John and Jan Oakes traveled July 10-Aug 5 to teach for churches in Buenos Aires, Asuncion, La Paz, Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Below is a report on the 24 day teaching trip.
Report on Missionary Teaching Trip
Buenos Aires, Asuncion, La Paz, Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. July 11-Aug 5, 2014
Buenos Aires, Argentina, July 11-14
In Buenos Aires we are visiting a church of about 100. They are led by Sebastian and Sarai Serra. The church here has grown from 25 to 100 since they came here five years ago. They went through a very challenging time here 2004-2009, but the church definitely is getting back on track. Also, Steve and Diana Brown are here from Nashville to support the church for nine months. They were on the original church planting team here back in the late eighties. There is much need for their experience and encouragement.
Buenos Aires is a beautiful city of about 15 million in a country of about 44 million. It is the most European city in the most European country in South America. The Spanish nearly eliminated the native population here in the seventeenth century and did not colonize the area as much as some other parts of their empire. For this reason, although Spanish is the language here, the national background here is as much Italian and German as Spanish. The culture is an admixture of Spanish, Italian and others. This is a country that loves its monuments and statues, as well as its literature and culture and, above all, its soccer (futbol). We happen to be here as the final of the World Cup is played, with Argentina as one of the teams in the final. The level of excitement is like nothing we have seen. We are blessed to share in the excitement.
On Friday PM and Saturday afternoon I taught for about three hours on Church History. Steve Brown did the translation. About 45 attended on Friday and about 35 on Saturday. We were blessed to tour this beautiful city, spending time in the area called Boca, with wonderful shops and old buildings. This is the cradle of the polka. We shopped at a ferria—a place of many wonderful artisans. We spent time with Walter and Mara who are from Paraguay. They took us to the seaport area where we had some wonderful local food. They are a great help to the church here. The church is mostly married families, with only a few singles and no campus group to speak of. One need of the church here is for people from outside who would be willing to reestablish the campus work here. They would welcome help from a couple who would want to take this work on, or perhaps recent graduates to take the one year challenge to help the church here. Another need that the members suggest is for more deep teaching from the Bible. This is a fairly intellectually-oriented country and the people desire such teaching. In the evening we have dinner and some very encouraging fellowship at the house of Pancho and Cecelia. They are a very influential couple in the church here. Pancho had a stroke just six weeks ago, yet he is having us into his home. We really feel loved.
We met three sisters, all named Marta. They are great friends and lead the “Naomi” group, serving, evangelizing and helping people to grow in their faith. What great hearts these sisters have.
On Sunday I taught a lesson from Hebrews 11, “Living by Faith.” There are about one hundred in attendance. They church is very enthusiastic. They are very friendly. Their service focuses on prayer and on praising God. The enthusiasm for today’s final of the World Cup is palpable, as Argentine is in the game. In the afternoon we watch the game with many of the members. We can hear people cheering all around. They love their team. When Germany scored in the 115th minute, spirits were deflated, but all agreed that they are proud of their country.
Iguazu Falls, Argentina and Brazil July 14-16
We traveled from Buenos Aires to the Argentine side of Iguazu Falls. The falls are on the border between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay on the Iguazu River. We are celebrating our 30th anniversary so are taking some time to vacation. The falls are the largest in the world—over three kilometers across. The amount of water makes Niagara Falls look small by comparison. It is incredibly beautiful here with semi-tropical rain forest and a fantastic variety of plants. We spend one day on the Argentine side of the falls and two days on the Brazilian side touring the falls and enjoying the scenery. There was a recent 100 year flood which took out some of the walkways for viewing the falls. The water is still quite high. From here we traveled through Sao Paulo to Asuncion, Paraguay.
Asuncion, Paraguay July 17-18
We are met by our good friends Francisco and Liz Bedoya. We have bumped into them in Guatemala, Mexico City and Los Angeles. It is kind of like where’s Waldo. They are doing very well after five years here in Paraguay. They have amazing hearts for God’s people. The church here was down to about thirty when they came, but is now about eighty-five. The church is very exciting to us. There are so many young people. The church is somewhat like the country in that it is dominated by the young. Unlike Buenos Aires, were over half are not from Argentina, here almost all the church members are from Paraguay. This would be a really perfect place for someone to take the “one year challenge” or to move here to work with the teens and campus as the group is very lively and are so open to growing. Please consider this option.
