Teaching the Bible in the Azores Islands

During the past school year, I’ve been teaching Old Testament survey at a seminary here in Portugal. During the fall semester, I taught a class on campus, but during the spring semester I’ve been teaching through distance learning to ten students in the Azores islands. Every Friday night, I sit in my living room and teach for three hours through a web cam to the students who are gathered in three locations on two different islands. Despite the distance and the technical challenges we sometimes face, the class has gone well, and we all have enjoyed the experience.

At the beginning of the semester, I promised the class that I would come and visit them. Last week, I had the privilege of traveling to the island of Faial where I spent a couple days with the students and their church. On Friday, we had our class, except this time I was right there with them instead of on a screen. The next day, I taught a class on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit to a group from the church. It was a good time of fellowship, and I enjoyed getting to know the people better.

Being in the Azores was a change for me. Since we live just outside of Lisbon, we are used to traffic, a fast-paced life, and all the conveniences that come with living in a big city. The island of Faial, where I was at, is remote and isolated.  With a population of 15,000 people, it’s basically a small town on an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The scenery is gorgeous and the people are friendly, but there are few born-again Christians.

One of our goals when we came to Portugal was to strengthen churches and train leaders. Teaching this class has enabled me to do just that. It is gratifying to see people growing in their knowledge of Scripture and applying that in ministry in their churches. Thank you for your part in helping make all of this possible.

Horta is the main town on the island of Faial.
There is so much scenery like this.
Cows are a big deal in the Azores.
Beautiful Portugal
I climbed Pico, the tallest mountain in Portugal. Sadly, this was the view I had from the top.
This was the view of Pico I had when I was flying out. Amazing!
The best part of the trip was getting to be with these people. Thanful for a good church proclaiming the gospel on this island.

Fátima, the pope, and the gospel

Doing my part!

Last week, Pope Francis came to Portugal to canonize (declare to be a saint) two children – Francisco and Jacinta. Supposedly, Francisco, Jacinta, and their sister, Lúcia, who was already canonized several years ago, witnessed an apparition of Mary on May 13, 1917. This apparition was repeated six more times on the 13th of every month until October of that year. Over time, these apparitions gained notoriety and pilgrims began to flock to the village of Fátima where the children were from. This village is now one of the most important shrines in roman Catholicism, and millions of people visit every year to venerate and pray to Mary.

The pope’s visit captivated the attention of most of the country. Millions stopped to watch the proceedings, and hundreds of thousands of pilgrims went by foot to Fátima. Portugal is an increasingly secular country, but Catholicism remains strong, especially in the north. Many still cherish traditions such as Fátima and all that it entails.

I’ve visited Fátima several times in the past, and always left saddened and overwhelmed with a feeling of helplessness. How do you make a difference with something that seems so vast and deeply entrenched in a culture?

But this time would be different. A friend of mine and member of our church, Alessandro, invited me to go with him and help a Christian organization that was doing an evangelistic outreach to the pilgrims who were walking to Fátima.

There were about eight of us that spent the day on the side of a road. Thousands of people passed by on their way to Fátima and to see the pope. Many of them had walked over 200 miles from towns and villages all over the country. We handed out water, coffee, tea, candy, and fruit. We sang songs, smiled, prayed, and handed out gospel bracelets with a tract. We called these bracelets, “the pilgrim’s bracelet” because we thought it would make it more likely for people to accept them. Who could refuse a “pilgrim’s bracelet”?

All day long, groups of pilgrims would pass by. Many times, they would be praying to Mary or singing songs to Mary. Mary was receiving all the attention and affection that is due only to Christ.

While we will only know in eternity the effect of our work, it was encouraging to at least be doing something. Throughout the day, we prayed with people, shared the gospel, and showed the love of Jesus. May He be exalted, and may the thousands that gathered to venerate Mary discover that all that they need is found in Christ.

Thank you for praying for Portugal!

Foot massage for a weary traveler.

 

Coffee, tea, and snacks for the pilgrims.

 

The gospel bracelets we handed out.

 

Thousands of pilgrims passed by us.

The following pictures were taken on a different day when I was in Fátima. You can see the sadness and despair in the faces of the people.

The woman on the left has a very sad look on her face.