Three years ago, as empty nesters, my husband Alcides and I decided to leave our comfortable first-world lives and return to the mission field in Goiania, Brazil. Obviously, anywhere you find people you have a mission field. One does not have to move to a foreign country to feel useful. However, we felt our specific skills and abilities could be of optimum use abroad. Alcides was born and raised in Brazil and became a Christian in Sao Paulo. I had the opportunity to be part of the team that planted the first church in our fellowship in Brazil in 1987. We married two years later and helped plant and served in various churches on three continents.
In December of 2003, we settled in Seattle for a little over 10 years. Toward the end of a decade in the US, we were at a point in our lives where we needed to re-access our priorities and establish what discipleship would look like for us at age 50. We saw the need to sacrifice and stretch our faith if we were going to keep growing as Christians. We needed to find needs that matched our skill set. We needed new ways to serve God and others in order to maintain our own faith and convictions fresh and vibrant.
Having been married for over 25 years and raised two children to adulthood, we definitely wanted to work with families: counseling couples and equipping parents to face the daily challenges of bringing up children in today´s world. Among the seven churches in Brazil, there are few couples either of our age and experience or possessing the abilities and desire to teach about these matters. The needs around the country were numerous.
As a challenge for myself, I decided in January 2016 to focus that year on deepening my convictions about being a godly wife and helpful companion to my husband. Our marriage wasn´t in trouble. Our relationship wasn´t weak or stale. I simply saw the need to take things to another level spiritually. So, why not share what I was learning along the way?
As Christians, we have a desire and a need to be useful. Entrusted to us are the very words of God, the teachings of Christ and God´s Holy Spirit. Moreover, each one of us has unique perspectives and personal experiences throughout our Christian life that can help others. How can we keep all these good things to ourselves?
In addition to loving God and imitating Christ, Christians have two main charges: make disciples and teach them to obey what Christ commanded. (Matthew 28:19-20). Our purpose is the same as those first followers of Jesus two thousand years ago. Utilizing today’s technology is simply another way we can fulfill the task set out before us.
Last year, Alcides and I spoke at a marriage retreat in Rio de Janeiro. Before returning home to Goiania, the women leaders asked if there was some way they could continue learning about what had been touched upon during the retreat.
After praying, speaking with my husband, and giving it some serious thought, I suggested a once a month meeting by Skype for six months. I wanted to work with a small group (of 12-16 women), who would:
- Voluntarily commit to participating in all the classes
- Show up a half an hour early (for fellowship and refreshments)
- Actively implement the monthly tasks from each class
- Each be willing to pass on the classes to another small group in the church in a timely manner (within a two-to-three week period)
For more than a decade, some couples in the Rio church had not sought out consistent input for their marriages. There was a breakdown in discipleship, communication, friendship and trust. My goal was to get these wives practicing Titus 2, older women teaching the younger women. Working with a small group enabled me to share openly about sensitive subjects with the women and aided in getting to know them individually. They each had their own small groups and reproduced the same air of closeness and “girls´ afternoon out!”
Two or three days before a scheduled class, the wife organizing the meeting received detailed notes from me by e-mail. She´d make copies for all of the women, which they would in turn used for their small groups. This way, they all had complete notes and could focus fully on the class or discussion as it took place. Here´s a list of the six topics we studied together:
- A Healthy Spiritual Perspective for Marriage
- Friendship, Intimacy and Sex
- Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication
- Understanding How Emotions Affect Our Actions and Reactions
- Finding Excellence and Balance as a Wife and Mother
- Creating Fun Moments and Special Memories for Your Family
Each class provided opportunities for discussion, questions and answers. Many of the notes came with additional Bible verses to review at home alone or in study groups. A few of the classes had charts, lists or spreadsheets to assist in making plans or keeping track of personal goals or repentance.
We created a group on What´s App (a free cell phone messaging application) to communicate information about the classes, encourage one another about changes and insights, and maintain the energy level and eagerness regarding the class and personal growth throughout the month.
Some of the women recorded the class on their phones and sent it to friends and family, using it evangelistically to open dialog and spur on heartfelt conversation.
God´s wisdom does not disappoint us. Following the framework laid out in Titus produced amazing results and enthusiasm. Sisters who had felt neither prepared nor inspired to teach other women for years were now seeing how their lives could positively influence the lives of others. Many women were beginning to open up and share about the reality of their marriages and seek guidance for their relationships. Others were rediscovering the desire and blessing it is to receive input about not only their marriages but also raising children, organizing their homes and schedules, as well as many other areas of their lives.
Seizing the moment, I made use of the situation to help the women in my own congregation simultaneously. I invited Jane, a mature wife and mother but young disciple, to sit in on the classes for Rio de Janeiro. Later that same month, she gave the class to the women in our church in Goiania. This training provided her the opportunity, ability and confidence to begin teaching others. It afford me the chance to train another woman who has gained the respect of others and is now capable of teaching small groups.
By the fifth class, Jane and I were really bonding with the women in Rio. They invited us to travel to there to give the sixth and last class of the series in person, which we did. What a fantastic way to end our months of learning! The trip helped Jane and I have a vision for the other churches around the country. We could easily see how God could use our lives to serve and encourage others.
There were definitely some unexpected challenges to the plan along the way. Technology can never replace the impact and interaction of a physical presence. I would have loved giving all six classes in person, but that was neither financially feasible nor possible timewise. Also, computer connections don´t always cooperate as needed or expected 100% of the time. I definitely had moments of frustration and exasperation when the online connection failed. However, we all persevered through several major interruptions and made it successfully through the classes.
In addition, developing a personal connection with your online audience takes longer than when teaching in person. It´s tempting to underestimate the power of your message during distance learning. Nevertheless, God´s word is still living and active, even via Skype. I have found that persistence always pays off in this respect, regardless of feeling inadequate or teaching from afar. Several times, I seriously doubted the effectiveness of a virtual class, yet surprisingly, the feedback was reassuring and positive.
This method of meeting needs could certainly benefit Christians in the following situations:
- Assist churches in developing nations where leadership is young and/or less experienced and financial resources are severely limited,
- Reduce travel time and expense for satellite house churches where family groups live a significant distance from the majority of disciples, or
- Inspire new church plantings that desire more frequent input and specific direction from experienced teachers.
Since that initial series of classes for the wives in Rio de Janeiro, I have been able to give the class in three other Brazilian cities. Now, I am considering making it available to disciples in Angola and Mozambique, two of the Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa.
This kind of accessible and low-cost technology can make it possible for a teacher who wants to serve others on another continent, in another country, or in the next county yet for whatever reason is unable to do it in person. Alcides and I were in a unique situation to be able to pick up and move back to Brazil to continue serving in the best ways we knew how. Not every disciple or couple find themselves in the same position. Many older disciples may still have aging parents to care for or teenagers or young adult children who still need them nearby. We´d like to encourage everyone to find ways to share their knowledge, experience and the ability to serve others using the technology available.
The possibilities are endless. Think what first-century disciples would have done with these tools!