The Truth Sets You Free

I’m so thankful for this day and all it represents, in the United States. Here, it is a celebration for me, too. It’s not a national holiday in Brazil. But three years ago today, we brought Renato to the rehab. He lived on the streets, addicted to crack cocaine. He went to the rehab with one pair of shorts; he was wearing them.
Today, he’s still living at the rehab. He has a job in Ponta Negra, that he goes to every day. He’s a help to Murilo at the rehab. He’s recently started dating a really sweet Christian girl.

Renato has been set free. He knows, and tells everyone, that only God can truly free us from sin and from ourselves. I’m so thankful for the living proof of Renato’s life, that Jesus Christ is still saving souls and redeeming lives.

Happy Three Years Free, Renato!


And you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.
So if the Son liberates you [makes you free men], then you are really and unquestionably free. (‭John‬ ‭8‬:‭32, 36‬ AMP)

Following Him

Last Sunday night in Aningas, the little kids were out of control, like they had eaten sugar and caffeine all day and their parents let them out, just in time for our Sunday School lessons.

This Sunday we prayed more and prepared a few more activities for the littler kids. Fewer kids came out and Caroline and William were able to go through the lesson sheet and do the activities with them.

This freed Mark up to teach the teen and adult class on Baptism. They learned that they died to sin, the moment they accepted Christ, and were made new in Christ. Mark explained that baptism is the obedient step and the public testimony of what happened when they confessed Christ as their personal and only Savior.

They had some questions about different types of baptism, and about people that say you have to be baptized to be saved. Fortunately, Mark answered their questions and gave them the Scripture to back up his answers. God gave help and His Word fed and taught His precious lambs.

I’ve had this warm little glow inside me since Sunday night. Look at what God has done! Look at what He continues to do! He still saves souls and feeds and cares for them. These truths that we hold to our heart are real, and His lambs hear His voice and they follow Him.



We were buried therefore with Him by the baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious [power] of the Father, so we too might [habitually] live and behave in newness of life. (Romans 6:4 AMP)

Gospel in the Galpão – Parable of the Lost Coin

Layane counted the coins in Andrew’s hand and realized she had lost one. We turned off the lights and began to search, using flashlights.


Once the lost coin was recovered, we explained the parable to the kids.


We asked questions after the lesson and kids who answered correctly got to bowl for a prize.


A Hunger for the Word of God


There are boxes of bibles in the bed of the truck and this is what people are grabbing. They take a sandwich and plop down, backs resting against blue concrete walls. A man with wrinkled brown skin sticks his hand out between the bars of a wrought-iron window. He motions toward the boxes and cups his hands for a bible. He takes it and pulls his arm back.


They want the gospel. They ask for it. “Palavra de Deus?” they say, holding out eager hands. We’re happy to give it to them. This is the whole point of coming. They sit in the dirt in front of a house and swallow down their lunch. Mark walks up the stone street between the two rows of houses handing out bibles. In one home, an old woman takes the Word and raises hand and eyes to thank God for visiting this place. The boxes of bibles are empty. Spread out, filling hands that have never heard.


Grace and Truth

Some things were just meant to go together, like peanut butter and jelly, bacon and eggs, Bonnie and Clyde, and Batman and Robin. Alone they are okay, but when they are combined…wow…the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. While in Brazil last week God showed me that the same principle is true (and necessary) for any gospel outreach to be successful. What possibly could go hand in hand, be so intimately associated, that when combined the gospel becomes so attractive and people of all ages reach out for it? Grace and Truth.

John 1:14 tells us, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” How was it that the Savior reached so many needy souls while here? Grace and Truth. How was it that you and I were saved? Grace and Truth. How then should we be presenting the gospel to others? Grace and Truth. “Grace” being kindness bestowed which one does not deserve, that which affords joy, pleasure and good-will. “And,” herenot meaning just that which connects things, but implying equivalence and balance. “Truth,” here being not just fact, but specifically, that which the gospel is.

