally excited, it seemed as if their hearts were joined in their embrace. What I found out later is that the discipler has been meeting with another man for his own growth for quite sometime. As a part of that relationship, they had been praying for an opportunity for him to walk with another person down this Way of Christ. This moment was equally as big for him because now he was able to see the fruit of those prayers as he now had a disciple of his own.
I have seen things like this fail in my own ministry, and I am sure it does there from time to time as well, but they have such an atmosphere of love, honor, encouragement, and joy in their churches, and groups that I understand why things are growing as they are. The people are all in. I met a man who built his house to host groups and he has 6 of them meeting there every single week, he over sees 30 groups in total. All this and he works a regular job too. It’s not that they don’t have just as many things to keep them busy in their culture as we do, these were choices they were intentionally making to build their lives around the Kingdom. Those choices are making a tremendous impact on Brazil, and they have made a life changing impact on me.
That’s why we need to go on overseas trips, we need to be forced out of our comfort zones. We need to take time to look at what God is doing in other places and learn what we can bring back with us. We need to experience, if only temporarily, the daily lives of other believers. We need to be acquainted with their struggles and successes, and then take stock of our lives here at home. This is the Kingdom of God and we are all given the same call, to reach the world for Jesus and to make disciples of the Cross. I learned that I still have a lot to learn by taking this trip. I don’t believe that God loves the Brazilians more, or that He wants to impact our culture less, but I do believe I saw what happens when people take great steps of faith and equal measures of obedience. God is doing great things in Brazil, and I am already at work to bring that type of revival here at home.