It’s a Big Jungle

Recently I had lunch with a friend who has been working for years to launch an aviation ministry in the Amazon.

“In my observation the church is working hard at bringing the gospel to the river people of the Amazon Basin who live within one day’s boat ride of the major cities here. And then it kind of stops.”

I opened Google Earth, and drew a circle that has a 100 mile radius / 160 km radius around each major city, thinking that an average river boat might get that far in one day. Outside of these circles my friend says there is significantly less knowledge of the gospel.

These places are hard to get to, hard to live in, and you might wonder if it is worth it.

“How small do you think a community is before the people no longer matter? What if there are 2 or 3 families living way up a creek? Do they count?”

I remember flying over the jungle with Luke Huber, in his ultra-light. We lifted off the river, flew over a stretch of jungle. Hidden in the jungle was a creek with a few stilt houses. Luke yelled at me over the roar of the engine,“I didn’t know people were living out here. We need to get out here with the gospel.”

I thought, “Really? You just get a boat and show up at somebody’s place with the gospel?” Since I was new to Brazil I filed my thoughts away on a back shelf. As time went on I realized we actually can do this. Many people receive us and our message gratefully. The bottle-neck for us became how to train the workers. With great effort we got to some remote locations to start a church with a key family and developed a support network for that little group. The key family learns from the teacher who lives in the city, and the others learn from the key family.

Two challenges we encounter are:

1. How to maintain a sufficient support links to a city church.
2. If the key family moves to another location the church often ceases to exist.

This is where Discovery Bible Studies may really shine. 

In a Discovery Group (1) everyone changes something in their lives each week because of the gospel, and (2) everyone has a spiritual conversation in a natural way each week with an acquaintance. Weekly the Discoverers (disciples) share their experiences with each other. Imagine the potential. These people get to experience the joy of a daily, personal walk with God. This is different than hearing someone teach and trying to obey that person’s council about how it works. This is more about everyone connecting with God and interacting with what they are learning.

Jesus says the bottle-neck is laborers. In my experience laborers don’t usually have all the finances and the big picture figured out. They are the disciplined people who get up early, put their work boots on, make their lunch, and go do what they can all day long.

When He [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:36-38).

We know that in God’s economy spreading the gospel to everyone in the Amazon is within reach. I suspect God has many people willing to give their lives to a career that is deeply satisfying. Imagine the books and stories that will come from the group that reaches into these remote locations.

So for you, if you are interested . . . are you willing to bring your loaves and sardines to Jesus?

Imagine if this was true, if it really was this simple. What if, in a act of obedience, we brought our little selves to Jesus, believing that He could do amazingly impossible things?

1. What would be your next step? And if the Lord encouraged you on, what would be your next step after that? What would you have to actually do?

2. What is the risk? What would it cost you?

3. What is the potential gain, in this world and in the next?

4. Are you willing to take your next step?

A 100 mile radius around the major cities of the Brazilian Amazon is more evangelized.

Manaus

First Discovery Group Training

In Manaus we gave an introduction to Discovery Groups, and to Immanuel Prayer. Many in this group feel wounded from other church groups. Thinking in terms of Pilgrim’s Progress, is this along the journey for all of us? Is this your story, by any chance? I remember hearing that the Vineyard started in Los Angeles with wounded Christians, people who have been hurt by other Christians or church people. Is this a normal way for great movements to start? When these early Vineyard people started moving in the gifts of the Spirit, I remember John Wimber calling them wounded healers.

They live in the heart of the Amazon Basin. Do they look like world changers? Do you see any potential for reaching out to the huge jungle that surrounds Manaus?

Nina danced in front of the church with her Mom during worship time, and she bursting with excitement.

After church we went out for a snack with Meury, Edilson, and their son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter.

Before church we went out to make visits. Manaus has about 2 million people.

