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Prayer and Praise

The past couple of weeks have been different than we expected. Sarah spent a total of nine days in the hospital with an abscess in her kidney, Thankfully, she is home again, and feeling much better. We have been greatly encouraged by the many encouraging e-mails and calls during this challenging time. We have found that this trying experience has showed us just how how precious it is to have the encouragement of brothers and sisters in Christ.

During the past months, we have asked for prayer as we look for a place to rent for the church plant. Things have been moving forward during the past several days, and we are particularly interested in one building. The owner has lowered the price to within our budget, and from our perspective it seems to be a good choice. Please pray that God would make things clear whether or not we should move forward with this building or if we should wait for another place. 

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Is this the place?

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I think that’s true. Not only did 5 weeks in America let us reconnect with family and some churches, it also gave us perspective on the work in Portugal and a renewed love for the people to whom we minister. David and I rested, prayed, made plans, and went back recharged. Within 24 hours of getting home, we had unpacked, called our contacts, and were hosting the Bible study in our living room. Laura played happily as we busily worked. It was good to be home.

A few nights later, I had so much back pain and vomiting that we went to the ER, and I was admitted with a kidney infection. Screeeeech. Stop. Our 100 mph plans took God’s detour. As David took Laura home and I headed to my room, God was working. You see, our Bible study has been a sweet group that meets regularly, but suddenly they started acting like a body. Ring ring. “Hello, David, can we baby-sit Laura for you so you can have a couple hours to study? Can we bring you a meal? How can we help?” “Sarah, we are praying for you. Call me if you need anything.” People stepped up.

Back at the hospital, I was in a room with an 85-year-old named Maria José (Mary Joseph. How is that for a Biblical name?) Her breathing mask and cries of pain woke me in the night, but in her hardest moments, she cried out to God and quoted bits of verses. During the day, she made me laugh when she said the cleaning lady accidentally threw away her dentures! Then it hit me. I was talking through a curtain to a woman with no teeth, and I understood her. . . and all the Portuguese channels on her TV! Do you know how hard listening exercises were for me in language school? But I was understanding this –all of this — even the colorful medical parts I could have lived happily never knowing! I read Scripture to this sweet lady and asked her about her hope of heaven. She LOVES God and Jesus, and, from what I could tell, I think she is saved. I’ll enjoy seeing Mrs. Mary Joseph (and Jesus) in heaven someday.

For lunch, they sent me to a separate eating area where I met Maria Conceição (Mary of the Conception. Do you see a pattern here?) The kidney pain felt as though I were having mild contractions, and I paused my eating to take slow, deep breaths to get through the pain. I hoped to just eat and go lie down, but Mary looked at me and said, “I’m an atheist.” Seeing a conversation about to start, I sent a silent SOS prayer for strength and joined in. Mary had asked her Catholic school teacher a question and had never gotten an answer. Since she had been waiting more than 40 years, I was glad to give her one from the Bible. God let me explain the plan of salvation to her as well — in between breathing breaks. By then, I was drained and went back to bed. (After all, this is a hospital. I hear I’m supposed to get rest.) Despite everything, she said she didn’t believe God would punish her, but that the Bible is on her top-5 list of books to read someday. I hope she gets busy reading.

By Thursday night, I was painfully but happily back home. The pain increased, and I had a mild fever, but we pushed through to Sunday. We needed to be there to interpret, or else the deaf teenager who comes wouldn’t understand anything. We made it through the sermon, then went straight back to the hospital. Sure enough, my kidney now has an abscess, and they admitted me once again. So, with the help of the body of Christ, David is taking care of the homefront and the ministry. I’m talking to my new roommate, asking God how to reach her. We are trusting the God who makes no mistakes that He planned this “detour” for His glory. We’ll let you know where it leads.

Made it to America

We made it to Michigan after a long day of flying. Laura was very well behaved, and is now enjoying being spoiled by her grandparents. Pray that we can be an encouragement while we are here in America for a few weeks. Here is a picture of us on the plane.

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This and that…

We recently had some family pictures taken. Normally, Laura smiles and laughs very easily, but perhaps the pressure of a photo shoot got to her. Out of 150 pictures, these are a couple of the best.

