“OK guys go to it!” Our team leader said with a smile as she sent us off in groups of 2 or 3. Everybody else at least seemed to be excited and I knew I was supposed to be. We were there, after all, to share about Christ. In reality, though, I was apprehensive and uncomfortable. I had always known that if I went on enough of these short term mission trips, then I would probably end up doing street evangelism sooner or later. Well my time had come, and so there I was, outside the Fan Fest in Sao Paulo, feeling like a fish out of water, with a pocket full of gospel bracelets and a fist full of tracts. I was surrounded by crowds of soccer fans from all over the world, trying to figure out how to approach somebody with whom I could share the gospel, knowing full well the only thing on any of our minds was the soccer tournament that had brought us all there in the first place. The first real day of Operation Mobilization’s World Cup outreach had begun, and despite a relatively outgoing personality and a deep appreciation for the Gospel, this was definitely not my style.
First-time street evangelism jitters aside, the outreach was actually a great experience. I was one of a small group of foreigners joining a mostly Brazilian team for two weeks of sports clinics, nursing home visitation, school and youth center programs, and of course, the long feared street evangelism. We were hosted by a large charismatic church in the south eastern area of Sao Paulo. Our team slept in upstairs rooms on pads and mattresses laid out on the floor, while a dedicated support crew provided us with 3 filling meals a day, along with coffees and cakes after each day’s work, plus a fridge stocked with goodies for midnight munchers like me.
One thing about mission trips is that there is almost always someone who can’t seem to get along with someone else, and this discord can eventually act as a drag on the rest of the team. I feel blessed in that our team seemed to be an exception to the rule. Over the course of two weeks there was never a moment when I was not excited to work with anybody and everybody on the team. When the mission is to show Christ’s love to the rest of the world, I was grateful for teammates that could show it to each other as well.
This outreach also highlighted a couple of cultural differences between the United States and Brazil. The first probably contributed to this being the most laid back missions trip I have ever been on. Many other outreaches seem to have the goal of keeping its team as busy as possible, with as many activities as possible slammed into a given time for maximum productivity. Our schedule in Brazil was different, with long, relaxed meal times and plenty of free time to process the day, pray, exercise, or simply get to know the other teammates and the members of our host church.
The other difference had to do with street evangelism. In some circles in the United States, open air street evangelism has been largely dismissed as being unhelpful or even counterproductive, and I can understand why. In all the days outside the Fan Fest and stadium, I only had one person decline my literature. He was an American. He wasn’t rude or standoffish; he was just too busy to be bothered by strange people passing out strange papers. The only paper he wanted was a ticket to see the match. In contrast, most of the Brazilians we approached didn’t seem bothered at all, and were perfectly happy to take some literature and even chat for a while. They were generally more comfortable talking with us, and more open to talking about Jesus and the gospel. Seeing how enthusiastic people were to meet and chill with foreigners like us, and how open they were to discussing spiritual things started to change my view of our work. It became fun, and I found myself looking forward to our afternoons among the crowds, finding new ways of breaking the ice, meeting new people, and sharing the gospel.
All this doesn’t mean that I’m a certified street evangelist. I’m pretty sure there were others on the team more gifted in this area than I, although practice and experience seemed to help. I enjoyed much more leading our sports clinics for teenagers, who both played hard and also were all ears when it came time to give a message. I’m also sure, though, that the God we serve is much bigger than our perceived strengths and weaknesses, and that each member of our team was exactly where we were supposed to be on each day.
There were no dramatic emotional highs or lows on this outreach. It was just mostly a highly enjoyable experience to work with other believers in the atmosphere of what is really the biggest party on the planet. I was sorry to see it all come to an end. The World Cup is a unique phenomenon that brings together a lot of people with good moods, open minds, and free time, making it the perfect open door for this kind of outreach. And at least for now, most Brazilians are welcoming to new faces and open to discussing spiritual things. God was working in Brazil long before our little team showed up, and he will be there long after, and I am thankful for the chance to play even just a small role in his great plan for that great country.
by Ian Bridgman