Effective Ministry is Like a Marathon

The value of long-term ministry

On October 9, 1993, Deanna, Annika, and I boarded a jet in Seattle to move to Brazil. Ross and Karen Hansen travelled with us to get the lay of the land, and to give birth to Janaea in Brazil. (Ross was one of my best friends from Bible School, and I later married his sister Deanna). Luke Huber told us having a baby in Brazil was a good way to get a permanent visa, as Brazilian children have a legal right to have their parents live in the country with them. This was our strategy too, as Deanna was pregnant with Olivia when we moved. Deanna and I still live here on our family visas even though all three of our Brazilian daughters now live in Canada.

We didn’t know what to expect when we moved to the Amazon. None of us had ever been to Central or South American. I knew things would be different when the stewardess served me a thimble full of coffee that was as sweet as syrup. Once we had Annika asleep, we put on our headphones to watch the airplane movie. Deanna and I were laughing and engaged at the appropriate times, and Ross and Karen thought we were really catching on to the language. Later we realized they had listened to the whole movie in Portuguese, while we listened to it in English. None of us realized there were audio language settings on our armrests.

We arrived in the Amazon on October 10, almost 24 years ago. Jim Benson, who we had never met before, was there to pick us up with a white VW Kombi van. Jim and his wife Julie were also new missionaries at that time, learning how to speak Portuguese.

Fifteen years later Ross and Karen moved back to Canada. They donated the Murphy Rebel floatplane back to PAZ mission, under the care of Jim Benson, who lives in Manaus.

This week we had lunch with Jim!

What an unexpected treat. Jim’s heart still aches for the unreached people or overlooked people of the Amazon Basin. . . and he says there are many. Julie (Jim’s wife) is back in the US with their daughter and granddaughter for a few months.


When we first moved to Brazil Regina was one of our language teachers. She was a missionary from Southern Brazil. Regina and her husband Grant are still missionaries in the Amazon. Reconnecting with Regina and meeting Grant were among the unexpected highlights of our time in Manaus.

On the porch swing at Regina’s house, with Maria and Edilson.

Stay in People’s Homes

And invite people to stay in your home when they are in town.

We met Edilson and Maria at the InterVinha Event in Altamira a month ago. After prayer we accepted their invitation to come teach their very young church about Discovery Groups.


We hardly knew Edilson and Maria. I only remember one brief conversation as we were waiting in line together to wash our dishes at the InterVinha Conference. By the time we had stayed in their home Thursday – Monday we felt like long-time friends. They let us stay in their master bedroom with the new bed, the only air conditioner and the only bathroom in the house. They stayed in a smaller bedroom with no windows and used the neighbor’s (their son and daughter-in-law’s) bathroom. Manaus is sweltering hot and humid at this time of year. In the afternoon, even in the air-conditioned bedroom I sit on the floor dripping with sweat as I work on my computer.

This culture feels closer to the Bible culture in Jesus’ time.

“When you enter a house . . . stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house” (Luke 10:5-7).

This is one thing I really love about the missionary life. Even though I am way more in my comfort zone staying in hotels, as we stay in people’s homes we can quickly move from strangers to lifelong friends.

Eggs, coffee, and tapioca pancakes for breakfast.

Açai and tapioca is always a special treat. My mouth starts watering just looking at this photo.


In this home I was surprised to see these worn Bibles, and other Christian books, alongside of a big flat screen tv. Maybe that is because I have read a digital Bible for years now. It is easy to see that these people love God, His Word, and His work. They are also very tired and worn out.

David Watson, who started Discovery Groups in India, said it is very important to stay in people’s homes, and to have People of Peace stay in your home. The way we live and react to the things that happen in life are more caught than taught. For example, as people see how I treat Deanna when I am hungry or impatient, they learn how Christians treat their wives when they are hungry or impatient.

How to Turn an Enemy (or a Stranger) Into a Friend

A counterintuitive strategy that works.

One of my strengths is sometimes a weakness. I want everyone to like me. But what do you do when personalities clash? I learned to give gifts, to give people space, and to be nice. Now I am learning to engage in difficult conversations, to listen actively, to speak assertively, and to act on what God calls me to do. Last week I learned a new truth.

Did you know that you can turn an enemy into a friend by asking them to do you a favor?