Paraguay is an unusual country in several ways. It is landlocked since losing a war to Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. Poor Paraguay. The country is largely scrub in the West, and it is fairly sparsely populated. The entire country has about seven million people, with one million in Asuncion, the capital. The main export is beef. There are twelve million cattle in a country of seven million people! The East is largely agricultural, with a lot of wheat and soybeans. The money here is called guaranies—after the principal native peoples from the area. The country has not had good governments through most of its history, unfortunately. There is a lot of corruption here. Due to inflation there are 4200 guaranies to the dollar. Yet the people seem relatively happy. Despite the non-democratic political situation, the country is fairly stable and there is a good amount of financial freedom, so the country is beginning to grow economically. This is a country of big rivers—the Parana in the East and the Paraguay in the West. As we fly in we see massive flooding, with many houses and fields covered with water. It was much worse a few weeks ago. We love the food here. It is not hot-spicy, but there is a great variety of specialties such as empanadas. Of course, everyone drinks matte here. You see them with their gourd cups and their communal straws.
La Paz, Bolivia July 17-19
From Asuncion, we fly through Santa Cruz, Bolivia to La Paz. Our flight is at 4:00, so we have to get up at 1:30 after going to bed at 12:00. They should have gotten a cut rate at the hotel! The distance is about 1500 miles. We arrive in La Paz quite tired and are met by David Pineda. The flight into the city is beautiful, with huge, snow-capped mountains. The airport is at 13,200 feet of elevation. This is the highest elevation large city in the world. The setting is magnificent, with the city in a valley crawling up large mountainsides. La Paz is the capital of Bolivia, with about three million inhabitants in a country of 12 million. Both are estimates, as no successful census has ever been done in the country. The culture here is really unique. The women wear very colorful clothes with high bowler hats. Each different region has different colors and different styles of clothing and hats. It is very exotic. The people are unusually friendly here.
The church we are visiting is led by David and Jessica Pineda. I know David from time in Panama. He and his wife came here last August. In the last two years the church as grown from 35 to 70. There is also a church in Santa Cruz which is a bit larger than the one we are visiting. The Christians here are excited about their Christianity and have great vision. The church here in Bolivia has extensive HOPE programs to help the poor in this city, of which there are many, as Bolivia is a very poor country. Kevin and Noelle Broyles have been here for three years overseeing a hospital and establishing a clinic. Kevin retired early from his career as a doctor to serve as a medical missionary. They have amazing hearts for the people of Bolivia. Unlike Argentina and Paraguay, the majority of the population is of native descent. Until recently, the indigent people were terribly persecuted and not given financial freedom, but with the new president, the situation for the indigent population is finally starting to improve. The president has a third grade education and is socialist and a friend of Cuba and Venezuela. The politics is interesting here.
On Saturday I taught a class on Acts and Church History for the church, with about fifty in attendance. We are suffering from a bit of altitude sickness, plus a cold. It is fairly cold here. There was snow on the ground when we landed, but whenever the sun shines if feels wonderful. On Sunday we took a tour of the city, including spending time at the San Francisco Cathedral. The streets here are very steep. There are people everywhere. The architecture is really amazing, with churches from the 1600s and many colonial homes. From the Killi Killi lookout point we can see a panorama of this beautiful city, as well as the highest mountain in Bolivia at over 21,000 feet. Spectacular! At the cathedral we observe a family dedication with a brass band and piles of flower pedals poured on the family by their friends. It is really an amazing event to witness.
In the afternoon I was able to teach a class on God and Science for the church. There are about 90 in attendance, with a good number of visitors. The songs are inspiring and the love and family atmosphere is very encouraging here. All services are in both Spanish and English. I am translated by Raul who is perhaps the best translator I have ever had. After a dinner of salzitas with the Broyles and our new friends Larry and Lea Wood, we are exhausted, but ready for our next adventure.
