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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. 


Joining God's Mission, or Everything I needed to know about mission I saw in Ratsu, Nigeria

February 26, 2015

Ratsu, Nigeria, a speck of a town two hours west of Jos, is so small and insignificant that even Google can't locate it. As Nigerians say, it's in "the bush." But that tiny village of about 150 people has a church (St. Barnabas Anglican Church) and a priest (Fr. Andrew) who can teach us almost everything we need to know about missions at Church of the Resurrection.

Last December, we visited Ratsu, spent the day with Fr. Andrew, prayed in his church, and sat in his one-room mud house eating sweet potato chips fried in palm oil as we listened to him share his church's approach to missions. Here are the five biggest takeaways I learned from Fr. Andrew.

Missions is God's idea, not ours.

I still find it a little crazy how Fr. Andrew went to Ratsu in the first place. It's not a tidy little village. Most of the children belong to polygamous homes; the fathers have 2-3 wives. The men often sit on a hill outside the village, drunk on corn beer. The ground is dry and food is scarce. The terrorist group Boko Haram lurks in the shadows, far too close to Ratsu. And yet both Fr. Andrew and his wife, Patience, love Ratsu. They both feel called to pour out their lives for the people in this village in the bush. How is that possible? I think Fr. Andrew would give a simple answer: God called and led him to this place because God so loved the world and Ratsu. So they stay.

God is behind all of our missions plans and efforts. As John Stott liked to say, "We serve a missionary God." We can easily forget that mission is and always has been God's before it becomes ours. The entire storyline of the Bible reveals a God of missional activity. God is in mission and we join his mission as his invited guests, his "co-laborers." Missions: God starts it, leads it, sustains it, and calls us into his mission.

Missions involves the church—that's you and me.

Missions will flow from the heart of a healthy, worshipping, Bible-believing, sacrament-receiving community of people who love Jesus. Pope John Paul II argued that the church's ability to live missionally is the "criterion by which the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebrations is judged." In other words, a "missional church" is redundant. Every church should be missional because true worship always leads outward in mission.

That's why Fr. Andrew has planted St. Barnabas Anglican Church right in the middle of Ratsu. It's a small church with big open slots for doors and windows that won't ever be installed. About 75 people can sit on cheap white and blue plastic chairs. The wood rafters in the ceiling continually buzz with lazy, long-legged wasps. But the entire church revolves around two things: worship and mission. St. Barnabas doesn't measure success by slick programs (because they don't have any). They measure success by faithfulness to worship and mission.

In this sense, although mission starts with God, it does involve us. He really does allow us, invite us, and command us to become co-workers with him. Every member of Church of the Resurrection has a mission. Every member should be asking, "What is my mission, my call to share the gospel and join God's mission, in my little corner of the universe?"

Missions must be holistic.

Fr. Andrew leads worship services, preaches the gospel, and disciples his people, but he also engages in a holistic ministry that lifts up the entire community. Specifically, on the dry earth of Ratsu, Fr. Andrew has started a small farm by diverting water from a nearby stream. A few young men dig irrigation channels that provide water for a bountiful crop of spinach, tomatoes, and green beans. At one point during our visit, Fr. Andrew walked us into a dry, rocky, barren field and majestically swept his arm across the stark horizon as he said, "Soon this field will be filled with chickens and then more crops." We see nothing but the low Nigerian sun, but Fr. Andrew sees chickens clucking for the good of his village.

This, too, is mission inspired by Jesus, who preached the gospel for lost souls and offered healing for broken bodies (Matthew 4:24); who proclaimed the favorable year of the Lord and came to set the oppressed free (Luke 4:18). In other words, missions is always holistic. That's why our approach to missions assumes that people are lost apart from Christ, so we share the good news of salvation in Christ, helping people grow as disciples. But at Church of the Resurrection we also assume that people—especially the vulnerable and poor—who are stamped with dignity as God's image bearers, also need protection, justice, food, and jobs.

Misisons leads to partnerships.

The British scholar Christopher Wright observed the following upside down changes in global missions: "At the start of the 21st century, at least 70 percent of the world's Christians live in the non-Western world…. More Christians worship in Anglican churches in Nigeria each week than in all the Episcopal and Anglican churches of Britain, Europe, and North America combined. There are more Baptists in Congo than in Britain. More people in church every Sunday in communist China than in all of Western Europe."

The world of global missions has truly been turned upside down. That's why, more than ever, we need to forge strong partnerships around the globe and here at home. We need Fr. Andrew and the entire Diocese of Jos, Nigeria as much if not more than they need us. Valuing partnerships means that we seek two-way, "with-you" rather than one-way, "for-you" endeavors with our brothers and sisters around the globe.

Partnerships also imply that we will seek to work with Christ-centered ministries within our own community. Local ministries like World Relief and CareNet (to name a few) have much to teach us about serving the poor and vulnerable within the Wheaton area.

Missions creates beauty.

I'm not sure how it happened, but I must have accidentally snapped a picture of Fr. Andrew and his wife Patience. The picture only shows their feet, calloused and dusty, adorned with cheap open-toed sandals, standing on the hard earth floor of their house. I look at that picture often and have to fight back tears. I think: these two simple servants of Jesus, surrounded by polygamous men and Boko Haram threats; these two servants, without cell phones or retirement plans who offer their guests fried sweet potato chips; these two servants, so happy that they can't stop smiling and dancing—they have such beautiful feet. They have feet that bring the good news of Jesus.

Our part of the missions partnership (as opposed to God's part) is never finished. We always offer a finite, partial, and flawed effort to "assist" our missionary God. Our love grows cold and our perceptions of justice get warped. But when we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, using our feet (and our entire bodies) to bring the gospel, something truly beautiful happens. God will use and bless our paltry efforts. Like Fr. Andrew and Patience, God will make our feet truly beautiful.

If we are faithful to join God's mission, no matter how small or ordinary our contribution may seem to us, this will come to pass: "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, 'Your God reigns!'" (Isaiah 52:7).

This year, our Good Friday Gift is being given to support the work of our partners in Nigeria like Fr. Andrew and Mama Patience through the Diocese of Jos, Nigeria. Click here for more details.

Matt Woodley
Mission Pastor
matt@churchrez.org