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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. 


A Testimony of Trust

October 28, 2016

We are in the midst of a two-year generosity initiative called Moved by Jesus. Our primary goal during this initiative is for 100% of our church family to give in a surrendered, gospel-driven way. During these two years, we are sharing stories of transformation that have come out of our church family's commitment to giving generously for the sake of of the kingdom. Below is a story from longtime leaders Charlie and Margaret Philbrick.


We didn’t want to do “it.” During our early years at Resurrection we had three small children, lived in a tiny house with one bathroom upstairs and dreamed of sending our kids to Wheaton Christian Grammar School.  Private school is expensive and we knew we couldn’t afford one let alone three kids attending W.C.G.S. After putting the kids to bed on a humid summer evening we sat together on our back porch and resigned ourselves to “it,” tithing, giving the first 10 percent, the top, not the net of our earnings to the church. We begrudgingly agreed it was time, but wondered how we could afford “it.” Previously we wrote random checks to Rez and also gave to our missionary friends, all of which kind of added up to around 10 percent, but this would be 10 percent to the church and the rest of our giving beyond. We didn’t know an immediate joy or even cheer in our offering, but we stuck to “it.”

The Lord provided. Charlie’s law practice grew, all our children attended Wheaton Christian Grammar, I took a job at the Greenhouse teaching writing. While setting up to help out on Pizza Day one afternoon the phone call came. Charlie had just been fired from his law firm, a large law firm in the city. In one conversation we saw God’s provision seemingly shrink to nothing. I sat on the stairs in disbelief. We thought he was doing so well. How could this happen to us? I conferenced in Stewart and Katherine on my phone and we immediately prayed together that the Lord would provide a miracle for us.

At the time, Rez was pursuing the Wagner land as a future home and Scott Pointner was our lawyer on the project. He worked here in Wheaton at Rathje and Woodward and we became friends though our collaboration. We called Scott to inquire about a possible future home for Charlie’s practice. In one week of interviews, client negotiations and continued prayer, Charlie accepted a position at Rathje, before we even needed to tell our children “Daddy lost his job.” God protected them from worry and he provided beyond what we could have imagined. Charlie took his clients to Rathje and changed a one hour commute each way into a short walk to work. He was home for dinner and able to attend track meets and concerts which in the past he missed while sitting on the train.

The Lord is constantly challenging our generosity: Good Friday gifts, Reach, Moved by Jesus, friends leaving for the mission field, a new Grammar School building, a new chapel for Honey Rock, a new Greenhouse school building, our kids’ college educations, Jessica, a new foster daughter to care for. For the past twenty years we’ve believed we are giving beyond our means. It is in that uncomfortable corner that we’ve seen the Lord graciously provide even greater resources and new opportunities to give.

Our begrudging attitude on the patio that summer night has been changed to one of joy and anticipation, “What will God invite us into next?” This transformation of thought and heart didn’t happen overnight.  It came with decades of trusting in his faithfulness and witnessing the Lord miraculously provide infinitely more than we could ever ask or imagine. His generosity to us is boundless, limitless, free, full of life and power. We can give like that - without the expectation of anything in return, because we have joy in who He is and what He’s done for us. That’s where it begins, with Jesus and thanking him for showing us how to be generous.

“Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine:  Glory to him from generation to generation in the church and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever.” Ephesians 3: 20,21