How times have changed! What a wonderful tool the internet and Skype can be! Pastors in more remote areas are being trained using Skype and missionary families can talk daily with their relatives in the U.S. Yes, how times have changed!
In Dourados, Brazil, some of the results of the 2010 census are being published in the media. These first results really underscore how times are changing in Brazil. For instance, the current population is 190,732,674. Brazil is a big country in area and population! But for the first time, the number of people above the age of 65 is more than the number of children below 5 years of age. Families are limiting themselves to 2 or 3 children, and many opt for just one child. What a contrast to just a few years ago when families of 7 or 8 children were common! What has brought about this change? Strange as it may seem, the changes are due to an increased standard of living for many people, and more education, as well as better health care which is extending life for many people.
Again, these are drastic changes. Whereas a decade ago 90% of the population earned less than $340 per capita per month, that number has now been reduced to 60%, thanks to aggressive government programs to reduce poverty and a stable economic climate. Brazil has an emerging middle class which understands that it is possible to have a decent life, free of economic misery, but it means limiting family size. These government programs also are only available to people whose children remain in school and where any adult who is still illiterate must also attend literacy classes at night. Meanwhile the government encourages employers to insist on an education in its employees. These days, you can't even be a sacker at a supermarket unless you have finished 8th grade.
The level of abject misery in the country of Brazil has dropped to only 16 million people. Abject misery is defined as a family who earns less than $44 per capita per month. And the present administration is trying hard to lower this type of economic misery in the country even more.
Besides this, the government is opening more and more free courses for people to train for a profession. For instance, one of our congregation members, as a high school graduate, entered a one year free course for learning to sew, to make patterns and all about style and the marketing of clothing. Today, newly married, she has a good job in the clothing manufacturing industry, and the chance to attend more free courses to upgrade her skills.
What do all these advances mean for mission work?
Sad to say, the picture is not so rosy there. For one thing, Satan has used this new-found economic up-turn to tempt people to over-reach themselves. Credit cards appeared on the scene a number of years ago, and their abuse is also very common. As one of our church council members said, "People get themselves in over their heads with easy credit purchasing and then have to pay their bills and have no money for offerings." Actually, offerings are better than they used to be, mostly because all our members are working. But they are not nearly what they could be. Sound familiar? Satan knows how to use even the improvements in life to test us! And it is so easy for people to think that money will make them happy, and see less of a need for God in their lives.
Another thing is that many of the established churches are offering much more glitzy services - mega-churches are booming, and the Gospel bands and singers are making good money in all these churches. So people begin to desire to see this same level of "entertainment" in all churches. "Your church doesn't have a band?" is a not uncommon question. What need is there for the pure Gospel, if you can have not only a rousing, rhythm in church service, but picnics, special speakers, health care education, retreats, etc... Mission work is more difficult today than it was 20 years ago.
But, the Lord is still calling His own, and we are still His tools to spread the Word of salvation. And that Word will bear fruit, as the Holy Spirit works in hearts. There are still baptisms regularly, there are people in instruction to be confirmed, there are hearts willing to give their hard-earned money to the Lord, and God's people are still carrying His message to others around them. And we are all working together in this endeavor.
An adapted mission update from Retired Missionary Charlie and Beth continue to serve Igreja Luterana Brasileira – The Brazilian Lutheran Church as active volunteers, residing in Dourados, Mato Grosso do Sul.