Friday, July 27, 2018

She Trusted Us?

On a recent outreach, we returned to one of our usual places. It's a massage parlor that we've been going to since the beginning of our ministry. We've known one of the ladies there for years and we've had numerous interactions with her, but she never really seemed interested in talking too much. She's usually busy with a customer. Yet something special happened this time. For whatever reason, she opened up and began to share her entire story with us. It was the longest conversation we've ever had with her. I was amazed at the number of hardships she faced in coming to the United States, including paying off a massive debt. Now she is an American citizen and her family is living here too! It's incredible what some of these women go through just to try and make a life for themselves. We recently trained two new volunteers and we are looking to add more. If you are interested in supporting our efforts to reach the ladies in the massage parlors, you can visit the Beautiful One page on our website.

Hasn't Everybody in the USA Heard of Jesus?

There were dozens of children enjoying the activities and face painting we provided, but one girl stood out. She was a nine-year-old girl of Chinese descent who wanted more than the fun and games. She wanted to talk. One of our volunteers named Kimberly sat down with this little girl to discuss the gospel, and this is what Kimberly had to say about the experience...

"When I found out that this little girl had never heard of God or Jesus, I sat down with her and we went through one of the Children's booklets called "The Way to God" in its entirety. I took the time to answer all of her questions and even ended by praying with her and recommending that she try and attend a nearby church. Now my prayer is that the Lord would bring others into her life to water the seeds than have been planted!"  

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Blessing the Prisoners

"Thank you so much for coming." said one of the prisoners before returning to his cell. "You guys showed us a fresh presentation and demonstration of the gospel."

What incredible words to hear from an inmate. They've had other ministries come to the prison, but it usually just consists of someone preaching a gospel message. This is all good and wonderful, but we saw that these men had a need to have love demonstrated to them. As we began our worship set, singing about the love of the Father, many of the men started weeping. One man in particular began to wrap his arms around himself, as if he was giving himself the hug he had never received. Tears were streaming down his face. The men on our team started to go around and give the men a loving embrace along with words of encouragement. They were so receptive and grateful. This display of love helped them open up to us about their lives and allowed us pray for them and share more about the Lord with them. 

We also went to a women's prison but, due to logistical issues, they were not allowed to come out of their cells and mingle with us as we ministered to them. Instead, we went in front of their cells, worshiped, and gave an individual gospel presentation to each group of ladies. It will be hard to forget the desperation and appreciation in their eyes. They are women who were desperate for change, and they were grateful to have a group of American's travel so far just to bless them with music and the hope of the gospel message. 

The people we met in these prisons may be hardened criminals, but God knows how to touch the soft spot of their hearts. He is so committed to rebuilding broken lives!

Worship at the Rooftop Bar

We knew it was a long shot, but after many years of faithfully ministering at the brothels, Tio Pedro was gutsy enough to ask the manager if we could do a worship set on the roof of the brothel. Surprisingly, she said yes! It was all of God's favor, and what an amazing night we had!

On the roof of the brothel is a bar with an open patio area that overlooks the city. This is where the men come to get drunk before or after being with the women. It's the last place you'd expect to hear worship, which makes it the perfect place to go and proclaim the King! 

All of our songs that night were focused on declaring the character and majesty of God. As we worshiped, we also sent teams of people down into the brothel to minister to the women who were working. The worship shifted the atmosphere and prepared the way for the gospel to be shared with the ladies in their rooms. 

One might think that the management might get upset with us or ask us to stop, but the woman running the bar that night actually demanded that we keep worshiping. She loved what we were doing, and even said she would have us back to do it again! How incredible is that?!

Even more remarkable is how some of the men reacted to our worship. One man arrived right as we were getting started. It didn't take long before he started tearing up and getting on his knees seeking forgiveness. At the end he said, "I came here to get drunk and see the ladies as I always do... I had no idea I was going to church." 

This just goes to show that God is able to open up unique ministry opportunities in the most unsuspected places! 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Testimonies from our 5th Annual Gay Pride Parade

On June 24th we completed our 5th annual outreach to the Gay Pride Parade.

Why? Why do we keep going back to the parade every year? To put it simply, the Gay Pride Parade is an environment of deception, and it is exactly those places where Jesus went to minister truth, healing, and freedom!  So we believe that's where the "church" should be because we bring His love and light into darkness. That's why we go.

