Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Update Video #2

Qual e', vei?

Here is another video that I put together to highlight some of the experiences that our team has had while in Goiania so far this summer. I hope you enjoy it!

In Christ,

Monday, June 16, 2014

Thankful for the Entire Body of Christ

Fala mano (What’s up, man?),

I think that we have definitely reached a point in our trip here where we have found a level of comfortability with the neighborhood that we live in, a growing depth in the friendships that we have with students, and an understanding for the Brazilian culture (at least according to the citizens of Goiania). For these things, I am incredibly thankful. The nature of our trip was to investigate the campus and city of Goiania to see if it possessed a culture that is ripe for a ministry. It is hard to say with certainty as a human being whether or not it is God’s will for the Federal University of Goias to have a full time ministry, but He has called Christians to go to all nations. With that in mind, I definitely feel like this campus would be a fruitful place for God to use a ministry; I am excited to hear in the future how this thought aligns with God’s will. Despite the fact that it is highly unusual for students to actually live on campus, they have had a large willingness to meet us at different parks, malls, and our house. Also, they have from the very beginning of our trip invited many of us to their parties, houses, and meals. They have had a great curiosity about the American culture, but also have wanted us to know their favorite parts of Brazilian culture and even some of the things that they don’t like. This level of transparency has amazed me. When it has come to the discussion groups that we have held at our house, many of the students have been very open to share. For example, there is a large religious movement here called Spiritism. From what I have gathered, Spiritists believe in something similar to reincarnation. At the end of each life, you are judged for your “good” moments and your “bad” moments. Theoretically, you then are able to know what it is that you did wrong in that life and go back and fix it in your next life. Through this thought, you may eventually have the chance to live a life that is fully good. There are a few students that have come to things that are Spiritists. There have also been Atheists, students that believe in things similar to Karma or god being a form of energy, and students that believe in many different aspects of different religions all at once. I am grateful that each of these students has come to our discussion groups or has spent time with us and shared their views on life and has been open to discussing my personal view as well. There has even been one girl who stated that she was very open to changing her belief system from Spiritism because she is not convinced of its certainty. Her name is Ana Clara. Please pray for her by name! Pray that if she investigates Christ as a Lord and Savior that she may find great joy in this and be overwhelmed by His love.

As I stated in my last post, we were able to watch the first World Cup soccer game with many of the Brazilian students and people from the church that we have partnered with in Goiania. It was really an incredible experience for reasons that I would have expected and some that I could not have predicted. The game was between Brazil and Croatia. The buzz leading into the game could nearly be felt in the air that day. The university cancels classes any day that Brazil has a World Cup game because they know better than to have teachers show up for empty classrooms. A stark number of students were supporting the Croatian side, though, and this did come as a surprise to me. The corruption of the government coupled with the fact that the citizens feel that the World Cup has done more harm to their economy than it has done good has led to a lot of dissension from Brazilians. As always, there exist extremists on both side of the issue. The interesting group of people is those with a torn heart. The people who love the game of soccer and wish for Brazil to further its legacy as a country recognized for its excellence in a sport loved by the entire world. However, they feel like they must hold out on their excitement or support for Brazil because they do not wish to betray their fellow countrymen who are upset with the issue. All of this was expressed when the first goal of the World Cup was scored, and this was done by an own goal by a Brazilian defender. Some of the students cheered, while other students showed their obvious dismay. There was so much emotion in one room, and it was a unique moment to be a part of that I will never forget in my entire life. Brazil did come back to win the game, but it will be interesting to see how they play throughout the rest of the tournament. I look forward to contacting the students that I have become friends with to see their reaction when Brazil loses out or wins the entire World Cup. Here are a few pictures from the game to show you how we decorated the house and also how the students came to watch the game with us!

Here is me hanging out with Heron and Mario during halftime of the World Cup game.
We had an interesting time trying to hang this flag from the ceiling of our living room. These little flags were strewn about our entire house. We spent a decent bit of the afternoon taping them to strings to hang them up.
Here is one view of many of the students and people from our team that watched the game together.
  I am excited to eventually finish and upload our second update video because it will contain some footage showing the students reactions throughout the course of the game! Stay tuned for that!

