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things to ask when we’re home

21 May

If you’re reading this because you’ve got a family member, a friend, your minister, or another loved one, you’re about to get to hear first-hand all their individual color commentary on this amazing trip!

Need a handy-dandy guide for finding out the happy details of our trip? Here are some of the fun questions you can ask:

  • So how small was your hotel room?
  • Top bunk or bottom bunk?
  • Which school did you visit each day?
  • How’s your Portuguese?
  • Did you get to sleep on the plane?
  • What are you glad you packed?
  • Anything you wish you’d packed?
  • Which Zoe members did you connect with best?
  • Which Americans did you connect with best? Any new friends?
  • Did you get to go to any of the Starbucks gatherings?
  • How was the Zoe church service?
  • Did you give out any Free Hugs?
  • What was your favorite moment?
  • What was the weirdest moment?
  • What were the biggest differences between our culture and theirs?
  • What were the funniest moments?
  • What was the coolest thing you saw?
  • Did you drink… guarana, almond juice, açai juice, other interesting juices, Fanta?
  • What was your favorite weird kind of pizza from pizza night?
  • What kinds of meat – and how much – did you eat at the churrascarria?
  • Any interesting bathroom rules?
  • Which languages did you speak to get around: Portuguese, Spanish, English, other?
  • What were some spiritual conversations you had?
  • How will God use this to shape your ministry back home?
  • How will God use this to shape you?

Thanks for the help on some of these Qs from the team!

our experience in (more) pictures

21 May

A couple of days ago, I uploaded several pics from our trip – thanks to all of you who took a look! Here’s another batch from throughout our trip. And while a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll do my best to give a little context… in less than a thousand words, where possible.

As usual, click to see a picture full-sized.

First, a picture taken one day by Ethan Lee, showing just how PACKED the subway system can get at rush hour. A local girl told me that she knew someone whose cell phone was broken by the crush of the crowds on the subway car!

testimonies galore & glorious

20 May

Each morning, we’ve had the opportunity to share testimonies of what God has done the day before. And they’re beginning to sound like a broken record… a glorious broken record that plays the same song of God’s wondrous work over and over and over!

In other words, God has continued to graciously allow us not only to make lots of first contacts, but also to see those connections lead to additional contact, great conversations, and genuine expectation that many of our new friends will connect with the Christian community here!

He wasn’t required to show us fruit from our faithfulness. But He has.

So the testimonies I can report tonight aren’t all that “different” from the testimonies I reported Tuesday. But with testimonies like those, who wants “different”?

Just a few of the many testimonies from the last two mornings:

(re)telling the story: The first day, Chris met guys in the architecture school, joined their ping pong game, and simply hung out. But on Wednesday, he met them again; this time, he was able to talk with one student who practices Spiritism (a common religion down here).

And as they were talking, this student said actually said he was hoping to be “born again” into a new path of life. So Chris was able to offer that very thing, jumping right into sharing the Good News!

But after sharing a few points, the student stopped him. Why? So he could explain to his friend, who just showed up, what Chris had already explained! So Chris listened as the student shared with his friend – about being lost and hell-bound, in fact – before resuming (once the friend was caught up!).

a team indeed: There have been all sorts of benefits to ministers with each other this week. One American girl had encountered a student who seemed truly interested in spiritual things. However, she was always “attached” to her boyfriend, who seemed much less interested – so conversation was tough.

The team member had mentioned this difficulty to one of our guys. So when they returned to their campus location and encountered the girl again, he “swooped in” and distracted the boyfriend – even though he was still arm-in-arm with the girl – while his team member talked with the girl for 30 or 45 minutes!

Go team!

deep conversations and good listening: Numerous testimonies have simply pointed to how deeply some Brazilians have been willing to share their hearts and discuss their spiritual questions. At Wednesday’s Starbucks gathering, Mike was recognized by a girl: “You’re the one who hugged me!” Then he and Del had the amazing opportunity for a deep, 2-hour discussion. “She was intense,” Mike noted, and she asked a lot of great questions.

