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A letter from Dennis Smith in Argentina (Regional liaison for Brazil and Southern Cone)

September, 2013

Dear friends:

Six of us gathered at the end of the day to enjoy a bit of Brazilian music while solving the world’s problems.

Two of my Brazilian colleagues, Robson and Wertson, are currently in positions of leadership in the United Presbyterian Church of Brazil (IPU).  We were participating in the 35th anniversary celebration of this valued mission partner.

In 1978 this church was born out of the tumult of Brazil’s military dictatorship.  In Atibaia, where we were meeting, representatives of 50 Presbyterian churches had covenanted together to take a stand for gospel values of peace, freedom and justice.  Church leaders who worked with the poor and oppressed while opposing the infiltration of their churches by government agents were being harassed, forced into exile, even killed.  The federation formed 35 years ago in Atibaia would become the IPU.

Today the IPU is facing the difficult challenge of affirming their heroic legacy without getting stuck in the past.  To survive, the denomination must grow.

My friends are 40-something professionals who have worked hard and done well for themselves. Like millions of Brazilians, they sometimes vacation in the U.S.  Our conversation turned to the topic of hospitality. My friends started swapping stories about unannounced vacation visits to PC(USA) churches. I was relieved to hear that most U.S. churches have welcomed them, the unexpected stranger.  In some cases, they’ve even been invited into people's homes! Sadly, they also shared tales of times when it didn’t go so well, when they felt ignored or in the way. 

Wertson observed that the practice of hospitality is a great way to promote church growth!  Hospitality—extending a welcome to the stranger—must be our passion if we are to reach out to others with the hope of Christ.  He recalled how one Brazilian pastor gave new meaning to the current theological fad of “spiritual warfare.”  This pastor thought that the popular emphasis on exorcism and naming the demons in our midst might not be the best approach.  Think of the person who has been debating all week whether or not to visit your church.  Maybe she is considering whether to accept an invitation extended by a friend.  For her, spiritual warfare is deciding whether to go to church, whether to reach out for hope, for healing, for acceptance.  She might ask herself, will anyone even notice that I’m there?

Wertson becomes passionate.  What happens if the stranger arrives at church and goes away unnoticed, unwelcomed? he says.  We must always expect the stranger.  That stranger has a name, a family, particular needs and particular gifts. At our church, he says, welcoming the stranger often includes an invitation for a cup of coffee or a pizza.  Our houses are open.  That is how we begin to build a relationship and share the hope of Christ.

Zeca, Fifi’s husband, smiles at this point: “It works, you know.  You welcomed me and I never left.  I walked into church and found myself part of the family of faith.”

How does your church welcome the stranger?  Do you have any suggestions to share with our friends in Brazil?  I’d be happy to help get some conversations started!

Please pray for the United Presbyterian Church of Brazil.  With their rich history, scant resources and  deep conviction that God has called them to grow, our brothers and sisters in the IPU are seeking to incarnate God’s grace and justice in Brazilian society.

We’re beginning to mark commitments on our calendar for next year’s Interpretation Assignment in the U.S. starting July 1 and ending Dec. 31.  We’ll be based at my parent’s home in North Bend, Oregon, but will be making a number of forays to different parts of the country.  We want to share with you the exciting ways that God is working through Presbyterian World Mission in Brazil and the Southern Cone of South America.  Can we visit you?  Drop me a line and we’ll start looking at dates. …

Are you connected with Presbyterian World Mission?  Would you like to become part of God’s mission in Brazil and the Southern Cone?  Join us!  Your prayers, your regular communication with us and your financial support for our ministry are touching lives with the hope of Christ and permitting us to share with you the stories of how God is at work in this corner of the world.  God is good and we are grateful for the privilege of being your mission ambassadors here.  Thank you!

Under the Mercy,
Dennis

The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 12
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