By: Rev. Lew Stier, Associate Pastor of Outreach
This week in place of the usual pastor’s blog geared toward the upcoming weekend message, and since we will be having a guest preacher from Concordia University Ann Arbor, Pastor Justin asked me to write about my trip to Brazil earlier this month.
I was accompanied on this trip to Brazil by Mark Schroeder because he is the most informed Trinity member concerning this mission and was there when it was first designed and implemented over 16 years ago. Aside from visiting with our missionaries Pastor Paulino and Isabel Ratund, we had a three-fold purpose for this trip.
First it was a “fact finding” mission to get a better understanding of exactly what it is we now support in this mission effort in Brazil. The second was to reconnect with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (IELB) and make an attempt to enlist them into an agreement for financially supporting this ministry being carried out in their own country. The third was to determine what time frame Pastor Paulino was considering for retirement from the ministry.
We heard a lot of the history from when this effort was conceived in the year 2000. It all started with a “Medical Mission” trip to serve indigenous Indian villages. There was a lot of discussion on what could be done. What finally emerged from all the talk and planning was a mission effort known as the Samaritan Project.
The IELB operates with both “projects” and “missions.” Projects are social ministry efforts such as we do here at Trinity. They meet the basic needs of people while we serve as the hands and feet of Jesus—living out the Gospel through deeds. The intent is not to make people Lutheran—it is Lutherans being Jesus to a group of people.
Missions are more formal evangelizing programs designed to establish church congregations in particular areas through Gospel proclamation and doctrinal instruction. The intent is to establish truly Confessional Lutheran congregations.
I believe Trinity has the view that we support a Mission Pastor who has a specific mission in Brazil. In all actuality, Trinity supports a “Project” that has a Pastor who ministers to indigenous Indian villages in Brazil. Trinity supports the Samaritan Project and it received its name from three Gospel stories.
One is the Samaritan women Jesus encountered at the well (John 4:10). The second is the Good Samaritan who met the human needs of a wounded man (Luke 10:25). The third is the one leper who returned to thank Jesus for cleansing him, and he was a Samaritan (Luke 17:11-19)
Therefore the Project has three supporting pillars. One is to speak about the life giving water offered through a relationship with Jesus. The second is to meet the physical needs of people through our Christian actions. And the third what is the result of our actions and God’s unlimited grace. All is based on how the Gospel when proclaimed changes people’s lives eternally.
Currently, Trinity sends $64,000.00 each year from the Missions Budget as directed by the Board of Outreach. We have been doing this for over 16 years. This funding is the only funding the Samaritan Project receives. IELB does not financially support this project. This is an agreement between Trinity and Pastor Paulino.
In fact IELB does not offer any oversight or direction for the project. In their own words, “they do not want to interfere with what Trinity does.” IELB receives our money twice a year, facilitates the exchange rate, and then disperses the funds to Pastor Paulino on a monthly basis.
Pastor Paulino has full discretion on how, when, and where the funds are spent for the Project. The only thing IELB does regulate is the amount of salary Pastor Paulino receives. He is paid on a scale the same as other Brazilian Lutheran pastors are paid.
Over the years two Indian congregations were established - one in Anastacio and one in Aquiduana and are now recognized as IELB congregations. Pastor Paulino was their first pastor of both congregations. But the Project kept its vision going—to reach even more of the Indian villages. Pastor Paulino began visiting a third village in Cachoeirinha and with the help of Trinity volunteers and special funding a third church was built.
Three churches were going to be too much work so Pastor Paulino asked IELB to supply a pastor for the first two congregations so he could minister to the third and start looking to work with a fourth Indian village. IELB agreed and sent a Pastor Laudermar Gunsch to shepherd the two original congregations. IELB does now partially financially support those two congregations and considers them to be of the “Mission” category.
Pastor Paulino is stationed at the church in Anastacio and still lives in its parsonage, but now just serves the Indian village in Cachoeirinha where he travels to on Thursday and returns home on Sunday afternoon.
I was able to preach at the church service for this third congregation and the service was held outside in the evening. That was not a great idea because the bugs got so thick, and the sound of the cicadas was overwhelming. But even they tried something new.
We also had a children’s festival earlier in the day because they celebrate “Children’s Day” in Brazil. I was able to play volleyball with some of the children and joined them in their special learning time.
I spent time answering questions from the adults who were really interested in me and my family and church. Unfortunately my phone died when I was showing them pictures from home. It really is not that hard to communicate some things even if we did not speak each other’s language.
On another day I walked around the village of Anastacio with Pastor Laudemar and we stopped in to visit some of the local church member families. Again I was the only one who did not speak any Portuguese and we got along just fine.
The trip was topped off with a visit to a regular IELB church in Bonito on Saturday night—a much more formal Lutheran service and I was asked to preach the message that night as well. I was well received and really blessed to be part of the service. It too was geared toward the children, and my message was centered on how precious children are to Jesus.
I had a spur of the moment idea before the message. We were talking about the story of the children wanting to come to Jesus but the disciples shooed them away. Jesus told his disciples to allow the children to come to him, and then he took them up in his arms and blessed them (mark 10:16).
I thought, with the Holy Spirit’s urging of course, I should not just talk about what Jesus did but I should end my message by acting that out—being Jesus to the children. So I asked Isabel if the children would respond if asked to come up and she said, “Do it!” So I did.
I invited them to come up for a blessing and I had a line of about 25 children come up and receiving a blessing in English. I am certain the Holy Spirit translated that blessing and allowed it to be received in their hearts. That is what brothers and sisters in Christ do.
We do not let racial or social or political barriers come between us. No, we stand together in the presence of Jesus and in one voice, yet with many languages, we praise our God for the gifts he has given to us to share with the world and we proclaim in one loud voice Jesus is our Lord and Savior for all eternity.
Thank you Trinity for this great blessing and thank you for allowing me to carry on this ministry and mission in our own community, across our country, and even to the ends of the earth.