Dear family and friends,
It seems that each year I begin our newsletter saying how it has been an eventful year. But... I definitely believe that this year of 2010 has topped them all! Many of you have been following our journey via the blog or facebook, but here is a nutshell recap of the year's happenings.
Our latest adventure began in December of 2009. We left for Brazil on December 9th, to spend six months “spying out the land”, praying about whether God wanted us to stay, and if so, where and in what capacity.
We started out in Santos, Fabio's hometown, planning to stay only through the holidays, and then begin to travel to several places where we had some contacts, while praying about what God would have us do over the longer term. However, due to some complications with my (Elizabeth's) documentation, we got “stuck” in Santos for three months! This was a bootcamp experience for us, and we were tested and tried to the max through various sicknesses, including “dengue”- breakbone fever in Fabio, as well as 120 degree heat with no air conditioning and various other circumstances that resulted from spending an extended period of time living in Fabio's parents' small apartment with no yard (with four small children) – oh, and no washing machine! The Lord graciously used that time in so many ways to test our character, and to teach us, and reveal to us what was in our hearts.
After the document issue was resolved, we made our “first trip” to Camboriú, in the southern part of Brazil. We arrived there the beginning of March. During this time, the six of us stayed in one room inside the church building. We immediately became involved in many different kinds of ministries – evangelism in the streets, ministry to prostitutes and transvestites, drug addicts and homeless people, teaching English in a small school (PETI) in the “favela” - Brazilian slum, and helping at the church with painting, cooking and whatever else needed to be done.
I would like to share one amazing thing (of many!) that happened during this time. Across the street from the church was a castle-looking building which was a prostitution house/transvestite theater. While walking wherever we needed to go (since we didn't have a car!), we would always pray that the Lord would shut that place down and that the abominations of that place would happen no longer! The children would join us in this prayer, and even one time Fabio took them right up to the door to lay their hands on it and pray that the doors would be SHUT forever for the evil practices that took place there. Just a few weeks later, the children were amazed to see that the front door was being closed with concrete! The business shut down, and now it is just an old decaying castle! Praise the Lord!
Anyway, when we had been in Camboriú only a couple of weeks, we felt sure that was where God was calling us to stay on a longer term basis. Therefore, we did not visit any of the other places that we had previously considered.
So, in June, we returned to America to wrap up the rest of our stuff there, get rid of things, restock some supplies and share with the churches our vision for being in Brazil for a season. They were so supportive and even excited to be a part of what God would do in Camboriú! We are so blessed by their encouragement and support! June was an extremely intense month of packing, spending time with family, speaking in the churches, and visiting with friends.
In July, we returned to Camboriú, to our little room in the church building, and then began to look for a place for our family to rent and begin to get established in regular life. It was not easy starting out, as we had only clothes and small items that would fit in a suitcase, and things in Brazil are very expensive. But the Lord provided for our needs one by one. I will never again take a kitchen sink for granted! :)
Once we got established a little bit and settled down as a household, we had one major problem: we had no car. This made it extremely difficult to be involved in the same kinds of ministries we had been involved in while living in the church building. But, as He is so faithful to do, the Lord used this circumstance as well in a creative way for our good. “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him.” Romans 8:28 As we spent more time at home, we began to see a great need right in our own neighborhood: children. In our area, almost every single family consists of two working parents, and the children are largely left to themselves. These children are not under-nourished, but they are greatly under-nurtured. We began to pray about what we could do about it.
And so “Kids' Club” was born. We began a few months ago, simply inviting the kids of the neighborhood into our carport once a week. I (Elizabeth) give a short English conversation lesson, then Fabio teaches a Bible lesson. We got a roll of butcher paper that we unroll on the floor and Fabio uses that to draw cartoon figures to illustrate the Bible lesson. The children love it! Then we sing and play some games. Most weeks, we have between 10-15 children come, plus our own four. We have also spent much time visiting in their homes, getting to know their parents, relaying to them the Bible lessons we are teaching their children and praying with them. We have invited several over for dinner as well and we are actively planting seeds and believing for a harvest, not only in the children, but also in their entire families.
During this car-less time, we were also greatly impacted by a conference about the Truth that transforms cultures and societies. This led to an opportunity for Fabio to do a HUGE translation job for Harvest Foundation. He translated much material that is being, and will continue to be, taught in churches all over Brazil to enable them to affect the community and transform the society!
In his “spare time”, Fabio also used his website skills to build state-of-the-art websites for our church and another ministry.
Eventually, the Lord did miraculously provide a way for us to get a car. At this point, we began to go back to the PETI school in the favela (slum) to teach English and reach out to the teachers and families there. They have opened the doors wide for us – even to have praise and worship days there and to teach the Bible openly – at a PUBLIC school! Fabio is hoping to begin Bible lessons there in the new year similar to what he has been doing at kids' club. And the principle is excited about it!
