|Sharing the gospel village by village, person by person
By Barbara Denman
August 29, 2013
At least eight decades of daily labor in a blistering sun etched in their faces, the man and woman sat on three-legged stools in the slivered shade offered by their shack of a home.
Accompanied by two Brazilian translators, Jeff Ray, pastor of Jones Road Baptist Church in Jacksonville, asked for permission to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Ray, on one of his first of numerous mission trips to Brazil, began to speak, pausing every few words for his translator to share God’s message of redemption with the couple, who had already lived years longer than most others in this remote village.
With each pause, he gazed at the couple. Tears welled in their eyes and began to track through the dust on their faces, spotting the dirt below.
“Do you understand what I have said?” Ray asked, with the translator echoing his question.
The man and woman nodded.
“Do you want to make a decision?”
The man spoke slowly. Ray awaited the translation.
“I am an old man, and I have never heard that story. For you to come here and tell me God loves me gives me hope for the first time in my life.”
Each member of the small group went to their knees in the dirt and prayed as the two accepted God’s gift of salvation.
“It was as if they had lived as long as they had just to hear that message,” said Ray.
“That experience is one reason I’ve gone back to Brazil time and again. There are millions of people like that couple who need to hear the gospel.”
Since 2005 Florida Baptists, in cooperation with the International Mission Board and Convencao Batista Brasileira, have been on mission in Brazil. Through this partnership ministry, Florida Baptists provide evangelism, church planting and leadership assistance to Brazilian Baptists in three states located in the northwest corner of Brazil, including Amazonas, Acre and Roraima.
Florida Baptists’ Maguire State Mission Offering provides $50,000 in financial resources to help make this ministry partnership possible.
“The funding from the Maguire State Mission Offering allows so many good things to happen in Brazil,” according to Craig Culbreth, Florida Baptists’ lead strategist for the missional support group.
Serving as a consultant to Florida Baptists’ ministry partnership in Brazil, Ray notes that the large South American country currently has the largest number of groups in the world with no exposure to the gospel. Many of these groups are small, live deep in the dense Brazilian jungles, speak their own language and are difficult to locate.
When the villages are located and relationships with the native people living there are established, a hunger for the gospel is common, according to Elizabeth Ellison, a member of Jones Road Church, who went on her first mission trip to Brazil about eight years ago. On that first trip, she and her team traveled down the Amazon River to take God’s love to some of the rural villages. The grandmother of 10 said she “went so deep in the jungle, I wasn’t sure we would find our way out.”
Time and again, through interpreters, the Brazilians expressed a readiness to hear the gospel.
“They (the villagers) would say, ‘It’s about time you came; we’ve been waiting,’” explained Ellison.
As Ellison witnessed the lives of many Brazilians being changed as they responded to the gospel, she found her life changed as well. She has since been back to Brazil on two additional mission trips, along with her husband, Bruce.
“Once you see and experience God’s hand moving, you want to be a part of that,” she said.
Each time Ray takes another trip to Brazil, however, he notices that even small villages are becoming more westernized, with modern technology and conveniences seeming to harden peoples’ hearts to the gospel. He sees a shrinking “window of opportunity” in which Brazilians will be receptive to the gospel.
“An openness to the gospel diminishes as people become more self-sufficient. Time is short,” he said.
Such urgency spurs him to work alongside other Florida Baptists to offer an annual leadership training event to train Brazilian leaders to evangelize, disciple and start churches indigenously. The training event, along with resources, such as Bibles and discipleship materials, for the leaders to take back to their place of service, is funded by the Maguire State Mission Offering, according to Culbreth.
“We have trained thousands of local leaders in Brazil who have been able to take this training, along with resources, back to others,” he said.
The partnership, he said, has allowed hundreds of Florida Baptists to touch a part of the world that so few people ever get to see.
“There is no doubt that this side of heaven we will not know all we have done to impact the kingdom through our mission partnership in Brazil,” said Culbreth.
“But I expect to meet people in heaven who will say to me, ‘I am here because a Florida Baptist came to my village and shared the good news of Jesus Christ.’”