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.