IMG_8969IMG_9044In other news, we are giving out pocket calendars with information about our church plant here in our town. Rather than do a mass distribution of these, we have encouraged everybody in our Bible study group to hand them out to their neighbors, hair stylists, people at the café, etc. The idea is to give something non-threatening to let people know about us and to spark in their minds the idea of their need for God.

Psalm 73:23 It is good for me to draw near to God.
Psalm 73:28 It is good for me to draw near to God.

Finally, on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week I will be at one of the local grocery stores helping with a food drive for needy families in our town. It is a good way show that we care for our community, and hopefully it will also be a good way to meet people. Pray that God would use the calendars and my time with the food drive for the furtherance of the gospel here.

 

November Prayer Letter

Dear Friends,

Timing is important. If it had been up to us, we would have rented a building and started church services months ago. But, with much prayer and considering the needs and advice of the people in our group, we have taken it more slowly. Recently, we marked one year of doing our home Bible study. Besides the three core families that have come faithfully since the beginning, we have also seen about a dozen visitors come from our community. Several of these visitors have been attending regularly and, thus, our number is slowly increasing. With this growth, we are looking to press onward and begin regular Sunday services. Several weeks ago, we had a dinner at our house and presented this vision to the group. They were receptive and excited about this new step. Since then, we have looked at several buildings which are good possibilities for a future meeting place. Pray that God would guide us to the right place.

Last month, we celebrated Laura’s first birthday. Our apartment building is full of families with young children, some of whom we still don’t know very well, so we hoped Laura’s party would be a chance for them to see us as a family and know us better. As each neighbor arrived, the parents cautiously looked in, saw other children playing, then relaxed and joined in the fun. The party was a great success, and we now have a stronger relationship with two families who had never been in our home until that day.

God is sending other opportunities our way as well. A few months ago, a teenager was saved at the church we attend on Sunday mornings. He is a triplet, so he brought his brothers with him to church, and one of them (Eugénio) is deaf! He had no idea that we knew sign language, but God brought him to us. Since then, he has come faithfully to church where we interpret the services. He openly tells us that he doesn’t believe in God, knows nothing about the Bible, and doesn’t want to come to Sunday School because he would rather sleep in . . . and, yet, he still comes, and we are thrilled. Please pray that God will open Eugénio’s heart to the truth of His Word and that he will start coming to Sunday School where we can teach him directly in sign language.

We are looking forward to spending Christmas and the new year back in the States.It will be wonderful to see family and friends and let them meet Laura for the first time. When we return in January, God has opened a position for Sarah to teach a Bible class in a public school in our town.

Two and a half years ago when we arrived in Portugal, we had four main goals for our first term: 1. Learn the languages, 2. Build relationships, 3. Start Bible studies, 4. Lay the groundwork for a church-plant. By God’s grace, we are seeing each of these come to pass. Your prayer, support, and encouragement are playing a vital part in the work here. Thank you, and may God bless you during this Christmas season.

1 in 10,000 to 2 in 10,300

Throughout this summer, we have been placing tracts in mailboxes in our town. Up until yesterday, we had distributed about 10,000 tracts. From those thousands of tracts, we had received one response. An elderly lady named Maria contacted us with questions. She had recently moved to our town and was looking for a church.

Sarah and I met with her at a café and listened to her story. She is from a Pentecostal background, but she didn’t like any of the Pentecostal churches she had visited in our town. Last Friday, she came to our Bible study and seemed to enjoy it. We will see what happens in the future with her.

On Tuesday I took Laura with me to pass out some more tracts. Walking from house to house, I thought about the statistical value of what I was doing – 1 response for 10,000 tracts. Not exactly the best of odds. After an hour and half, Laura was tired and so I decided to head home. As I put her in her car seat I thought, “Well, now we are up to 10,300.”

That very evening I received an e-mail from a man who received one of our tracts. He wanted to know where we met and had services. I promptly replied, gave him the information he requested, and asked if he would like to meet with me. The next morning, I received an e-mail back from him: “Yes, I would like to meet with you. How about tonight?”

That evening for almost two hours I walked and talked with Luis. Here were some of his questions:

Do you have to be baptized to be saved?

What is required for a person to be saved?

What distinguishes your beliefs from other churches?

How do you interpret Genesis and Revelation? Are they literal?

What does it mean to love God?

From our conversation, I gathered that he was a man who was searching for answers and who already knew a lot about the Bible. As we said goodbye and made plans to meet again, he remarked, “I know it wasn’t a coincidence that I received your pamphlet in the mail and that I met you.”

