Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Road Trip

We're going to Texas. The church there has asked us to come visit; they're very interested in becoming our sponsor. One of the things we need to talk about is finances. They don't know how much money we need yet. The cost of living has gone through the roof for Americans living in Brazil since we left two years ago. I won't go into all the details (mostly because I don't know all the details) but I will share a couple facts I do know. When we moved to Porto Alegre in 2002 we bought a nice, reliable car for about $12,000. The same car - not a new model of the same car but the same exact car from 2002 - would cost us around $40,000 today. The exchange rate reached almost 4 reais to the dollar while we were there. Now it's less than 2 to 1.

The bad news is that we will probably need to raise more money this time around. The good news is that God is in charge and He has unlimited resources.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Natal Update

Well, we finally talked to the church in Austin. You know, the one that owns the building and oversees the work in Natal? John called them, basically to rule out Natal as a possibility. We figured since we met with them in early June and hadn't heard anything since then, that we could assume they weren't really interested in us. On the contrary, our contact guy said they are very interested. The mission committee told the church in Natal about our tentative plans to move there and work with them, and now we are all waiting to hear if they want us. Boy, I sure am glad we don't have any serious self-esteem issues. That's enough to send a person right over the edge.

Right now there are two families leading that congregation, one of which is a Brazilian family from Porto Alegre - friends of ours. We went last year to visit them in Natal. During that visit they asked us to move there and help them with the church. They were the only leaders at the time. The American missionaries had gone home. Now there is another Brazilian family who moved there from Fortaleza to help. We don't know them.

Our idea is not to go down there and become part of the leadership of the church. On the contrary, we would prefer to be under the leadership as very involved members. We would like to open a Bible school where we could hopefully convert new Christians to become part of the church. Again, we pray and wait.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Living Room Chat

We didn't have a cookout this week but we did get together with some folks on Monday night in our living room. The Bandys came over and so did a couple of our neighbors. We talked about life and love and God and the Bible. Each of us shared a little about what we believe or don't believe. It's fantastic what can happen when people get together and speak openly.

Our neighbors told us all about why they don't go to church any more. We're starting to hear different versions of the same story all over the place - rejection by the church before a person has even been introduced to Jesus. They said Monday night was as much church as anything they have ever attended.

We're thinking about setting a weekly meeting time. Some of our friends and neighbors have expressed interest, and we would certainly love to have them in our home on a regular basis. We talked about it Monday and it seems like a good idea to have some guidelines for discussion. In other words, sitting around and throwing out opinions all night would be fruitless. We're talking about reading through parts of the Bible together. Not so we can impose our ideas on the group, but so we can all discuss openly what it says and learn from it.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Why We Do What We Do

In case you haven't noticed, we believe in God. Not just any god either - the God of the Bible. We believe that He created us to have a relationship with Him and that He gave us a free will to choose what to do with our lives. It's easy to look around and see that, in general, mankind didn't choose Him. We believe that, because He loves us more than we can imagine, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to live among us as a human being and to die, taking all of our sins past, present, and future with Him to the grave. We believe that Jesus rose from the dead and that God has given us a way to be reconciled to Him by believing in His Son and living according to the precepts of the Bible. In a nutshell, that's what we're all about.

Now, what would you do if you believed that? Here's what we're doing:

We're praying and making ourselves available to God. We pray for our neighbors by name and ask that if anyone wants to know God better or simply to be encouraged in their relationship with Him, that He will put us together. We have had two backyard cookouts and have become a closer community through those meetings. Recently I had it on my heart to pray for a neighbor that we hadn't met; I asked for an opportunity to meet her. The next day I saw her at the store and we talked. She came over last night and she, my mother-in-law, and I all talked for a couple more hours.

We don't have the answers to all of life's questions, and we don't pretend to have a master plan for evangelizing the world or even our neighborhood. We won't argue, debate, or pressure anyone into becoming a Christian. We just want to share with others what we have been given.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Big Churches Helping Little Churches

This house church thing is really taking off! Just look at our living room this morning. O.K., O.K., this is actually 4th Avenue Church of Christ in Franklin, Tennessee ( a beautiful town about 30 minutes from our house). They support the Blume family, Matt Rehbein (also on the Porto Alegre team) and lots of other missionaries all over the world.

We went to see the Blumes report on the work in Porto Alegre. They talked about the transition from big church to house churches. They explained that the Porto Alegrenses, as they're called, show little interest in coming to a church building to attend a formal service but are happy to visit their home. They talked about how educated people are wary of evangelists because of previous abuses by manipulative people whose only goal was to fill their own pockets.

