By Karen L. Willoughby, Managing Editor
MONTES CLAROS, Minas Gerias, Brazil – Two women pawing through the garbage late one night found more than something to eat, said Gene Jenkins of Greenwell Springs Baptist Church in Baton Rouge.
Jenkins, brother of LBC Evangelism/Church Growth Director Wayne Jenkins, was one of 145 people to participate in this year’s Brazil mission trip. Gene Jenkins was standing outside the hotel the mission team was staying at about 11 p.m. when he saw the women searching for food.
“I asked them about God, and they said they were searching for Him, too, but they hadn’t found Him,” Jenkins said. “They both found Him that night, and they came back the next day to say thank you.”
An apparently homeless man hovered each night around the hotel, but skittered away when anyone tried to talk with him, until the night Jenkins got his attention. (Jenkins has a variety of hand tricks and small toys he uses to draw a crowd.)
Jenkins led the disheveled man to the Lord too.
Similar stories could be told by members of each of 22 church evangelism and visitation teams, plus two drama teams, one puppet team, one street team and one team that did both sports and prison ministries, in addition to three VBS teams, three construction teams, and one each medical, dental and eye care teams.
In all, more than 4,500 spiritual decisions were made by Brazilians during the 28th annual mission trip that started when Wayne Jenkins and Dwight Lowrie of Texas in 1984 wanted the churches they pastored to go on a mission trip and joined forces in order to have enough people to make an impact. Today, the International Mission Board said this Brazil thrust is perhaps the largest group of Southern Baptists to go mission.
Most mission teams self-limit to fewer than 20 participants. but Wayne Jenkins works in cooperation with IMB missionaries who put them in touch directly with the local pastors, to find out their needs and to work through them to reach people in the community who then are plugged into the local church.
“David and Laurie Bledsoe, our missionaries in Minas Gerias, are our only missionaries in a state the size of Texas,” Wayne Jenkins said. “They work alongside our national pastors to help develop an effective strategy for volunteers. A large team like ours is able to work with a whole association of churches, making a large impact on a city in a short amount of time.”
After several years in Belo Horizonte, the team this year went to Montes Claros, located about seven hours north of “Belo.” It’s a smaller town – about 350,000 people in the area as compared with the 2 million-plus in urban Belo.
“It had a gentle, slower pace, and very good help from the city,” Gene Jenkins said. “The mayor opened the town to us with no permits.”
The three churches built this year were in use immediately and overflowing the first night, and – if past experience is any indication – they will be thriving when the Brazil team returns next mid-July.
This year’s team included one 10-year-old who helped her dad lay bricks to build a church, and an 80-year-old who was part of one of the in-home witnessing teams.
What are easy to call “miracles” when they happen around you continued even as a bus drove the weary mission team on a seven-hour ride to the airport. Halfway down the highway, the bus began inexplicably slowing, and not until it came to a full stop would it pick up steam again. After this happened several times, the driver said he would have another bus come to take them to the airport.
“No no no,” team members implored. “We can’t miss our flight.”
One of the mission team members is a diesel mechanic by profession. That was the first indication to the team that a miracle was in process.
“Let me have a look,” he said. He saw that a clip that regulated the flow of gasoline had broken. What was needed was a stick to serve as a makeshift regulator. But a knife was needed to cut a stick of the needed size, and none of the soon-to-be-air-travelers was carrying a knife or similar cutting object.
However, on the side of the road, one of the team members found a knife! Several sticks of the right size were found (to have backup for when the stick in use broke) and cut, and affixed with duck tape (inexplicably found in a construction team member’s carry-on luggage) and the bus made it to the airport on time.
“Every time I come back, I say it doesn’t get any better than this,” Gene Jenkins said. “Every year it gets better than the previous year.”