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Generalizations can be absurd. But here I go anyway.

Work teams are a powerful weapon in the hand of God to build His Kingdom. I know it goes both ways, when it comes to work teams. They can be a blessing of unimaginable proportions or they can be ineffective and disturbing. What I want to share is why I love work teams and how I have seen God use them in our 20 years of ministry in Brazil.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

They cost so much. I love that it costs so much! It is an impossible task unless for Jesus. God is never particularly concerned with the cost of anything, especially where His Kingdom is concerned.  He provides it all anyway. It is His money. I love that work team members commit themselves, by faith, to raise a huge amount of money and then watch to see how God responds. It is just one of  many steps of faith a work team member has to make. I hear from most proponents against work teams that the money would be better spent if it was just sent to the field. But here is the hard truth, no one sends the money.

They mature people. With so much prayer, planning, working together, and facing the great unknown, people change and grow. It seems to be viewed as a negative thing,  for those who urge you not to go, as if personal growth is a selfish thing. We all are mandated in Scripture to grow-up spiritually. Work teams provide one of many experiences God can use to grow a soul. I have seen people finally liberated from deep wounds when they left that comfortable life in the U.S. and went where it was only Jesus who could sustain them. They were able to hear God clearly in a way they could not before.  And that is a bad thing? Really?

They bring people together. It might be just Brazil, I don’t know, but there is such a wonderful chemistry whenever we get North Americans and Brazilians together. It is a taste of heaven. New friends are made. The differences bring laughter. The similarities ignite an understanding.  When we have had teams who specialize in worship music the bond is instant. Work teams never go it alone. They always work in tandem with Brazilians and it is astounding how God knits together the hearts of His people.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

People need people Our whole aim for existence is to see God’s kingdom expand. I believe God calls us to encourage one another and help one another, across cultures, in this enormous task. Ministries always need encouragement and an influx of God’s spirit, no matter where it is from. This insurgence of power comes when God’s people unite. The only way to reach people is through people. Money may build a church building but people touch people. That is another reason why just sending your money doesn’t always work. Money does not win souls. People win souls.

Sometimes people need a jump-start. It took a bus load of Brazilian Wesleyan youth to enter into a town very resistant to the gospel, where the Wesleyan church has labored faithfully for many years, to provide a needed catalyst. This work team, along with members of the local church, held home Bible studies and led youth oriented workshops (Archery, Martial Arts, Guitar, Chess, and Theater). This brought curious people into contact with those who were sold out to Jesus. More than 30 people from that town were changed forever as a result. Did I say I loved work teams?

Why can’t we do that too? A beautiful outcome of having a steady stream of work teams come to Manaus has been a quickening of the hearts of many of our people. Seeing how much is accomplished and how many lives are touched, they are encouraged to do similar teams. We have seen a healthy growth in Brazilian work teams launching out into the Amazon basin and other parts of Brazil carrying on innovative ministry because they saw it modeled.

I know that work teams can be done poorly. I know that people who have been burned don’t want others to be burned as well. Yes, work teams need to be aware of all the pitfalls but this growing trend of discouraging work teams from pursuing what God maybe calling them to do is unsettling. We  still need work teams.

It took a Canadian work team to come to Brazil to boldly enter into a community controlled by drug lords. While they labored in extreme heat they reached out to all.  This attracted the attention of one of these drug lords, who was so miserable that he was thinking of taking his life.  But instead he set foot in that nearby Wesleyan church. There he encountered Jesus and was changed forever. Priceless.

If God is calling you to do short-term missions, do it. I can only see solid Biblical support for short-term missions work. It was all that Paul did. It changed a huge pagan town called Nineveh. Who knows what God can do through you?

To say all work teams are bad is as equally untrue as saying all work teams are good. When work teams come with a God-given purpose, humility, a heart for service, lives are forever altered.

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December 2012  to February 2013 009

 

 

Our Family did this Advent Bible Study  last year.  Tom developed it using inductive principles.  It is not a devotional since it does not come with pre-packaged thoughts and responses.  This is an inductive study that will bring the whole family together to talk about the significance of Christ’s coming to earth.  It is important that each participant have time prior to the family time so that the answers will be thoughtful and personal.  We sometimes could not do this every night so we would catch up and do a couple or three at a time.  We would also add Christmas hymn singing after our study and end with prayer and may be a Christmas treat.

I wasn’t prepared for it. How was I to know that something significant was going to happen that hot October morning?

When we returned to Brazil in August we found that a monumental task, which had been set in motion nearly a year before, was near completion. Late in 2012 Tom had encouraged our Department of Education director, Doris, to think about putting together our own youth and adult Sunday school material. With so many doctrinal differences in the materials our churches were using this seemed to be the best choice, albeit audacious. That little suggestion was all it took. By August the committee had all but two lessons taken care of and asked if Tom and I could produce these lessons. Tom’s full schedule made it look unlikely. I, on the other hand, was eager to get my Portuguese back in gear and relished the idea of working on these lessons from the Pentateuch. When did they have to be done? Already behind schedule, they needed them right away. With a few false starts, re-writes and corrections I happily got them in under the deadline.IMG_2481

Then I got the phone call that October day. Doris said that Lene (Laney) was dropping off the completed curriculum, would we be there to receive it. I thought I would be. I had laundry and a bunch of other Saturday tasks lined up around the house.  At about 11:00 Lene drove up with the finalized copies. But also with her were two of the other authors who had collaborated on the project. She had phoned them to come over as well. Something was up. This was not a mere “dropping off” but an important handing over of a tremendous accomplishment. And I had not seen it coming.

