Sunday, April 30, 2006

My walk to work

Here is a small snapshot of my week. It's been a good one, ending with around 50 guests in our worship service today. It takes around 15 minutes for me to walk the mile to ICOS from our apartment. On the way, I pass markets, farmacias, and some nice open-air restaurants. The halfway mark is very nice city park with a fountain in the center. Almost every bus in the city passes through this intersection. I pass our video store (with a new Subway inside!), and then several banks. The block before our building, there is a highschool with hundreds of students coming and going. This week, a group of guys were sitting and listening to their friend play a banjo (it's true, i promise) next to a hot dog stand. Bahian culture is like that; a little food, music, and friends are all that is required for a fun day. I arrive at the igreja and begin to think and pray about how God is inviting all the life outside to come inside. Our church is founded on the fact that God loves us all, and that he wants to be known. If we cannot communicate those facts, the problem of growth is on us. We will continue sharing our lives with groups of friends each day, and invite them close enough to hear God's voice of friendship.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

I love my wife.

This is pure unfiltered russ. I wanted to say that my life is great. Our work is growing every week. My wife knows me well enough to get me a new bottle of shampoo (have been out for a while) just to see me smile. I had home made tacos with honey and tamales from Enrique's (yesssss) and it just doesn't get better than that. Church family, I am praying that you enjoy the little things this Easter weekend. Ours has been very quiet; many people left town. We still had a great turnout for worship but Val couldn't share it because of illness. Pray for us; sickness is never fun, especially the same month you start a church. We love and miss all of our friends. Leave us a comment to share the little things that make you smile (if you mention Sonic food, we will have to spam your email). Tchau for now!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Service Number Two

Well, people have been asking, so I guess I should get around to telling about last Sunday. When asked, "how many people did you have?", my standard answer has been, "less than the week before." And it's true. It's easy to get caught up in the numbers game, which can be an emotional roller coaster. And raw numbers don't compensate for other factors (like Palm Sunday in a Catholic country!). So if you can't bear it, email me, and I'll give you the exact number, but otherwise, I'm going to try to be content from week to week.

The actual worship went well- we're all slowly getting a handle on our new responsibilities. I'm learing to run MediaShout (which is like a souped-up version of PowerPoint). Toward the end of the worship, I started letting Lauren run it. She seems to be a natural, though it will be a while before she could do it on her own. I don't mind running the slides, though part of me wishes I could be a part of the "crowd" in worship. I have to pay close attention and make the changes in time. Every so often, I get caught up in signing and forget the slide. But I'm getting better.

We're all working hard transitioning into this new phase of our work. Now that we have a building with a front door and a telephone, we've got to arrange for someone to be up there during the day. We get a fair amount of walk-in traffic, which is a testament to our location. We're also still working hard on following up on all our visitors. Several indicated that they wanted to know more about our small groups and joining our church, so we're scurrying to answer their questions. Others want to study the Bible with us, for which we're grateful. Several studies have been set up, and every week we have new opportunities. I think we'll have the hang of planning and executing our worship services just in time for the Parkers to leave on furlough at the end of the month. Then things will change once again, and we'll shift our schedules to compensate for their absence.

But there are some good things on the horizon too. We're getting a new team member, for one. I'm not referring to our intern, Paul, who's coming soon. Or to the Let's Start Talking team that's on their way in January. Nope, unfortunately this team member won't be able to carry their own weight for a while. We found out recently that Travis and Alicia are expecting! (I've been mum about it for a couple of weeks, but she posted pictures on Flickr, so I figure it's fair game!) They're due in October, and we're all thrilled for them! Alicia's having a really good pregnancy and has been able to keep up with all the inaugural excitement. Praise God, the Author of Life, for the anticipation of a new life!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Standing Out

In college, people would stop my friend Jenny on the street to tell her how much she looks like Jodie Foster. They used to stop my brother Mike to tell him he looked like Garth Brooks. I've always had many friends and family members that vaguely resemble famous people and that makes them memorable. I, on the other hand, have never been told I look like a celebrity. There's not much about me that makes them remember me if they run into me again.

