A letter from Tim Carriker in Brazil
We always give thanks to God for all of you…remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1Thess 1.2).
A few years ago some of you came to visit the state of Rio Grande do Sul, in southern Brazil, where the Independent Presbyterian Church of Brazil had a project to start a new presbytery. It was the Gaucho Presbytery Project, with about six missionary couples trying to start churches in several cities in the state. At that time there was a church in Porto Alegre and another one in Passo Fundo. You may remember Cézar and Eliane and their brand-new baby—Eliane had been our student at the Missionary Training Center (MTC) and they worked in the outskirts of Passo Fundo, in a very small wooden building. They have moved away but across the street from that location a new building is under construction and houses the Independent Presbyterian Church of Passo Fundo, formed by the two congregations that existed at that time, and it is now organized under Rev. Fernando Lyra. The church in Passo Fundo, a city with nearly 200,000 people, is doing well. They have a strong local leadership and new facilities are being built with the help of contributions through the Outreach Foundation.
Because there are still fewer than four churches in Rio Grande do Sul, their presbytery cannot be formed and the two organized churches and one congregation in that state are enrolled in the nearby Presbytery of Greater Florianópolis (our hometown, in Santa Catarina). Last week Tim and I were part of a group visiting Rio Grande do Sul representing the presbytery and the national church to see how the work is coming along and to support the remaining missionaries, three families who are still working to start churches in two different cities. Our trip went well; the members of the presbytery had an opportunity to see firsthand what that area is like, what kind of ministry is being developed, and to worship with our brothers and sisters who have come to Christ recently and are beginning a new church in Santa Maria. As I have mentioned before, a few years back there were more missionaries in Rio Grande do Sul. A center for African religions, it has been called “a cemetery of pastors” because it is hard to spread the gospel there. Some of the previous workers left to go to other parts of Brazil and some are no longer with the Evangelization Secretariat, which has been working to improve the training of their personnel. They have also developed a department of pastoral care for their current missionaries, and I was asked to join this department as a counselor for missionary wives, something I started doing during this trip. Even though this is a long-term relationship that is only beginning, I was able to spend some time with two wives, to listen to their concerns and to pray with them. That was very rewarding for me.
Among those who are still in Rio Grande do Sul, Pastor Vinícius moved from Viamão to a more promising area of the capital Porto Alegre, population 4 million. His motivation to move was that the area where he was working before was very traditional. Even though he felt very much at home there, having grown up in that neighborhood, the people are less likely to change their habits or listen to new ideas. He now works in three different locations with Itamar. Some of you may remember Itamar, who had a music school through which he has reached many young people, helping them to develop music skills as well as confidence in themselves. Itamar, who was also our student at the MTC, continues to work with the music school and is now in seminary. Together with Vinícius, who is already a pastor and the only native of that state on the team, he is trying a new strategy of work, meeting in three different places instead of concentrating in only one and doing it separately. I would appreciate your prayers for this new enterprise.
In Santa Maria (about 150,000 population), about four hours from Porto Alegre by car, Fred and Elysangela have developed a lively congregation and are training leaders to be elders and deacons. Elysangela has worked alongside her husband for many years and even though she would not be able to receive support from the Evangelization Secretariat as a second pastor for that congregation, she is hoping to pursue a seminary degree. I encouraged her to get better prepared, recognizing the gift that God has already made evident through her ministry and realizing that someday their congregation will also be officially organized as a church.
One thought that occurred to me as I traveled through the beautiful green fields in Rio Grande do Sul is how misleading first impressions can be. Here is this wonderful affluent area of Brazil that seems ready to grow churches, and yet it takes hard work, determination, prayers and the work of God’s Spirit to bring them to Christ. I was very pleased to see that our partners are persevering in Rio Grande do Sul. I want to invite you to persevere with them in prayer to see this goal accomplished. One of the emphases of the PC(USA) Mission Agency is on evangelism and it has been our privilege to be involved in preparing missionaries to engage in preaching the gospel.
We are grateful that your support has enabled us to do that, and you are certainly promoting the gospel with us in our ministry through both the local presbytery and the Secretariat of Evangelization of our Brazilian partner denomination. We are also grateful for the offerings that have helped the building in Passo Fundo—they motivated the members of that church to contribute toward a project that is becoming a reality.
I invite you to consider prayerfully how you might engage even more deeply with God’s mission in Brazil, through prayer, correspondence, visits and financial gifts. An opportunity to consider how to do that is coming up in August, which you may learn more abut through the link http://www.pcusa.org/events/23419/big-tent-2013/.
May God richly bless you and your church,
Tim and Marta