We arrived in Campo Grande in January 1979—the same month that it became the capitol of the new Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. We lived there three and a half years before returning to the US, but in that short time we made friends that have lasted a lifetime.
Pastor Jonatan de Oliveira was the pastor of Primeira Igreja Batista in our day. He had a heart for missions. Primeira Igreja supported their own missionaries to many small towns in the interior of the state and Mato Grosso to the north where cattle ranches and soybean fields gave way to the great Amazon rainforest.
We had come to help start a new seminary to train church workers who would serve western Brazil instead of staying in the large cities of the coast where the established seminaries were. Pastor Jonatan sat my husband down and pointed a long finger at him. “How do you expect to train church planters for Brazil when you have never planted a church here?” He sent us to work weekends in a struggling congregation in a poor bairro on the edge of the city, called Vila Pioneira. They were simple people who would give the shirt off their backs to neighbors who were even more poor than they were.
Several times in those years we spent time on the fazenda (ranch) of Seu Fransisco Bonfim. It was a simple wooden house on a cement foundation with verandahs on all four sides. Most of life happened on those verandahs. There was no electricity or running water in those days. We took baths by pouring water from a bucket in a simple cane bathhouse. Dona Arsedina cooked over coals on a stove built of bricks. I helped make the butter and cheese from the milk of their cows. The morning after our first night at the fazenda, I woke in a panic because my 21-month-old daughter wasn’t in the bedroom with me. I found her standing on a bench clinging to the rail, watching the men milk. Dona Arsedina gave me a mug with a little strong coffee and sugar and sent me out to have it filled with foamy milk still warm from the cow.
We had had a year of language school, but we learned to speak from the students at the Bible college and from the young people’s singing group that Steve directed in the church. We didn’t always know the difference between slang and more formal versions of the language, and some of Steve’s sermons drew unexpected laughs.
Recently Steve had meetings in Brazil. “Come with me,” he said. “Who knows if we will ever have another chance to return to Campo Grande.”
We have been back several times over the years. Our enthusiasm for the city has sent several friends—Brazilian, Mozambican and American—there to minister along side those who taught us so much in our few years in Brazil.
When they learned we were coming, former students organized a Saturday afternoon churrasco (barbecue Mato Grosso style.) We spent a delightful evening with the extended Bonfim family. Seu Chico has passed away, but Dona Arsedina is going strong at 89. She gave me a huge hug. Pastor Jonatan (also 89) was at the churrasco with his wife Alice and his daughter, one of our students thirty years ago. Other former students appeared. “Remember me?” Once we heard a name, the younger version of the face usually came back. Digitized versions of our old slides let us laugh at how we have changed.
When we arrived in Campo Grande, there were eight Baptist churches and a handful of preaching points. Thanks to the vision of our Canadian colleague, David Phillips, who mounted a map of the city on the seminary wall and challenged churches to coordinate their outreach, there are now more than a hundred Baptist churches and preaching points. Vila Pioneira has a new building and the bairro is a thriving community well-inside the limits of the growing city. We stayed on the eleventh floor of one of the many high-rise apartment buildings that have irrevocably changed the city skyline.
Campo Grande has loomed large in our lives and ministries. It is hard to imagine that we lived there only three and a half years. It was hard to say good-by. I have this image in my head of a bulletin board in heaven where people post notices of reunions. I look forward to the churrasco we will have there when we can hear all that God has done in the lives of those who have touched ours so deeply.
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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