In November, our pastors Dave Prince and John Leitzel came to visit! We had a fantastic time visiting with them, and the Lord also used their time here to unite us with the leaders of the churches in Argentina that are connected with some churches in Brazil, so we feel the Lord opened our vision and broadened our horizons as to why He has us here in a big-picture sense.
Shortly after Dave's and John's visit, another pastor, Jim Epley, came from Florida and stayed with us for a week and a half. He had preaching engagements each night, and we (mostly Fabio) transported him and translated for him. We were so encouraged to see many people saved during his time here, and many people healed of physical conditions as well, including four men that were crippled, a little girl who had one leg shorter than the other (her short leg GREW!), and a man who was nearly blind and was restored to full sight!
Recently we have also gotten involved with a group home for teenagers that are either orphaned, or have been removed from abusive homes. One in particular, Andressa, has been spending a lot of time sharing life with our family. She has just turned 13 and we see that the Lord is doing a work in her hurting heart.
Now a little bit about our own children. It has been a good and yet challenging year for all of them. We are glad to see how their Portuguese has improved greatly! It is not evident anymore that the older two were not born here. (Israel still gets a little confused about verb tenses and the masculine/feminine nouns, etc.) They have gained much in cultural experience, although we have faced many challenges along the way. They have learned to be extremely flexible in all things – sleeping arrangements, eating schedules, food choices, traveling on foot or squishing all into the backseat of someone's car, being creative in play when toys were not available and relating to people of many different walks of life. We are thankful they have had these opportunities. They have been very much a part of the ministry aspect of what we are doing here as well. They have learned to pray with us for people. They were the main reason we had open doors to start Kids' Club. They made it a million times easier to start a conversation with prostitutes on the street. We were not nearly so intimidating when we showed up with four small children! We are so grateful for them.
Joshua turned 8 in July and is in 3rd grade now in our homeschool. He still loves to read, although it is more challenging here to supply him with quality reading material. He is working on memorizing times tables and still loves to explore nature and disassemble electronics.
Dominique turned 6 in October and is our sweet princess. She is girly in every way, but can also hold her own among the boys! She is doing well in reading, but her forté is writing! She LOVES to write and fills up notebook after notebook with all the things she writes – letters to people, stories, lists of all sorts and other nonsensical compositions. :) She has taught herself cursive and her handwriting could be confused with mine at times! (The spelling gives her away, though.)
Israel just turned 4 last week. He continues to be a charmer and easily finds a way into people's affections. He has not lost his chubby cheeks nor chubby belly, and he may not either, the way he loves to eat, especially bread and sweets of every kind.... He LOVES doing his preschool work and begs to do school all the time. These year-end vacations are hard on him. :)
Johann turned 2 in September and personifies in every way the expression “all boy”. Wow. This kid is plugged in at 220V ALL the time! He sure has a lot of energy, and we are believing that with consistent training, all of that energy will be turned around and used for the Lord as he grows. And he is such a fun kid! Now that he is talking more, he keeps us in stitches often.
Fabio and I will be celebrating ten wonderful years of marriage in April. We are so thankful for what the Lord has done in us and how He has united us together. This year has brought us even closer as we “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel”. (Phil 1:27)
We are now looking ahead to 2011. Our vision is to affect the community with much more than evangelism, through discipleship and restoration. It seems that the majority of the people in Camboriú that are not currently part of a church, are “backsliders”. Please pray that we would have wisdom to know how to reach out to them and how to restore/ disciple them.
Please pray for the kids at risk, that are not under-nourished, but under-nurtured. Pray that we would be able to train others to do kids' clubs in other areas, and that this would be a platform to be able to effectively reach out to the parents of the children we minister to.
We also are praying that the church, as a body, would also be able to affect the structure of many facets of society. The public schools still have the doors wide open to “religion”, unlike in America, but especially with the new president Dilma, it is likely that this door will not stay open forever. We feel that now is the time to take advantage of this window of opportunity. The church can also do much to affect the infrastructure of the group home for teenagers and other institutions that really don't know what to do with the troubled kids once they are removed from their families! We have tried to develop relationships with the Secretary of Child Wellness and the Department of Child Services, in an effort to help them see the church as an Agent of Change and Hope, because they really are lacking in both, not knowing what to do to change the current situation, and lacking hope that anything will ever change for the better. Please pray with us for creative ideas and much wisdom in these situations.
Whew, I know that was long! Let me just close by saying that we very much value each and every one of you, our dear family and friends, and covet your prayers for us here. It is not easy to be far away from everything dear, familiar and all that signifies our “comfort zone”, especially during the holidays. Please send us your news as well! We love hearing from each and every one of you and staying as connected as possible over the distance. We also pray for you frequently and look forward to the day we will be able to visit face to face once again.
~Fabio and Elizabeth~ Joshua, Dominique, Israel and Johann