“Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.”
1 Corinthians 15:11
I stared at my empty breakfast plate, knife and fork in hand. The moment I prolonged had finally arrived and was impossible to avoid. A table full of Brazilian children from ages eleven to fourteen surrounded me, none of whom spoke English. I now no longer possessed the excuse of eating to keep quiet. I had too quickly exhausted what I knew of Portuguese, which was limited to asking for their name, age, and quality of sleep from the previous night. All the translators were occupied in conversations, so I realized I must discover my own way to connect with the children inside the cafeteria where the leaders were required to stay for the next twenty minutes. I prayed and opened my Bible, seeking guidance on what to do next. In my Bible, I found three blank pieces of printer paper. I had pencils with me too. I drew a tic-tac-toe graph and gestured for the children to play with me. The whole table was soon involved in either a game of tic-tac-toe, hangman with simple Portuguese words, or drawing, which occupied us until the start of the morning service. The untranslated Portuguese message gave my mind a moment to reflect on the past few days.
My Brazil team and I were already on day three of Overnighteen. Overnighteen is a four-day youth camp offered by LifeShape Brazil. The primary purpose of the camp is to share the gospel with unbelievers and to encourage believers to further live the gospel when they return home. The theme of camp in 2024 is “Sempre Preparados” meaning “Always Prepared.” In the Lord’s kindness, the theme of camp corresponded with my personal quiet time with God.
Last month, the Holy Spirit prompted me to study specific gospel passages to be ready to give an answer to those who question the core of what I believe. The week of Overnighteen, I memorized 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. Before and during Overnighteen, I prayed the Lord might use me to comprehend and live the words within those verses.
The day before camp commenced, the Brazilian leaders assigned me as a small group leader. I was ecstatic! I considered my role a wonderful way to connect with the campers and have my prayer answered. The children and I immediately bonded on the first day. The girls and I talked for hours. The topics of our conversations ranged from movies, foods, colors, animals, and random words in English and Portuguese to mutually expand our vocabulary. The children continually expressed their excitement to meet Americans and practice their English. Their acceptance of me greatly encouraged my hope of deeply connecting with them. The hope, however, quickly faded.
During activities, meal times, and services, the boys and girls understandably loved being with those their own age who could speak their own language. What proved most difficult for me was when I witnessed intentional conversations between Brazilian counselors and the campers. The first day I pushed aside the challenging reality purely due to exhaustion. Besides, I held hope for the upcoming day when I would lead my small group.
After the morning service, I had the moment for the Holy Spirit to specifically work through me at last. I began the group in prayer before leading a discussion on 1 Peter:
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
1 Peter 3:15-16
Shortly afterward, I finally realized my faulty expectations of how the Holy Spirit works. As a Brazilian leader translated my words, I suddenly felt unnecessary and inadequate in the work I had been given. My translator could share the same truth without me. When children expressed thoughts or asked questions, the Brazilian leaders did a fantastic job of engaging with them, but their good work left me feeling useless. I intently listened to all their words but failed to comprehend their meaning. I questioned why I was even in Brazil at Overnighteen if I could not contribute anything of value. My ability seemed limited to small talk and playing games. I could not think of any eternal significance in these little activities.
Returning, to day three, the Holy Spirit incredibly employed the Portuguese messages. Somehow through the incomprehensible words, God reminded me of powerful truth reflecting the Scripture. He had led me to memorize 1 Corinthians. God does not need humanity for the advancement of His kingdom. Rather, the Father invites His children into His work to witness His power and find joy in serving Christ. Echoing the Apostle Paul in verse 10, it is by the grace of God that we are even capable of glorifying Him in our work. Consequently, the Holy Spirit may use whomever He wills in whatever manner He pleases. Therefore, as the Apostle Paul continued in verse eleven, “Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.”
Regardless of whom God elects to proclaim the gospel, I am to praise Him. I praise God for the redemption offered to the world through Jesus Christ. I praise God for how He is using my Brazilian brothers and sisters in Christ to share truth with others. I praise God for the opportunity to witness and support the Church in Brazil. I praise God for the ability to love the children in Brazil with simple games and conversations that ultimately bring Him glory. Therefore, I take true joy in living out the gospel in whatever way He calls me even if my expectations do not align with His plan. May God continue to be glorified in all things here in Brazil and around the world. I commit all people, including myself, into the Lord’s hands. May His will be done.