I’m not sure why it took a 6500 mile trip to Natal, Brazil to teach me this lesson, but it did. I’d like to think it was a just change of scenery or perhaps the 10 days away from the magnetic pull of my Blackberry that was all God needed to speak to me…but I would only be deceiving myself if I allowed myself to think that. Rather, it was the removal from an environment of self-sufficiency and self-dependence (that I seem to cherish so much) that was necessary to break through my unyielding heart.


While in Brazil I saw firsthand the synergy that occurs when Grace and Truth are employed together. I saw it everyday, in many different forms. While dropping off Christmas dinner at the orphanage in Pium I witnessed complete strangers stopping by unannounced to drop off bags of cement to be used for the completion of a new building. Cleide, who runs the orphanage, told us she had no idea who they were and that they were from another country and didn’t even speak Portuguese! While at the Rodoviária (bus station) street stop handing out rice, beans and juice I witnessed bus drivers pulling over (holding up traffic) and opening their doors to ask for the tracts and calendars, while those riding the bus reached out of their windows and banged the sides of the bus to get our attention so they could get the tracts themselves! While at the rehab center delivering turkeys and rice for Christmas dinner I watched as a church group sang hymns and opened the Bible during one of the three sessions a day the men receiving treatment there are required to listen to the gospel. While in the favela infamously called Mosquito, I witnessed over 100 men, woman and children pour out of their makeshift homes with various pots and pans and patiently stand in line in 100 °F temperatures to receive rice, beans, juice and a tract. While in Aningas, at the Sunday night gospel meeting, I witnessed children of all ages who likely never heard the gospel four years ago, recite and reference verses perfectly while happily answering questions about the Bible, God and salvation.

I can’t list all the accounts I saw firsthand where misfortune was met with Grace and Truth during my visit to Brazil. All I can attest to is that Grace and Truth works. Perhaps not in the timeframe that we here in the US would like to see results, but working according to God’s timing. People here have been saved by God’s grace because they have been afforded Grace and Truth. Time and effort has been taken to build relationships and in doing so doors have been opened (literally), providing an environment for God to come in and save. Sure, summer tents could be set up here, tracts could be delivered door to door and weekly gospel meetings could be held in various local towns, but they likely would be lacking the Grace and Truth that our Savior Himself prescribed. He could have healed the leper by simply saying the words, but instead He took the time to touch him. He could have healed Jarius’s daughter where He was, but instead He went to her home and taking her hand raised her from the dead. Sure, He could have sent the 5000 away with an eloquent message, but instead He fed them with a few loaves and fishes. In fact, He could have come from heaven and gone directly to the cross, but He came and “dwelt among us” for 30+ years in order to minister unto us. Why? Grace and Truth – they are inseparable, always together and they are the means of setting people free through Christ. John 8:36 tells us “if the Son (full of grace and truth) sets you free, you will be free indeed.”


Here at home in the States we have gospel outreaches too. We reach out to our communities in a number of ways; tent meetings, vacation Bible schools, Sunday School, Sunday night gospel meetings, mall and fair kiosks, mailings, billboards and newspaper advertisements, rehab, prison and nursing home visits also mark our calendars. We see some interest; a few even respond and are saved by the grace of God. But why only a few? Are we not preaching the same gospel as our Savior and the Apostles? Yes, we are…but for the most part, these opportunities are sporadic, often annual occurrences, or provide only limited prospect for building relationships. We ask people to come to where we are, rarely follow-up with them, and almost never do anything for them without preaching at them first. For the most part our testimonies in our neighborhoods and workplaces, where relationships could be cultured and forged, are restricted to simple greetings and occasional invitations to hall functions. We like to think we “live the Truth” before them, in the hope that they will someday want to have what we portray we have. Would it be too bold to suggest that while we commendably profess the Truth we, generally speaking, are lacking in showing Grace… I know that I do. How about you?