Outreach at the Gay Pride Parade isn't easy. You see things you wish you didn't see and hear things you wish you didn't hear, and you have a lot of very sensitive and difficult conversations. Yet, in spite of all of this, God has been faithful to open up some tremendous opportunities to discuss the nature of God, the gospel, and the wisdom of God's sexual ethic with the people we meet at the parade. So, yes, the parade is always very difficult, but it's also always very good. And it is worth a few hours of discomfort if it means you can share the saving message of Christ with people who are perishing.

We had a small team this year (only 7 people total), but we were able to engage about 30 people with our surveys, getting their opinion on a wide variety of questions pertaining to human sexuality. Conducting these surveys serves as an easy, non-confrontational way to initiate conversation with people and it helps them open up to us as we try to steer the conversation back to the things of God.

Here's three quick testimonies of good interactions we had this year:

1 - The Pain Behind His Self-Perception
One of our volunteers names Audley was doing a survey with a transgender man (biologically male, but identifies as female). When Audley asked him questions about his family relationships and family history, the man broke down and disclosed to Audley that he was raped by his father when he was nine years old. He recognized that this traumatic experience had an impact on his own self-perception and his own experience of gender-dysphoria. He was noticeably broken and still hurting from what his father had done to him. He continued to tell Audley that he has been seeing a psychiatrist to help him deal with this painful experience, and then he actually gave us his phone number and asked us to reach out to him because he wanted to talk more with us! How remarkable is that?!? Audley and I will definitely be reaching out to him this week so we can help him through his pain.

2 - Addressing Misconceptions 
One of the longest discussion I had this year was with a man named Sean. He asked us why we were doing these surveys and I explained that we are out here because we've noticed that there is a tremendous lack of communication between the Church and the LGBT community, and so we come to the Pride Parade every year to initiate conversations with people to learn more about their experiences and what they believe while trying to share our beliefs with them. He was pleasantly surprised by this answer, but then, after giving it some thought, he said, "If you guys are out here to talk with people and help those who are hurting, that's great... but if you're out here trying to save people from their sexuality, then I am going to have some serious problems with you." I thought to myself, "Save people from their sexuality?? Um... that is NOT what we are out here to do..." So I asked him if he would give me a few minutes to speak into that. I went on to explain that he does not need to get "saved from his sexuality", he needs to get saved from sin and the judgement that is coming because of his sin. I explained that God is not trying to eliminate our sexuality. After all, human sexuality and gender were God's idea in the first place, so God doesn't want to take that away from us. Rather, he wants to teach us how it is that he intended for us to function as sexual beings, and that, ultimately, we must submit our sexuality to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

3 - He Came Back to Learn More!
There was another man named Richard, who identified as a "straight man". Even though he was not LGBT, he was just out at the Parade to enjoy the festivities. But he did tell us that due to the popularity of the LGBT community and all the friends that he has who are LGBT, he is thinking about experimenting with men and possibly becoming more bi-sexual (it was sad to see how the LGBT ideology was influencing Richard to experiment with sexual sin). He also told us that, even though he is not a Roman Catholic, he is currently attending a Roman Catholic College, and that he has been required to take a few theology classes. He knew some of the basics about Jesus and the Bible so we had a good discussion about Jesus' position on sin and homosexuality. It didn't seem like he was very receptive to what we were saying, so after he left I was a little discouraged. I just wasn't sure if anything we said would stick with him. But then, about 10 minutes later, he came back over to me and said, "Hey can I get your contact information? I really enjoyed our conversation and I think I want to learn more about Jesus and Christianity." At first I was speechless... I didn't think anything we said had gotten through to him, and now he's asking me to learn more - awesome! So I gave him my business card with my cell and email on it, and I also gave him the information form my YouTube channel so he could go and watch some of the videos. I told him to call me if he has any questions. I really hope to hear back from him!!

Overall, it was another good year at the NYC Pride Parade. Thanks for praying!

Trusting God and Leaving the Brothels: The Story of Fabiola's Faith

During our trips to Brazil, we reach out to a variety of people in a variety of ways. We go to prisons, favelas (slums), rehabs, and the crowded city streets of Belo Horizonte, but our main focus every year is reaching out to the women who work in the brothels. Over the years, we've seen many come out of prostitution and give their lives to the Lord, and some have even become missionaries. The transformation we've seen is remarkable. It's only explanation is God. I am grateful for the opportunities I've had to serve and care for these women. It has truly been one of the greatest privileges of my life.

One of the biggest and most famous
brothels in Belo Horizonte
We went into the brothels one morning to host a breakfast for the women who were working the night shift, to provide some nice food for them right when they got off work. We brought all the food into a small side-room near the front desk of the brothel. Once we got everything set up, we went to invite the ladies.