Many people, myself included, wondered when they started the transition if they would be successful. Some of their own church members there thought they would surely decrease their numbers. That was not the case, as they went from about 80 in the church building to about 110 among four individual house churches.

As John and I consider the possibility of moving back to Brazil, we see an opportunity to become part of the house church movement in Porto Alegre. There were so many people whom we invited to church that never came. Many more were willing to come to our house for a visit. We would be honored if, in the future, we would have the opportunity to invite them to our home church.

We're proud of our teammates for recognizing the need to change something that wasn't working. We pray that God will continue to bless their efforts to introduce Jesus to the people of Brazil.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Grilling Out with God, the Sequel

We had another cookout today. John spoke about how God's love differs from worldly love. We had a total of 25 people (nine of them kids) in and out of our back yard throughout the day. Lest any of you get the very wrong impression that we are hospitality heroes, let me assure you that it's not true. Here's what our back yard looked like at 8:30 this morning, while I was still in my pajamas and without coffee. You can see that our wonderful neighbors, Tony and David, set up the tents and tables. They even hooked up some fans to combat the sweltering heat we faced last weekend. The grill is theirs too. You may also notice that we didn't mow our lawn, roll up our hose, or even pick up the kids' toys from yesterday. They were gracious enough to work around our mess. Again people brought goodies and, for a while, we thought we had more food than would be humanly possible for our group to consume. At about 7:00pm, after much socializing and even more grazing, we realized we were wrong. We had some new faces. One lady has been in poor health for 15 months and hasn't been out of her house much. We were thrilled that she spent the entire day with us. She told John how much she appreciated his sermon and said it was the best day she's had in a long time. Comments like that make us want to do this every weekend.

The kids had another best-day-of-my-life kind of day. Honestly, a plastic pool, a swing set, and some good friends rank right up there with Disney World. I guess that's easy to say since my kids have never been there.
Wait a minute, this guy has been there. What's his excuse?

Some of the guys want to meet for discussion next week, so we're planning to switch things up a bit and invite them into our air conditioning.

Friday, July 13, 2007

A Special Visit

Look who came to visit us today! This is Kevin and Benay Blume. We spent three years on the mission field in Brazil with them. They're in the States on furlough, and we were thrilled to steal them away from the people who pay their salary for a while.

The church we started together has gone from meeting in one location to meeting in individual homes. Other friends of ours, the Bandys, came over to talk to them about what they are doing and how they are doing it. We had a house full and loved every minute of it.
The kids played outside together. Jonah got a little rough with the Blume girl.
Oh, my! It looks like he got more than a little rough. I hope they will still be our friends.
Oh, wait. It looks like she got him back. "And DON'T call my little buddy 'Plumber Boy' ever again! I don't care if he IS your brother!"

They worked up quite an appetite so we made them some healthy American cuisine - sandwiches made from pasteurized, processed, cheese-flavored snack food (otherwise known as grilled cheese sandwiches). We served it up with some Doritos and Sunkist soda. Mmm mmm, their little insides should be orange for a week.
Then they settled in for a movie and some rest time.
It was a good day for everyone. It will be interesting to see in which country our next visit with them will be.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Where in the World is Natal, Brazil?

We were checking e-mail and came across a question embedded deep within a friend's message that stuck out to me like a sore thumb. "What ever happened to Natal?" I saw that and figured, I know some other people would like to know the answer to that question, so let me answer it here.

For those of you who aren't asking, "Whatever happened to Natal?" but rather "Where in the world is Natal?" I can help you too. See Brazil? Allow your eyes to travel straight across the word and you'll see it there on the coast that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean.

When we lived in Brazil before, it was all the way down south in Porto Alegre. That's the southernmost city listed on this map of Brazil.

Now, back to the question of what happened to it, which was asked because, at one time, it looked like we were going to move there. After we had been back in the States for one year, we went to Brazil to finish up some business in Porto Alegre. During that trip we visited some friends of ours in Natal and surveyed the work in João Pessoa (just south of Natal) to see about working with the church there. We were looking for a place that would accomodate Jonah's special needs - meaning a place with English-speaking kids and an English-speaking school - and since there is a team of American missionaries already there, we figured that may be the place. It quickly became clear that they did not need our help and were, in fact, fazing out the American missionary influence in that church. Good for them - not so good for us.

