February 26, 2008

Opening the Door...

Matthew had the distinct privilege of ministering this month to a small island community about three hours up river from the city of Belém. A team consisting of members of the Equatorial Baptist Theological Seminary (EBTS) and the Brazilian Bible Society (BBS), along with three I.M.B. missionaries participated in the first of several trips in a church planting project. These groups hope to plant a church in this small river community with no evangelical presence.

This island community is made up of fifteen families totaling about 240 people. However, being that many communities like this are closed to outsiders we decided to use this trip to open the door for further evangelism. For this reason, the team used two boats owned by BBS called the “Luz da Amazonia” (Light of the Amazon) to bring medical and dental care to the community. In addition, we used the boats to power a projector for the purpose of showing the Jesus film as well as feed the community a small meal.

This may not sound like much but it seems to touch the hearts and lives of those living in this community. The people of the community see our Lord's love in a tangible way and this helps counteract the influence of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church in Brazils, like in most of Latin America, is so thoroughly intermixed with pagan, mystical, animistic beliefs that Jesus is relegated to second place behind Mary or even statues of Mary. An example can be seen here in Belem where a yearly festival known as Cirio de Nazaré has been celebrated in about 1793. During this festival the image of the Virgin of Nazareth, an ancient statue of Mary, is brought from a rural chapel to the Basilica of Our Lady of Nazareth. This involves a great street procession through the city towards the city's main cathedral. During this procession, a symbolic ‘’cord’’ about 487 yards long and weighs about 1,500 pounds pulls an ornate cart carrying this statue. It is a great honor and desire for devotees to touch or hold the cord. Many sweating bodies, in the tropical heat, push and pull and are often crushed in their desire to express their faith in the procession. Many go barefoot and often faint along the way. Other devotees carry life-size replicas of body parts made of wax requesting Mary to cure them. Some carry replicas of houses or boats that they would like or are thanking Mary for blessing them in the past year. Some, to show their devotion go on their knees and one year, a man with 150 live crabs covering him paid his homage. Often along the way, songs of adoration to Mary are sung with tears and show of emotion. This festival just shows how far from Christ the people have strayed. Evangelical Christianity is the only hope the people of this island and many others may have of knowing the true Jesus who loves them and freely offers the gift of salvation.

This Saturday, a door was opened and the light of Christ began to shine in a dark place. Please pray that future trips will continue to open the door for the planting of a God-honoring, evangelical church.