Thursday, December 30, 2010

Redemption Songs

We recently enjoyed a wonderful Christmas celebration in keeping with the purpose of Jesus' coming - reconciliation.

We work with a large group of homeless here in Itu who come to our home once a week to shower, eat and get a change of clothes. Members of our church cook for this event, donate clothing, and a few come and help serve the ministry as well. I also work with a drug rehab clinic. This is a six month program brings to life individuals who are filled with death by the powerful mercy and love of Christ.

We wanted to bring together our church families, homeless, and the men from rehab so that the redemptive work of Christ could shine, so we threw a Christmas banquet! We cooked a great meal and decorated our church building for Christmas. Many church families signed up to come, two of our closest friends offered to sing during dinner... but I was pretty nervous about whether our homeless guests and the guys from rehab would show or not. I loved Ali's response though to this concern- "if they don't show up it'll just be like that parable of the wedding banquet - we'll go through the streets and squares and bring in whoever we find." I love this girl!

The guys did show up! They came to our house early to shower and get a fresh change of clothes. And I went to the clinic (which is in break now till January) and enough guys came back to load our Volkswagen bus.

At the church we had a great reception from our church members. They were anxiously waiting to meet the guys and make them feel like true honored guests. And the rehab guys were anxious to meet with our homeless crew, to share experiences and to let them know that they had been redeemed from some of the same traps, that there is hope! One of our guys from the rehab crew actually came out of our homeless crew and gave the example of a life changed to his old friends. He reminded them that this new life is available to them too, and Samuel seems to have really been inspired by this; he is wanting to start rehab in January now. Please pray that he continues to follows through on this!

Another result of this event is that a few members of our homeless community left feeling surprised by the warmth they were shown by a church, and wanting to be a part of this family. They have come back to the two services since this dinner, and further developed the friendships they found here. I want everyone to hear the message of Christ, this event highlights to me how ears are opened to that message when they experience the love of Christ.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Celebrate Recovery

Every Tuesday night is Celebrate Recovery night. This is our support group which embraces individuals with destructive habits, traumas from dysfunctional lifestyles, etc. It is one of those places where I most clearly see the church being the accepting and redeeming force that it is called to be. Anyone can come in humility as they are to the God who forgives and restores.

We began today with a simple taking of communion. That is an element that I like to use, especially when an individual in the group is feeling like an unworthy outcast. It is a good reminder that the blood of Christ was spilt specifically for this purpose. We mess up, and God isn't surprised. He shed His blood so that the sin could be removed and we could come back as sons. The final scripture of the lesson was Ephesians 4:13 - But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Churches are intimidating sometimes. People who don't know the love of Christ define them as places where condemnation abounds. I am so thankful that we serve a God who is bigger than the need to condemn just to prove his own holiness. A God who came down to earth and got dirty in the process of providing forgiveness and new life to those who would humbly come and seek it.

There was a lot of pain on the table tonight. A lot of brokenness and darkness. But there was mercy too, and new hope.

These pictures were taken with our homeless friends. We regularly have communion with them on Sunday afternoons downtown.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Louv'Arte - An event of worship through art.

One of the guys who lives in our home and works as a partner with Ali and I in our ministry is Carioca. Here's his pic. He is a marketing professional who was searching for a way to live out his faith in a real way when he came to our house. Now he lives with us and is a huge important part of our ministry team.

Carioca recently headed up an event in our church called Louv'Arte. This event was all about worship in community through the expression of creative gifts. Sixteen artists came together and used their artistic talents in a beautiful mixture of art through dance, sculpting, painting, music (from classic violin, to contemporary worship, to Italian opera), culinary creation, crochet and poetry. We had participants that ranged from 15 to over 80 years old. Members of our church, famous Itu artist Paulo Lara, famous Cuban American artist and friend of ours Rolando Diaz, and professional dancer Jackie Beth Shilcutt (who lives with us too at the moment - all part of our amazing life!) all came to get in on the action.

It was incredible and inspiring! God was praised in wonderful communal celebration. Check out these pics.

David starts the night off with sounds of classic violin

Ismael offers artful creations from his culinary talent

Heidi uses craft skills to create beautiful gifts

Simone's poetry corner

Ricardo works on his sculpture entitled "Original Sin."

Rolando Diaz paints a piece on worship in dance inspired by the dancing of Jackie Beth.

Worship through song by Deborah.

Pedro and Heloisa work on sketch pieces, which include subjects from our lunch for the homeless (I'm really proud of these kids!)