Grace and Truth doesn’t only work in impoverished places like we find in Brazil. Take a moment to think of the relationships you have been a part of that have brought spiritual blessings. Perhaps a Sunday School student who after years of learning verses and Bible stories came to understand their personal need of a Savior. Maybe a friend at school, who over lunch time you have been telling them about Jesus and how He has changed your life, and this then led to them coming to hear the gospel and being saved. Perhaps a fellow worker, who after years of working side by side with you and showing yourself friendly, came to you in a time of crisis, and this then opened the door to speak a word in the gospel. How did these things come to be? Grace and Truth. Not all of us will have the opportunity to travel to Brazil and experience what I and others have experienced alongside Mark and Lori and Vá Livre. But all of us have the opportunity to exercise Grace and Truth amongst the many needy and unsaved where we live, within our own sphere of influence. May God give us the desire to do so today.


“For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).

Mark Williamson

Text Frames for the Galpão

During our three-week stay with Mark and Lori, Stephanie and I worked on a project for the galpão. Each Sunday night, as part of the gospel lesson, Mark and Lori choose a verse to focus on, going over it with the kids, explaining the Truth, and then handing it out on a coloring page for them to take home and memorize during the week. Every week they print out the verse and tape it up on a board for everyone to see. A plain, wooden board, white paper, black ink, masking tape. Blah!

Lori had the idea to spice things up a little, make this a beautiful display board that Mark would be able to hang up on the wall. So we got to work. We sanded down the boards Mark cut for us and started painting to create frames to mount the verses on. The four girls were over the house when we first started the project, so they were a great help in getting a huge chunk of the painting, beading, and glitter-izing of the boards finished.

When Eliel and his family came over to spend the day, he and his kids, Sofia and Hector, helped paint a few more frames. As we put the finishing touches on, Stephanie typed up all the verses they’d gone over in Aningas and printed fresh copies of them. Then Lori took them to get laminated (quite the process!) so that the printed verses will last longer. Finally we mounted the laminated verses onto the frames using double-sided foam tape. Each week, as new verses are introduced during the lessons, the verses can be rotated out and replaced using the same frames.

While we were busy painting and using gobs of glitter glue, Mark and the guys were putting together a display board for the frames. They painted it white and had it all set for when we came to slide the frames into place.

Let My Heart Be After You

Driving home from UConn the other day, I had my iPod on shuffle. The song “Garden,” by Needtobreathe came on and made me think of Clessio: “If tomorrow means my death/ Pray you’ll save their souls with it./ Let the songs I sing bring joy to you/ Let the words I say confess my love/ Let the notes I choose be your favorite tune/ Father let my heart be after you.”

The thing that stood out the most about Clessio was just that: his heart was after Christ. For being saved only sixteen months, he radiated with peace and a passion to share it with others. You didn’t need to spend more than ten minutes with him for this to become obvious.

Lori and Clessio at the smaller rehab facility

I met Clessio in the summer of 2009 when we went to the rehab center to bring him some food staples and toiletries. He was very excited to show us around the center, the small garden, the workout area and the pool. More than those things, he wanted to show us his bedroom. Nothing grandiose, of course; just a small room with double bunkbeds and some furniture. But it was his.

One of his friends was in the room at the time. As Clessio was talking to Lori and my dad about how changed his life was, his friend made some interjection. And with that, Clessio began explaining to him how he too could have this peace. I don’t remember exactly what Clessio said but his confidence in Christ struck me. He was seizing even the smallest opportunity and proclaiming the good news, as we all should be.

Walking with a smile

The last time I saw him, he was 8 months drug-free, looking healthier and happier than ever. He was at a smaller branch of the same rehab center, just down the road from the old place. He was pleased that there were fewer people there and said it was easier to foster friendships at the smaller facility. Kate and I listened while he chatted with Lori, sharing with her scripture he had been enjoying recently.

Before leaving that day, we gave him one of the bracelets we had made for distribution on the streets. It was a thin piece of twine with six colored beads. The attached paper was a gospel message in Portuguese that explained the bracelet. Clessio nodded his head in agreement while he read the paper, all the while smiling. He thanked us for the gift and thanked Christ for saving him. He told us that if the Lord hadn’t saved him when He did, he doubted he would still be alive.