But now I live in a city where I am a visible minority. My skin color, eye color and height all help people remember me.

Yesterday, as I stood at the bus stop, a woman came up to me. "Are you from that new church in Pituba, ICOS?" she asked. (ICOS is the acronym we're using for the church- pronounced E-cos.) I told her I was, and she said she'd been there last Sunday. As we introduced ourselves, she said that she couldn't remember my name but remembered me from the church. I asked who had invited her and she told me it was Jaci. (Jaci, though not yet a member, is one of our church's best advertising tools!) We visited for a couple of minutes; I found out she lives very close to us. I encouraged her to come back this Sunday and I hope she does! She obviously has some interest if she's willing to stop and talk to us! God used what I have (which in this case was brown hair, blue eyes, and white skin) to help make another connection with someone who needs Him. Please pray that Ana Claudia will return and that I will have opportunity to study with her.

While you're on your knees, please remember this week's worship as well. Our prayer is that those who were there last week will return and the people who were unable or unwilling to come last week come for the first time. We are curious and excited to see what this Sunday will look like!

Monday, April 03, 2006

A Dream Realized

It is barely conceivable that we did it. As I sit looking out my balcony on a rainy Monday morning, our first public worship service seems like a dream. This dream took four years, many thousands of dollars and even more prayers to be realized. What an awesome day.

People kept asking me how I felt after the last prayer was said. All I could say was, "My life is complete. Today is a dream come true." God filled us all with unending energy, even as the sweat soaked all our clothes. It was very legal (cool).

We know that it is barely a start, and we now have to replicate it 52 times a year. But I wanted to send up a virtual/actual "Hallelujah" and smell the roses for a second before my reality gland started working again.

Tchau for now.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Statistics (Drumroll Please...)

The Crowd
Originally uploaded by russandval.
It was a great day. We were all so busy meeting and greeting and translating for our American friends that we don't have a perfect count. But here's the general consensus (and this isn't a preacher count):

In attendance: about 300 (some say more, some say less)
True visitors (not from another CoC): about 100
Temperature in the room: a million degrees celsius
Combined weight lost from sweating: 500 pounds

Praise God for such a successful day! We had several people tell us, "See you next Sunday!" Now the real work begins. (Well, Russ and I get to spend some time this week with our visitors, Kody and Kristie Speer, who work with Eastern Hills in Athens, TX. We're so glad to have them with us!)

Thanks everyone for all your prayers!

The Crowd

The Crowd
Originally uploaded by russandval.
Here's some of the crew this morning. In the center in the purpley shirt is the infamous (and dearly loved) Jaci.

Back in the Saddle

Originally uploaded by russandval.
It was awesome to have Russ and Keith leading singing. Felt like old times. Well, it would have if our old times had been in Portuguese! But they've adapted well...

A Good Sign

The Sign
Originally uploaded by russandval.
The work continues. Still no glass. This Sunday, we may only be opening our doors metaphorically. Please keep praying about that. But good is happening in other areas...

A group of ten people from Park Plaza Church of Christ in Tulsa, OK, arrived yesterday. They have been working hard, helping us finish getting the rest of the building ready. It's great to have them all here, especially Don and Donna Millican, with whom we lived for a couple months while we were "church-hunting".

But the biggest news of the day is that our sign arrived! We now have a huge sign proclaiming our presence to the city. The sign really helps it feel like that place is home. And it works. Once the sign was up, cars kept stopping. People wanted to know about the new church. When rush hour hit, Russ and I were trying to lock up the building and had to escape between visitors! (Yes, good missionaries would have stayed, but we were exhausted and out of invitations.) Our sign is big and bold (beautiful, too, I might add!) and definitely stands out. I can't wait until tomorrow to see how many more people stop!

So that was our day. Well, there was much more to it than that, but it's suppertime, then it's back to work, trying to get our visitor packets ready. And sleep. Glorious sleep!