June 24th I embarked on an amazing journey with 8 of my dear friends and 2 beautiful children! Ronda, Jacob, Ariel, and Hailey will be joining me in approximately 12 days, 12 hours, 27 minutes, and 25 seconds…not that I’m counting!
We have met some of the most amazing people in the last 5 days and have hit the ground running as usual. After arriving in Sao Paulo, Brazil, we were picked up by our new Portuguese friend Ruben who handed us a sheet of paper with some useful Portuguese phrases like, “We’re hungry for food,” and, “We need to stop for the bathroom,” and my favorite, “We need to stop and puke.” We all laughed together at the choice of phrases to welcome us to the beautiful nation of Brazil…and hoped we didn’t need to use all of them.
We traveled a couple hours to a very impressive rest stop where we got to taste our first Brazilian food. I’m sure Brazilians would be appalled that our first bite of Brazilian food was at a rest stop, but we were excited nonetheless. I ordered the picture on the menu since no one we were with spoke any Portuguese. This paragraph is written in honor of my mother’s writings about her vacation menus. Sorry mom, I’d tell you what I ate, but I’m still not sure.
Piratininga is a small town of about 18,000 people in the beautiful Brazilian countryside close to a larger city, Bauru. This would be our home for the next 17 days. Our team is made up of some of the most positive, adventurous people I know. What a joy to travel with such amazing friends! We spent our first morning exploring our new town and looked for unique stores, schools, churches, people, and food items. We also looked for any English speakers…nope…there were plenty of the other things we looked for, but English speakers were nowhere to be found. So now we are officially working hours every day to learn as much Portuguese as possible. My Spanish background helps and the fact that six of our team are already bilingual is a bonus. We attended a local Vineyard church service Sunday night and enjoyed familiar songs in Portuguese and then stood and waved when the entire congregation turned around and look at us and motioned that we were to stand up.
Monday morning we officially began our times of ministry going to an elementary school for poor children and we shared stories about Jesus’ love for them and made them all laugh with our silly skits and games. I began to learn the famous YWAM outreach song “Making Melodies” in Portuguese, which I have now perfected I must add. We gave plenty of hugs and high fives to these joyful children. I love my job!
Since that morning we have visited them again and also have started spending time with a local church in Bauru working in a favela (Brazilian slum.) Our hearts are being broken and also falling in love with this nation so quickly!
Monday night is the highlight for me so far. Four of our team had the opportunity to go to a youth prison and share the Gospel with them along with a few of the local YWAM staff. The night was so cold! We checked in with security and were taken into a waiting area as the door closed behind us and then we were ushered through metal detectors and through the second door into the correctional facility. Inside we were frisked and all our Bibles were searched, our guitar was looked over and we were deemed to be of no risk. We walked through the facility to another holding area where we were once again checked through a security door and through yet another. My mind began to wonder what the lives of these young men must have been like to cause them to end up here. I’m sure this wasn’t a part of their original plan. I was getting so excited to look into their broken eyes…past the hard shells they would probably put up to the young boys who are hurting and desperate for a new hope.
We were brought into the meeting room with 10 of the young prisoners. The local YWAM staff has been going to this prison for over a year and had an amazing discussion prepared about forgiveness. She asked the young boys and us to share what forgiveness means to us. Then she asked for us to share songs and testimonies. Jeremiah began to share about the story of his father abandoning him as a young boy and how he has had to walk through forgiving him to a point that he now has a loving relationship with his father after years of him being absent. He shared that Jesus was the only reason he could forgive his father. If Jesus was able to forgive us for all of our sins then he could give him the strength to forgive his father.
He went on to articulately share the Gospel with these boys and then asked our host if it would be appropriate to give the boys a chance to respond to Jesus. After she said yes, Jeremiah simply asked them if they would like to receive Jesus into their hearts as their Lord and Savior. He told them they had the chance to have freedom, even freedom behind bars. That night 9 of those young men and 3 prison guards gave their lives to Jesus. We prayed with them and then led them in prayers of forgiveness towards those who have betrayed them, and forgiveness towards themselves. Christ has already forgiven them, who are they to withhold what has already been given freely!
We left a room that night that had been transformed into a place of joy. We gave high fives and celebrated that we would see one another again this Saturday. Our hosts reported later that they had never been that open before and had never responded to the Gospel. What a miracle! After these warriors had been working so hard for all these months we were able to be a part of a wonderful harvest! We rejoiced together as Monja from Germany kept telling me this was the coolest thing she’d ever been a part of! So true!
And in case you are wondering…no, I’m not writing this report from behind bars. We made our way back through the maze of security to our cars and back home…but we did happen to leave something behind. We all left our hearts behind with those young men.
Thankfully we are going back a few more times before we leave Piratininga. Those young men have been given a fresh start in Christ and I believe they are going to live out the truth from the scripture we are going to memorize with them this Saturday. 2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!