Clessio’s salvation was an awesome testimony to God’s power and he knew it. Truly, he had become a new creature, transformed from a homeless, helpless, sinful drug addict to a confident and peaceful man who had an eternal home in Heaven. He strongly desired for his friends to be saved and their lives to be changed like his had been. Even in the final moments of his life, Clessio was telling others of Christ’s love.

Since the moment of his salvation, Clessio’s life was a confession of the love of God. He didn’t hide it under a bushel, no! He let it shine in all its glory and shared it with everyone. His testimony should be a challenge to our every heart. He only had sixteen months. How long has it been since Christ saved you? How much of that time has been lived for Him? Like Clessio, may our hearts be after Christ and may we share the joy of our salvation with the world.

Gospel at Galpao

The wooden benches are in rows and the little kids pile in to listen to another gospel message. Some of the older girls come in and sit on the benches, leaning back against the cement wall of the Galpão. Curious faces peek in to see what’s going on.  Soon there’s a group of about forty kids and a few adults ready to listen. They sing songs from the booklets that Mark and Lori put together. They pick some of their favorites, “Foi Assim,” and “Jesus é Meu Amado,” songs that speak of the Savior who loves them and died for them.

Mark prays and Lori translates. She introduces her brother, Paul, as he steps up to speak to the kids.

“I have a great secret,” he says smiling. He leans in toward the front rows. “Can I share it with you? Can you keep a secret?”

Gabriella, a nine-year-old girl with full cheeks and warm brown eyes nods her head in response. She wants to know the secret. A few kids volunteer to go up to the front as Paul and Lori whisper the secret in their ears.

“Does everyone want to know my secret?” Paul asks. “Jesus loves me!” He reads Galatians 2:20. There’s a group of young boys sitting on one of Mark’s worktables in the back. They’re poking each other and laughing, but Paul keeps speaking. A dog wanders in, there’s music from the bar blasting next door, and there are people milling in and out of the door to the Galpão. But in the back row, there are middle-aged women listening. The little kids sitting on the wooden benches are listening, facing the front, waiting to hear why this verse matters.

“So many times people tell us that they love us,” Paul says, crossing his arms tight across his chest. “Sometimes they say that they will love us forever. But … they leave us heartbroken.”

Joab and Niete have their fingers curled around the edge of the bench. They’re both watching Paul. A little boy in front of them is playing with the edge of his shorts. Lori is translating while Paul continues.

“I look into the faces of young boys and girls and they want more than anything to know that someone loves me. What a disappointment when there is no one to love me.”

He doesn’t stop there. The little faces are still waiting to hear the truth of the verse. They want to know what fills that emptiness when everyone else leaves. When everyone else disappoints.

“That’s why it’s so wonderful tonight, my secret,” he says. “Because the very Son of God, Jesus, says He loves me. Not to love me and to leave me. Not to say He loves me only to hurt me. But when Jesus says He loves me, He will never leave me.”

When the lesson is done, the little girls sing the songs they’ve learned, standing up in front of the group to do the hand motions along with them. Then they clamor for juice and crackers before heading out the door.

Mark and Lori present a lesson every Sunday night around 7:30 in the Galpão. Younger kids make up a large percentage of the audience, and so the presentation has become much like a Sunday school lesson. This past Sunday night, Mark spoke about the serpent lifted up. He made a snake out of rope and wrapped it around PVC piping. Stephanie and I went around with another rope snake to “bite” the kids, squirting ketchup on their arms as blood, wrapping the “wounds” with old rags.

“Just look and live!” he told them, and Stephanie wiped the “blood” from their arms as they looked toward the snake on the pole.

Despite the distractions, the kids who decide they don’t want to sit through the message in its entirety, and the dogs that meander in and out, the gospel is preached faithfully every Sunday night in Aningas. During the week Mark and Lori can help in practical ways; Mark working with his guys, Lori making house visits, or preparing the recent Christmas feast. But come Sunday night, it’s always the clear gospel. Whatever else these men and women and children may need, they need Christ. Pray that as these messages continue, the interest they show will prove life changing in their acceptance of the Lord Jesus as Savior.


