Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Impact Appalachia

Matthew 25.31-46 is not in other Gospels, which I believe magnifies the power of the passage more.  When a Gospel writer includes an untold story, it’s like unpacking a new truth of Christ.  Certainly this story reveals a powerful truth.  The truth is that people will be separated based on how they served Christ in life.  He’ll say:
            I was hungry and you fed me,
            I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
            I was homeless and you gave me a room,
            I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
            I was sick and you stopped to visit,
            I was in prison and you came to me. . . .
I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me – you did it to me. (The Message)

This Scripture came back to me after preparing for Impact Appalachia.  The Pentecostal Church of God National Missions department works with Impact Student Ministries to deliver Christmas gifts to some of the poorest counties in the U.S.A., found along the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia.Schools open their doors for a Saturday morning gathering of families.

Clothes, gifts, bicycles, and more are given out in a carnival-like setting.  The children are led in games and songs, and then led into the true Christmas Story.Lives are impacted forever.  As our leader Mike said this year, “We’re re-writing history for some of these families!”  It’s amazing to see, especially here in our own country.

I shared  this Scripture with Mateo and Cruz on Friday night, after they had worked all day preparing for the Appalachian Outreach.  I hoped to give them perspective for the Saturday outreach.  After I shared Christ’s words, I asked if they understood.  Mateo replied, “No we haven’t visited anyone in prison.”  I explained that he might visit someone in prison someday.  What is important is that when they see the faces of all of the children who need clothes and food, they see the face of Christ.

We often look at this Scripture and feel limited because of our circumstances or stage in life.  Mateo certainly felt inadequate because he had never visited anyone in prison.  However, the decision isn’t his to make.  As a protective parent, I realize that Mateo might be a little young for prison ministry.  In the same way, God understands our station in life and takes into account our abilities and our spirit.

Jesus is not telling us that we have to lead a ministry in the Church or successfully bring about world peace.  He’s just asking us to be involved, to participate.  In Matthew 10.41-42 Jesus says,

This is a large work I've called you into, but don't be overwhelmed by it. It's best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won't lose out on a thing.

Again, He sees our station in life and knows our limitations.  However, He’s impressed with what we do, even if it seems small to us.   There will be a reward as we simply give out of love.  We may or may not be see instant results, but we will impact souls with the love of God.  Ultimately, the reward is that we give to Christ Himself!

Matthew 25.40: Then the King will say, ‘I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pentecostals Lead The Way In Brazil

When I think of Brazil, I think about the Amazon, piranhas, and the rain forests.  I think about the fact that Brazilians speak Portuguese instead of Spanish.  I think of Sergio Mendes and all the great music that has come out of Brazil over the years.

Neymar, Brazil's Player of the Year
I think of World Cup Soccer.  Brazil will host the World Cup in 2014.  Brazil has won the World Cup more than any other nation.  Currently, there are 208 nations . . . 208 pro teams!  Brazil has won 5 times and placed 5 times as well.  The World Cup is only once every four years.  Considering the four-year schedule and all of the teams involved, it’s safe to say that Brazil’s team is the New York Yankees of soccer.[1]

When I think of Christianity in Brazil, I think of Catholicism.  Brazil has been predominately Catholic since it was settled.  However, Brazil has been right in the middle of a Catholic renewal among Latin nations.[2]  In fact, Brazilian Catholics may have experienced a Charismatic revival as early as the 1890s.  Antonio Conselheiro led a widespread revival with fiery preaching.[3]

Since the Pentecostal Renewal in the early 20th Century, there has been a radical shift.  Brazil is approximately 74% Catholic and 15% Protestant or Pentecostal.  By 2050, projections are that there will be 150 million Catholics and 30-40 million Protestants.  However, Protestants are growing so rapidly that it is possible Brazil will be ½ Protestant by then.  Philip Jenkins, the researcher who compiled these statistics states: “That Brazil will be a key center of world Christianity is beyond doubt, but the precise contours of its religious life are unknowable.”[4]
Because of the renewal in Brazil, its society is changing.  Catholics have generally been upper class, white Brazilians.  Protestants have typically been middle class.  Pentecostals have reached out to the poor.  “The [Pentecostal] churches provide a social network that would otherwise be lacking and help teach members the skills they need to survive in a rapidly developing society.”[5]  Modern Pentecostals in Brazil form a sharing community like the Early Church.

Pentecostals lead the way in Brazil.  Over the last few years, Pentecostalism has been growing while Catholicism is shrinking.  In the Sao Paulo metropolis alone, there are more Pentecostals than in the entire U.S.A.  In Rio de Janeiro, there are 40 Pentecostal Churches opening every week.[6]

The Mission Field is now launching missionaries.  The Anglican primate, the overseer of Brazil, exclaims, “London is today’s field of mission.  It’s so secular we have to send people for their salvation.”[7]  Ironically, the seat of the Anglican Church is London, yet the mission field is sending missionaries to the Mother Church.  This is now a common story.

Aldair and Hillary Queiroz
One such story is Aldair Queiroz, a Brazilian citizen, who married Hillary from Missouri.  Now they serve as missionaries for the Pentecostal Church of God in Brazil.  They are ministering and itinerating in the U.S.A. right now.  With their ministry in both countries, and their background in both, which field is their foreign field?  Through their efforts and their predecessors, the P.C.G. has a thriving mission field in Brazil.  God has even empowered them for service miraculously.  Hillary has an amazing story of how God literally enabled her to understand and speak Portuguese instantaneously.  Aldair and Hillary are on the frontlines of the Pentecostal renewal in Brazil.  When I think of Pentecostal expansion in Brazil, I think of the words of Jesus Christ:

Luke 13.29: People will come from the east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.  30: Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last. (NIV)

                  [1] FIFA World Cup, (accessed November 29, 2011).
                  [2] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day (New York: HarperCollins, 1985), 276-278, 395.
                  [3] Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 55-56; [4] 107; [5] 88; [6] 73-74; [7] 245.