Cuzco and Maccu Piccu July 20-23
We traveled from La Paz to Cusco, Peru. We were blessed to see Lake Titicaca from the air. This is the highest large lake in the world, at nearly 13,000 feet, on the altiplano where Peru, Bolivia and Chile meet. Cusco is the ancient capital of the Inca and was established as the capital of New Spain in 1538. It is a beautiful colonial city of 600,000. It is at 11, 500 feet, so it is quite cool here and the air is very thin. Today, it is largely a city of tourism, as it is the gateway to Machu Picchu and the other cities of the heartland of the Incan Empire. Here we visit the Cusco cathedral and Sacsayhuaman, which is a massive temple and military complex with massive stones, up to 13 feet tall, fit together so tightly that a knife cannot be fit between the stones, weighing thousands of tons. It is almost impossible to imagine how these massive stones were carved to fit perfectly using hand tools and carried miles to their position.
From there we traveled down to the Urumbamba valley, formed by the Urumbamba River. It forms a stupendous gorge more than three thousand feet deep. Descending into the gorge we enter the jungle to stay at Aguas Calientes. From there we take a bus to what may be the most impressive archaeological site in the world: Machu Picchu. This is sacred city of the Incas, built beginning 1450 and abandoned when the Spanish conquered the Incas one hundred years later. It is located on a saddle in the mountains on the side of the gorge in an almost completely inaccessible location. It is so isolated that it was not discovered by the Spanish during the three hundred years of their occupation and was only “discovered” by Hiram Bingham in 1911. The terraces, the massive foundations, the water control system and the setting are awe-inspiring. We return to Cusco for our flights to Brasilia, Brazil, feeling blessed to have visited the amazing and mysterious Machu Picchu.
Brasilia, Brazil July 25-26
We fly from Cusco to Lima to Sao Paulo to Brasilia—a total of about 18 hours of travel time, so we are very tired. But, we are so happy to be met by our good friends John and Kay Hoyt. We know them from our visit to Santiago, Chile five years ago. Now they have John’s mom Rita and two wonderful children—Maya and John. After a couple of years as missionaries in Spanish-speaking Chile, they are now missionaries in Portugese-speaking Brazil. John and Kay are friends and also heroes of the faith to us. They were helping to establish a campus ministry in the capital of Brazil until the Bittencourts, who were leading the church here, left to lead in Sao Paulo. Now they are leading the church we are visiting here in Brasilia.
Brasilia is a city of two million. Before 1960 there was no city of Brasilia. It was carved out of the savannah of central Brazil to create a new national capital from nothing. This city is an anomaly, as it was completely planned from the ground up, making it less chaotic than your typical Brazilian city (or any other country for that matter). The traffic and crime which are a fact of life in most of urban Brazil are much less here. Of course, we are now in a Portugese-speaking country, which is harder for us, as we do not speak the local language. Fortunately, we have good translators. If we speak Spanish really slowly the people can mostly understand us.
The church we are visiting has seventy-five members. The largest group is the marrieds, but the campus has grown from two to nine and the singles group is growing as well. It is winter break from the university here and four of the students went off on missionary visits to help encourage campus ministries in other churches such as in Recife and Salvador. What a great idea. There is a very strong and mature core group of leaders in the church, which is unusual for a fairly small church. The unity and spirituality of the leadership in the church is a pleasant surprise for us. Nevertheless, they do feel somewhat isolated here and could use more close relationships with other churches in Brazil and across the world. They recently hired a young intern to help the campus and singles.
