Monday, December 20, 2010

Our Little Church Christmas Party

A week before Christmas our church had a party. Since our house is the church building it made sense to have it here. We had lots of great food. Each family brought a traditional holiday dish.
We had a devotional for the families.
Then we played white elephant gift exchange.
Finally, the kids decorated cookies while the adults discussed some things they had learned this year.
It was a great party, not unlike some others I've been to in the past. There was, however, something different about it. As I was cleaning up after the last guest left, I was thinking about how much the whole evening felt just like every other Sunday in our home. I thought about how we eat together every week, discuss something from the Bible, pray together, teach the children...

Then it dawned on me that this party with people I just met less than a year ago was like a family get together. We have all grown together over the past year and whether we are having church or a meal or a party, there is a sense of family when we are all together. We are so blessed to be part of a church like this and are excited to see what God will do through us in 2011.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A House Church Wedding

My last post was about Chris and Jenna, who were baptized last month. They have been meeting with our house church since September and have become more than friends. Their children (who are just about the same ages as ours) call us Aunt and Uncle and are fast becoming three of our kids' best friends. Our families live on the same street and we feel sure God had our meeting planned all along. They were eager to hear what God expected of them, and they have responded to His call. We find great encouragement in that.

John had the pleasure of marrying them last Sunday at Chris's sister's house in a town a couple hours north of here. We made a day of it. We enjoyed spending time with their relatives while we witnessed this family become united under God. We are very thankful for their good choices and are sure He has many blessings in store for their future.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Our New Siblings in Christ

Yesterday I quoted Acts 2:42-46 because it was relevant to my blog post. Today, I have the pleasure of quoting the very next verse of the Bible, "And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." because, again, it's what we are living.

Chris and Jenna were baptized today. We met at Terry and Maria's house so we could use their pool. It was cold but they didn't mind. Now they are new creations and children of God. We rejoiced as their new family. Wedding plans are underway for December.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Everything in Common

Acts 2:44-46 says, "All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts."

Today we hosted a yard sale to benefit the single mom in our house church who struggles financially. Many people donated items that were sold to put money in her pocket. This afternoon the family down the street who is also a part of our house church came down to spend the second half of the day with us, and the single mom made a wonderful dinner for all of us while our kids played together. It was a good day.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


We've been discussing the possibility of renovating our house. There's nothing wrong with it. In fact, we really like it just the way it is, but we're not going to be able to fit many more people in here before we outgrow the place. As it is, the whole church meets here on Sunday morning and every other Wednesday night. Friday night is Bible study night for the women. We started out saying it was just for grown ups but the kids like to play together so much that the whole clan is here every Friday night too. On any given weekday we usually have at least one of those families here just to talk or visit. So, we're feeling the wonderful yet stressful dilemma of not enough space.We rented a building for a while in the beginning but that proved to be expensive and very undesirable to most people. So we're trying to keep it at home in hopes that it will not always be in our home, but that someone will step up and offer to take a group into their own living room. We recognize that may take some time so we are looking for an answer to how to fit them into our space until that happens.

Because we ran out of room indoors, the kids' class meets on the back patio. We talked about enclosing that because it will eventually get too hot to meet there. For that matter, it may get too cold if last winter is any indication. We also entertained the idea of taking out the wall between the living room and Andy's room to make a larger area for the adults to congregate. If we did that we would also convert the garage so Andy would get his room back. We don't have the money to do all this but we know God does so we have been praying about it.

Last week Ben's carpet was wet. We thought the boys had spilled something, but day after day it wouldn't dry and turned out to be a leak from the bathroom. It must have been there for a while because the plumber found black mold. The operation to remove that is much more extensive than we had realized - like a crime scene cleanup. There went the money we didn't have for renovations. Maybe that's God's way of telling us not to worry about taking down walls or enclosing porches but it doesn't yet address the problem of limited space.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Celebrating Nine Years

Saturday was Jonah's ninth birthday. When I asked him a couple weeks ago about which kids to invite to his party, he listed the nine others that make up our church. He knows kids at the YMCA and he goes twice a week to an athletics program where kids abound. We also have some neighborhood kids he plays with, but he chose the kids at church. So, our six-family church met at the park on Sunday.
John spoke to the group about the importance of raising our children in a godly manner, with specific regard to the dangerous media that floods our society. Then we had a barbecue and some good old-fashioned horseplay. Jonah said it was the best birthday ever. Of course, he says that every year, but it still makes me feel pretty good.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Drawing Closer to God

Yesterday a woman at our house church told me she has been trying to make some changes in her life but doesn’t seem to be making any headway on her own. I told her that’s because God never intended for us to do it alone. This led to a discussion about the importance of Christian community and the fact that this church is exactly that. I encouraged her to tap in to all God has in store for her right here in this group. She called me, excited, the next morning to tell me that she printed an online Bible study she had randomly chosen, only to find it was about the importance of Christian community in our lives. “I want you to know that you are exactly where God wants you to be right now,” she said. “He is speaking to me through you and I want to encourage you with that.” She said she wants to know more of what’s written in the Bible so she can live in a way that would glorify God. It did encourage me and I want to encourage you by sharing not only this but a few other things that are happening right now.

