Moving to the Amazon
There are over 10,000 remaining communities that are unreached by the gospel in the Amazon window. Our partner at the Evangelical Mission for Assistance to Fisherman (EMAF) has strategized a way to advance and accelerate the growth of the church in Brazil, namely through the On the Waters project.
National leaders Diogo and Juliana da Hora are taking the lead on this project running a mobile floating seminary that will incorporate Christian training and missionary care for native leaders along the Purus River in the Amazon. Having recently graduated from Providence Seminary — where Diogo obtained a Master of Arts in Educational Studies and Juliana, a Master of Arts in Counselling — they are equipped for this future endeavour on the Purus.
Partners International sat down with Diogo and Juliana to talk about their preparation and growth, along with the challenges they foresee and their goals for the new season ahead.
What are the next steps for you as you transition out of school and into missions?
Diogo: For the remainder of 2019 we will mainly be moving and settling in Lábrea, maybe making a trip or two to the Purus River to get to know some of the missionaries and communities there. Our plan is to start the floating seminary in 2020, going into the bases to train leaders. EMAF is still in the process of planting churches so initially we will not be training local church leaders. Once the churches are planted EMAF missionaries identify who God is calling to lead that community, then they start discipleships and prepare the leaders for the church. After all this is established we will begin to offer these leaders more formal training once missionaries move on to plant a church in another community. There aren’t many places that have reached that stage of church planting yet. Most missionaries are in the discipling stage of this process.
How have your studies equipped you for mission on the Purus in Brazil?
Juliana: My studies focused on mental health. I learned a lot about mental health and the brain, dealing with trauma and cultural differences. These are things that are going to help a lot because the river people we will be working with have a challenging past, that has caused trauma and shame. The program at Providence has equipped me with techniques that will be very helpful for connecting to people where we will work.
Diogo: One of the last classes I took was a research course on Ephesians where I examined oral patterns in the epistles. I found many tools and resources around Bible studies that are very fitting for oral cultures to understand the Bible. We usually teach the Bible in a very textual way, focusing on exactly what it says and how to read it. This doesn’t work well with people who cannot read. One of the challenges I would have when we go to the Amazon is finding proper ways to teach these people the Bible in their own context and culture.
How has God grown you in these last few years for ministry in the Amazon?
Juliana: We are going to be giving so much and it is important to spend time with God alone or in community. Years ago, we were showing signs of burnout working for the church, now when we go back there are things we will do differently to take better care of ourselves. If you are taking care of yourself and you understand your boundaries you’ll actually get more done. This is something that we need to continually remind ourselves.
EMAF can be characterized as trailblazers, going to places where the gospel has not been heard before. What are the challenges that you will find when working on the Purus River?
Diogo: Our own cultural biases. If you think about it we are starting a brand new church in the Amazon in terms of culture, which is a really unique opportunity that comes with quite a bit of responsibility. It can be very tempting to teach the river people to do things the way we like it or the way we are used to. For example, urban cultures and river cultures in Brazil have a different concept of time. In an urban context you have to be quick and on time; however, fishing communities work by the time of the river. If they know there is going to be a school of fish around 3 am, they will wake up at that time to go fishing. After, they come home and sleep. They don’t have anything else to do that day because they already got their fish, so they have a lot of time to talk to one another and prepare their boats for the following day. Our missionaries come from the city and they always want to keep busy. There is such a different rhythm of life between the two cultures and we can’t impose our way of doing things on the river people. It’s a challenge for missionaries. We know missionaries who have actually struggled with this specifically – and missionary care was needed.
In addition to all this the river people have developed an oral culture because of the isolation and illiteracy of the community. Most of the adults don’t read. This is another cultural challenge that will affect the way we connect with and teach in these communities.
Juliana: Another challenge would be the environment. We will be dealing with things that we are not used to. I grew up on boats but my dad did everything. Pretty soon we will be driving boats around and we’ll have to learn quite a bit about mechanics, for example. If we break down in the middle of the river – which has happened before – we will need to know what to do. When we’re out there we’ll have to know how to get around and have survival skills for life on the river.
