Go and make disciples… of those in the Amazon

This past month of September I spent 8 days in an evangelization mission with a catholic community of missionaries in Brazil called “Nova Alianca”. The mission was in Marajo, an island in the northern part of the state of Para, Brasil. The state of Para is considered the “Africa of Brazil” due to its extreme poverty and neglect by its government. It is also called the “Lawless State” since the rich and powerful rule and people can be murdered on the streets and nothing will happen. Child trafficking is also a big issue here. The island I went to is in what is considered the Amazonian forest region. It was a 20 hour boat ride to the place which was an exciting adventure. Sleeping on hammocks in the boat was not as comfortable since I would be bumping against people all the time. The area had a lot of natural dangers: poisonous snakes (I met a few who had been bitten), piranhas, large anacondas (that sometimes live in the river and can strike without you seeing them), river alligators, Malaria (the local priest told me that Marajo is the Malaria capital of Brasil).
Don’t miss out on the picture gallery below!
The Missionary Community
All of the missionaries (18 total), except for me, are consecrated members of this community to be missionaries for life. They also live in community (in one house) and are totally dependent on God’s providence since they have no other jobs. Their charism is centered around restoring the love of God in the world. They are led to live a love of self-donation as Christ gifted himself for us on the cross. It is important in their spirituality their identity as sons and daughters of God, an identity that runs so deep nothing can change it. The central biblical verse of their Charism is Philippians 2:1-11. This explains their intense fraternity and community life.
The Basics of the Mission
The heart of our mission was the same that they practice in their missionary homes throughout Brazil, which is door to door evangelization. Primarily through the presentation of the Kerygma. We would always start with the most important thing which is letting the people who received us know that they are loved by God and how God loves us. We would also end praying over the people in their homes. We would do this in pairs throughout the morning and the afternoon. The mission field was split between catholics and evangelicals and I was surprised how we would almost always be welcomed by the non-catholics. We presented the Kerygma equally to everybody as we didn’t go there to present religion or church, we went first to present God’s love and his Salvation. And if someone didn’t want us to talk with them, we would at least share with them the good news that they are loved by God. In the evenings we would have mass, prayer groups, or other events for the people who would come to the church.
My Personal Experience
Coming into the mission I wasn’t sure what I would be doing. These people are professionals, in the sense that they’ve been doing this every week for years. Preaching the gospel was intimidating for me because I am not a fluent speaker in Portuguese. Yet, after going to 3 houses, I was asked to do the talking on the next house. I was surprised how well it went. It wasn’t hard at all.
We had 3 events for children where I had the chance to participate in theater and animation. I also visited the prison and the local hospital. I was also able to play guitar a couple of times for Brazilian worship songs. One day we went deeper along the river in a small boat where the people of the area gathered to hear us. There I shared my witness in Portuguese and I was surprised how well it flowed.
Seeing celibacy with new eyes
One thing I learned is that over half of the missionaries were lay celibates. As you know, this is different from just being single, because they make sacred vows meant to last until death. It is like marriage, but in this case it is a marriage with Jesus. A celibate is a person who now gives their whole attention to the Lord and to other people. They take on the role as spiritual mothers and fathers to others in the community.
I had never payed much attention to lay celibacy because I honestly don’t know that many people who choose that state of life. I’ve been ok with celibate priests and nuns, but the idea of lay celibacy seemed strange to me. Are these people lacking something, maybe had sexual issues, or just too ugly to find anybody? But, spending time with them I saw one thing very clearly, that they are whole and realized in their chosen state of life. They are not repressing their sexuality, instead they are accepting and responding to God’s will for their life. They lack nothing, and they are full of joy. As one celibate woman said during my time there: “My vocation is not sterile. It bears much fruit in this world.” What I saw in them was beautiful, and even though strange in the eyes of the world, it is a powerful testimony.
I also had the wonderful experience of learning that the success of the mission doesn’t depend on my mood or energy levels. Sometimes I would start the day hopeless and not wanting to do anything in the mission. God would show up anyways.
Praise be to God.
Thank you for your prayers and enjoy the pictures,
— 
Juan
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2 thoughts on “Go and make disciples… of those in the Amazon

  1. Wow, Juan! This is very moving and very exciting. And thanks for sharing all the pictures!

    I’m going through Sharing Christ right now and it’s funny how complicated I can make it when just starting to evangelize to people… thinking about all the things they may bring up and all the social fears, etc. I can feel so paralyzed to even say anything. So what great and radical encouragement in beginning with the basics and trusting in the Holy Spirit.

    We will continue to pray for you.

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