The single Brazilian mom among us who recently lost her husband is also facing possible deportation. Her husband was Austrian so her United States visa is not secure. They were in the application process as a family when he passed away. She can go to Austria or Brazil at any time but wants to stay here to raise her now five-year-old daughter. She told me that despite all the pain she is going through she can see that God is blessing her with this church family and she wants to give something back to Him. I shared with her that the best thing she can do for God is to study His word and live accordingly. She wants to do that.

One of the couples that has been a mainstay in this ministry from the very beginning has been struggling in their marriage since we met them. John has spent time counseling them and we have all spent time praying for them but nothing has seemed to change. Recently, the wife confessed she doesn’t know anything about the Bible and isn’t sure why she even became a Christian. She asked me Sunday to study the Bible with her so she can understand God better. In doing so, we know she is about to be introduced to the one who can save not only her marriage but also her soul. Needless to say, we are very excited to be a part of that introduction.

Another family came to us with a broken marriage and two small children - one of which has tested on the autistic spectrum. He has been oblivious to social cues and is generally inappropriate in group settings. Sunday he looked me in the eye - highly unusual for him - and asked if I had a new hairstyle. I had in fact just had my hair cut the day before and he was the only one who noticed. His mother said it gave her goosebumps to hear him ask that question. She believes God is healing him. He and his sister will be staying at our house this weekend while their parents go out on their first date in two and a half years.

Daphne and Jake, her nine-year-old son, have become so much a part of our family that he has started calling us “Uncle John” and “Aunt Sam”. He asked me one night when he was sleeping over, “Is it true that we are family if we all believe in Jesus?” I told him yes but he still didn’t seem satisfied, so I asked if something was bothering him. He said, “I already have a mom so I guess I can’t call you that. But what can I call you?” We settled on Aunt Sam and that made him very happy. When John told him he could call him Uncle John it seemed as if something very wrong had been put right in his world. That’s what we hope to see with every single person God sends our way.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bursting at the Seams

Last week we had eleven children at church. That may not seem like many to those of you who attend a big church in a big church building with a big church staff ,but to us it is significant. I teach Sunday school in Ben’s room. We push his train table into the closet and set up a utility table in the middle of the room with folding chairs around it. One poor kid was practically flush against Ben’s crib, and the child at the other end was touching the edge of the train table that stuck out of the closet. There wasn’t a clear path around the room, so the kids down one side had to crane their necks just to see the pictures in the story I was reading. Nobody complained. In fact, it was great. I’m just not sure what we’re going to do when the kids bring the friends they promised to bring next week.

The adults were in the living room. It’s a little bigger than Ben’s room but it’s on the small side, considering a church meets there. John and I talked about having the grown ups meet in Ben’s room and the children in the living room next time. That arrangement might buy us a few weeks but, at the rate we’re growing, not much more.

Since the beginning of this ministry in March, we went from thinking we were going to be a Brazilian church in a church building to being a home church with a focus on strengthening families. God has brought many broken families to us and together we are praying to restore them to what God intended for His people. You read in my last entry about Daphne and Jake. The changes in both of them are phenomenal and they are a testimony to God’s ability to transform a life. A Brazilian woman I met at the YMCA lost her husband eight months ago to a massive stroke. She has a daughter who just turned five and they call us family now. She brought her friends who have been struggling to keep their marriage together. They have a four-year-old daughter and an eight-year-old son with special needs. He has been consuming every ounce of attention in their family and they are paying a huge price. After much prayer and counseling they are headed in the right direction. We’ve used our experiences raising a special needs child to help them learn better ways to cope and discipline their son. He recently made it through his first Sunday school hour without being called out for bad behavior, which brought tears to his mother’s eyes. The stories don’t end here, but this is enough to give you a sampling of the flavor of ministry God has chosen for us in south Florida.