And the girl was willing to share much about not only her life but the city in which she finds herself. The lack of friendship runs so deeply for some São Paulo residents, the girl told the two, that individuals will “rent” people simply to go to the movies with them. Mike noted that these are the kinds of things we learn when we’re willing to listen to the people to whom God has called us.

connecting Christians with Christians: A few testimonies have also involved stumbling upon Christians and having opportunities to minister to them. For example, one team member met six students and a professor, studying abroad from the University of Pittsburgh! One of those students turned out to be a Christian, and she said she’d been looking for a way to plug in with Christian community. And several of her classmates seemed interested in attending Zoe with her!

a few quotes from our testimony times:

  • “We went out and gave hugs to people, and it was really good.”
  • “I think this is really one of those People of Peace, because he’s really a ‘collector of people.'” [after meeting a law student and being invited to his home]
  • from a resident of São Paulo: “No, I’ve never been to [a Bible study], because no one’s ever invited me.” [So our team member invited him, and he came!]
  • “So that’s something cool that God did yesterday.” [which very simply could characterize so many of our experiences]

Thanks to Katheryn Pope and Lesa Close for the pictures!

testimony threads

18 May

Each morning before the Teaching time, we spend time in worship together, followed by sharing testimonies of what we’ve seen God do so far in this trip. The tricky thing is that it’s a little difficult to report those here, without running the risk of making anyone we’ve met feel like we’re just out to “conquer and convert.”

That’s one of many reasons I wish you could join us on this trip – and a reason you should consider going on a future Discovery Trip! Even if I could tell you all the details, there’s no way I could capture the amazing things God is doing this week.

But here are some snippets of what was shared this morning, and a little “commentary” to tie together what we’re seeing God do!

more on the Starbucks community

I reported last night on the exciting way God seemed to bless Monday night’s Starbucks gathering. Today, Chris Julian (our church planting host) reported that the crowd was the largest they’ve had – and that’s not counting the North Americans! I believe hat total was 31, plus a good dozen of us by the time all was said and done – yes, smooshed into the back area of a Starbucks. It was really exciting to learn that we got to be a part of bringing more local young adults to that event than had ever attended.

Chris also rejoiced that the Zoe church members had taken ownership; he certainly didn’t need to “run the show” last night, regardless of his status as Zoe’s lead pastor.

links in the chain

God has been so gracious to show us just how effectively He can use multiple individuals and multiple encounters to draw people into community with believers and into relationship with Him! It’s easy on a trip like this to discount the value of giving out a card with church info, or having a single conversation that doesn’t seem to “go anywhere substantial.”

But God has made it pretty hard to miss the value in all of this. We’ve been blessed to see people actually responding to multiple “links” – and all within our time here!

For instance, one individual visiting Brazil had the chance to connect with quite a few of us last night: First, he was hugged by someone from our team during a “Free Hugs” session, and indicated that it was just what he needed. As he continued down the street, he encountered several more of our people. So this guy decided to check out these crazy, community-loving people by coming to the Starbucks gathering. There, he ended up having at least two spiritual conversations (in 3 languages!) – which in turn led to an appointment to meet up later in the week.

How’s that for God’s rapid linking of a few faithful attempts to love somebody?

follow-up, follow-up, follow-up

In the same way, several of the testimonies this morning ended up in virtually the same way: without an ending!

  • “We were invited to rugby practice later this week.”
  • “I’m going to work out at the school gym with him tomorrow.”
  • “We thought we saw an icthus tattoo on his arm; we’re going to investigate today.”

This whole trip is built around… well, simply building. The little things we do are meant to be a part of a much larger effort within the Zoe community. And yet even in this week, we’re getting to see little pictures of God’s planting-watering-harvesting plan, as God links the chain and declares that, at least today, the part of His story that involves us-in-Brazil isn’t over!

help leads to conversation

Finally, one of the common themes of this trip has been that when all else fails, conversation often starts when Brazilian strangers have to come to our rescue! (And this fits perfectly with the Persons of Peace methodology we discussed at the outset of the week.)

