A Professor and a Shopkeeper
With around eighteen million people on 1,523 square kilometres (588 square miles), São Paolo in Brazil has become one of the world's largest cities. My new friend, David, who sells LP gas, lives here.
About a year ago Susan and I stopped at an op shop in Somerset, Tasmania, where she likes to find used clothing for the children. As always, while she dug through the bins, I checked out the book rack and was not disappointed. For fifty cents I picked up a thick, well-illustrated history of Brazil, written in Portuguese (don't ask me how it got to our corner of the world). Because Portuguese resembles Spanish and because languages have always fascinated me, I determined to learn how to read it.
At first the going was a bit rough, but by the time I got to the end of the book, reading a chapter or two every evening, it went about as smoothly as English (not speaking of pronunciation!). The colourful story of Brazil, written from a Brazilian perspective, fascinated me to no end and I began to imagine what God might possibly want me to do with this door into a new language and culture. For a while I read up on Timor Leste, a troubled Portuguese country off the west coast of Australia. But then, one thing after the next, his plan became apparent.
The first thing that happened, to my surprise, was that an eighteen-year-old boy from Tlaxcala, Mexico -- Josué Moreno -- translated my book "The Secret of the Strength" into Spanish. That was good, I thought, because a number of people had been wishing to see it in that language. (Several years ago Russell Stendal, working in war-torn eastern Colombia, had already wanted to do the job but we never got it accomplished.)
Then a friend of mine who had lived in Bolivia made the book available on-line and Latin Americans from all over began to read it. Quite late in the afternoon, a few weeks ago, I was startled to pick up the telephone and hear a distinctively Latin American voice. Who could this be? Why -- they would have the middle of the night overseas!
Sure enough, even though it was two o'clock for him, a radiologist from Venezuela (who works as a professor of medicine at the Universidad del Zulia in Maracaibo), felt he had to talk to me after reading the book until that hour of the morning. As a teenager he had come to belief in Christ. But all religions (particularly the "health and wealth" charismatic ones) had wearied him with their hypocrisy and emptiness. So for nearly ten years he wished to see and hear nothing of "Christianity" at all.
Then, driving to work from his home in Cabimas, across the majestic Urdaneta bridge into the city of Maracaibo, he suddenly met God. As clear as the sun, just rising over the tropical lowlands, he knew that God wanted him back, and that he needed to prepare himself and others to meet him.
Eternity, he realised at once, lies just ahead.
Dr. Ricardo Esparragoza is a soft-spoken, not-easily-excited person. Up to now he has lead a comfortable life. But the reality of God and eternity gripped him like nothing before. And when, shortly afterward, one of his brightest students alerted him to the story of the early Christians and the Anabaptists, he knew he was on the right trail.
Following Christ -- of course!
So simple. Why hadn't he thought of it before?
Right away Dr. Esparragoza began to give away his things (his extra car among them) to those that needed them. His perspective on life and his priorities turned end for end, and when we spoke on the telephone the great joy of koinonía (true fellowship) in Christ came to both of us. But what comes next?
Both Ricardo and his student Randol Rangel would like to belong to a Christian community in Venezuela. One that follows Christ in everything. They have friends whom they believe might be interested, but they also face much opposition. Where will they find fellowship? Will they find others with whom to share the Gospel of Jesus, or will they only get more rubbish and warmed over nonsense from America -- much of it coming in the name of "Anabaptism" or "Mennonitism" today?
While Ricardo and Randol pray and wonder in Venezuela, another believer that found the translated book has gotten busy. Carlos David Neyra (people just call him David) came to faith in Christ in São Paolo, Brazil. Like many millions of others in the city, David grew up in an immigrant family. His father came from Spain, and he heard enough Spanish to be able to read it well.
Now, when he has time (between tending his shop where he sells the gas and mineral water, and doing a writing course on the side), he has begun to translate the book from Spanish into Portuguese.
The message goes on and on. The early Anabaptists heard the Gospel from Latin and German Bibles and lived it out. I translated their words and witness into English. Josué took that and turned it into Spanish, and now I am getting it all back, chapter by chapter, as a lovely Portuguese text. (Even though I do not speak the language, I can easily tell that David is doing a great job. He thinks as he writes and gets things put together in a compact pleasing way.)
Besides this we have discovered in one another the beautiful friendship that comes from knowing and loving Christ. David and I are the same age. While he grew up a "city kid" in São Paolo, I drove the heavy team during threshing time on a Mennonite farm in Southern Ontario. While his search for the Truth led him through many years of service among the Jehovah's Witnesses, my search led me through foreign missions to Christian community.
Will the search or the journey end here?
"Eu sou um cristão que está em busca de um maior conhecimento a respeito de Deus e de sua verdade (I am a Christian seeking a greater understanding of God and his truth)," writes David. "e consequentemente agir de acordo com este esclarecimento (and, as a result of this, to act according to this understanding). Eu tenho encontrado no anabatismo uma fonte maravilhosa desse conhecimento e desse relacionamento com o nosso Criador (In the Anabaptist movement I have found a marvellous source of this type of understanding and of this relationship with our Creator)."
David with his dog, Tazzman, in São Paolo, where he lives with his wife Nanci. Their two sons, Jefferson and Felipe have gotten married but live nearby. Even though our correspondence and all work on the manuscript is unusual (he writes in Portuguese and I do the editing in Spanish), we share a common hope.
We want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that we have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but we press on to take a hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of us. . . . We press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has carried us heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Will you pray for the seeds of the Kingdom in Latin America?