Walkeria works on a humorous self portrait depicting herself and her husband.

Paulo Lara painting a work for our church

While artists perform, participants are invited to add to a mural with various expressions of worship.

The event was a great bonding experience for our church members too. Doing what you love together in worship is powerful, fun, exciting... just not easy to describe!

Thank you God for the variety of gifts you have blessed us with. May our use of these gifts always be a pleasing offering to You.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Ali is currenlty in the middle of an online masters program from Rochester Christian Colege. One of her recent assignments was to describe her ministry context. I'd love for you to read it, so I've posted it below. Enjoy.

It’s a small house, smaller than one might imagine after hearing about the movement going on inside. The metal farm bell hangs next to the closed gate and ivy wall, and when it’s rung the entire neighborhood knows someone has arrived. The house sits at the back of a lot four times its size, and has the built area of approximately 600 square feet, which include 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room, 2 bathrooms, and a garage (the guys’ room). There is a large front yard (Brazilian standards), with 7 different fruit trees, an attempt at a garden (plans in the works), and a pergolado (a wooden structure, similar to a gazebo, but square). The pergolado is an external extension of the house, and serves as the eating area, nap area (in the hammock), and a place where life-changing conversations hover over the leaves of the trees, waiting for the next companions to have a seat.

There are six of us that live here. Yes, six: Mark (my husband), Barbara, Brandon, Carioca, Manu, and myself. We call ourselves a “non-nuclear family”. Mark and I have a room, and Barbara has her own room, but she has to share the bathroom. The guys have made the garage into a very comfortable habitat for 4. The living room couch often hosts 2-3 friends on the weekends. Twice a week (Thursdays and Fridays) we receive homeless and youth, each night between 30-40 beautiful people come to share life. Our home hosts life. We are couched in between the local church building we serve with, and the bus station, and both receive very different crowds. One caters to the middle class, the other to the low income. One has a parking lot for the expensive cars that park once a week, the other welcomes the sojourners dependent on public transportation. One has the mission to offer donations from their excess, the other is dependent on the city’s low budget to function. And we chose this location on purpose: to bring the rude and the crude realities to encounter each other over a meal, sitting at the same table, dancing to the same music, wondering about the same questions, struggling with the same disconnection. This home invites you to open your wings.

As we’ve listened to our friends share their first impressions about entering our home, many details stand out in their memories: the surplus of sleeping bags, always anticipating the unknown visitor; the Kombi VW bus, to carry the most amount of people; the messy scribbled walls, used to visualize new ideas and dreams; the lack of TV, to emphasize human interaction and connection; the music, used to awaken, to inspire, to calm, to unite. All of these items (or lack there of) are symbolic of the identity we want to carry, they are ways we want to express our calling to live simple and communal life.

But there is one common aspect to every room of the house that I find the most symbolic of the life style we’ve chosen. Every cabinet, every closet has no doors. Our kitchen pantry is wide open, as well as our dishes and appliances clearly exposed. Our clothes hang with no protection (often slightly dirty from the breeze bringing in dust), and are surprisingly unissex. Our toiletries are on open shelves (Carioca had 3 tooth brushes chewed up by the dogs last month!) and available to whomever is using the bathroom. Our shoes hang on walls, and we use the first pair of flip flops we can reach. The front door is never locked.

We want to question what there really is to protect in this world. We want people to know that what is available in the house, is available to them. We want to expose our lack of organization in a way that helps people understand they don’t have to have it all together and spotless and sterile to come and contribute to this home. And yes, sometimes it’s frustrating, and it’s messy, and it’s crowded, and it’s cluttered (because we receive all the donations to pass on), and the grass grows too tall (literally), and this is when we have to count on other’s abilities and availabilities to help us clean and eliminate and simplify and refresh.

This is our house. This is our home. This is my context, creating the synergy that inspires me and others.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

tuff, but worth it

Last week was really hard for me. Much harder than I imagined it would have been. Monday Edwardo went to work for the first time. We had set up a brick layers position for him, and he was excited to be starting a new life! His job site is in our neighborhood, so we imagined he would be home soon after the site closed. He never showed up.

About 3AM Edwardo came home. He had been drinking, but his biggest change was in his resolve - to not stay clean anymore. He insisted that this was in his blood, and that nothing could change that.

Tuesday was a sad and difficult day for me. I met up with Edwardo at the local soup kitchen and we talked. He was done trying. I knew from the beginning that this was a possible, and not unlikely outcome, but living through it knocked me down hard. I really really wanted to see Edwardo make it. All seven of us in the house had pulled out all the stops to try and help make it possible... but in the end he made a different choice.