I agree.

Pray for our tract distribution

Yesterday, I went to the print shop and picked up 2250 tracts that I had printed. The goal is to distribute these in mailboxes in our town. I am anxious to see how God will use this to reach people. While giving out tracts is not a high percentage evangelistic effort, I still believe it is worthwhile. In this case, I would consider it to be a wildly successful endeavor if I gain even 2 or 3 good contacts.

The title of the tract is “10 Reasons Why Christ Came to Die.” Since we are approaching Good Friday and Easter, I am hoping that people may be more likely than usual to read this and consider its meaning. In many cases, this may be the only the exposure to the truth of the gospel they receive.

Here are some ways you can pray for this evangelistic effort:

1. Pray that people would take the time to carefully read this tract and consider what it means.

2. Pray that people would see their desperate need of Jesus and call on Him for salvation.

3. Pray that God would provide opportunities for me to speak with people as I put these tracts in mailboxes.

Good weekend

This has been a good weekend. On Friday our Bible study went very well. We had one visitor and a total of twenty people present. I spoke from John 21, and concluded a series on Peter’s encounters with Jesus. Since we have started our regular Bible studies in November, we have had six visitors come. Three of them are now coming regularly. This is very encouraging.

Saturday morning we had our sign language class. We continue to make progress in learning Portuguese Sign Language. As we have mentioned before, we have sign language class every Saturday at the Lisbon deaf association. During the week, we have a deaf lady, who lives in our town, come over to our house and give us lessons as well. This past week during one of our lessons at home, I told the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. It was my first time telling a Bible story in Portuguese Sign Language. While I have a long way to go before preaching a message, I have to start somewhere.

Saturday afternoon we had lunch with some colleagues and planned for the arrival of a missions team from a deaf church in Tennessee. We are looking forward to their time here and are praying that we will be able to make many good contacts with the deaf through the ministry of these deaf believers.

That evening I went to speak to a youth group at a nearby church. My lesson was on “Angels, Demons, and Satan.” It was a good time, and the youth were very eager to ask questions.

As we go through each day, we are often reminded of how so many people are praying for us. Thank you!

Serving Jesus by eating

One of the parts of being a missionary that I did not fully anticipate was how much time we spend eating with people. I enjoy eating, so I am not complaining. Here’s our eating schedule for this weekend:

Friday

1. Desserts and tea after our Bible study.

Saturday

1. Eating lunch with two friends from our sign language class. 

Sunday

1. Eating lunch missionary colleagues and a deaf missionary couple that are working with the deaf on the island of Madeira.

2. Having two of our friends, Pedro and Roberta, over for dinner.

As I thought about this, it made me think of how often we find Jesus eating or preparing food in the gospels.

Jesus ate at a wedding. John 2:1-2 And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. 

Jesus drank water with the Samaritan woman. John 4:7-9 There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink. (For his disciples were gone away unto the city to buy meat.) Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria?

Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners at Matthew’s house. Matthew 9:10-12 And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.

Jesus ate with Zacchaeus. Luke 19:5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. 

Jesus defended His disciples’ picking grain to eat on the Sabbath.Matthew 12:1 At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. 

Jesus ate with Pharisees. Luke 7:36 And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat.

Jesus provided food for thousands of hungry people. John 6:11And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. 

Jesus ate with his friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. John 12:1-2 Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.

Jesus shared the passover feast with His disciples and instituted the Lord’s Supper. Mark 14:22-24 And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many.

Jesus ate fish and honeycomb after his resurrection. Luke 24:41-42 And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat? And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb.

Jesus prepared breakfast for his disciples. John 21:12-13 Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.

From what we can see in Scripture, it appears that Jesus spent a lot of time eating with people. In many cases, he used the meal as an occasion to proclaim the gospel. Other times, he taught an important truth to His disciples. Regardless, Jesus was not afraid to spend time with all different types of people. He saw that he could teach and touch people not just in a formal setting, but also around a fish cookout, at a dinner party, or drinking water with a woman.

We want to be like Jesus was. We want to have people feel welcome in our home. We want to be welcoming to all different types of people. As God provides the opportunities, we want to speak the good news of Jesus. It will take many meals, cups of coffee, desserts, and cookouts, but it is worth it. So, let’s eat!