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Discovery Groups Update

Request for Prayers

I am working with several potential People of Peace. None of these have started their own Discovery Groups yet. In some cases they are going through some real struggles since they have become more interested in serving God.

I have heard people say that before they were Christians their lives were fairly calm. When they got interested in following Jesus, lots of bad stuff happened. They thought the devil was leaving them alone as long as they were on His side, but as they started switching sides, everything that was built on a foundation of sand started caving in.

Do you think this is sometimes true? I am curious, in the lives of my friends.

I write a weekly prayer letter. If you would like to sign up to pray for these startups, email me.

Jhony’s car rolled 5 times. He was not hurt physically, but financially he is taking a heavy hit.

Edilson lost his job of 20 years due to political maneuvering at his workplace.

These guys have a lot of credibility among their peers. Please pray they will get real experiences with Jesus, and that they will start Discovery Groups soon.

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Organizational Change

How do we stay relevant?

I am thinking about organizational change this week because we extended our time together in Altamira as an opportunity to have some organizational meetings.

Igreja da Vinha churches have been planting other churches since their inception. The mission has been helping them in every way we know how. The whole group is full of zealous Christians with a passion to share their faith. Introducing new or different church-planting or organizational strategies produces a variety of responses.

One strategy some of us have been studying and experimenting with is how Disciple Making Movements (DMMs) use Discovery Bible Studies as their evangelism and church planting strategy.

In our discussions I have heard pastors question whether it is easier to introduce DMM’s to existing churches, or whether it might be best to leave the existing church running and to start with DMM’s in a completely new location.

I am trying to start a DMM with some unchurched friends here in Marabá, partly as an experiment but also because I have grown to really like my unchurched friends and I wish the best for them. There are significant challenges. The lifestyle sins they seem to take for granted leave me wondering, “How will this ever work?” I believe that with God all things are possible, but we certainly need His help. I am thinking it would be easier to start with zealous Christians, even if they think differently.

Could it be that the hardest challenge for each of us is the one we find ourselves in?

Gary Best caught my attention during the InterVinha 2017 Conference. “How do you teach a person to fish? Do you send him to a university, far from rivers and water, and have him study all the variety of fish, and the various methods that have been used around the world?” The context was about teaching people to be disciples and to make disciples, but the analogy works for Organizational Change as well.

I remembered my Masters Degree studies. Our textbook for one of the semesters was 998 pages long, and it is about Organizational Change. Without any opportunities to help change organizations this book is dry reading. I now realize this school is trying to educate Organizational Change leaders. And there are no simple one-size-fits-all solutions. This is complex because of many unpredictable variables like the culture, opportunities, and people involved. I feel blessed that the Lord has given us hands-on opportunities to help organizations change and develop.

Take our mission, for example. We were one family, supported by some churches to plant Vineyard churches. Then we were four families, all friends, from a variety of cultural backgrounds. We slowly grew to become what we called a “Mom and Pop” organization. Lots of mission business was resolved around meals together. From here we opted to become a Decentralized Organization with 5 Bases, 2 registered non-governmental organizations, and two international missions, and still growing. Each Base has their own legal boards although most of us wear several hats, participating in groups other than just the Base where we live. We all represent our teams when we come to the table. We are held together primarily by our name, values, and relationships.

The local Igreja da Vinha churches are another example. We started as several smaller churches in outlying regions, and then we developed a Central Church in Altamira. A Brazilian leadership team developed. As they are growing in numbers and maturity they are wrestling with how to keep up with the changing dynamics of the organization. They are also an Association of Churches, held together primarily by name, values, and relationships.

Sometimes organizations have a strong leader who says how it is. This model works well in some situations. For example, God lead the Israelites through Moses (Exodus 14). On the other end of the spectrum, some groups develop into learning organizations. This kind of group is curious about underlying concerns, and curious about strange questions or situations that don’t make sense. What is really going on? As the underlying concerns become clear the learning organization knows how to brainstorm and seek God together to come up with best possible solutions. What might be helpful? For example, God lead the early church through Paul, Barnabas, and the early church council (Acts 15). Are you on any leadership teams? Where do you see your group along this spectrum? Do you think others in the group would agree with your assessment?

Going back to the fishing analogy, I would like to keep studying but only if it helps real people catch real fish. I plan to keep studying about organizational change with the hope that I will be helpful in God’s Kingdom.

This is really dry reading if you do not have opportunities to wrestle with organizational change issues.

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A Discovery-Style Conference

My Favorite Church Conference in 2016

MOne of the 2016 conferences in our church in Marabá was especially enjoyable. Here is why.