I feel like I learned a lot about being a living sacrifice. There is an advantage to not being a living sacrifice, in that you don't have to see your self-sacrifice going to waste. But we weren't called to die for Jesus, we were called to live for Him. I am learning to have peace in this tension. My sacrifice is my worship - and as much as my heart will long to see it bring about new life for those around me, it is a life worth living regardless of the immediate consequences.

I knew all of this in my head, now God is helping me to have peace in the practice. And we would, and undoubtably will, do it all again as we are led. The good thing about giving of yourself is that it gets easier each time. This experience kicked my butt... but I am thankful for it. I know that for the difficulty, we are stronger today.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Edwardo is back!

Saturday I left with Barbra (my much loved 25 year old daughter) and Brandon (our 6 month intern) for BeloHorizonte, a town 8 hours to the north of Itu. There we spent the night with Barbra's family - who I was amazed to find are even crazier than she is! I loved them. And on the return trip Sunday we picked up Edwardo up from Ele Clama. Ele Clama is a drug rehab program where he has just completed his treatment.

For the last three years Edwardo, or Du as we call him, has been homeless and addicted to drugs and alcohol. In these pictures, the guys from our homeless lunch were talking to him while he was still in rehab. They emphaticly insisted that when he comes back he not hang around them, because they don't want him to fall back into their lives of addiction.

Now he is takeing on an entirely new life. We will be going to meet with his family tonight. Du is pretty anxious about this. They haven't known him to be anything but trouble for years, so he has a lot of history to disprove now.

After meeting with his fam, we will come back here again. Du will spend one week at my house under my supervision before moving back in with his fam. I am helping him to make the transition from work being something he does for therapy, like he did in rehab, to just flat out having to work. His brother is going to set up a construction job for him, tonight I will find out the hours he will be working so that this week I can keep him working a comparitive schedule and giving him council as he does it. So far he has been doing yard work and fixing the fence around our garden.

Pray for all of us this week. For Du that he would take this new opportunity and run with it, and understand that it is the work of a God who loves him. For me that God would give me the wisdome to prepare him well for returning to an skeptical home. For his family that they would see the light of Jesus through the renewal of one of their own.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Youth ministry is a big big big part of what we do. Our house serves as a refuge where our kids can come as they need to during the week. They often come, just because, and this often leads into realy important talks one-on-one. We try not to let this be the only way that one-on-one talks take place though. Part of our regular ministry is to schedule 'one-on-ones' with the kids.

With Lucas, this has been a great way to introduce him to some of the basics of what Jesus is all about. With JoãoVitor, who has been a part of our core group since the begining, it has been a chance to hear more about his life, and about what elements of our group are most contributive to unity.

Beyond the listable benifits, I have learned that mentoring is an act of love. It lets our kids know they are valued, and has increased the level of trust between us. I am no expert on how to mentor, but the important element is not being an expert, it is being willing.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

the best wake-up call

mark and i woke up with a phone call early this morning
it was our friend that was missing all night
he wondered if mark was busy (at 7:30 on a saturday) and wanted to talk . . .

it was one of those phone calls that helps your heart beat normally again.

and after last night we understand Luke 15 a little more.

may He find you.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Today was one of those long tough days that you remember forever. Early this morning I was celebrating with a friend who has found new life. Now at the days end I am waiting for another friend to come back out from the darkness. I know I have not lost my friend, but I understand the following song by "The Fray"in a way I never have.
God, please bring our missing sheep home.

"How To Save A Life"

Step one you say we need to talk
He walks you say sit down it's just a talk
He smiles politely back at you
You stare politely right on through
Some sort of window to your right
As he goes left and you stay right
Between the lines of fear and blame
And you begin to wonder why you came

Where did I go wrong, I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

Let him know that you know best
Cause after all you do know best
Try to slip past his defense
Without granting innocence
Lay down a list of what is wrong
The things you've told him all along
And pray to God, he hears you
And pray to God, he hears you

Where did I go wrong, I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

As he begins to raise his voice
You lower yours and grant him one last choice
Drive until you lose the road
Or break with the ones you've followed
He will do one of two things
He will admit to everything
Or he'll say he's just not the same
And you begin to wonder why you came

Where did I go wrong, I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

Where did I go wrong, I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

How to save a life

How to save a life

Where did I go wrong, I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

Where did I go wrong, I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life
How to save a life

How to save a life

Monday, September 13, 2010

living new things

our summer camp theme this year was LIVING NEW THINGS (viver coisas novas ...

and sure enough, i recently starting living something that has changed my life, our life, and most everything we are involved in: GRAD SCHOOL!