On Friday afternoon we had lunch with the core leadership group, in the late afternoon we toured the city and in evening I taught on God and Science to about 35—mostly singles and campus. On Saturday I taught a class for the Bible group leaders on Acts and Church History. I am translated by Daniel. Church is at Daniel and Ana’s house on Friday night and Saturday morning. This group is so hungry for teaching and so excited about the biblical vision for changing the world. There were about 35 at the class. From there, after lunch of Brazilian food, we go to church. They are celebrating the Lord’s Day on Saturday because we are leaving for Belo Horizonte. There are about 90 at church for a class on Church History. We meet a couple; Leslie and ???? who are Brazilians who returned to Brazil just over a month ago from Seattle to build up the small church in the city of Goiania, which is the capital of the state that Brazilia is surrounded by. We are very encouraged by their commitment to give up good jobs in the US to travel by faith, without even having jobs, to encourage and build up the church in Gaoania. As if to encourage them, a man from Goiania is at church. He has been waiting for many years for someone to come to his city to start a church there.
The church in Brasilia would love a visit from outside. There is a large campus—the most important on in central Brazil—waiting to be evangelized. You may want to consider coming to this wonderful city. Immediately after church, we rush to the airport to fly to our next city, Belo Horizonte.
Belo Horizonte July 27-28
We arrive in Belo Horizonte—a city of five million, the third largest city in Brazil and the capital of the state Minas Gerais. We are met by Marcos and Denise Araujo and their son Nicolas. This is the couple who lead the church here. They led the church in Asuncion for several years so they speak perfect Spanish. This is fortunate for us as we do not speak Portugese. Here in Portugese-speaking Brazil we speak with our hosts in Spanish, although Denise can speak in English as well. Marcos tells me that when he arrived in Asuncion, he had to preach in Spanish when he did not even speak the language. It is hard to imagine how challenging that would be.
The church we are visiting has 280 members. We arrive on Saturday evening. Sunday is church. The place is packed, with many standing in the rear. Here they have one of the most beautiful worship services we have seen. The singing stirs our soul and we are brought to tears. When the Portugese words to the songs are projected we can undertand the words almost perfectly because it is so similar to Spanish. If you can speak Spanish you can visit Brazil and get by fairy well. I preached on Living by Faith. After lunch of typical Brazilian food (beans and rice are the staples, with lots of sauces and many varieties of flavors). Then we return to church for a class on Church History. The class goes for three hours and the people wanted even more. We are very impressed with the desire to learn in the church here. There are many questions about how to apply the lessons of Church History to practical Christianity. But that is not enough. I get with three of the leaders for two more hours of discussion at a soup and bread restaurant.
On Monday we got to see the city a bit, but Jan is sick. She stayed in bed while I had breakfast in the home of Marcos and Denice, along with the couple who lead the campus group. They are struggling to get the campus group started again and it is still quite small, but they are determined to get the gospel out on campus. We go to a lookout over the city. One of the sights is the new stadium built for the World Cup. Many changes were made for the great event. In the evening I taught a class on The Problem of Pain and Suffering. Despite more than four hours of teaching yesterday, the church is full again, with perhaps 230 back for another class. The hunger for God’s word is really strong here. Please consider visiting beautiful Belo Horizonte and encouraging the Christians here. You too will be encouraged.
Rio de Janeiro July 29-31
Rio de Janeiro is perhaps the most photogenic city in the world, with the Cristo Redendor statue, Sugarloaf Mountain, Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, and all the wonderful Brazilian/Portugese architecture. This is the site of the Olympics in 2016 and there are many signs of preparation throughout the city. This is probably the best known place for the celebration of the Brazilian Carnival, which is a fun event, but also very worldly. Rio is a city of twelve million plus in the metro area, surrounding a huge harbor, tucked up against large mountains, which is what makes for such a beautiful location.
We are met by Jan, a student at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. He just returned from going to Brasilia during break to help the campus there. On Tuesday evening we spoke to the church council on leadership and church organization, followed by a lesson on Freedom in Christ and Church Membership for the Bible group leaders—a group of about 70. They are very encouraged with this lesson. The church here is three hundred members. The leader resigned recently, so they are thinking carefully about what kind of leadership structure they want, making this lesson. The campus group has been revived recently, and there are almost thirty in the campus group, which is a great encouragement.