Fifty people from a wide variety of backgrounds gathered in small groups to study the Bible together, to learn how to behave. On Friday night it was all about questions. As our church has been in this Discovery Bible Study process for about six months, there are lots of procedural questions. Some influential young leaders are struggling with the concepts. On Sunday morning the 50 participants self-organized into 10 small groups of friends. This group is just like Bible people. Some struggle with adultery. Some are living with a partner who is not their spouse. Some are born in church. Some want to get rich. Some struggle with religion, self-righteousness, jealously, or anger. Some are fringe attenders. Some are children. They all want to be disciples of Jesus. Each group sent a spokesperson to the front, to tell the larger group what they discovered. The spokespeople retold the Bible story their own words, told the group the questions they were wrestling with, and then told the group what conclusions they arrived at. The floor was open for questions. As the facilitator, I just handed the mic around. I did not correct them, or give them deeper knowledge. For me, the process was much more important than the actual words. If this group can learn to go to the Bible for answers, they are on their way to becoming world changers.

The whole three hours was charged with laughter, cheering, and life.

Click here to read the 31 questions the group was trying to answer.

This is the group that is going to change the world.

This group did excellent work! Their question was about whether facilitators should pray at Discovery Bible Studies. Their text was Jesus’ teaching on how some people like to pray in front of others, but secret prayer is better (Matthew 6). Ronilson, in the bright blue shirt, was the spokesperson. The room erupted into questions, other thoughts, and passionate agreements and disagreements. It ended with a lot of cheering for Ronilson and their group.

Douglas, in the brown shirt, was the spokesperson for this group. This group’s question was whether addicted people could start new groups. Their text was the Pharisee and the sinner who prayed in the temple (Luke 18:9-14). Douglas got  a lot of passionate feedback after he spoke, but he held his ground well. After each question he would take the mic, look at the group, and say, “That is a good question”. Then he would pause, before he responded. It was really cool!

Quita has 5 small children. She is learning to have personal devotions. “I go into my bedroom (in a small wooden house). I turn up our big sound system so I cannot hear my children. Then I can have quiet time with God. I get goose bumps as I read the Bible because His presence becomes so real”.

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A reward of perseverance is the stories of how things used to be.


Jefferson pastors one of the bigger churches in Altamira, one that has planted several other churches. He was a teen-ager when we first met him. At the InterVinha  2017 Conference, during one of the general assemblies under the big tent, Jefferson told a couple of stories to the group.

“I remember when the only Igreja da Vinha church in Altamira was 18 people gathered in Pastor Ricardo’s garage.” I remember this very clearly. I used to pull our white 4×4 Bandeirante pickup out each week and sweep the mud off the floor. One corner of the garage was reserved for hatching chicks with a homemade incubator. Nilton and Cleuci, Clenildo and Angelita, and Elba would come with small groups that they had started. When our garage congregation got to 80 people we rented a dance hall on the river front. We had to meet early though so the revelers could fill it up later in the evening. After about a year of this we were able to purchase our Central Church property. We immediately started meeting onsite in an old building, and made improvements as we were able.

Jefferson continued.

“I remember when Angelita got malaria. I was living with them. I would do all the dishes and cook their food. Clenildo had a horse and cart. He would go out and deliver freight for people, and make enough money to buy some rice for supper. (Clenildo and Angelita now have a Toyota 4×4 they are paying off, and another one they are trying to sell.) Now look at us!”


Sometimes in the challenges of the moment we forget how far we have come, but once the story telling starts, one memory triggers another. In a later meeting, Clenildo had the microphone. “Let me tell you a story about my mare that happened right where we are meeting now, many years ago, before we had these facilities here. I was walking around after my horse trying to get a rope around her neck. Every time I got close the mare would run away. The grass was about shoulder high. My calves and angles were bleeding because this grass cuts our skin. Finally, after walking for a long time, I saw the mare again across this field, right here. I was discouraged. I prayed. ‘Please God. This would be so easy for You. Would you tell my mare to let me put this rope around her neck.’ When I looked up, the mare was staring straight at me. We stared at each other. Then the mare started walking towards me. She kept walking closer, and closer, and finally she stopped when her nose was about the length of my palm (20 cms) from my nose. I put my arms up and slid the rope over her head and around her neck. Then I looked around. I was in awe of God. I thought, ‘I have just experienced a miracle, and there is no one here to witness it’”.