I began my Masters In Religious Education and Leadership at Rochester College, under the directorship of Mark Love.

it has caused enormous shifts in schedule, in processing, in internalizing, in discerning, in community living.
i am convinced that when the time comes for me to graduate, i will actually have to xerox my diploma and hand it out to 40 amazing people in our community that are a part of the journey, and allow me to talk and question and answer and doubt and analyze and dream and imagine.

and you will usually find me in this position during the day:

i have learned to read in a moving car, at a Passion conference, with a full house, while i am making dinner, while i listen to music, and whatever that day brings on as a challenge. of course, i have also enjoyed the hammock =)

but i am continuously thankful for God and Mark Love.
the last 5 weeks of grad school have given me enough fresh perspective for me to chew on for the rest of my life.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Monday morning I met with my friend Vitor Hugo for breakfast. We meet every Monday to start the week off right and chat before he heads off to work. A year ago Vitor was in the drug rehab program I work with in Indiatuba. In fact, this picture shows him giving his testimony in our church shortly after completing the rehab program. Now Vitor helps run the Celebrate Recovery support group that meets in our church on Tuesdays. Vitor is taking my place as the facilitator of this ministry. I will attend as a supporting member and help him to grow into his new role.

Celebrate Recovery support group is a major highlight of my week. It's one of the truest manifestations of the Church being what it is called to be that I have ever seen, and I loved being the facilitator! But God has been opening my eyes to a major purpose of mine - mentoring. Vitor being the leader makes sense - it is calling on him to grow more, and it is another part of healthy motivation for him to stay clean. It reminds me that God isn't a three steps to success kinda God (this is not a criticism of any program), but that He invites us to a lifetime of growth and development in relationship with Him as sons. This is Vitor's chance to continue in this process.

Being aware that He is developing those around me and enabling them to take my place keeps my role dynamic too. I know that whatever role I play today may well change at His lead tomorrow, but that the constant is my good and trustworthy Leader.

We believe that God is starting something new and wonderful here - a residential rehab program in Itu that will be open to receive the attendees of our homeless lunch. Connections are being made one after the other in a supper-natural way to make this possible. We will be talking with a family soon that has a lot of land and is interested in making a donation to us for this purpose. I don't know the details behind this, but He does. Please pray that God will lead us clearly in whatever steps He would have us to take. Our God is great, may His name be praised forever!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

New things for homeless lunch

So here's a struggle I'm going through right now - there were many many amazing things that happened over the course of the last months... there are also amazing things happening right now. So while I'd like to back track and give more details, I also don't want to skip what is current - so expect a mix.

I have been reading a book called "Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life: Rethinking Ministry to the Poor." The incredible Jim Clark recommended this book to me, and if you have any interest in helping with development of the repressed I strongly recommend it to you.

This book claims that the mark of a good leader is that "when it's all over, the ones being led will say, 'we did it ourselves.'" Interesting... kind of like when Jesus sends out 70 followers to share his message saying, "the harvest is plenty but the workers are few. Pray to the Lord of the harvest that He will send workers into the harvest. Now go..." He wanted them to feel responsibility for all of the progress being made. Not just the harvesting, but even the harvesting of the harvesters.

So we have this lunch for the homeless. We've been receiving them in our home for a year now. They get a change of clothes, a shower, a good lunch and we spend time with them. It's a good ministry, but we are getting a vision for how much more it could be.

I always address the group as we gather to pray before the meal. Yesterday I told the guys that we don't want to do this lunch for them anymore, we want to do it with them. And so the lunch hour took on a whole new identity. We started a garden which will supply salads for our lunches, they trimmed our trees (this was their suggestion after catching the spirit of partnership) and helped with some of the clean up.

