Thursday, November 9, 2017

Nathan's Trip to Brazil

At the end of October, I had the opportunity to travel to Brazil for the first time.  It was the first time I have been in a different country than my wife and kids, and my first time visiting a country where I knew nothing of the language.  There were a few other firsts on this trip, but perhaps the most important is that it was my first opportunity to participate in one of our mission agency's international forums.
Rainy day in São Paulo
Our organization works in about 20 countries around the world.  About half of them have training centers, like Etnos, that exist to prepare local believers to join us in the work of planting churches in unreached people groups.  One of the challenges of managing so many different training programs is keeping everyone on the same page.  Our goal is that the graduates of any one of the centers can seamlessly join a team with graduates of any other center, united by shared theology, values, and ministry strategies.  In order to facilitate this coordination, our mission regularly holds forums so that leaders of the centers can meet and talk about what their programs are doing.  This year, representatives from the five campuses in Latin America met in Brazil for that purpose.

Since June, I have been serving as a member of the leadership team that oversees the Etnos training along with two Bolivian missionaries, David and Mariano.  David and I were both able to attend the forum, and we enjoyed spending nine days with coworkers from all over the world, most of whom we had never met.  Perhaps the most positive aspect of this trip was the ability to get to know other missionaries in similar ministries and chat with them about their experiences.  As it was also David's first time in Brazil and in a mission forum, it was a good shared experience for us as teammates, as well.

David expounded on a theme during the forum
One of the themes that came through very strongly in our conversations was the need for more informal discipleship of our trainees outside of the normal hours and structure of "the program."  Unfortunately, we often fall into the trap of fulfilling our "duty" of classes, counseling, and ministry responsibilities, but do not spend much time with our students outside of that environment.  Although we may be teaching good principles, disciples tend to imitate the manner in which they have been taught just as much as the material they have been taught.  If we want missionaries that take time to do life-based discipleship, that needs to be modeled here, first.

The bulk of our time was spent around this table, sharing ideas
Another strong theme ties into the last one: the need for more practice as part of training.  We already have time set aside for our students to practice the things they are learning in a variety of environments, but these tend to be structured times that are separate from the classroom.  We often teach a concept or task and then ask the students to perform it without having done it together first.  And so we are looking at how we can incorporate more demonstration and practice time into the classroom environment.

One of the challenges of the week was knowing which language to speak!  The majority of the participants work in Spanish-speaking countries (a few of us from English-speaking countries), but our Brazilian hosts speak Portuguese!  It was interesting to see what could be communicated across the language gap and what couldn't.  Generally, the Brazilians spoke Portuguese at us and we spoke Spanish at them and we got along okay, but when critical points came up, we relied on our quadrilingual coworker Barry to make sure we understood the details.
Barry translating for Kleber, the director of the program in Brazil
I didn't have the opportunity to see very much outside of the training center, but with a 20-acre campus on the outskirts of a big town, I had plenty of photographic opportunities that came to me.  My normal 6:30am wakeup was perfect to jump up and get outside just before sunrise and see what the day was going to bring.

(As usual, there are more birds/flowers/scenery photos in our Google photo album!)

David and I initially arrived on campus around midnight after a busy day of flights and airports, so I didn't have a chance to see anything before falling into bed.  Walking out the door that first morning, I was shocked to see about 10 bright red trees, called Flamboyant trees (Delonix regia)!

I was very pleased with the number of flowers and tweety birds I saw:
Great Kiskadee

Fork-tailed Flycatcher
One of my favorite moments was watching this ovenbird feeding her kids!

However, the #1 attraction for me were the buff-necked ibis.  We saw or heard them every single day as they came and went between the campus and the surrounding yards.  I got my first chance to photograph one very early in the week, but due to an error on my part (forgot to remove a lens filter), the photos I got weren't very good.
My first attempt at ibis photography ;)
I prayed all that week that I would get another shot.  I know, it's not a very "serious" prayer, but apparently God enjoys giving us the little things, because on Saturday, my last morning on campus, I had the amazing opportunity to follow this pair around for about half an hour, as they hunted for breakfast:

Saturday was a free day because we were finished with the forum but weren't leaving until the wee hours of the next morning.  I spent the day with David and a few others, wandering around the town looking for souvenirs to take back to our families.  
The only photo I actually appear in, other than the planned group photo above!

The train station