How they do it is beyond my understanding. Marcelo teaches part-time (nearly full-time, if I understand correctly) at a public high school while also working as the sole evangelist (missionary) of the church he planted in 2002. They aren’t just in maintenance mode. The church is growing, and Marcelo is doing all of the teaching and preaching for the congregation. One year they had something like 40 days of purpose, and they’ve also had congregational fasts and prayer vigils. Right now they are doing a very interesting evangelistic campaign, and all the members are being taught and encouraged to evangelize. They’ve gone door knocking (this still works in Uberlândia, Brazil) and have several evangelistic Bible studies set up in people’s homes.
But I said “they,” didn’t I? Really it isn’t just Marcelo, it’s also his wife Selma that makes this thing work. An experienced church worker, she does a fantastic job of leading the women in the congregation and organizing the activities for children, while also raising the three children she and Marcelo have.
Our goal is to get their mission support to the point where neither Selma nor Marcelo have to work outside the church. We want 100% of their time dedicated to the mission work. Since January the church in Iowa that had been their primary source of support has assumed greater responsibility, following a very good visit by two men from that church. The Iowa church is moving towards getting Marcelo to full support, and the church in Uberlândia will be a sort of “sister church” to the congregation in Iowa. Marcelo is to be considered a minister of the church in Iowa, under the direction of its eldership and supported by the prayers and offerings of the congregation as a whole.
With this positive progress made, Christiane and I are now looking to how we can prepare ourselves for a permanent return to full-time mission work. Right now we are members of the Brazilian Church of Christ in Newark, New Jersey, and would like to be able to devote more time to the church’s work here. As it is, though, we barely have time to see one another. Cris works as a house cleaner and I work two jobs. My primary employment is with AT&T mobility, and my secondary employment is as an ESL teacher. I leave home at 7am every weekday, return home by 6pm and then leave to teach again at 7:30pm. Most nights I manage to get home by 10:30.
Having this sort of schedule, it is very difficult to do anything with the church. Weekends are the only time we have left, and having children we want to spend it with them. At the same time, how can we set aside our calling to ministry? We shouldn’t, but our financial reality necessitates it. New Jersey is not a cheap place to live, and we only just manage to pay rent for our tiny third floor apartment. We’re here, though, because of the Brazilians. There wouldn’t be many Brazilians in Missouri if we were to move back there.
After a lot of thought and prayer, and having been a bivocational minister for a few years now (with the exception of that awful time in New Mexico), I’ve come to the conclusion that there are people with the calling to bivocational work…but I’m not one of them.
The evening I accepted what I perceived to be God’s call on my life to Brazilian evangelism, I made a commitment to become fully trained and equipped for the mission field. It was my intention to devote every energy to mastering the biblical languages, studying theology and developing skills in practical ministry that would help me advance the reign of God in Brazil. What I did, instead, was rush through a good training program for a Bachelor’s that I should have followed up with a Master’s. Then I met a great Christian woman in Brazil, got married and moved down there. Though good work was done with God’s blessing, more could have been accomplished had I stuck with that first plan.
Bivocational work is good, necessary in many cases and a true calling that some have. The down sides, though, are many. The worst of these, in my opinion, is the lack of time. I used to say that I might has well have a job, since other members of the church have jobs too and I wouldn’t be able to meet with them or prospective converts during the day anyway, since they’d be working. This may be true in many cases, but when you work a regular shift and have a family, you don’t have much time for the administrative and logistic work or the crucial study needed to have a successful mission. The more you have to work in a “secular” job, the less time you have for evangelism, counseling and discipleship training.
It is further my opinion that those who are bivocational workers should, due to their time constraints, work in a team with a few other bivocational workers. This way the tasks of ministry can be divided up among team members, freeing up time for family and other obligations, and taking the pressure off of individual ministers.
My dream, renewed, is to obtain the necessary seminary education for myself, at least a Bible college degree for my wife, further experience in ministry here and now in New Jersey (and throughout the northeast) with Brazilians and others, and also full financial support.
Lord willing, I’ll be posting much more on this in the days ahead. There is so much to do…and so little time.