The amazing bit was how quickly they jumped on the whole partnership idea. It showed that we were maintaining the distance between "us" and "them" by securing our role as the "helpers" and their role as the "needy." We are going to continue to develop this, please pray that God will grant us wisdom and courage as we do. It is our hope and prayer that in the renewal of these roles they will witness the redemptive nature of Christ.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

God's been active in Itu this summer, we've been trying to keep up, and this blog has been left behind in the dust! So here is a start on the great things he is doing. We'll do this in doses.
For years we have done bilingual camps during the summer, this year we kicked off "Camp Roots", a four year sequence of camps with progressive themes.
Camp was amazing, in group and one on one, kids were drawn to worship by an awe of who God is. I saw this in my small group with Caio, a boy who didn't want to come to camp but was forced to by an exasperated grandmother. Caio began by sitting on the edges in typical teenage apathy. One day I had asked him to join into the activities of the program, but then during a time of worship I felt the spirits tug to welcome him in again. I went to where he was and said, "Caio, it's good that you're here. God is doing wonderful things and you're going to see Jesus in a new way this week, and more than program, I want to make sure you don't miss out on that."
Caio got it. He became a great part of our community within the camp, and he spoke about this transition a couple of times in group. He said, "I've never wanted anything to do with church, and I really didn't want to come here - but I think that's going to change. I want to be a part of this."

Youth group has been great since camp... and big! We have squeezed in our living room, and exploded out into the yard. We have had more fantastic worship, and spoken about not being an events based group, but having lives that are transformed by our faith daily.

Part 2 - Flashmob!!!
One of the fun, crazy activities of camp was doing a huge flashmob with the group! Our good friend and "ballerina missionary" Jackie Beth came down to help organize and teach a ridiculously cool flashmob that we did at the mall of Itu the night we came home from camp. Check out this video that Carioca put together for us -

Man I love these incredible kids!

Okay, more pictures and stories to come, check back!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

a very special family day

Our church had a family day last week. We rented a retreat center that is located on a farm about 30 minutes outside of Itu. The day was fantastic and it brought together the different families of our church in an amazing ways. I borrowed a Volkswagen van to take in addition to our car and so I was able to take some of our homeless friends. They got really scared when I showed up though. They are staying in a house that they found open and as I arrived another family was following me in a SUV. They thought it was the owner of the house coming to kick them out! They freaked and ran to gather up their stuff... and were so relieved to hear that the car was with us!

A fun thing about these events is that they serve as equalizers amongst all who come. We player soccer, ate food, sang songs, played more soccer, talked, laughed, swam, walked - as one huge Christian family. It was a great way to include those on the fringes and celebrate unity we learn in Christ. Here are a few pictures.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

a movement in the streets

We got back from Rio and it was incredible. Spending time with the families there who lost everything in the flood amazed me- but I will need to do a separate post on that.

Something is happening here in the streets of Itu that has me asking the question, 'God, what do I do with this?' We do a weekly lunch at our house for the homeless. Men and women come off the streets to eat, take a shower, get a change of clothes, and maybe a haircut. Beyond that, they come because we have become friends and they feel welcome in this home.

Every week I tell these friends that we do this for one reason: We are followers of Jesus, who teaches that there are two things of great importance, love God, and love those around you. I tell them that this is our way of loving them, and ask them to treat one another with the same kind of love while they are in our home. Beyond that we converse casually and one on one. They know that I work with a rehab program, and a support group, and that they are welcome to talk to me if they decide to pursue change.

Two of these guys in this group have been talking to me for about a month about going to rehab and starting a new life. One of them, Alermão (pictured here with Layla), followed through and We took him to rehab just before heading out to Rio. Thank God, the rehab program I work with accepted him free of charge, simply asking me to bring a mattress with me because they are out.

When I got home I heard that I had just missed another one of our friends who had hoped to jump in too. We didn't hear any more about this before heading out to Rio, but when we got back our 'son' Manu handed me a notebook with the names of three more of our friends and their document numbers, each wanting to get into rehab. Last night we drove by the bus station at about 11:30 and saw Edwardo (pictured here). He was sober, which was a shock, and he told us, "I need to get into rehab because I know that if I don't change now, I'm going to die." I have never seen Edwardo so serious and lucid. I asked him to come by the house today for us to talk more.

God is changing the homeless of Itu - I am well aware of how ridiculous that sounds. It was not our goal, we were simply trying to do what we thought Jesus might, and that was enough for us. But last night the reality of what God is doing hit me like a ton of bricks. It is bigger than me, and bigger than my resources. The rehab is pretty full, and there is a cost to taking in new people too.

Ali and I want to open a rehab program here in Itu. We have a lot of plans for it, but a wave of need is rising and we are not ready to receive it yet. We are talking to other rehab programs, looking for any opportunity we can pass on.

AGHH! Barbara (our daughter pictured below) just got off the phone with a rehab program in Belo Horizante, they will accept Edwardo free of charge!!!! God amazes me! He is changing lives that we would call lost, and opening doors we wouldn't have imagined! Pray for us that we can keep step! What a life!!!