Graveyard of Missionaries

One thing I knew coming into this missions trip is that we were coming to people who are Catholic. People who know God, and people who know Jesus. I would tell people prior to coming that missions in Portugal are important because although Catholicism is relevant and prevalent, there is no genuine and real faith. I was right, but only partially. Yes, some people may be dedicated and find their religion sacred, but as we learned as a group last night ‘sacred’ and ‘religion’ are the key words. My group and I had the opportunity to listen to four people — two couples from the Loures church — last night. These Portuguese individuals cleared up a lot. Religion is put into a box here in Portugal by the Catholics. Priests and the Government came hand in hand in the Portuguese history of dictatorship. Because of this, traditions and ‘religion’ is so engrained in the Portuguese roots. And not in a good way. What we heard in the testimonials is typical of most Roman Catholic Portuguese people. These couples expressed that the God they knew prior to becoming Christian was a punishing God. They lived their lives with immense guilt. It was taught by the Catholic church that to believe you are saved by Jesus is a ‘cardinal sin’ — unforgivable. An example given by one woman was communion at church: they were not permitted to eat 3 hours before communion or confessions. Kids would come the church and would faint due to hunger. When she would sneak a cookie she would feel so guilty, would confess, would then not be allowed to have communion, and then the whole church would see if she did not partake. Because everything was seen as so ‘sacred’ and drilled into people, Portuguese in this decade are extremely skeptical of any other idea of church. This makes it considerably difficult for missionaries to see progress. It takes years. Two or three years. One set of missionaries left after three years (in 1989) and felt they had accomplished nothing. They left as Marjorie and Otto came. Years later the progress can be seen. Marjorie stated that Portugal is known as the Graveyard of Missionaries. She said people do not come to the Christian church because they hear about it. People come to the Christian church first by becoming friends with those in the church. One woman we heard from last night during the testimonials knew Marjorie for eight years before becoming a Christian. Amazing what persistence and friendship can do. And THIS is why missions in Portugal is so important.

That was a lot of history and detail. But I find it very relevant and important. Let me get to the point. I’ve come to recognize that the time my team is spending here may not show immediate results. The work we are doing, the events we are organizing, and people we are interacting with — they are all important, but God is teaching me that our presence here alone is enough. The gesture of being here, the prayer for the people in the communities and the city may be enough. Prayer in particular is something I am working and struggling with. We’ve been learning to ask God for purpose in our prayer…asking what to pray for, and listening. We conducted a prayer walk through the city of Massama last week and I found it difficult to listen and allow my prayer to be guided. We also went to a park last week (this park is where we ran a kids program last Saturday for the Frielas community with face painting, games, songs, a skit etc) and prayed for the park. Tomorrow morning we are gathering in Lisboa with a woman from the church named Paula to pray for the city. There’s a missionary family here from Australia, and this is what he said: the Portuguese will not come to the church, so the church must go to them. This is a huge motivator and why the MB church in Loures is so committed to events in the community.

Side Note: about 10 non-church attending children attended this community event in Frielas. One family came to the MB Loures Church for the first time last Sunday!

A man who shared with us last night said something that stuck out to me. Growing up Catholic, he only understood faith and God to be aspects of church. When he and his wife were invited by Marjorie and Otto to a church picnic, he was blown away by the idea of mixing fun, community, and play with the Divine. In a way, this is what we are also here to demonstrate. By being open about our faith in our everyday activities and interactions. However, I find connecting with people (adults from the church, people in the community, children at the events) difficult due to the language barrier. Please pray for comfort, confidence, and ease!

The Massama Church has a slowly growing ministry through their second hand thrift store. Situated in a community of need, people are able to receive clothing and engage with the volunteers from the church. This is where friendships start and people have the chance to see who Jesus is through the people operating the store. The church is currently receiving trucks of donations from Germany, and a huge need for the church has been sorting clothing into boxes. Last week we spent two afternoon sorting clothing, and tomorrow will be our third afternoon this week. I really enjoy this task!!

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been trying to work on the aspect of my life that consists of prayer. I sometimes find that writing my prayers make it easier. Before we left orientation at camp crossroads, it was kind of prophesized over me that writing and journaling could be a major thing for me spiritually. I find it hard to journal (and even blog! Sorry about the week delay), so prayers that I would be able to piece and articulate my thoughts enough to write them down would be appreciated.

Fun Fact: most of the Christian churches in Portugal are very small (20-50 people) and are located in basements, theatres, or ‘store-front’ locations (the latter is where the two MB churches we are working with are located) because the Roman Catholic Church and the Government until very recently had an agreement that only Catholic Churches could own single standing buildings or buildings that ‘look’ like churches.

As a quick update to the things we have done and seen:
We all have bus passes so we’re able to travel anywhere within the region (although Marjorie and Otto will sometimes pick us up too). We’ve had some interesting transit experiences already!
Mondays are our days off. We’ve experienced a castle in Lisboa and a castle in Belem. We’ve wandered both of these cities and experienced Portuguese meals and treats including gallao (latte coffee) with Pasteis de Belem (the original recipe from 1837).
Every morning we start our day with solo devotional time and then come together as a group. We’re working our way through the book of Mark. Sometimes we have a little extra time in the morning and the girls do Pilates before heading off.
Working at the thrift store, meeting with people from the church, meetings, and prayer walks have been common activities throughout the weeks.
Sundays we try to attend both services (in Massama and Loures). Sundays we also stay after the service in Loures and make supper with the youth and pastor at the church. Last Sunday I loved being able to sit around the table with a large group from many different backgrounds and sing songs (the youth are all incredible singers – they would sing in Portuguese and us in English and it sounded amazing!). In a couple Sundays from now, our team will participate in worship by leading one song (we have pianists, guitarists, and singers in our group).

BREAKING NEWS: I came into this country hoping to avoid fish. Low and behold, I have tried many foods I never thought I would. I tried squid, tuna, and cod (wouldn’t recommend any). I also tried pineapple and thoroughly enjoyed it (yet I’ve never liked it from home), and I’m trying an olive as we speak.

Attached are some photos!Lisboa from the Castle

Cooking with the Youth

St. Jorges Castle, Lisboa

Frielas Kids Event

Second Hand Store

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