This article is fairly broad in scope. I wrote it so that people will have a better idea of what I actually did in Brazil and my motivation for doing it. The sections "the passion" and "the practical" deal with why I was there, and "the strategy" deals with things that I actually did.
I titled this article "My God Given Passion" because I want to make clear that this is not something I came up with on my own. God has a passion for his glory, and through my relationship with him he has given me this passion as well. It is only by his grace that I have this passion. This is not a human-centered thing but a God-centered thing, and no God-centered thing ever begins with humans, it always begins with God. This being the case, I have the utmost confidence in my work here because it is not ultimately mine, it is God's. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus gave us a priceless promise. He said "I will build my church." Since he said it I have no doubt that he will do it and by his grace I will join him.
The overarching goal of my life is simple - bring glory to God. This is my passion. This is my life. You can read about how I acquired this passion if you wish. I desire my life to be worship and praise to God, and, like I said before, this is a God given passion. God gives this passion to his children because it is His passion too.
Part of my lifestyle of worship is working to make Jesus Christ known to people who don't already know him - to make disciples of Jesus Christ (for clarity's sake I define the act of making a disciple as "doing whatever is necessary to help someone enter into a true, deep relationship with Christ"). This is the essence of the "Great Commission" laid out in the Bible in the 28th chapter of the book of Matthew. Starting in verse 16 it says:
16But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. 17When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. 18And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
Thousands of sermons have been preached on this passage, but I have picked one that I think makes some very important observations. The preacher John Piper made a particularly lucid observation about this passage in a sermon he preached in 1982. He says:
Before telling us to do anything for him in v. 19, he tells us what he can do for us in v. 18. "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." "Authority" means the right and power to do something. So Jesus means that he has absolute right and all power to do as he pleases in heaven and on earth. There is no authority in heaven which can call the will of Jesus into question and there is no authority on earth that can call the will of Jesus into question. And no power on earth or in heaven can frustrate his will when he exerts all his power to achieve it. "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."
Without this declaration of Jesus' authority, we could never venture confidently to make disciples. On what possible basis do we have any right to tell anybody they should change their whole way of thinking and acting and become a disciple of Jesus Christ? Only one thing could justify such outlandish proselytizing all over the world -- that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and has been given an absolute authority over natural and supernatural forces so that every human and every angelic being will give an account to him. If Jesus has that kind of authority, then we Christians not only have the right but are bound by love to tell other people to change and become his disciples.
How this applies to a lifestyle of worship is not terribly obvious. What we must realize is that the work of making disciples is ultimately Christ's, not ours. We are dependent on him. We move according to his Spirit. Why is this so important? The glory of God is at stake in how we understand this. If we try to make disciples independently from God then Christ gets no glory. In order to bear fruit for God and accomplish this "Great Commission" task, we must depend on God's grace.
When God's children live in reliance on his grace and walk in tune with the Holy Spirit, making disciples becomes an act of worship. True disciples realize that "the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth" (1 Corinthians 3:8). It is by His power that these things are accomplished, not ours. He is the one with authority (Matthew 28:18). We can have faith in the completion of this task because God is working diligently for his glory.
All the talk in the world about passion is just pie-in-the-sky if one doesn't put it into practice. We must translate out vertical passion for God into horizontal relationships with people. Again, we know this because God has set the example. Throughout history God has told of us his love and then demonstrated it to us. The fifteenth chapter in the book of John is a perfect example of this. Jesus told his disciples "This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends." Here Jesus tells the disciples he loves them and then in chapter 19 he puts it into practice by laying down his life for them and dying on a cross. The truth is clear. Following Christ is not some vague idea. Following Christ is a life that is lived in relationship with him for his glory in thousands of practical ways every day.
From 2001 to 2003, I put my passion into practice in São Paulo, Brazil. Now, one doesn't necessarily have to go to another country to exercise a passion for God's glory, but that was what God called me to at that time.
When I was requested to come here there was no one from the IMB working with college students in the city. However, during my wait God called John and Luanne Marshall to São Paulo. They had been in Campo Grande (a Brazilian city in the state of Matto Grosso do Sul) working with college students, but they felt that God wanted them to be in São Paulo. They arrived in São Paulo in August of 2001, only four months before I finally got to São Paulo.
São Paulo is an incredibly strategic location to base a college ministry. This city has one of the highest concentrations of college students in the world and is the center of education for Brazil. The university we are concentrating on, the University São Paulo, is the top university in the nation and many of Brazil's future leaders will graduate from here.
So what's the goal? Ultimately we would like to see churches planted on universities all across Brazil. Churches that are Christ-worshipping, Bible saturated, mission minded examples to the lost world around them. This is a God sized vision for universities in Brazil, but then again this is God's work and we have faith he can bring this about if he so desires. However, we have to start somewhere so this year we are working to establish cell groups on USP's campus in any department we can. The aim is to have all these cell groups come together this November for a large celebration worship service. Throughout the year we will be using volunteer teams and our own presence on campus to get to know students and promote this celebration worship service. This is the goal we are pressing toward, but we know that at any time God can take us in another direction
Since John and Luanne only arrived here seven months ago (and of those seven months almost 4 months have been vacation for university students) the groundwork for the ministry is still being layed. We are making contacts, getting to know the students, starting Bible studies, trying to find some student leaders, and just trying to get a better vision for what God wants to do here. We have already completed an advocacy website and are beginning work on another website that will be all in Portuguese and evangelistic in nature. The advocacy website is about the team that is being formed to work with university students here in Brazil. It exists to solicit prayer support and to communicate what's happening with university student ministry in São Paulo.
The more I get to know John the more I see how well we fit together as a team. God has given us both the same vision of the practical things necessary to bring this "church planting movement" about. We are both focused on building community. We both recognize the failure of trying to transplant BSU/BCM type models to Brazilian campuses. We both want the Brazilians students to lead. We want to make everything as reproducible as possible so we aren't relying on money or gimmicks, but on the Bible and God's grace. We both understand that this is slow, hard work that requires a lot of time. We both know that God could break the doors open at any time. We are both focused on Biblical methods and prayer saturated efforts. We both like working with fresh minds that don't have a lot of baggage about how ministry is "supposed" to be done. We realize that we are guests in this country and we do not get angry when America is slandered but instead respond in understanding and love. And finally, we recognize that we are here to know God better and grow in our personal relationships with him.
So what did I do in Brazil, and what am I doing with my life? I am glorifying God by faithfully resting in his grace and making disciples of Jesus Christ. It's hardly ever easy, and I am by no means perfect. I stumble often and fail to give God his due glory. However, He is gently and faithfully teaching me what it means to be his disciple. Living cross culturally is just plain hard. He used these experiences (which are usually painful) in amazing ways to refine and strengthen my faith. And you know what? I wouldn't trade knowing Christ better for anything.