John is currently on a circuit to visit each of the five families’ homes to discuss the basics of Christianity. These people have come to us with differing levels of understanding of the Bible, as is evident in our prayer meetings and Sunday fellowship. In order to establish a strong and true foundation for this church, we’re going to get down to the brass tacks and make sure that each individual has a good relationship with God. We trust that investing in each person on the front end is going to unlock a sea of potential for God to bring about a revival in this part of the world. I’m ready to be a part of that.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Daphne and Jake

During the boys' baseball season kickoff at the YMCA, I was standing in line at one of those huge, inflatable toys waiting for Jonah to have a turn when I started talking to the girl behind me. It came up that she was looking for a church so I invited her to join our developing group. She (a single mom) and her eight-year-old son were the first ones to arrive that next Sunday morning. They have been meeting with us ever since.

I was bold in inquiring about her son's behavior because he reminded us so much of Jonah just a few years ago. Her son was hyperactive and impulsive among other things. Daphne told us about an abusive husband who is no longer part of their lives. From there she and Jake moved into another abusive relationship with family members. Not surprisingly, she told us Jake didn't have any friends and got into trouble at school. After spending just a matter of hours with him, John and I were impressed at how remarkable the similarities between our sons were. We told her about our experience and she said she was open to any suggestions. It quickly became apparent that God had orchestrated our meeting and Sunday morning meetings turned into lunches and dinners. Now we don't know what we ever did without them.

Daphne had just moved into her own place when we met her and she and Jake had begun to heal. Because she works full time as a manager in a medical records facility, she had enrolled Jake in a summer camp program. We offered to take him for a week at our house for a "behavior boot camp". Each day we set a strict schedule with clear boundaries for chore time, play time, and meal time. We demanded good manners and respect for people and property. In short, we were very hard on him. He was pretty hard on us too, and Jonah and Andy were less than thrilled to have him back the second and third day. They fought all day every day until about day four. Finally, we made a breakthrough and, by the end of the week, Jake wanted to stay and our boys wanted him to stay too.

School has started and Jake is doing better than ever. We don't presume that it's because of us, but we know that God has answered Daphne's many prayers for her son. We are so honored that she has entrusted her precious son to our care even for a short time and are thrilled to see what God has worked through it. Daphne tells us tearfully that she had searched for years for a church home and for a Christian family, and now she has both. She is a prayerful person who has remained faithful throughout years of isolation from the Christian community. On different occasions she visited local congregations only to end up feeling like a burden when she requested financial help or practical help with things like moving furniture.

Daphne is an aspiring writer who would like to be able to stay at home with Jake. We believe God can do that for her and ask you to join us in prayer for this beautiful woman and her son, that God will honor her request to be able to live out her passion for writing and spend more time with Jake. We also ask for prayers that she and Jake would heal completely from years of physical and emotional abuse. We are so impressed by the love and determination of this family, and we believe God will do great things through them.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Building a Community

To say the current economic crisis has affected many people would be a gross understatement that I dare say any rational individual would agree with. It didn't just happen, though. At its root is our moral decline, which has affected, not just many people, but everyone. Many have become so comfortable with a personalized, self-serve lifestyle that we have precious little community with each other and even less with God. Generation after generation has inched farther and farther from what our lives have been intended to be from the beginning of time - a relationship with our Creator and with each other. We've become comfortable but not satisfied. People are still seeking that community as we found out at a recent neighborhood barbecue we hosted. We invited some friends and neighbors we had just met. One of the men thanked us for getting everyone together and said he has lived here for twenty-eight years without knowing his neighbors. Another couple stayed well into the evening talking with us. These aren't people who don't care about community. They crave it.
Still, we had a much easier time finding interest in God among the people of Brazil. Based on the fact that we had travelled so far just to share the gospel won us the favor of many willing ears. In the U.S., however, most people have already heard some perverted version of the story of the life of Jesus and the chances are good they have also experienced some toxic religion. For this reason, being a minister of the gospel in the United States can be a daunting task. There is practically a church on every corner and people don't seem to be busting the doors down to get in. God knows this and has chosen us to expand the kingdom walls anyway. We submit to the fact that this is not possible for us and, to be successful, we must make ourselves wholly available to His will and remove ourselves from the equation as much as possible. It's very freeing to realize that our job is not to pursue anyone - that's God's job - but to love them with a selfless love that they won't find anywhere else and to create the potential for a community where people are otherwise segregated.

