I’ve always enjoyed August. As a boy growing up in Upstate New York, August was the peak of summer, the halcyon days freedom and sunshine before the onslaught of cold weather, school, and other unpleasant things. For the past decade, as we have lived and worked here in Brazil, August has been the month where things start up again after everybody travels for vacation – a month of new beginnings and fresh challenges.
This August, however, was Purgatory.
Actually, Purgatory is not a bad analogy, because it was torture, seemed to go on forever, and we only got through it thanks to the prayers of many people.
If you read our last newsletter, you know that the month began for us with a conflict on the church’s WhatApp groups that escalated to the point of one large family (17 regular attenders) leaving our congregation. In a church where the average attendance is roughly forty, that is a significant loss.
The weeks during and following this conflict were madness. Scrambling to mend fences, put out fires, reconcile differences, provide biblical guidance…and all to no avail.
Just as we were catching our breath from that stunning event, we got a call from one of the remaining families in our church. Their oldest daughter had begun experiencing mysterious pains, all of a sudden, and no doctor could give them a definite answer as to what was going on.
In addition to our concern for the well-being of their daughter, we were also left without two of our Sunday School teachers, and four regular attenders, as the nature of the symptoms made it impossible for the parents to leave the girl unaccompanied.
That Sunday there were thirteen people in attendance. Three Sundays previous there had been close to fifty. To say that this was disheartening for the church (and its pastor) would be an understatement.
But the folks in the church were excited about one thing: the new recorder orchestra. Ever since our Music Week in July we have been preparing to begin this ministry. Several recorders where donated to us, and our first practice, while not very well-attended due to some conflicting schedules, went really well. Many who couldn’t make it for that first practice indicated that they would be there for the second.
And they were. We had eleven students, and an hour-and-a-half of great practice. To add to the joy of that evening, the two sisters of Francivaldo, our assistant pastor, showed up in the car God had recently provided for him. We rejoiced with them in the knowledge that when Pastor Francivaldo returned from a visit to some of his supporting churches, the long-awaited car would be waiting for him.
I returned home that evening, propped my feet up in my hammock, and posted the pictures from the flute practice to this site. My heart was full. For the first time since the beginning of the month I had seen the church happy, and it made me happy.
And then the phone rang.
“Pastor” the voice on the other end was shaky. “We’ve been in an accident, and we’re at the hospital.”
It was the girls who came in Pastor Francivaldo’s new car. On the way home from recorder practice a motorcycle had pulled out into the wrong lane of traffic (not an uncommon occurrence here). The young lady driving the car swerved to miss it, and ran into a concrete wall. Her sister, sitting in the passenger seat, sustained two broken feet. The driver herself was knocked unconscious, but had no serious injuries. Unbelievably, the two little girls in the back seat were uninjured.
Three days have passed, and that night is still a blur in my mind. A whirlwind trip to the hospital, another whirlwind trip to another hospital to make sure the little girls had no internal injuries, then back to the scene of the accident to figure out what to do with the wrecked vehicle. It was 3am when I dropped, exhausted, into my hammock.
And then the sun came up, and it was Sunday. I dragged myself out of the hammock and began to prepare for the day’s ministry. First, I would have to make arrangements for two Sunday School classes, since the two young ladies involved in the accidents were our primary and junior class Sunday School teachers. Normally, I would be able to contact a substitute, but the substitute was part of the family that left at the beginning of the month.
Fortunately, the family whose daughter was having health issues said she was better, and they would both be there for their Sunday School classes.
But that didn’t last long. The poor girl had a re-lapse of symptoms that afternoon, and I got word that neither father or mother would be there for any of our services. We were going to have Sunday School, and none of our Sunday School teachers would be there.
So when we sat down for Sunday School there were a total of eight people. One of the couples present had the flu, but decided to come anyway because they wanted to be an encouragement to the church. They were.
I arranged the chairs in a circle and told the people that I had no lesson, that we were just going to pray. And pray we did. We prayed for our church, we prayed for the people who were sick, the people who had been in the accident, the family that left…we poured out our hearts to God. Then, when we were done, we stood up, re-arranged the chairs, and began our worship service.
Back when I was in Bible college, I can remember reading II Timothy 4:2, and thinking to myself something along the lines of if I do it right, it will never be “out of season”.
How foolish I was.
So now we are in September. There is no guarantee that September will be any better than August. It could be worse. I don’t know.
But here are some things I do know: God is good. God is faithful. God is sovereign. Christ will build His church. And I know these truths, not because they are obvious to me at this moment, but because they are codified in His Word. August is just a month, made up of a mere 31 days. God’s Word is eternal.