It's a heartbreaking environment in the brothels. The hallways are narrow and dimly lit with rooms on either side. The women stand naked in the doorways of their rooms, presenting themselves to try and attract potential customers as men walk up and down the hallways and essentially go grocery shopping for women. When a man finds a woman he wants, he goes into the room, pays her, does with her as he pleases, and then the process starts all over again. It is a horrifically dehumanizing experience for the ladies, which is exactly why we make the effort to reach them with the Lord's love and compassion.

As we walk the hallways to invite them for breakfast, many of the ladies will grab a towel to cover themselves. They know we are from the church, which can make them feel embarrassed to be in our presence. But we just look them in the eyes and greet them with a warm smile, paying no mind to their nude or scantily clad bodies. We refuse to treat them the way others do, and, as a Christian man, I refuse to look at them the way their customers do.

Some of our team members evangelizing
the men outside the brothels
After the first round of invitations, several women gratefully joined us for breakfast. We sat and talked with the women as they came in and out. It wasn't too eventful until one lady grabbed me, another girl on our team named Yudy, and our translator, Gaby, and asked us to come into her room to pray for her. It was obvious that she wanted privacy. I knew something interesting was about to happen.

Her room was small, with just enough space for a twin-sized mattress and a sink. After we crammed into her room, she closed the door and locked it. She then turned, sat on the bed, and introduced herself. "My name is Fabiola." she said, "and I want you guys to pray for me." When Gaby, our translator, asked her what she wanted prayer for, she looked at her with tears in her eyes she said, "I went to Church on Sunday and when I was there I decided to trust God and leave the brothels." We were stunned, but we quickly responded with positive words of encouragement and affirmation, letting her know how happy we were for her and that we supported her in this decision.

Fabiola was now sobbing. It seemed like this was the first time she had told anybody about her decision to leave the brothels. She was experiencing a lot of emotions that manifested themselves in tears. It was a mixture of joy, relief, and trepidation. She was joyful to share this good news and confide in us, and she was relieved to finally be leaving a profession that exposed her to some of the most horrendous experiences imaginable. But she was also experiencing feelings of fear and apprehension about her future. After all, what is a woman with little or no education that has been working as prostitute supposed to do to support herself and her family? 

These were the thoughts running through her head, so we seized the opportunity to encourage her with the promises of God's word and other scriptures about God's faithfulness. I told Fabiola that I was honored to be in her presence because she was a woman who was brave enough to trust God with her life. And after talking with her for a while about the trustworthiness of God, I remembered the passage from Exodus chapter 6 and the prayers I had been praying in preparation for the trip.

I asked her if she was familiar with the story of how God saved the Israelites. She said that she used to go to Church when she was younger, but had forgotten the story. So I took some time to remind her of the oppressive slavery that Israel experienced in the land of Egypt and how God delivered them from slavery and brought them into the Promised Land. I explained that God had compassion upon the Israelites and that he exerted all of his power to deliver them from their bondage so that they would know that He is the one true God and serve Him the rest of their days. Then I told her, "Fabiola, this is the same God that you are calling upon, and He is able to deliver you and lead you into a better life, just like He did for the Israelites. All you have to do is trust Him and follow Him one step at a time."

"I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burden of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great acts of judgement I will take you to be my people and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord, your God, who has brought you out from under the burden of the Egyptians." (Exodus 6:6-7)

Every building on this street is a brothel
She was weeping. Our words seemed to wash over her and God alleviated every fear and anxious thought. I was also starting to tear up at this point. I couldn't believe God allowed me to be there with Fabiola to encourage her. I didn't know it until that moment, but all those prayers we had prayed to see God deliver women from prostitution - those prayers were for her! God's been pursuing Fabiola, and now she's redeemed. Our translator took her phone number so that they could stay in touch, and now the Church is starting to come around Fabiola to help her in this time of new beginnings. By the end of our time together, Fabiola eyes were filled with life, and she had the biggest smile upon her face. It was as though God sent us there that morning because his new daughter, Fabiola, needed some support and encouragement. 

Words cannot capture that moment. I cannot explain what an incredible honor it was to be with Fabiola in that moment and see first hand the work that God is doing in her life. I am truly humbled by God's power and Fabiola's faith, and I am so grateful to God to be His servant.

Fabiola has a long journey ahead of her. It's not going to be an easy journey, but I am confident that God will prove himself faithful. Please pray for Fabiola, that she would keep her eyes fixed on Jesus, the "author and perfecter of her faith" (Hebrews 12:1-2).