For instance, Victor (our Canadian on the team!) reported that he and Gene “weren’t doing so well” at finding connections at Largo San Francisco, the Law College of the University of São Paulo. But they decided to ask someone where to eat – and ended up connecting with five guys over lunch! That conversation led to accompanying two of those guys to the Starbucks community last night.

Once there, they indicated a desire to come back. “This week I want to watch, but next week I want to participate,” one of the guys told Victor. And today, Victor hurried to make a noon appointment for lunch with the same guys!

(Similarly, when I made ridiculous attempts at ordering food today at Habib’s, an English-speaking, Japanese-Brazilian man came to my rescue. And you know what? Some of our team ended up talking with him for the next 2 hours!)

assorted pics, part 1

18 May

While it’s impossible to capture all God is doing, providing, and letting us enjoy on this trip, here’s a glimpse into the glories!

Click any of these pictures to see them full-size.

*these pictures graciously provided by Lesa Close

**these pictures graciously provided by Katheryn Pope

downtown day, and ways to pray

17 May

For those of you diligently following our adventures here in São Paulo, sorry for the blog slow-down. Sometimes internet (and time) just isn’t as available… (Although look for notes from Monday’s teaching to be up by the morning!)

I should be able to start providing testimonies and extra pictures from the trip tomorrow – and yes, God has been at work! It’s amazing to see Him connect us with people in this gigantic city.

Today we started our “rhythm,” as I explained before. But there’s one thing I didn’t realize: Each team will make their way Downtown one of the days, and then the other days will be spent at one of the other assigned projects.

the Downtown day

That journey – and it’s quite a journey – involves quite a bit of walking, bussing, and subway-ing (after all, we headed right back down to where Virada Cultural took place).

But it was worth it, of course. And as Chris J. explained this morning, we finally got to see São Paulo “wake up” today. What was a BIG, daunting city over the weekend suddenly became a bustling, rushed, fascinating, crowded, daunting big city today. The same streets we wound through in (what felt like) the middle of the night on Saturday were suddenly filled not simply with jovens but with businesspeople, retailers, families, and many more. And cars were all over – and lest there be any doubt, pedestrians don’t exactly have the right of way.

We ventured much further than the other night, too – and São Paulo has one aspect – hills – that I’d rarely seen (being from Texas). So those add a bit to the calf workout. But we saw this city, and that’s something most Americans can’t say.

And then we saw this city that God loves from another angle.

(In case you hadn’t noticed, most of the pictures are clickable – to get it at full-size. And yes, the cityscape above does stretch as far as the eye can see.)

After exploring this newly awakened city – including finding some pretty great (and sometimes interesting) foodstuffs – we had the chance to offer Free Abraços once again, and in the middle of rush hour! What an amazing chance to break into the “active monotony” with something so shocking, so personal, and so simple as a hug. You’d be surprised how many takers the team had.

In a story I found particularly interesting, one guy led a group of pedestrians waiting at a red light in a giant group hug – which means we went from giving hugs to actually causing outsiders to hug each other! That – to me – seems like no small thing.

As I get to share testimonies in coming days, I’ll throw in some of ours from this Downtown adventure. But for now, I wanted to let you know that today was a good day, we’re safe and sound, and we so appreciate your prayers. I’ll find out more from other teams tomorrow, but for now, here are some ways you can pray:

  • Praise for God truly bonding the Brazilian church members and our team.
  • Pray that we (the non-Brazilians) would continue to be humble in a land and on a mission that isn’t ours, and continue to help in ways that really help.
  • Pray for health to continue, especially with dietary changes (like not being able to drink tap water, lots of “eating out,” etc.)
  • Pray that God would continue to move powerfully, and that we would be fully willing to participate – no matter how much out of our comfort zone that might be!
  • Pray that we would learn all we can and should from the teaching, and not only apply it here but apply it in the future.

an immersive introduction

16 May

I inferred in a few earlier blogs that we might be participating in a rather adventurous service opportunity Friday night, and we did! Following the amazing Zoe church service, about a dozen from our group – and another dozen or so of Zoe’s members – left for that project… and we wouldn’t return back to the hotel until 2am! So I wanted to share about our adventure to the heart of the city – not simply because it will make me feel better about staying out so late, but because it provided another excellent introduction to São Paulo, Zoe Church, and the ways the two are able to intersect.