Later Timoteo came up to me. “I had a story I wish I had shared with the group. Do you remember when we did our first survey trip to Altamira?” In 1995 Timoteo was a young pastor in Santarem, a city 500 kms to the West, on the next river over. Timoteo, Ross, and I drove our white Toyota Bandeirante to do a survey trip. Much of the road was 10-20 cms of very fine dust that would actually flow like water around our tires, even producing little waves, and would hang in the air for kilometers behind us, and behind other vehicles. While the road looked smooth because of this fine powder covering, underneath were many large potholes. This made for a bouncy and dusty ride, with no air conditioning. Part of the road was in a raging fire as the ranchers cleared their fields. In at least one case the flames licked around our truck as we raced through, the hitch-hikers we had picked up who were sitting in the open back of the pickup were yelling and encouraging us on! When we got to Altamira we dropped off Timoteo. He went to a government agency to get some information about the farms and ranches. Ross and I went to fuel up the truck.

Timoteo continued. “I was in the government agency when this guy comes running in to the front desk. Someone from the street shot him in the leg, and he fell in the hallway right beside me, bleeding. A gang was robbing the bank next door. They had just shot a priest in Vitória, trying to rob his payroll. They got the wrong priest, so they stole a car and were now robbing the bank. There were other people to care for the wounded man so I slipped out a side door to find you, afraid you might stumble into this mess.”

When we have a chance to reflect on how far we have come, I am filled with gratitude:

* to all supporters, who pray for and invest in young, untested leaders,
* to everyone who helped by coming on a short-term team,
* to mentors who have come back many times, and invested in friendships and phone calls,
* to everyone who has joined this team full-time for a season of full-time ministry,
* to all the Brazilians, who really are making this all happen,
* and most of all to God, who is establishing His Kingdom, which is here and not yet.

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In spite of our plans, God moves….

When we moved here in October we had a plan, so did God….they just weren’t the same.

‘We Don’t Want to Be Here, We Need To Be’

It’s a phrase we hear often now, a prayer request to be freed from the life they are living.  The women we are praying for twice a week have begun to open up to us more and more since we were robbed.  What used to take about an hour now takes more than two as the women want to spend time and share their hearts.

When we introduce ourselves to girls we haven’t met before (and there are ALWAYS new girls) one of the first things they often ask is, ‘was it you guys who got robbed?’  The story is making it’s way around and, we believe, that because we have come back they are opening up to us more easily.  

What could have scared us away has actually opened their hearts.
Before we go down we always spend time in prayer.  We pray for protection for them and us, we pray for God to go before us and we pray for words of knowledge, things that only God can know about them.  If God knows of any physical pain or illness or emotional need we ask that he would show us so that we can pray for them to be healed.
It’s always fun to see the look on someone’s face when they have been physically healed.  There have been many of these in the past month and each one immediately goes and tells someone else what just happened. There is something spiritual that happens when someone is physically healed, that persons faith is increased immensely almost instantly and their trust in God and us is strengthened.

The walls they have built begin to tumble.

One particular story stands out.  One of the days we went down I felt like someone was suffering from some kind of lower abdominal pain or infection.  When we arrived we asked the first group of girls if any of them had this issue.  They immediately said no, but that one of the other girls who usually waits with them has been in a lot of pain in her abdomen from a surgery.
But she was out with a client.  We said we would make our rounds praying for the other girls and come back.
When we came back she was there and she explained that she had had a c-section three months earlier and that the incision still gave her pain, she had to start back to work soon after the baby was born.  It was her second c-section in less than two years.
I asked her to put her hand where the incision was and prayed for it to be healed.  After praying twice she poked around and said the pain was gone.  This girl normally is very cold, she tolerates our presence there and usually allows us to pray for her but as I pray she usually stares me directly in the eyes, like she’s looking for the real reason we are there.  There was a strong distrust.
After her physical pain left her body she started to share her emotional pain with us, she opened up her heart in a way she hadn’t before.  She said she often feels that people are either hurling abuse at her or she feels invisible.  We prayed again, this time for her emotional healing, we assured her that she is not invisible to us and definitely not invisible to God.  
Before we left we gave her a copy of the Father’s Love Letter that we give to all the girls we haven’t met yet.  She said she would read it when she got home.
When we drive home we have to drive down the same road where they work.  As we passed her she was reading the letter.
The next time we saw her she looked like a different person, her face was lit up and she smiled at us with a warmness that I hadn’t seen before.  
‘I loved the letter you gave me! Thank you!’ she said beaming.
I’m not a psychologist and I don’t pretend to be an expert on what these women face every day, but I believe that they have to create an armour of defence mechanisms and that trusting people must be very difficult.
Before I left for our annual conference in Altamira Phil and I went down again to pray for them.  As we were praying for one of the girls we met on that very first day, a car stopped and someone got out.  It was another of the girls we have gotten close to.  Her face lit up and she ran over to us.
‘I didn’t miss prayer did I?  Because I want to pray for my enemies, the people who speak bad about me and who I have conflict with.  I want God to work on their hearts, and our relationships.’
We often are asked, ‘where is your church?’  I have begun to tell them we are standing in it.