On Wednesday we spent time with the campus group.
climbing to the top of Piedra Bonita, which is a massive stone spire which comes directly out of ocean, and is over 3000 feet high. The view of Rio and the beaches is stunning from here. After this we rush to church (almost thirty minutes late due to traffic) for me to teach a class on the Book of Hebrews. The room was packed, with more than 150 in attendance. I met a number of visitors. We missed both lunch and dinner today and only had time to eat some food from vendors while driving to church and both of us are struggling with colds, but we remain really encouraged by the chance to help the church here.
Thursday is a very packed day. In the morning we visit Pao de Sucre (Sugarloaf) which is the massive stone pillar which on sees in all the pictures of Rio. It has absolutely spectacular views of the entire city, including the Cristo Redendor (Christ the Redeemer) statue, Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, the famous favelas and all the other amazing sights of the city. From there, we eat at a Churrascaria—one of the famous barbecues of Brazil, after which I teach a class for the campus group on God and Science, followed by part II on the Book of Hebrews for the entire church. But that is not all. We rush off to the airport for our late-night flight to Sao Paulo.
Sao Paulo, Brazil, Aug 1-4
Sao Paulo is the last city on our tour. It is also the place where we are spending the most time. Partly, this is because it has easily the largest church we are visiting, with about 1200 members. Everything in Sao Paulo is on a grand scale. This is a metropolitan city of 25 million, making it the second largest in the world, behind Tokyo. What strikes one first here is all the skyscrapers. There must be ten thousand buildings of ten stories or more. The city lies on rolling hills. Of course, Sao Paulo is known for its favelas and, in many cases, grinding poverty, but it is also a city of hope and of many opportunities. In Brazil, Sao Paulo is the place to be if you want to be in the action. The people talk faster here and life has a quicker pace.
The church here is led by Jorge and Ana Bittencourt. They moved here from Brasilia only about six months, but we get the feeling immediately that the church welcomed them with open arms. There is much work to do here. Both have a gentle and loving spirit, combined with an intense vision for God’s work here in Brazil. We feel that the church is fortunate to have them as leaders here. The church is divided into eight groups,some of which are fairly small, and unity has been an issue here which the Bittencourts will help to improve.
After arriving past midnight and getting to bed at 1:30 in the morning, we are both quite tired, but by the grace of God we have enough strength for the work. We are staying at the home of Leonardo and Maria Santana and their three children. They are so gracious that they gave up their bed for us to sleep in it. They are very special to us. We are met by Ettore. He and his wife Sandra are good friends who I stayed with before in Sao Paulo.
On Friday I taught for five hours to the staff of the church—about 16—on Freedom in Christ, on Leadership and Membership and on the role and need for Elders and for the shepherding ministry. Jan is too sick to come to this meeting, but I feel very warmly received. My new book “Golden Rule Membership” has arrived here. Up until today, I had not seen a copy. The book just so happens to be the subject of more than one lesson here so it comes in handy. After the lessons, I return to the home of Leonardo and Mari where we are staying while on Sao Paulo.
On Saturday morning, Jan taught a class for the women on staying faithful to God, with about 100 coming to the class. John taught a class on Church History in the afternoon for the church, with about two hundred coming. Distances are great in this city and traffic is a major issue. For example it is an hour and a half to drive from one class to the other. Sunday we visit one of the regions where I teach a class on the Book of Daniel. After lunch there is a special session for the teens titled, “The Bible, from God or Man.” There are well over two hundred in attendance and we are told that only about fifty of them are members. Jan and I are really encouraged by the turnout.
Monday is a day of travel, but we get some time with Jorge and Ana Bittencourt during which we talk about vision for the church here in Sao Paulo. There is much to be done. The campus ministry is practically nonexistent. This is really on their hearts, as well as pulling the church closer together. We feel that they are the couple to make it happen, with the help of God, of course. A great need here is for a young couple who is willing to come here to restart the campus ministry. The difficulty is that this couple would have to either speak Portugese already or be willing to come here and learn Portugese on the job. We are thankful to Marcelo who is willing to drive us almost three hours to the airport. Finally, we are on our way home, both pretty sick, both quite tired, but filled with joy at our wonderful experiences with the churches in South America.
John and Jan Oakes
Aug 4, 2014