“This was a phenomenon first observed by Benjamin Franklin . . . [who claimed] that he could easily turn an enemy into a friend with one simple act — asking them for a favor” (King, P., 2017, pp. 29-30).

Social scientists believe there are several reasons why this works.

  • You are interacting with the person who you may be avoiding. This helps bring down walls.
  • When you ask someone for a favor, this is a subtle form of flattery. You are kind of submitting to the other person’s strength. This is gratifying to the other person.
  • People do not naturally do favors for their enemies. King theorized that when someone we don’t like asks us to do them a favor our brain starts telling us, “They are not actually that bad. They have strengths. That is why I am doing them this favor.” Unconsiously we start liking the other person more.
  • King stated that it is also helpful to “perform small, subtle favors for your enemies and frenemies. Actively performing favors for others builds goodwill and indicates a willingness to be friendly and open. You are raising the white flag of peace and sending the signal that you don’t harbor any ill will” (pp 34-35).

Jesus teaches that accepting favors from strangers is a way to quickly build trust. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house” (NIV Luke 10:7).

If you want to give the gospel to someone there is a danger that you will establish a power-over relationship. “I know stuff. You don’t. I am saved. You are not.” It is often awkward for people to enter into power-over relationships when they are in the power-under side. As we receive favors from others, this levels the relationship. People are freer to receive what we have to offer if they have done us a favor.

Both Deanna and I grew up in hospitable homes. I remember commenting to my family one time when I was about 15 years old that it was just our immediate family at the table for the first time in a year. We always had guests and boarders, and so did Deanna’s family. When Danny Meyer, Craig Heselton, and many others started bringing teams to Altamira in the 1990s, it felt natural to be hospitable. But as these teams received our hospitality they rapidly became among our best friends, and they remain among our best friends to this day. Doing favors for others, and receiving favors from others, may set the stage for great friendships.

If you have any experience with this, you know it is humbling to receive food and favors from strangers, especially when these strangers struggle financially. I remember meals among the river people where us guests were fed first. We were given the choice selections in the soup pot, and we could eat all we wanted. Later I realized it was because this family only had four plates and spoons, and limited amounts of food in certain seasons. When we studied how to learn a foreign language and culture we were told to leave our backpack with a vendor we barely knew, so the vendor could do us a favor for a hour or so, while we did something else. The teacher said that asking a stranger for help is a way to build trust and become friends. King (2017) noted that it is most helpful to ask for a real favor, one that is somewhere between too big and too insignificant. Receiving is still more awkward than giving for me. Learning to both give and receive is an effective way to turn strangers and enemies into friends.

References
King, P., 2017, The science of likability: 27 studies to master charisma, attract friends, captivate people, and take advantage of human psychology (pp. 29-30). Kindle Edition.

HOMEWORK: This week ask a stranger or an enemy to do a favor for you, one that is genuine, and that will take them about 3 minutes to do. Not too big, not too small. Email me the story at rick.bergen@xingu.org .

Manaus

Discovery Group Introduction Training

A few weeks ago Clenildo told me, “Let’s start teaching about this in a bunch of different places and let’s see what happens.” I remembered Jesus story about the Farmer Sowing the Seeds in Matthew 13. This week we are in Manaus, teaching about Discovery Groups. We plan to come back to do more training in November.

Manaus is 1,000 kms upriver from Belem. We flew.

We introduced Discovery Groups to a few faithful people on Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday.

I have often seen amazing things happen from humble beginnings.

Church Planting Lessons from Halo

Ways to Plant Churches

In 2002 our family discovered Halo. Anni, Via, Emma, and Bella were all in online school, so they had PCs. We got several Halo discs and spent part of many Family Days learning the various hideouts and ammunition caches in all the different worlds. I remember the delight we had in learning something new, especially as we were all the same skill level. Ten years later we got an Xbox 360 with Halo 4. It was a whole new game and we were in a different space as a family. We rarely played. Then some friends came over who knew this game well. Every time we would show up on the screen, they took us out. Over and over again. They delighted in showing us how much they knew. I suppose theoretically this could have helped us improve our skills, but practically, it was no fun so we quit showing up. Our delight was in learning together and improving our skills together.