We drove back to Natal where our friends asked us if we would like to work with them. We don't know any other Americans there and couldn't find any English speaking schools but we figured, if God wanted us there, He would work it out. We quickly and easily found a house and a car and decided to go. John prayed that, if that was not God's will for our lives, He would "put on the breaks". After we returned from that trip with the intent to turn right back around, John got a phone call from a man asking him to "put on the brakes". He was calling from the church in Austin, Texas that oversees the church in Natal. They wanted to get to know us before they approved our moving down there to work with that church. We might have been game except for the fact that some very trusted advisors told us, in no uncertain terms, that we were being hasty. They felt like we needed more time to allow Jonah to mature before we put him through another transition. After some prayer and a little kicking and screaming, we agreed.

It's been a year since then and we just went to Texas in June to visit with the Austin church. Circumstances have changed and they and we both felt ready to give it a go. We discussed the possibility of moving our family to Natal in the near future to work with the church there. We met with their mission committee and asked and answered lots of questions. They said they would deliberate and get back to us. Now we keep hearing the Final Jeopardy theme in our heads.

Anyway, the point is that Natal is not out of the question but it's no longer the only question. We are totally and completely open to God's leading and we don't know where we will end up. Porto Alegre has returned to our minds as a possibilty. We previously felt discouraged about returning there due to the fact that we have been gone for some time and we didn't want to impose ourselves back into a work that had already adapted well to our absence. Basically, we didn't want to rock the boat. However, the single congregation in Porto Alegre has since become individual house churches, and we are beginning to see other ministry possibilities that would not rock the boat but possibly fuel it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Natchez Trace

Part of the reason we started this blog was to share some of the amazing stories that God has written with our lives. This one is about how we came to know Natchez Trace, the church that sponsored us to go to Brazil as missionaries in the first place - the church that has stood by us over these past two years of uncertainty.

John and I were baptized and married the same day in 1996. (I'll save the details for another story time in the future.) We were part of a little Church of Christ in a little town in a little corner of Texas. We were thrilled about our conversion and wanted to share what we had experienced with anyone who would listen. After hearing a missionary to Brazil speak to the congregation and solicit more able bodies to come to South America, John and I were ready to sign up. The missionary, Alan Dutton, put us in touch with the Continent of Great Cities. In the meantime, the elders at that little church where we were baptized decided that we were not missionary material and demanded that we not pursue it. We left there and, to make a long story short, went to the Continent of Great Cities for training.

There was a team forming in Nashville so we moved here to be close to them. The Continent of Great Cities put us in touch with Natchez Trace, who helped us financially to get settled in Nashville. We went there to thank the generous people who entrusted part of their budget to us, and we never left. They became our sponsoring congregation and have supported us throughout eight months of training for the mission field, three years on the field, and now two years back in the States. Part of these past two years has consisted of nothing more than healing and part has been employed at YES.

The really amazing part of all this is that they are a relatively small congregation whose contribution was not enough to fully support a missionary family, but they challenged themselves to dig deep and make it happen. That and the fact that they believed in us when we were rookie Christians.

Here they are after a Sunday service, each with his sack lunch. Not really, but I'm sure they sacrificed more than a few lunches out with friends to send the Gospel to Brazil. Kudos to you, Natchez Trace. So here seems to be where our paths diverge a bit. They are no longer in the position to fully support us. In spite of that, they have agreed to partially support us and, for that, we are thankful. We look forward to visiting on future furloughs and eating sack lunches with our friends.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Grilling Out with God

Yesterday was a great day! We invited our neighbors for a sermon and a cookout in our back yard. John talked about true life change and how only Jesus makes it possible. We get to use our lives as examples, which keeps it real. It was mostly a group of our neighbors but one lady came from YES (where John's been working) and brought her son. Jonah was happy to see him. Our very dear friends, the Bandys, also came. They live just a couple miles away. Here's what Bobby ended up doing throughout the sermon. Thanks, Bobby.

We didn't ask for anyone to bring anything. It was supposed to be on us. However, our kindly neighbors contributed plenty. I had a burger for lunch and a hot dog for dinner with a nice big gooey brownie for dessert after each. Bleh. Today I fast!

