Our Brazil Mission Team leaves for South America on Monday, July 17, still ten days away. As they travel, the team members will be under the able leadership of Brian Jennings, since Becky and I won’t be with them on their flight. We will be in Brazil awaiting their arrival. Becky and I are leaving for Brazil this coming Wednesday and will make a stop in a small city north of São Paulo before taking a short flight to Belo Horizonte to be in town in time to greet the rest of the team as they arrive for the week of mission and ministry; learning, encouraging, and engaging.
For four days we will be in Hortolândia enjoying an amazing friendship with Renato and Karem. We first met Renato in 2004 and Karem a year later. Renato, then a young Presbyterian elder, along with his pastor and another elder, had made a nine hour overnight car trip from Hortolândia to Belo Horizonte for a two hour meeting where we would discuss congregation to congregation mission partnerships. They were hoping I might be able to do some matchmaking between their church and a church in the United States.
After a couple of dates that didn’t go so well, we were able to introduce Igreja Presbiteriana Betânia to a church in Virginia that caught the vision of the power of Christians working together across the divides of language, country, and culture. The rest is history, as they say. Except not quite.
As part of the courtship process between churches, Becky and I visited Hortolândia on a couple of occasions, and during each visit we spent time with Renato and Karem and their three sons. Over the course of just a few precious days a year apart, a friendship grew, a friendship that seemed not to care about the divides of language, country, and culture; a friendship rooted in our common faith in Christ and marked by easy conversation – even as Becky and I struggled with our Portuguese, lots of laughing, and the wonderful sort of understanding only good friends know.
Renato and Karem are planning a full time for our four days together. We are going to tour historical sites and an artisans fair full of handcrafts and other works of creative hearts and hands. We will visit with some other folks from Hortolândia we have gotten to know over the years. But mostly, and best of all, we will enjoy what has become a beautiful friendship.
Sometimes a friendship surprises, and ours with Karem and Renato is one of those wonderfully surprising friendship. Somehow in the rocky soil between language, country, and culture this friendship took root and now flowers in colors both bright and subtle.
Sometimes a friendship surprises. One of my prayers for the team’s trip to Belo Horizonte and Igreja Presbiteriana no Jardim América is for the seeds of surprising friendship that will be planted around the edges of our work, in the rocky soil between language, country, and culture.
I am surprised over and over again by the ways, sometimes bright and sometimes subtle, God uses friendships to work his purpose in our lives and in the life of the whole world. Thank God for friendships – friendships over the years and those soon to surprise.