This past weekend we went to El Ranchero in Corumb√°, Goias. It was about a two hour drive and we took a large bus. It was absolutely refreshing to hang out with the students in a new environment. I would try to give you the nitty gritty details with words, but I can imagine how you feel at this point about my descriptive writing and words would not do the things that awaited us justice anyways.

Here is a view of the sky at the camp. It looked more like a painting than it did real life. There were rolling hills past the little houses that we stayed in with a ton of paths to walk and explore.

These are the "bungalows" that we stayed in while we were at the retreat. There were four rooms in each of the buildings, and they each had wraparound porches. The area that we ate our meals required you to walk through a forest with a ton of butterflies and monkeys.

These are some of the cascades that led up to a massive waterfall that we hiked to while we were at the retreat. We swam in the small pools at the foot of these. The water was freezing cold because it comes from a river that flows down from a tall mountain nearby. This freezing water was a reprieve for me from the "winter" weather of Goiania that normally consists of  80-88 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures

This is a view of the biggest waterfall in the area. We estimated that it was about a 150 foot tall waterfall, and this cliff overlooked the major drop. We were able to swim in some of the pools that were close to the edge.

As you can see, the view beyond the waterfall was also beautiful. It opened up into a massive valley. You could see dense forests of Eucalyptus trees in the distance. When standing by myself, I felt like this could have been the place where pride rock in the Lion King was dreamt up. Mostly because a shadow covered part of the land as we were getting ready to leave the falls.

Those pictures give you a good idea of the awesome scenery that we were able to take in over the weekend. This was also the first weekend that we talked about the person of Jesus Christ with the students. It made for a very interesting period because a few of the students walked out when they first saw His name on the projected slide, but they eventually came back because they were intrigued at hearing out our view of this very polarizing figure. Our discussion groups for the weekend revolved around what it would mean if Christ's claims were actually true and how this would shape our view of and relationship with God. I think that it was a very fruitful time for us with the students that we have been connecting with. Please be praying for the following guys by name that our team has connected with: Kledson, Klebor, Heron, Felipe, Humberto, Mario, Wilson, Nikolaus, Lucas, Enrique, Artur, Geisson, Rafael, Diego, Bruno, and Junior. These are the girls that our team has connected with: Ana Clara, Lidia, Lizz, and Amanda. Pray that the Lord can connect them to Brazilians that they can follow up with after we leave, whether that be at the church that we have been going to, Igrega Luz, or with other Christian Brazilians.

There are only two more weeks here in Brazil, so please be praying for my focus and energy as the trip goes on. Thank you so much to everyone that has made this trip possible for me and my entire team. I realize with every passing moment that this really could not be possible without every prayer, dollar, translator, and Brazilian resource that has been sent out way. I feel blessed to be apart of this experience and am hopeful that I have helped you to feel connected to how the Lord is at work and how life in this area of Brazil is lived.

In Christ,

Friday, June 13, 2014

Insight on Campus Happenings and Student Updates

Oi a gente! (Hi everybody!)

This has been a very fun, busy, and exciting week for us. This past Saturday, we had been expecting to make a trip to a city that is called Pirenópolis. It is known to have historic architecture for Brazil, and also on the outskirts of the city there are many massive waterfalls. The students and people that we have run into have constantly told us that the water is freezing because it comes straight down from a mountain. Even though it is winter here, it feels more like our early summer, so I was excited at the thought of feeling genuinely cold during a winter season for once. This excitement was for something that never came to fruition though because we ended up not being able to get enough cars for all of the students that committed to coming with us for the day. In one sense, this was definitely a bummer because I was excited for the city itself and I was also excited to be spending time with students off-campus. However, I think it is a great problem to have when there are so many students that wanted to come with us. Luckily, there is an Athletic Club that is only a ten-fifteen minute walk from our house, and many of the students that spent the night with us the night before or who had committed to coming ended up going with us to this athletic club anyways, which was very encouraging. We paid an upfront price and then we had our pick of many soccer fields, basketball courts, swimming pools, water slides, sand volleyball courts, and other various activities. It was great to get out and stretch our legs, but it was also awesome to spend time with the students in a new place. Two guys that we have developed great friendships with are Heron and Mario. You may remember these names from one of my previous posts asking you all to pray for them. Please pray for them specifically because we only have two and a half or three weeks left here. I do not expect God to work on our timeline, so please just be praying that we can be intentional with these guys with our time, and also that God will help us to connect them to Brazilian students here that are leaders at the church that we have been going to. Thank you!