Annually, São Paulo hosts Virada Cultural, a 24-hour, multi-site arts & music festival that spreads throughout the downtown area. Dozens of sites host various cultural productions, bands, and other activities through the night and most of the following day. (Though it’s in Portuguese, I encourage you to scroll through the list of locations / events at the Virada Cultural 2010 site, to get an idea of the massiveness of this event.)

For Zoe Church (and its somewhat rag-tag North American co-laborers), it was a great chance to connect to and serve the city.

After over an hour of walking… bussing… subway-ing… we ultimately arrived near Downtown. Our first sight after ascending from the subway station was a big floating (though tethered) hot air balloon, occasionally glowing with fire while an acrobat dangled underneath the basket, performing in mid-air. Other examples of radical showmanship were planted throughout various spaces. These were connected by streets that wound between the enormous buildings, allowing attendees to stumble upon each activity as they rounded the next corner or came into a new public square.

But even more noticeable than the events were the throngs of people, which, not surprisingly at that time of night, included mostly jovens (youth and young adults). Most of these simply milled about or stood with groups of friends – in the streets, underground on the subway platforms, on the steps of large buildings, and at the event sites. The only comparable American activities I know are the occasional celebrations that break out spontaneously following various sports championships; the mood was celebratory, certainly, but mostly in the sort of determined way that indicates the party may last the entire night. (Some celebrants were certainly wilder – or more intoxicated / “influenced” – than others.)

Our project involved two-pronged service: offering free sandwiches, and offering free hugs (the latter advertised with “Abraços” signs). Many of us wore Zoe Church’s “Z ♥ SP” shirts. Of course, the Brazilian Christians bravely led the way, but the rest of us gradually warmed up to the idea of immersing ourselves in this rather unique (and personal space-less) service opportunity.

Importantly, the Free Hugs initiative has been a regular activity of Zoe, and their shirts and service activities are becoming (slowly but surely) more recognizable to the citizens of this city. (We’ll be participating in some of the same things later this week, in fact.) So this wasn’t simply “something neat to do” but a real chance to meet felt needs in the middle of one of the city’s great cultural events, while sharing about Zoe with the interested.

An interesting theme of this trip has been recognizing that we are called to serve all kinds of people. We pretty easily recognize that this includes the “down and out,” such as the homeless people huddled out of the way of last night’s festivities. But we’re also called to serve those the so-called “up and out,” those materially successful individuals who still lack the life that is truly life.

Reflecting that opportunity, we had the chance to give sandwiches (and hugs) both to those who clearly needed those things, as well as those whose needs weren’t as evident. But even (or especially) a hug can strike a dramatic chord; one Zoe member described once seeing a lady simply begin to cry as she was given a hug. The Virada Cultural crowd was indeed quite receptive to all of the above, even as many expressed surprise that we would be offering something truly for free.

Sure, this kind of service sometimes leads only to smiles, “obrigado” (“thank you”), and little else – but even that’s part of loving the city. But in many cases dialogue begins. When conversations do get started, they often result in sharing information about the church or its several activities around the city – all in a way that is both purposeful and rather natural. (And as one Zoe member described this morning, the “Gringo Factor” didn’t seem to hurt last night, as the Brazilians were intrigued by the presence of Americans offering these surprising free gifts.)

Last night, quite a few individuals seemed very open to connecting with the church later on. Others may simply have noticed a group not only claiming to “heart” São Paulo, but actually putting feet (and arms and sandwiches) to our claim. As one member of our team noted this morning, the whole project also revealed to the city the community that is such a pillar of Zoe Church. He’s right – anyone who noticed our laughing, connecting, serving group will find the very same friendly community when they attend a Zoe service.