After we ate, everyone hung around chatting. It was nice, despite the sweltering heat. The kids played in the plastic pool/baptismal. (Hey, our resources are limited.)
And here's the most beautiful shot of the day. No, it's not the best photograph I've ever taken but it sums up the heartbeat of our neighborhood and, I believe, the church. These two guys couldn't be more opposite, yet here they are enjoying each other's company in the presence of the Great Equalizer. It seems everyone had a great time and we grew a little closer as a community. We will probably do this again soon. We'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

A Bushy Tale

No, I'm not talking about a squirrel or you when you get up in the morning all bright eyed. This story is about an actual bush - a shrub, a plant, a green thing. Well, the bush in this tale is not really very green after all. You see, we moved into this house in August of last year and I was very excited about the big yard and all the potential landscaping. Some nice big trees and shrubs were already well-established. The house was built in the 20's and the trees may have been here before that. Anyway, there are two "matching" shrubs on either side of the walkway that leads to our front door. I put matching in quotation marks because they obviously started out matching each other but now one is big and beautiful and the other looks dead as a doornail. Here's the beautiful one:

and here's the dead one with some strange squash growing up out of the compost: Needless to say, the curb appeal at our house is lacking because of this black sheep shrub. The other one got lots of pretty white flowers all over it in the spring but this one looked like it does now. I have watered, fertilized, watered, composted, watered, pruned, and watered this poor thing but it hasn't responded. At this point, I know every leaf on its ugly little head so I would notice any new growth immediately. I would consider digging it up but it is obviously not completely dead and I still have hope. It seems more depressed than anything. So I talk to it and pray for it, but still nothing.

I went out on Saturday to baby it as usual and there they were, several new shoots coming up from the ground. Not just a few leaves but full-blown shoots about two feet long. It was amazing and I was so excited. The prodigal shrub had returned!

OK, here's where this get's interesting. We were at our friends' house the other night and I told John, "By-the-way, the dead shrub out by the street is finally growing." I knew he would think that was nice but probably not get too excited. Well, he didn't respond at all and I just started telling our friends the whole story I just told you. Then I looked back at John who still had a blank look on his face. Turns out he wasn't bored, just in awe. You see, he had prayed months ago that God would use that shrub as a sign like the fleece in the Gideon story to help us decide if we are supposed to go to Brazil or not. He told God that if he would only make the shrub grow, then we could know we were supposed to return to Brazil. Then, months later when nothing had happened, he was mowing the lawn (this was Friday afternoon) and he "reminded" God of his request to make the shrub grow to tell us to go back to Brazil. He walked by the shrub with the mower and said, "There's that dead shrub, God. You could tell me without a doubt that I'm making the right decision to go back by making that dead thing grow." And voila, the next day it had lots of new growth. In fact, if you look real close at the "dead" picture you can probably make out some leaves on there. I'm telling you, they weren't there one day then they were the next. Coincidence? I think not.

Now, I'm very interested to see what happens with this thing in the coming weeks. I promise to keep you posted even if it dies and I have to eat my words about it being a sign. If you think this sounds kooky, you can a.) quit reading this blog right now or b.) keep checking in for entertainment purposes in the future.

P.S. We still don't have a sponsoring church so the whole returning-to-Brazil discussion may be a bit presumptuous and no, we don't pin all our hopes on this bush. It's just a fun little tidbit in a day in the life of the Jewells.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Sponsorless in Nashville

To catch you up to speed on where we have been over the past two years would be time-consuming and probably a little tedious to read, so I will try to be succinct. We came home on furlough in the spring of 2005, after being on the mission field for three years. (That wasn't our first furlough, by-the-way.) We had Jonah, our oldest, tested at Vanderbilt University for some behavioral issues that concerned us. We expected to hear that something was amiss but not the advice we got from the team of specialists. They told us to keep him in the States and not to go back until he had extensive therapy. Apparently he had some serious developmental issues concerning receptive language and social skills. Make of that what you will. We had to.

Anyway, we went through the Regional Intervention Program
which may have saved our lives and/or the lives of our children and enrolled Jonah in special education preschool. At his last evaluation, Jonah got a clean bill of health. He is on medication and may have either a severe form of ADHD or a mild form of Asperger's but is coming along nicely. It's been two years of challenging times for our family but we have grown closer and stronger through it all.

John and I have been talking and praying about God's will for our lives from here. We both feel called back to Brazil and are excited about the prospects. Jonah has been practicing Portuguese - a big deal for him since he couldn't even speak English when we left there - and Andy is following suit.

Here's the catch: we don't really have a sponsoring church at this point. Natchez Trace Church of Christ is the one that has paid our salary up until now but they have recently informed us that they will no longer be able to continue full support if we return to Brazil. We've asked a church in Texas to help and are awaiting the answer...