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Posts by: Matt Woodley

Revival in Recife: Or My Best and Worst Mission Trip Ever

October 12, 2017

In some ways it was a colossal missions trip fail. I arrived in Recife, Brazil on Wednesday, October 4 to participate in Caminemos Juntos' annual conference - a gathering of Anglican leaders from 11 nations, including Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and the U.S. Then I promptly lost my luggage, which didn't show up for over 48 hours. A few days later, I fell off a ledge and severely sprained my knee. I was hot, sweaty, unfashionable with my one set of clothing, and tired as I limped around with my swollen leg. I just wanted to come home! 

But then something happened. I'm pretty sure I had stepped into a full-blown revival. The Anglican church in Recife has seen and is still seeing scores of people come to know Jesus for the first time. They have an exuberant freshness to their faith. I preached at the 10 a.m. service and then attended the 5 p.m. service, and both services were packed with eager new or renewed Christians throwing themselves into worship. 
I visited House of Hope, a daycare center in the heart of a large favela (slum) in Recife. The daycare center, run by the Diocese of Recife, serves as a refuge for children and mothers, most of whom are single and desperately need to work in order to survive. 

Photo: House of Hope

The Christians in Recife also eagerly expect miracles from God. For instance, a group of praying women at the church prayed for my knee. I expected very little (typical post-Enlightenment Westerner that I am), but even to this day I have felt no pain in my beachball-sized left knee. Unfortunately, I just asked them to pray for the pain, not the swelling. 
Of course Recife, Brazil isn't heaven. They know about God's glory, but they also know much about suffering. Five years ago, Bishop Miguel Ochoa, the spiritual father of this diocese, was diagnosed with incurable cancer. He was given three months to live. He's fully alive and healthy, but his wife has been hospitalized for nearly eight months. Even as I write this blog post, her life hangs in the balance. The economy and government in Brazil are crumbling. Poverty, drugs, corruption, gangs, crime - they're all rampant throughout the country. Some of the more established and powerful churches, often funded by denominations in the US, have been spreading a false gospel that has left people spiritually bankrupt.

Photo: Bp. Miguel Ochoa

But in the midst of these problems, the Holy Spirit is at work in such a powerful and beautiful way. As I boarded the plane to come back to O'hare, my eyes kept filling with tears - tears of joy for seeing God at work, tears of affection and appreciation for the people I met, and tears of sorrow for the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Recife. 
This is why we have global partners. This is why we worship together, eat together, laugh together, and cry together. And we learn from each other because we desperately need each other. We need to learn from the Church in the Diocese of Recife, but I don't think it's arrogant to say that they need to learn from us as well. We belong to one Body, the Body of Christ. 


India: A Transforming Trip

August 02, 2017

This summer, Resurrection sent one of our staff members to Northern India together with one of our missionaries to witness the work being done there and investigate potential short-term mission opportunities for us as a church. Her goal was to meet local believers and church planters, and participate in the life of the local church, and to learn how to lead a short term trip. While she was there she visited four different cities in the north of the country, as well as several villages, she met movement leaders, brand new believers, and children with heart-breaking backgrounds. She also strengthened our partnership with the missionary who hosted the trip. 
The political climate in India is not friendly to the type of work we are describing. So for the sake of our local contacts' safety, and our western partners' ability to return to the country, we are not using people's names online. Please reach out to the church office if you want to talk to this staff person and hear more about the trip. Here is her blog post about the trip.
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The city on the Ganges is overcrowded, and reeks with the spirit of death—millions of Hindus wait to die and be cremated on the steps leading down to the river, their ashes sprinkled in the polluted water, in order that their soul may achieve Nirvana: liberation from reincarnation. The city rings with the horns of too many vehicles on the roads, and the mantras chanted by pilgrims in the narrow paths of the old town. After an evening in the bowels of this oppressive chaos, the Buddhist neighborhood into which our team retreated seems peaceful and inviting. As we lingered, we realized that we actually perceived emptiness, an absence of anything good, loving or beautiful. This too is darkness.

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I had never encountered anything like this before. I went to India with one of our Church of the Resurrection missionaries to witness the ministry happening there. What I saw is that the Light of Christ shines more brightly against this grim backdrop. In turning to Jesus, people are being saved from truly terrifying spiritual realities, and their lives are dramatically transformed. They are freed from demonic oppression, healed of infirmities, and their stories inspire many more to turn to Jesus. I am inspired and humbled by the testimonies I heard and the people I met. There is a vibrant, grassroots multiplying movement going on in parts of the country that are less than 0.1% Christian. Hundreds of house churches have been planted in the last two decades, and the next generation of leaders is not waiting to be invited to the party—I met an 18-year old who had already planted 7 fellowships!

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In a society drained by poverty and corruption, the Church of Jesus Christ is reaching the lost and the least. A few years ago, a young leader of a church planting movement whom I’ll call Bhaiya  (the Hindi term for older brother) began reaching out to homeless children at the train station, feeding them at a local restaurant, teaching them about Jesus, and giving them basic education. He was finally able to rent a home, so the kids could get away from the station, and he now has 25 kids living there! Bhaiya, his amazing staff (who range in age from 18-22) and the precious kids took us in as members of the family, and despite the language barrier, they loved us and let us love them. Anyone who knows me well knows that I have never been particularly gifted in working with kids, so this experience was especially transformative for me. I left a piece of my heart behind when I left, and I am forever bonded to that place and those precious souls.

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I’d like to share one of their stories. This is Vikash. He’s around 15 years old now, but at a young age he lost his parents and went to live at the train station where he met some rough kids (Bhaiya sent me this picture of Vikash with the glue rag in his mouth, and I burst into tears when I saw it.) They taught him to sell stolen coal, to steal money from people, and to sniff glue. He had repeated run-ins with the police and was severely beaten. When Bhaiya first started reaching out to him, he would just cause trouble at the children’s gatherings, but one day he jumped on Bhaiya’s bike and said he wanted a new life. Vikash has been completely transformed by the love of Jesus, and the loving community at the children’s home. He is a wonderful older brother to the little kids, and upon meeting him you would have no idea of what he’s been through. He wants to serve kids at the station when he’s older, and he’s developing the skill set under Bhaiya’s loving discipleship. Each one of the kids has a unique, heart-breaking story, and they are still at risk – several have run away from the home and gone back to the station for various reasons. Bhaiya desperately needs our prayers for the kids’ safety and for perseverance for him and his team. May the Lord strengthen them and give them his peace as they shed light in the midst of profound evil.