BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL (BP) – Southern Baptists returning from Belo Horizonte, Brazil, are sharing testimonies of widespread revival in churches, communities, prisons and schools, following an 8-day schedule of crusades, medical ministries and other outreach efforts in this South American country. Wayne Jenkins, director of evangelism and church growth for the Louisiana Baptist Convention, said there were a recorded 3,202 salvation decisions resulting from events conducted July 10-17.
"God did exceedingly above all that we could think or ask," Jenkins said. "Even working for the first time with this Brazilian association, the way was smooth in constructing three church buildings in five business days and reaching the number of people who came to know Christ, especially in some difficult areas. "Moreover, the Gospel was received by every age group and social class," he added. "On top of that," Jenkins noted, "it is remarkable to think that Burl Cain was given favor, in such a short amount of time, in lining up the three entities in the country needed to get permission to replicate in a Brazilian federal prison the same spiritual and moral rehabilitation program we have in Angola." Cain served as warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola for 21 years before retiring in 2016.
In 1995, he initiated a four-year college degree program at the prison -- with New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary -- which is now being reproduced around the United States because of its success in the moral rehabilitation of its graduates. Jenkins coordinated the mission trip, his 25th to Brazil with the Louisiana Baptist Convention but the first time to work in Belo Horizonte. He was joined by 60 Louisiana Baptists representing 10 congregations, and another 37 Southern Baptists from Utah, Texas, North Carolina, Florida and California.
Mission team members shared a number of compelling reports about individuals who responded positively to the presentation of the Gospel in Brazil.
Stones will cry out
Carlos Meza, pastor of Calvary Spanish Mission Church in Shreveport, and his wife Lupe told the Baptist Message the mission trip was "exciting and memorable" even though it was his 16th outreach in Brazil and her ninth. He said one of the highlights of the trip "was using a mannequin" to lead a young man to the Lord while conducting street evangelism in a small village.
"I started 'witnessing' to the mannequin using an evangelism tract," in order to attract the attention of passers-by, Meza said. "A young man stopped and said, 'Mister that mannequin can't talk or read,' and I asked him if he could," Meza explained. "When he said, 'Of course I can,' I handed him the tract, he read it and after a brief explanation of the Gospel he said, 'I believe every word the tract says' and he surrendered his life to Christ!" "Yes, God can use a mannequin to lead someone to His kingdom. To God be the Glory!" Meza exclaimed.
Every tongue confess
His wife Lupe was a member of the medical services team which included a pediatrician, ophthalmology staff and a physician and nurse, as well as other volunteers. She said a particularly special blessing was sharing the Gospel with an "18-year-old girl from Bolivia." "It was so unusual to witness to someone in Spanish while in Brazil," where Portuguese is the official language, Lupe Meza said.
"She was so young, and it was apparent she had been influenced by the Jehovah's Witnesses," Meza observed. "I felt I had to be gentle, so as not to frighten her or make her feel like I was being pushy." The girl had a blank look early on, Meza shared. But after carefully explaining about Jesus as the Son of God, "she accepted Christ, and she was at church service Sunday night!"
Blind shall see
In all, the medical outreach effort responded to the health needs of nearly 700 community members, Monday through Friday, including free prescription eyeglasses for about 350 individuals with vision problems. But team members also inquired about the spiritual condition of everyone who came to the clinic and 106 were recorded as professing Christ as Lord.
Sue Johns, a member of First Baptist Church in Graceville, Fla., who came with her son, Brent Johns, administrative and discipleship pastor at First Baptist Church in Houma, La., was one of several volunteers with the ophthalmology team who helped fit individuals with eyeglasses -- matching right and left eye measurements for near and far vision, astigmatism, as well as reading clarity.
Johns said two older patients stood out in her mind. A 72-year-old man had heard the Gospel several times during his visit to the eye clinic, and while waiting for Johns to find a pair of glasses which matched his vision needs, "he came under the conviction of the Holy Spirit" and began singing a hymn, Johns said. "He had fallen away from church for some time and I prayed with him to get right with God and get back into church."