Clessio, one of the young men Mark and Lori brought to the Nova Aliança rehab center, is a testimony to the awesome power of God’s saving grace. Back in June when we first met him, he showed us around the rehab center and told us some of his story. He was addicted to crack when Mark and Lori met him on the streets. They paid the 400 reais to bring him there and continued to sponsor him during his stay. He accepted Christ shortly after arriving and became a truly shining example of a transformed life.

Nine months later he moved out of the rehab and he is now working as a mason’s apprentice near Igapó (the last street stop on Thursdays). He also has his working papers and insurance. But more than that he’s had the chance to go and witness to friends that he grew up with who are still living on the streets. Rafael asked about him one day when we gave him a ride. Lori was able to tell him how well Clessio is doing because of what the Lord Jesus has done for him. Luiz is another young guy Clessio grew up with on the streets. He’s hiding out somewhere because of a drug debt. If they find him, they’ll kill him. All for 230 reais.

Clessio has so much potential to lead more men and women to Christ. He was into drugs just as deep as many of these people on the streets still are. Now he can’t get enough of his Bible and he’s thrilled at the opportunity to tell others of his Savior. Even if he were the only life changed by this little testimony in Brazil it would be so worth it. What an awesome God we serve!

Sunday School Lessons

Layane’s sitting in the roped off section of the Galpão where we’ve hung a picture of pigs. She’s playing the part of the prodigal son, pretending to munch on cornhusks while lamenting the fact that all of her friends, Nadine, Cassio, and Manoelhio abandoned her when her ten reais inheritance was gone.

When the prodigal repents and comes home, Layane kneels in front of Rita, playing the father, who promptly tells her to stand up and wraps a robe (a blue towel) and a beautiful ring (one we borrowed from Caroline) on her finger.

For our English lessons this time around, Stephanie and I decided to focus more on the Bible stories. Instead of just telling the story in Portuguese and then having the class learn twenty new English words, we had them act out the story. This was much more engaging and entertaining for the kids and they were able to remember the story and the message in greater detail.

To start, we asked volunteers to come up to play the parts. Then Stephanie read the story from the Bible while I went around passing out the props and the lines for them to read as it went along. Even the shy kids were surprisingly enthusiastic, going so far as to vigorously throw the net over the side of our makeshift boat in the story of the disciples and the catch of 153 fish. After performing the little “teatro” we would go through the worksheet with them and practice a few English phrases that went along with the story for the day.

In the story of O Filho Perdido (the prodigal son) they learned the words run, spend, come, and forgive as well as how to use them in a sentence. For O Bom Samaritano (the good Samaritan) they learned hurt, help, and heal. For each lesson they also learned a corresponding gospel verse. By the end of our final week many of them were able to recite multiple verses from memory. We even offered five reais to someone who was willing to try and they all shouted “não quero, não quero cinco reais. Só os versículos!” They didn’t want the money. They just wanted a chance to try reciting the verses!

Again, we’ve been amazed at how receptive these kids are to listening and learning from the Bible. They see the truck coming through the main road in Aningas and five minutes later they’re all lined up on the benches ready for the lesson to begin. Some of the kids who were coming to the lessons last time we were here brought the little notebooks and paper to classes this time. They keep all of the worksheets and even some of the older kids (around 15 and 16) tuck the coloring pages away for later.

This month has flown by and it seems like we haven’t had enough time to spend with the kids in Aningas. Despite our looming departure in two days, we’re looking forward to going back one last time to say goodbye and to give the kids individual picture collages of memories from our time together.

These are smart kids, kids that hope to leave Aningas and do big things. Some of them want to come to the United States someday. But for right now, we have the chance to share our love of Christ with them. Please pray especially for some of these older girls who have shown an interest in the lessons and in learning more about the gospel on Sunday nights. We hope the lessons have been entertaining, but more importantly that they might bring spiritual blessing through the messages and verses they have learned.