Since moving to Boca Raton in January, we now have a solid group of three families that meets several times a week in our home. One of the families that was part of the original group that called us here has moved on to a larger, more traditional church. We are sorry to see them go but understand that we have different callings and wish them well. At our last meeting together, the children recited the scriptures they had learned for their family.
A family who meets with us faithfully is a single mother and her nine-year-old son. I met her at the YMCA during the kids' baseball season. They have come out of a very dysfunctional background and her son is troubled and acting out. He is staying at our house this week for a tough-love boot camp. Another single mom that I recently met in the YMCA parking lot lost her husband just six months ago and is raising a four-year-old daughter alone. She has been attending a local church but said a few days ago she believes she has found her true family and wants to begin meeting with us on a regular basis. Brick by brick Jesus is building his foundation for a revival in this part of the world. We pray that He will bring about a movement of people who wish to return to a simpler, better way of life and an eternal relationship with Him.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

"Not My Will But Yours Be Done."

Adding that little phrase to the end of a prayer can be like inviting chaos to rule your life. John and I are good at dreaming up grand ideas about what our lives should be but, ultimately, we want to know that we are useful to God in whatever way He sees fit. For example, we believe God has brought us to this part of the world for a reason, but we're beginning to realize that it may not be the reason we first thought it to be. What began as a mission to grow a congregation among the Brazilian people of southern Florida has become a house church among a group of people who don't all speak Portuguese.

We've been meeting every Sunday with a group of about fifteen people -not all Christians. My job on Sundays has been to teach the children who, I'm proud to say, have learned eight key Scriptures by heart. There have been some occasional attendees but the core group has obviously been long established. They invited us here to act as full time ministers and continue what they have had going for many years. They also want their congregation to grow. We were immediately concerned about those among their group who have not made a decision to follow Christ and thought it necessary to address them before looking outward for new converts. For this reason, John has done his best to encourage a fresh perspective among the members through intense Bible study. He also has begun facilitating individual Bible studies among the non Christians to encourage an intentional decision to follow Christ and make that decision public through baptism. I think it's fair to say that there has been little interest on that front but that God is showing His faithfulness in other areas.

Some in the church are having financial difficulties so we decided to save the rent we were paying and meet in our own living room instead. There are also some serious familial and marital issues that we have been addressing through one on one counseling. On a happier note, the parents in the group get our children together for playdates, the women get together for afternoons of crafting, and we have all gotten together for barbecues and bowling at different times. Some in the church have even been so kind as to babysit our boys so we could have a much needed night out. In short, we are getting to know each other and the direction for this church is becoming clearer.

While the members grow in maturity and relationship with Christ, John and I have been putting out feelers for other Brazilians to invite into our midst. John met the owner of the Brazilian bakery and got his permission to advertise free English classes using the Bible. A recent sting on illegal immigrants, however, has put a serious damper on an outreach like that being effective. We've gone out of our way to meet other Brazilians by, for example, seeing a Brazilian doctor and dentist. All this has been at the expense of potential relationships with English speakers even though two of the husbands in our church are American and don't even speak Portuguese. We have been holding all of our studies, worship services, and other meetings in English while projecting that one day it would all be in Portuguese. That has been the collective idea of this church for years but, by their own confession, it hasn't been working.

When I met a single mom at the ballpark before the kids' baseball games one Saturday, I knew she didn't speak Portuguese but invited her to our church anyway. That day I didn't see someone who was not Brazilian. I only saw a lady who was raising her son alone and searching for some support. I offered it to her by inviting her into our group. I'm happy to report that she was well received and that it may well have shifted our focus from Brazilian people to just people. She's a new Christian who quickly became disenchanted with the church when her requests for practical help were denied by several churches. Now she and her son spend lots of time with our family and she has even begun to encourage other single moms she knows to come be a part of our times together and get to know Jesus.

We recognize that our living room won't hold even one more family comfortably so we have begun to talk about the near future. It makes sense to start meeting in two groups on a weekly basis and come together as one group less frequently to worship together on a larger scale. We hope that freeing up some physical space in our homes will also free up some space in our hearts and minds for a greater desire to receive whatever people God puts in our paths. John and I have six families in mind that we plan to invite to our house for dinner over the coming weeks. Though this is not what we had envisioned and at times seems a bit chaotic, we trust God to work a better plan than we could have ever imagined and are anxious to see it unfold.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Update From the Boca Church

Since I last reported to you about the church meeting in our home, we have rented a room in the local middle school each Sunday.
Space wise, it's been a great move, but it's been a lot less intimate and, at the tune of $800 per month, maybe a bit unnecessary. We have about the same number each week - kind of crowded in our living room but not enough to warrant the financial burden on our small group. Besides, there is a family among us who is struggling financially and may be facing foreclosure. We would like to be in a position to help rather than cut it close each month on our budget.

