FENTON, MI – Following Jesus took our family to the center of South America as IMB missionaries. The city of Cuiaba sits on the far western edge of Brazil in the state of Mato Grosso. The city was experiencing rapid growth. Construction was everywhere. A new housing development miles from the city caught our attention. There were hundreds and hundreds of new houses, but not a single church. By no church, I mean no church of any kind.
We had recently moved to Cuiaba, were in our second year of learning Portuguese, and didn't know anyone living in that area. God laid it on our hearts to plant a church there. We were praying and looking for a person to help us get started when an incredible moment in a supermarket led us to the first member of the church. The pastor of the largest, most dynamic church in the state was buying groceries. I met him briefly in a meeting, but didn’t think he would remember me. I went up to say "hi" and reintroduce myself. During our conversation, he asked me what I was planning to do. I told him about the new community growing outside the city. He knew the area and was aware there were no churches there.
When I told him that we wanted to go there and plant a church, Pastor William Balanuce was thrilled. He told me about a young man in his church who just got married and moved there. “His name is Samuel," he said, "and his wife isn’t a believer." He couldn’t remember Samuel’s address, but he told me that he lived on the only paved road in the community and that his house was at the very top of the hill. It wasn't much to go on, but we went anyway. We found Samuel. He owned a small convenience store attached to the front of his house. Pastor William told me to tell Samuel that he gave me his name and invite him to help us start the church.
Samuel told us two things when we met him that he had been praying for: his wife’s salvation and for a church in his community. It was a God moment for us as we talked! We ultimately became best friends, but in that moment we were two men who met each other because of a pastor who saw what could be. Pastor William released Samuel without hesitation to advance God's Kingdom and challenged him to be a part of the church he was praying for. First Baptist Church didn't become the largest, most influential church in the state by keeping people. She became that by investing people in the work of the harvest in the city and beyond.
The first service was a disaster - at least, that's how I felt. Lightning took out a transformer just after I stood to preach and left everyone completely in the dark (the main worship service in Brazil is at night) and the roof was leaking on us. The next Sunday, we held our second service. Judith, a young mother of two, committed her life to Christ. Weekly services were underway. We visited every home in the community, inviting them personally when we could, or by leaving information. Some attended and the church grew.
In fun, I told people that listening to me preach in Portuguese was the best show in town. We had a crowd, but we needed to teach them how to be a community of Christ followers in covenant with one another as a church. My plan was to introduce them to the Brazilian Baptist Covenant, but I ended up preaching about the Baptist Duck. I meant "covenant" but one missing letter changed the meaning dramatically. I waxed eloquently, "We have an incredible Baptist Duck. We enter into fellowship with one another around the Baptist Duck. If you ever leave this place, you need to find a church with a Baptist Duck just like this one." Years later, we returned for the anniversary of the church. Before I preached, they introduced me as the pastor who preached the "Baptist Duck" sermon.
These were exciting times. We built a building, started Bible studies, and shared the Gospel all over the area. Our first term as missionaries came to an end. It was time to return to the United States. One of Samuel's two prayers was answered: A new church was planted in his community.
Samuel and Dalva had become our dearest friends, but she had not given her life Christ. She was there through it all - every Sunday - listening, watching, and even helping. Dalva sang, prayed, read God's Word, and participated in everything in the new church, but she did not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Samuel's prayer for Dalva to know Christ had became our prayer. And, yet, when we left Brazil for stateside assignment, she still had not believed.
After six months in the USA, we returned to Brazil. Samuel and Dalva were still actively involved in the church. A Brazilian pastor had been called to lead the church. He invited me to preach. It was February 14th--Valentine's Day. Shar and the boys were sitting two rows behind Samuel and Dalva. By the end of the service, Dalva was crying and visibly shaking. As soon as the service was over, Shar pulled her aside and asked, "What's wrong?"
She was confused. Steady exposure to the Word of God had shown her some things about her life. She was a good person who believed in God, and she thought that was enough. She knew about Jesus her whole life, but she did not know Jesus. That night she realized she was following a religion. God showed her that she needed Jesus and Jesus alone. Dalva placed her faith in Christ. It was the God moment we had been praying for!
Shar and I went to another area even further from the city where there was no church. We continued our friendship with Samuel and Dalva. Several years later our work was done. We got together with Samuel and Dalva for one last dinner at our house before we left the country to return to the United States to live. That night Samuel told us that he felt God calling him to pastoral ministry. He was enrolling in seminary to prepare himself. Today, Samuel is the pastor of the church he helped start. And Dalva is an amazing pastor's wife! Planting where God leads always leads to lives being changed.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mike Durbin is the State Evangelism Director for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Before joining the state convention staff, Mike served as Church Planting Catalyst and Director of Missions in Metro Detroit since 2007. He also has served as a pastor and bi-vocational pastor in Michigan, as well as International Missionary to Brazil.