Our church right now is with these women, hearing their stories, praying for them and with them, sharing the gospel with them and seeing God begin to transform their hearts.  

We are so grateful for how God is using us and blessing us with their trust to open up to us and how he is already moving in these women’s lives.  
We are praying about next steps and how we can spend a bit more time with them, somewhere away from their work environment where they are often distracted.  
One idea that the Shores of Grace project does in Recife is a banquet. Once a month they host a dinner, in an upscale hotel with a full buffet, the women and men are invited to take part and feel special.  There is worship time, someone shares a testimony and there is lots of time for prayer and conversation.  We had the blessing of being invited to one of the banquets last month.  The thing that stuck out the most to us was listening to women who have left the streets pray for and speak into the lives of girls still in that world.
We hope to have the resources to some day host this kind of event here.
We are praying for knowledge and connections and ideas for how to help those who truly want to get out.
We appreciate your prayers along side us!
Right now we feel as though we are supposed to keep doing what we are doing, keep showing up and listening and praying and showing them the unconditional love of the Father.


You may notice that our updates are a little void of imagery these days. For obvious reasons we don’t bring anything valuable to the streets when we go, just ourselves and our prayers.  I also don’t want to, in any way, disrespect the women we are working with who are quickly becoming people we love.  One day, when they are on the path to freedom I hope to have photos of their graduations or weddings or other triumphs.  So for now, you’ll have to paint the images in your heads.  I hope you understand.
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Intervinha 2017 Regional Conference with Gary and Joy Best

I had the joy and privilege of spending a week with my Brazilian family and friends in Altamira last week.  The only down side was that my family stayed behind in João Pessoa.  We are finding the cost of flights makes it difficult for us to stay connected physically with the rest of our mission and church as they are more than 2,000km away.

This years theme for the conference was ‘Naturally Supernatural’ and we were so blessed to have Gary Best and his wife join us as the speakers.  Gary was part of the founding fathers of the Vineyard in Canada was was the national leader for many years.  He shared with us God’s desire for us to partner with Him in what he is doing, looking for where heaven is already breaking through and joining him in his work in those times and places.  He spoke too, of servant leadership and that our whole point as Christians is to ultimately be ‘little Jesus’’ here on earth.

It was a pleasure to meet and spend time with him and his wife and my beloved Brazilian and missionary family.

Prayer Requests

Prayer Requests
Please pray with us for….
A team!  We need people and resources here in Joao Pessoa to help us move along with our ministry and church plant 
Pray for our kids as they continue to transition and study in a foreign language
Pray for provision for our ministries and in country travel to remain connected to our Vineyard family

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First Aid Training

Dr. Dave Keseg taught about primary first aid.

Dr. Dave’s came from Ohio to provide first aid training. “Thank you!”

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Prayer Request

Erica needs complete healing.

Milton is the leader of Igreja da Vinha in Brazil. His wife Erica has cancer. Will you join us in prayer for complete healing for Erica.

Elba, Joy and Gary Best, Milton, Clenildo

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The Mission bought an overrun ranch in the 1990s.

We (the mission) bought a run-down ranch in 1999. It used to be beautiful, with cattle, cacao, and coffee. The owner was one of the first mayor’s of Altamira but after he died this property was slowly overrun with jungle again. I heard that this house is older than the city of Altamira, and one of the early buildings in the region many years ago.

This building is about 100 meters behind the tents where we had our InterVinha meetings. This property has since been turned over to the Association of Vineyard Churches in Altamira, and they take care of the upkeep and management of the property now.

This photo was taken in 1999, when some of us walked through what is now our church camp.

There are still coffee beans if you know where to look.

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InterVinha Conference 2017

This year Brasil had two InterVinha events, one in Southern Brasil, and one here in the Amazon, in Altamira. About 300 leaders and representatives from many of the Northern Region Vineyards participated. Gary and Joy Best, the retired founders of the Vineyard Church in Canada, were the guest speakers.

Joy Best has the women break up into groups to tell their stories to one another.

Logan and Justin Wilson come home for a few weeks. They are both in university in Columbus. Leandro, far left, was part of our (Bergens) neighborhood Sunday School class in 2002 and on. This Sunday School class eventually grew to become the Mirante Church.

Gary Best talks about practical aspects of long-term ministry with the men. “You can ask any question you want.”Miguel (Jonatas) Campos translated for this session.

The women’s sleeping quarters.

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