For now, we're back at home for Sunday morning worship and Friday night Bible study. We rotate weekly among the houses that are large enough to host the entire group.
Perhaps the most important meetings we hold are the spontaneous ones where we simply get together and have some fun. The girls have come over twice to drink cappuccino and scrapbook.
And the kids don't really care where we meet. They can enjoy themselves in any setting.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Kickoff

Today we had our first Portuguese worship service in our new home. We scheduled it to begin at 10:00 am but, in true Brazilian fashion, it didn't actually start until 11:20. We packed our living room with sixteen adults and six children. We sang some Brazilian worship songs then John preached a sermon about the purpose of the church while I peeled off with the kids for Sunday school.
Just after the service we ate lunch together. Everyone brought a little something to add up to a Brazilian feast. We were happy to have the group linger until after 6:30 pm.
It was a great day and we hope to have many more like it in the weeks and months to come. Next Sunday we will be meeting in a building we have rented for the church. We anticipate that as time goes on our numbers will increase and our small house will not accommodate our group. We want to be ready for the great things God has in store for us.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Gearing Up for Success

We did finally get into the house we showed you in our last entry. After spending December with John's family in Colorado and half of January with our more-than-gracious hosts here in Florida (one of the couples that invited us to be part of this ministry), we moved in. We've spent the better part of our first days and weeks shopping Craigslist and thrift stores for furniture and household items. It's finally beginning to feel a bit more like home, and now we are setting our sights on the ministry.

We were asked to come here by a small group of Christians (pictured below)
who have been trying for years to get a Brazilian church established. It's a mixed group - some Brazilian, some Hispanic, and some American. Due in part to lack of resources, i.e., workers, it has yet to get off the ground. They have not had a full-time minister until now. What once was a group of about 30 Brazilians has dwindled to about ten. The group has been meeting with a Hispanic church for some time, but, because Brazilian culture is different, that hasn't been an ideal situation. Brazilians speak Portuguese, not Spanish, and they have different traditions and customs. It is an independent culture that deserves its own congregation. The Spanish-speaking church has been very generous and hospitable towards the Brazilians - even singing some songs in Portuguese during worship. John has become friends with their minister, Carlos. There is not a hint of jealously as we suggest that the two cultures may be better suited to separate from one another. On the contrary, Carlos is eager to see the Brazilians become independent and strong in their own right.

There is no Brazilian Church of Christ anywhere south of Orlando that we know of. There are also very few Churches of Christ of any persuasion in the area. After being here for this short time, we can already see that this is not like any part of the United States we have ever known. It is much more ethnic and international - like Brazil and the US wrapped up in one package. There is no local church support for what we are about to do - plant a Brazilian church. That means that your role - to pray, encourage, and generally support in any way possible - is the same where this ministry is concerned as when we were overseas, even though we are technically on the same continent now. We need your help to see that this forgotten group of Brazilians may be reached with the good news of Christ so that they may grow and expand the borders of the Kingdom.

We plan to meet in our house this Sunday for a church service involving the Brazilians who have remained part of the group which has met with the Hispanic church and those that have stopped coming to those services. We hope to re-energize the base that has been holding this group together and encourage them to work with us in once and for all establishing Christ's church among their people here in southern Florida. It's been estimated that there are hundreds of thousands of Brazilians in southern Florida and we know that we will need all the manpower we can get to reach even a portion of them. Please pray for success in this mission.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Home Is Where the Heart Is

"I have some money I wanna give but I don't know who to give it to." That's what someone told my sister-in-law in Colorado while she was working her customer service job in the grocery store. It made me think, "I bet there are people all over the country who feel that way." Then I started to wonder how many people sit down to pray and realize they don't know what to pray for. You're probably used to missionaries soliciting money, but I would like to solicit some of your prayer time instead.

We spent December in Colorado with John's family and are now back in Florida where we were scheduled to close on a house (the one in the picture) on the seventh of this month. Everything was going as planned until the underwriter decided on the morning of closing to call our church in Texas for verbal confirmation of our employment. She didn't like the words she heard to describe the missionary/sponsoring church relationship so she denied the loan on the spot. Our agent is still working on our behalf to somehow close the deal, whether it be with a different mortgage lender or to convince the current one to reconsider. Our dilemma is in the facts that the seller has refused an extension of the contract, we are currently staying in someone else's house, we stand to lose several thousand dollars in earnest money, and we may not be able to afford to rent an apartment in this part of the country.

We are beginning to understand why God may have felt it necessary to reassure us with the skywriting before we left for Colorado. We also recognize that the focus of the disciples' biblical accounts never centers around homes and possessions but always around expanding the kingdom borders. We have not forgotten why we came here or what we are about - to introduce Jesus to those who don't know him. Please join us in praying for God to use us to that end. If that means more time being uprooted, so be it. If it means settling into a home here so that we can become members of the community, even better.