We don’t know more than them, we just know different things that we want to share with them.
Diogo: In the communities they live by what they fish and what they produce in the dry season. This is challenging for missionaries that come from the city because they have no clue how to fish there. We’ll typically bring food to the communities from the city but it would be hard to stay for long. A missionary could not survive on their own without depending on the people, in which case they become a burden. A missionary raised up from the river culture knows how to live there and will not burden the riverside people.
Juliana: I think it can actually be a good thing. The river people live in this shame culture, so going there to teach them can be challenging. When they realize that they have things they can teach us it really helps us connect with them and show that we can learn from one another. We don’t know more than them, we just know different things that we want to share with them.
What are your goals for the On the Waters project?
Diogo: Our focus is reaching the unreached. The floating seminary is for the riverside communities. We don’t want to lose this focus or become distracted with people from the city because they have already been reached. Even though we will be training church leaders of new church plants (reached communities), the idea is to help develop these new churches in order for them to effectively reach other communities that are still unreached in the Amazon. The goal of the On the Waters project is to quicken this process and advance missions in Brazil. When a church is planted and leaders are found, our training and care will help these native churches go on by themselves to carry out God’s work.
When I think about training, I would like to see the church in riverside communities, no longer referred to as isolated communities but as churches. I want to see the church among the river people integrated with the global church.
Juliana: We are aware of the gifts that God gave us. For me it’s caring for people, encouraging people, crying with them, and showing empathy. For Diogo, it’s teaching. Those are things we don’t take credit for because we know that it’s the Holy Spirit doing those things through us. We want to put our gifts into practice, in the hope that we’ll develop and make good use of what God has given each of us.
Some parents may feel the field is not ‘safe’ for raising children. Juliana, what was it like being a missionary kid?
There is no better protected place than when you are in the center of God’s will. If God is calling you to the mission field, there is no safer place for your children. He will protect them.
Juliana: I will be very honest. I understand where parents are coming from, but children get it much more than the adults. They are so malleable, we adapt so easily. I say “we” because I am thinking of myself as a kid. I had a blast! It was hard when we left — probably harder for me than anybody else because I really missed the jungle. I have to admit that it probably had a lot to do with my personality as well. When I compare myself to my sisters, they did fine in the jungle but I was always the one that loved it most. Being a missionary doesn’t always mean being in a jungle. You could be in a hostile place in the city where there is violence; however, there is no better protected place than when you are in the center of God’s will. If God is calling you to a mission field, there is no safer place for your children. He will protect them.
Diogo, you grew up in the church and gave your life to Christ at the age of 11. At what point did you sense God’s calling to the mission field?
Diogo: I was about 18. Actually, very early in my church people noticed that I had a quality for teaching after I was saved. By the time I understood my specific calling from God into ministry, I was already pursuing a teaching career. I was in my first year of college studying history and at the time I also worked in camp ministry as a cabin leader. More and more I began to realize that my interest in teaching was not just a career — it was something bigger. I realized that God was capacitating me in that way and I began to want to do more knowing that God wanted me to do more. That is when I decided that I was going to teach, not just as a school teacher but serving in ministry. I wasn’t sure how it all worked at the time. I spoke to my church pastor and he counseled me. I was willing to give up on the program I was in to go into Bible college to pursue a strict ministry career. My pastor encouraged me that I could choose both. He told me that one compliments the other because when studying theology, the study of history is very helpful. I am grateful for his advice. I ended up doing both at the same time. I was good for me because together it helped me understand what this calling was all about. I began to want to teach the Bible to people who don’t have much access to it. I was living in Sao Paulo, which is a massive city with so many ministries, workers, and churches. I felt that were were already so many people there doing the work and I wasn’t actually needed there. I knew that people elsewhere needed me. This process of understanding the specifics of this calling was long and took most of my college years – and even after I was married – to figure out. It was a slow process of understanding it, and following through as God shows me. He is still leading me in that.
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