We have had a couple of great but exhausting days. On Sunday we attended two services, one in the morning and one in the evening. The one in the evening was in one of the "favelas", or slum areas of the city. This is a very violent and sin filled area that a brave young Brazilian chose to start a church in. The church has thrived, growing quite rapidly. Fortunately for our sakes, the army came in with about 2000 troops a month ago and cleaned the drug lords out. They are doing this in preparation for the Olympics (we are meeting in a building the church is using to start a church in the neighboring favela across the freeway from the original neighborhood. This area was ruled by a rival drug gang and it was dangerous for someone from the original neighborhood to even enter this area. But, undaunted, they started a church here. The army cleaned this area out about 4 months ago). The church is very strong on evangelism and discipleship with about 98 percent of the congregation involved in discipleship. They have over 500 in attendance now and we attended the night a large group of disciples came home from a retreat. About 6 months after someone accepts Christ and enters into discipleship, they take them on a retreat and really challenge the seriousness of their commitment. The believers are then baptized. The church then celebrates their return. I have never seen anything quite like it. The bus pulled up outside and all the people gathered around the door. As the people came in, they cheered, much like you might see when a winning team comes home after a championship. It was quite a roar. I thought to myself that this church had chosen the right things to cheer for. Daily they see the lost come to Christ out of unbelievably broken lives of drugs, violence, prostitution, abuse, etc. To see these people transformed and make a serious commitment to Christ is something to cheer about. I have to admit it really grabbed my heart. By the way, after almost everyone was gone and they were picking up the plastic chairs to clean up, a large rat ran in and raced around the room. Several gave chase but he miraculously escaped.
Today was the first day of training and I thought it went really well. In some ways it was challenging for me as I was the only one there who did not speak Portuguese. A lot of the discussion etc, was not translated for me and I was not always sure what was going on. But at the same time it was wonderful to see the response of the students. I had been somewhat worried about how they would respond. All are very bright, educated leaders and I was not sure if they would think what we were doing was worthwhile. As it turned out they were very impressed and amazingly they had not had anything like this before, even those who had been to seminary. Two of the guys are going to seminary right now and said they wished they had this kind of training there. They said all their teaching is shallow compared to what they learned about bible study in the first day. It was a long day, starting at 6:30 am with a two hour drive and coming home at 6 pm for a team dinner. But it was really rewarding. We are looking forward to tomorrow.
Two people we expected could not come, the first because their child started having a fever. The second, an important leader in the area, did not show up and did not even call. It was unusual for him and a little frustrating. Finally at 4 pm he called and told us a young man in his congregation from one of the favelas had been murdered by the drug lords the night before. They had taken his body and would not release it to the family. This pastor had spent the day negotiating with the murderers for the release of the body. They had taken his cell phone during all this so he could not call. I was reminded that I know little of what it means to live on the front lines of the Christian life. I was also aware that the enemy is trying to frustrate our purposes and I ask you to pray for us in that regard.