“Se Deus quiser,” our friend Nilcéia wrote in anticipation of her arrival in Philadelphia tomorrow as part of the team of four Brazilians who will be visiting LPC. “Se Deus quiser,” literally “If God desires or wants.” We say, “Lord willing.” It is an idiom in both Portuguese and English. It is also a theological statement. Writing of our tendency to be overconfident in our own plans and designs, James says, “…you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.'” Our plans and designs are always subject to the will of our sovereign and gracious God.
So what might Deus quiser in this ten-day visit to LPC by four members of IPJA, the Presbyterian Church in the Garden of America neighborhood of Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s third largest city?
The story begins in June of 1991. I was a student at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. The Dean of Students called. Would Becky and I be willing to serve as student shepherds for an international family soon to arrive from Brazil? Their two young daughters were close in age to our two daughters. The Dean thought it might be a good match. Little did she know. Robson and Juliane became life-long friends.
Eight years later Becky and I were in Western PA and Robson and Juliane – with a third daughter added to the family – were back in Brazil where Robson, only because God so willed, had begun to plant a church in the Garden of America neighborhood of his native Belo Horizonte.
By 1999 whatever gardens had once been in the neighborhood were long gone and the dominant feature of the area was the favela, slum, drug-infested and gang-controlled, that climbs up and over the top of one of the hills that define so much of Belo Horizonte. It seemed as if God’s will was for a church to minister with, to, and for the people of Favela da Ventosa, the windy favela. And Robson needed all the help he could get.
Igreja Presbiteriana no Jardim América and Park Presbyterian Church in Beaver PA began a mission partnership that helped complete the IPJA church building but soon enough became a mutual ministry especially to the children and young people of Favela da Ventosa. I visited Belo Horizonte and IPJA for the first time in September, 2000. Becky’s first trip came in July, 2001, and there have been too many to count since then.
Robson Gomes is no longer pastor of IPJA – God’s gracious will has led him to a new church in a very different community. I am no longer pastor of Park Presbyterian church. God’s gracious will…
But what began as an invitation from a friend sixteen years ago has grown into a life-long and life-giving network of friendships and relationships that, by the will of our gracious God, still bears fruit in wonderful ways.
Arilson and I first met in September, 2000, and I spoke not a word of Portuguese nor he a word of English; somehow we became friends. We have since learned each other’s language. Nilcéia is another of our early friends from IPJA and she and Becky are the best kind of friends – a friendship that crosses barriers of generation, language, and culture. We did not meet Michael and Sara, IPJA’s young pastor and his wife, until our 2013 trip (in fact, we had met Michael ten years earlier, but that’s another story of grace). We found them to be loving and kind and faithful.
So what might Deus quiser? That’s what this visit it about. As our four friends get to know LPC and its people just a little bit, and we them, we will wonder if God might weave a network of friendships that he might use to continue to reach especially the children and young people of Favela da Ventosa. Probably not a partnership like ours in Guatemala, but a partnership of friends who pray with and for each other – who, yes, occasionally visit with each other here and there. Might God be calling us to join some of the resources of LPC, finances and talents and abilities, with some of the resources of IPJA, finances and talents and abilities, to reach into Favela da Ventosa with the light of the Gospel and the love of Christ reflected in the caring lives of his people?
We’ll be wondering what might Deus quiser. You can help by greeting our friends following worship, all three services, on Sunday and then, especially, by joining us Thursday evening, May 21, 7:00 p.m., in the Chapel, as the Brazilians share their lives, their faith, their stories, their church, and their love with us.
See you Sunday – and Thursday!
Até Domingo – e Quinta-feira!