After Saturday, Mario invited Michael and I to go with him to a stock car race at the local Goiania track. We were definitely exhausted from the day before, but we knew that we would have regretted not going if we declined. We took him up on it, and I am glad that we did. First of all, Mario was operating under the notion that if we were going to a racing event that we had to also get there in the same manner that we expected them to be driving once we arrived. We were weaving in and out of traffic, and at one point Mario attempted to prove to us that he had perfected the art of drifting. I never felt like we were going to crash because he was definitely a good driver and knows a lot about cars, but I imagine that his Mom will be questioning why her e-break doesn't seem to be working as well as before she let us take her car. When we got there, it took a while for the races to start, so it provided us with an opportunity to talk with Mario a lot, and I think that this was a great chance to go deeper with him. Once the races began, Michael and I agreed that the cars themselves were certainly not as impressive as NASCAR cars, but the track was a road track and the ample amount of wipe-outs made up for a lack of power.  Here is a picture from the day of Michael and me with Mario.

In other news, we got to experience our first World Cup game in Brazil last night (Thursday, June 12, 2014). It was awesome and I look forward to posting pictures and going into more detail about this in our next update. Today, we are going to be leaving for a weekend retreat that will have many discussion groups about exploring our purpose in life and what the implications of having a Creator would be. I am excited for another opportunity to spend ample time with the students that we have connected with, so please pray for safety throughout the weekend for our whole team and all of the students and also that God would be moving in all of our hearts in accordance to His eternal will.

Have a great weekend and thank you for your continued support!

In Christ,

Sunday, June 8, 2014

An Almighty God for the Whole World

It has been far too long since I last posted on here, and it has definitely been a busy time. Thank you to those that are continuing to check back and read how my experience in Goiania has been going so far. For future reference, it will be my goal to post on here every four days from here on out for the rest of my time here. That should hopefully give you some kind of frame of reference to work with on how often to maybe check back for a new post.

First things first - a bit of tragedy from around the world. It has always been my hope while being called to missions that I am able to focus on what it is that God has put specifically before me. I think that there is a certain level of importance in not longing to be elsewhere, and perhaps more importantly, I am afraid that I may not fully experience or respond to God's calling for me abroad. However, time and life do not cease to exist in places that I am not currently present. The impact of this truth has never been greater than when I received news last week that one of my best friends learned about his dad taking his life. This hit me extremely hard for two reasons. The situation is not at all about me, but it is definitely hard to be so far away from someone that you are extremely close with and wish to comfort at such a trying, confusing, and hurtful time. The first time that this same friend dealt with tragedy in his life was when I was in South Africa two years ago. There is never a great time to experience a heart breaking and life changing tragedy in your life, but the particular timing of this event resulted in the first time that I was completely unable to focus on where God had me. I longed to be there for my dear friend, but I have been comforted by the thought that I personally hold no power to provide true comfort or peace for my friend. God is the only person that can do this, and I am thankful that He is not ever away or in another country. He is the God of the universe, and, while it is hard to process, He knows why this happened and also has a plan for it. Secondly, this was a person that I was extremely close with growing up. He took me to and from baseball games, and he also helped to mentor me in a lot of ways as I was growing up and figuring out the purpose of life. It wasn't unusual for me to call him my other dad, and he is someone that will be greatly missed. Please pray for my friend- Ryan Johnson. Pray for his entire family during this time and that he may be able to find the Lord's purpose in this and also that he may find peace in what I can only imagine to be the most distraught and tragic moment in his life so far.

To be honest, I do not think I can even come close to fully understanding how something like this happens. However, there is one thing that I think I am learning from it and would love to share. I have never understood more the verses in the Bible about God’s greatest commandments being to love Him with all your heart, soul, and mind; then, love your neighbor as yourself. It is by authentic love that God so desired to save us from sin. It is by authentic love, not extensive knowledge, that most of us come to see the character of Christ being reflected in other people and in this world. It is authentic love that God offers us and promises us in eternity with Him in heaven. Lastly, it is authentic love and grace from God that can help us climb out of the most sin-filled, dark places in our lives. My prayer is that more of us come to know, experience, and share this love because this life can be difficult, but we are not called or created to live without this love.