I looked around for where we could meet that sunny morning and was shocked when the group headed towards the shady back porch…where I had just hung the laundry. I tried not to notice the under garments above our heads and trousers dangling from the line. I hastily took down some of the more distracting items part way through.IMG_2477

But soon the enormity of the project began to be understood, even by me. Drawing on experience, Biblical training, and the passion for teaching, all of these Brazilian Wesleyan pastors and teachers had freely given their time and skill to put together our first youth and adult Sunday school curriculum for the Wesleyan church in Brazil. It caught me by surprise…but not for long as I ran to get my camera. It had been a challenging task but one done with love and dedication. I am filled with deep admiration for those who took this labor to heart and birthed the first of many publications to come. I was so pleased to have been a part of it, even if it did take place under the clothesline.

Home-full

Our life as vagabond missionaries is over for now.  Having no address and no fixed place to lay our heads made me pine for a steadier life. There is no place like home.IMG_2344Arriving back to Brazil in August, after being away for eight months, has been delightful. I have soaked up the daily charms of being home in the Amazon.  What are those charms?

I receive warm and affectionate greetings from, well, everybody.

I run into people I know when I am out shopping.

I love the steady rhythm of days living on the equator; sun up at six, sundown at six.outside house 021

I love feeling thirsty. (In the heat I never forget to drink lots of water.)

Chewy tapioca panckaes with strong sweet coffee in the mornings is a taste I will never get tired of.IMG_2339

A place of ministry where I can use my gifts to equip a growing, dynamic church gives me such a sense of being well-being.

Afternoon coffee and crusty bread with long-time colleagues at the Bible college nourishes bonds of friendship.IMG_2332

So now instead of being homeless,  I am home-full and relishing every minute of it.

Written by Grace Ensz

After 30,000 miles, with a few more coming, we have had a few bumps along the way.

  • Hitting a skunk. (Sorry, no picture…but you can imagine the smell.)
  •  Sliding off an icy road in Michigan and into a telephone pole.

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  • Losing our car keys in downtown Ottawa.
  • Snow and ice on the road on May 1st in South Dakota.IMG_1350
  • Getting the third degree by border police because we were in our borrowed car.
  • While camping, Tom had an accident with the hatchet.

    The state park medic

    The state park medic

  • Our air condition leaves a huge puddle of water on the passenger side.IMG_1896

But we are so praiseful for how far Jesus has brought us.  Criss-crossing all over the U.S. has been a blessing, even with a few bumps in the road. They remind me how much desperately I need Him.

Gypsy Living

I don’t like car trips. I really don’t. But sometimes God graciously shows me that the things I don’t fancy can be a channel for His blessings. This happened recently as I was stirred out of my highway stare on a recent car trip with my son’s announcement, “This has been the best furlough ever!” He said this as we were speeding along I-90 through the farm lands of Minnesota. My two teenagers began to recount the unique experiences they have had in the past few months as we have been traveling and visiting our supporting churches. They mentioned things like skiing for the first time, ice-skating, getting to drive a 4-wheel, eating real maple syrup in Canada (next to the maple trees), fishing and many more amazing events. Yes, we have loved being welcomed into homes and Wesleyan churches all over the country for so many reasons.  To be welcomed joyfully into people’s lives and ministries has been a small taste of heaven.IMG_1029

But what else has surprised me?  I have able to soak up along the thousands of miles unbroken family time. Time in the car has been had in large quantities so we have had time to reflect, discuss a wide range of topics, laugh, and see the beautiful U.S. together and up-close.   When we are in the midst of the high demands of ministry in Brazil we have to guard family time fiercely because it is so precious and rare.  So as I sit in the car to yet another destination these are indeed treasured times especially since our 17 year-old son prepares to head to college this fall.  But I hadn’t always understood this gift.IMG_1296

Many months ago, while still in Brazil, I worried about how Hudson, our son, would make the transition to college life academically. I tried to figure out how he could take some university classes and get ready for what was ahead. When I discussed this with him he was quick to point out, “But, Mom, then I couldn’t travel around with you guys.” And he was right. I was anxious to get him ready for studies when he was focused on taking advantage of our last months together as a family.IMG_1428

I have had many people along the way lament over the gypsy life we are living. I always astonish myself when I begin to relate how overwhelmed I have been at how much fun we are having. We absolutely love talking about Brazil, what God is doing there while we get connect with people who love the Kingdom. And along the way we are having tons of new experiences together. Wow! And I wanted to miss this?IMG_1423

Worship Warm-ups

It was my first Sunday in the U.S..  Things once so familiar now caught me off guard. I felt awkward and unchurched as I fumbled over which hymnal to use and where to find the responsive readings.  My children did not know the Apostle’s creed and were unfamiliar with reciting the Lord’s prayer in church.  But as different as each element of the worship service was I felt at home.  My soul drank deeply of these creeds, congregational readings and English songs. I had missed them.  What else had I missed? Seeing poinsettias around the altar, gazing at a large cross in the sanctuary, holding a bulletin in my hand, hearing organ music, getting dressed up for a MORNING  service, singing Christmas hymns, (or any hymns), smiling at a children’s sermon and understanding everything being said.

But I miss quite a bit from the worship services in Brazil, too. Worship 1I love the energy I feel as I sing with my Brazilian brothers and sisters.  I love well-attended evening services. I enjoy the freedom the preacher has to go as long as he wants.  And delight in the sense of fellowship and affection as hugs are freely passed around.

I feel spoiled.  I get to engage in so many different  styles of worship which vary from church to church and culture to culture, and it blesses me.  All this, of course, is getting me ready for the main thing when I see Jesus one day.  All of this is just warm-ups.