During the Sunday night service he found me before the service to say "I am here," she added, and after the message, he went forward and "prayed to ask Christ to forgive his sins." Johns also told of a frail woman well past 80 years of age, who was almost blind and lived alone with her dog. "She was frequently falling because of her lack of vision and church members were worried about her," she said.
"We were able to find her some very strong prescription glasses," Johns recalled, "allowing her to see the top 3 lines on the eye chart and do close up reading. She came in unable to read at all and unable to see the chart. We were all very emotional when we saw that smile come on her face when she realized she could see."
Captives set free
Tamarah Wales, who was raised at First Baptist Church in Lafayette and is a member at Family Life Church, Lafayette, served as a member of the street evangelism team which had a unique prison visit. Wales said they typically encounter "some difficulty" when they try to minister to inmates. "The warden and his assistant came out to talk to the team and just like at other facilities there was some reluctance to let us in," she explained. "But during the course of the conversation, we had the opportunity to share the Gospel with them and both trusted Christ.
"After that they allowed us to go to every area of the prison to talk with the prisoners," Wales said, adding, "and the warden and his assistant led the way. We witnessed almost 300 salvation decisions that day!"
Bread of Life (& Gumbo)
June Charrier and Lisa Breaux conducted a unique cooking ministry while in Brazil. Charrier, wife of church planter Louis Charrier, both members of Washington Baptist Church in Opelousas, and Breaux, a member of First Baptist Church in Lafayette, provided a gumbo meal as an enticement for influential individuals -- who were unsaved and resistant to home visits or invitations to attend worship services -- to hear the Gospel.
Charrier mentioned in particular the meal at First Baptist Church in Veneza where 30 people had gathered for what was billed as "a Louisiana specialty prepared by Americans." "We cooked dinner and a dessert and shared a little bit about the history of gumbo and its origins with African slaves," she said. "After the meal the people listened to a message on 'Who needs Jesus'," she continued, "and they were given a chance to repent of their sins and submit their hearts and lives to Jesus as Lord."
When the prayer ended, Charrier said she looked up and four men had been saved -- a vice mayor, city attorney, well-known businessman and church "member" who had been the subject of many prayers by the congregation, according to the pastor. Breaux summed up for both of them the joy they take away from their cooking ministry. "It reminds us a little gumbo goes a long way, even to eternity," she said.
Jenkins said the group intends to return to Belo Horizonte next year to build on the work accomplished in 2016. "One of the Brazilian convention officials told us this region has more cities with fewer believers than cities in Saudi Arabia," Jenkins said, and he challenged Louisiana Baptists to consider joining the 2017 team that will be going there.
"There is a place for everyone," Jenkins said. "VBS teams, drama teams, construction teams, sports camp teams -- every member of a family can find a place to plug in and I want Louisiana Baptists to seriously pray about being part of this family mission trip. "Moreover, this is a great place to go for a first-time church mission trip," he said. "We have lodging in a safe place, and everyone is well-fed. But most importantly, this is the place where you can faithfully do the work of an evangelist and see growth and experience growth.
Gary and Darlene Maroney agreed. Gary is president of the Louisiana Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists, a multi-state organization, and both are members of Eastside Baptist Church in New Braunfels, Texas. In a note to the Baptist Message, they jointly expressed strong sentiments about their experiences.
"There are so many people in bondage all over the world, and we were blessed to be a part of this team who diligently fulfilled their specific assignments and saw God work miracles in the lives of 3,202 people," they said. "We are confident that there were many more individuals who made decisions for Christ, but this 'Pentecost number' represents those whose names are recorded and will be followed up by the national pastors.
"Belo Horizonte means beautiful horizon," the Maroney's explained in closing. "We were so blessed to see the spiritual horizon that stretched across that city last week and know that we were used of God to witness such beauty!!"
For more coverage on this mission work in Brazil visit BaptistMessage.com.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Will Hall is editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.