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
--Matthew 22:34-40 

As far as what it is that God has been showing me in Brazil, I am excited and encouraged to share with you how ministry has been as of late. It is awesome that we are beginning to develop authentic relationships with many of the students, and they are really starting to open up and share their lives with us. Each week we have a discussion group at our house on Wednesday nights. This is a common practice for cross cultural projects, and the intent is to allow everyone to have a platform to share their beliefs with one another. I love that we do this because I think that it is awesome to investigate the deeper things in life with people from completely different backgrounds and cultures than one another. The theme for this summer’s discussion groups is “What Moves You?” This comes from life’s four existential questions. If you are wondering what the heck that word means, then don’t feel bad because I had never heard of this before coming on the trip. Simply put, these are questions that delve into the purpose for life and why we are here. We have chosen the question surrounding life’s purpose because the World Cup is here in Brazil this summer, and it is such a polarizing event that brings about a great deal of emotion. There has been a great deal of corruption surrounding the World Cup because the Brazilian government has taken a lot of money, and the citizens are unsure if all of the money is even going towards stadiums or other World Cup infrastructure. Also, the citizens feel as though there are far better needs in Brazil than soccer stadiums being strewn about the country that will have the majority of their use take place over one month’s time. This has led to a lot of protesting. On the other hand, soccer is the biggest sport in Brazil and this country has quite the decorated history of soccer players, so for many people there is excitement that the legacy can be furthered in their home country. With that being said, it is a great summer for the students here to begin developing opinions on what they think about life and where they stand on life’s big questions. At this week’s discussion group, we had twenty-plus students show up. To be honest with you, I had no faith that this would happen. It was exciting and encouraging for so many students to show up when only about six or seven had showed up the week before. The discussion was centered on our desires in life and why these desires are sometimes unmet. Many of the students professed to believe in a Creator or God, but were not sure that they believed anything beyond this. For me, this was a massive encouragement to just hear students talk about this because I was excited that this was something that they had been thinking about before. Goiania is a vastly different culture and place than where I am from in Georgia, yet the people here are thinking through many of life’s same questions, and this to me seems like no coincidence. There are a few students in particular that I have begun to get close with. Their names are: Mario, Wilson (I know, doesn’t sound that Brazilian, right?), Junior, Humberto, Felipe, and Diego. I know that you do not know much about any of these guys, but I implore you to pray for them by name. Please be praying that they may begin to further question their purpose in life, and ultimately question who Jesus is and why He is vastly important for their lives. Thank you!

This update is getting a little lengthy, so I will promise to end it with this last point. CCP stands for cross-cultural project, and we would not be experiencing the culture of Brazil without visiting places and things that are intertwined with its cultural identity. We had the great fortune to attend Brazil’s last World Cup practice game this past Tuesday (May 3, 2014), and it was an experience that I will never forget. I am a large sports fan to begin with, but there is something majestic about getting to watch sports played between teams that are representing entire nations of people. There is so much passion involved, and it unites people together that may otherwise never share a common bond or interest. (This to me is a small glimpse of what heaven may be like when all people groups and all nations will be brought together under one God to be one body, but that is maybe just a connection that I am making). The Brazilian team played Panama, and they beat them 4-0. It was a good ole fashioned whooping, and even though Panama was grossly overmatched, it was fun to see the Brazilian people come together during a game that has seemed to bring their country so much animosity and frustration. It does not go over my head that these types of experiences are not possible without your support, so I thank you so much again and would love to share with you as much as possible if you ever wanted to talk about it. The following are some photos from that day!

The anticipation was beginning to kill Michael, the other student from Georgia Tech who is also in the same fraternity that I am in, and me. We were excited to be dressed in Brazilian gear and get into the game.

Here is Michael, Josh Crouse, and me at halftime of the game. 

This is an awesome photo that Michael captured of Neymar Jr., the Brazilian team's most notorious player currently, taking a free kick that actually was the first Brazilian goal for the day.

Here is a view of the city of Goiania from inside of the stadium.

Lastly, this was Michael and me after the game with the city in the background. 

I have been praying through my list of supporter’s and support contacts, so I pray that the Lord has heard these prayers and that you are all having a great and fruitful summer.

As a thank you for reading through this Harry Potter-esque length blog post, here is a link to the first video update that I made for our Brazilian team. Enjoy it! 

In Christ,