Many churches have the same pastors for a long time. These groups grow up together, pastors and congregations. Someday these first generation churches will face the challenge of passing on the baton. They will learn to pastor generational Christians. This is a great and worthy challenge, but it is not what I am talking about here. Nor am I talking about starting a new church Christians who are tired of their old church. I am talking about the challenge of starting brand new church families with people who do not trust the church or Christians.

As we get good at doing church together it is natural for us to want to multiply. We sometimes try to plant mature churches. We bring other experienced Christians with us to help us do things right. I applaud those who do this and this strategy is working well for us. On the other hand, in my experience, this strategy takes significant resources, manpower, and years. And results sometimes fall short of our hopes. And pastors and church leaders can get really tired. Sometimes we even hear the word burnout. Are there other ways to birth new churches?

When we are first starting out in a new area I sometimes wonder, “How can this person be a Christian?” , and then I watched them transform into pastors or missionaries. What if we use the Halo analogy above? When our family played Halo just getting online together was a challenge. It tooks us years to really get the hang of it, but we did finally learn the game well. And we loved the learning.

A Biblical Principle?

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:24

Sometimes in our neighbourhood young couples move into a bedroom in their parent’s home. In other cases the parents will discipline their married children by taking away their cell phone, or by scolding them. Obviously this is not ideal in the development of a healthy marriage. What if these parents and inlaws can learn to give their children space and grace to figure things out, all the while prayerfully standing by to put on bandaids and to celebrate victories. I remember in the 1990s some of our pastors were offensive to us missionaries. Maybe they were shouting from the pulpit, or chauvinistic, or leading in a style that did not feel Vineyard to us. We would ask our mentors, “What about so-and-so? Here is what he is doing.” We still try to follow our mentor’s awesome advice. “Don’t prune the plant too early. Focus on whether they are trying to walk with the Holy Spirit in their daily life. Be there to love them.”

Think of a time when you have learned to play a new game, or learned a new life skill with another person. Was it more fun being with a professional who corrected you, or was it more fun getting skilful together with peers? I realize you may like to improve your skills by being corrected, and this article is not for you. But is there anyone out there like me who would rather figure it out with some friends?

If you are the sort who likes to figure things out with your friends, think about an unchurched person or family you know who might be a Person of Peace. Would they be interested to discover how God reveals Himself in His Word? Do you think you could help them set up an environment where they could do this in their comfort zone, with their friends, with no doctrinal or behavioral corrections from you? What do you think might happen?
 
Your thoughts?

rb

Relevant?

A Request for Help

An urban legend describes church leaders discussing how many angels can simultaneously stand on the head of a pin as the black plague was breaking out in Europe. In Bible School I was told that these early theologians agreed on the number 10,000. While I do not know if this an actual fact, I’ve been in enough meetings in my life to know it is easy to become consumed with irrelevant discussions.

Irrelevant preachers answer questions that nobody has. When approached about why they do this, they sometimes respond, “This is important. People should care about this.”  Three of the things I pay attention to, in my quest for relevance, are framing, timing, and presence.

Framing: Relevant speakers learn to frame their important topics using personal examples of how this worked – or didn’t work – for them. They make themselves vulnerable as they share their journey. “This is what the Bible says. Here is my experience, hope, fear, etc. Here is my friend’s experience.”

Timing: Relevant speakers use examples and illustrations that are integrated with the season their audience is living in.

Presence: Relevant speakers have spent enough personal time with the Lord that His presence exudes out of them. They know that God wants to make Himself known to His people so they relax and trust God to do His part.

Matthew 13:52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

Relevant speakers address questions that matter to their audience. The topic and views are interesting. They cause reactions. Positively. Negatively. Confusion as assumptions are challenged.

A Request for Help

Personalizing this idea: I moved to Brazil in 1993. During that time I have changed and you have changed. I would like to stay relevant.

If any of my articles causes a positive, negative, or confusing reaction in you, please do me a favor and let me know. Is there something you are curious about? Please let me know. Reactions are good. They help me know when I am resonating, striking a nerve, or out of touch.

Thanks,

rb