Returning Home With Peace

03/29/2017 .
Clayton Heilman  .  Storyteller

Why would she want to return? Rosana had established a comfortable life in Southern California after emigrating from Brazil, and she wasn’t looking back. She found Saddleback Church and began attending on the weekend, but didn’t want to get involved. Burnt-out from serving in her parent’s church in Brazil, Rosana tried to keep God at arm’s length.

Growing up in Brazil, Rosana had always dreamed of living in the United States. She had a supportive family growing up — they always gave her the freedom to pursue her dreams.

Her parents brought her to California to visit in 1990 and she felt as if her dreams were being confirmed. She told her parents that she didn’t want to return to Brazil. Her mother couldn’t understand why she’d want to stay. Rosana loved the food, the people, and the country. She knew there was no way she would return home.

Her father had friends in California that helped set Rosana up with work. She attained a visa and stayed behind after her parents returned home.

Settling into her new life in California, Rosana built a successful career and was well respected in the community. But after a few years, she began to feel dissatisfied. She felt God urging her to get involved at church.

“For a long time, I stayed disconnected,” Rosana said. “I just wanted to serve God from far away.”

At her crossroads, a pastor at Saddleback invited Rosana to be part of a missions team on a PEACE trip to Rio de Janeiro. PEACE teams visit local churches across the globe and provide practical resources and training so local volunteers and pastors can make a difference in their own communities. The Saddleback pastor had heard about Rosana’s Brazilian heritage and thought she would be perfect for the team. With a little reluctance, Rosana decided to take a step of faith and join the team.

A few local pastors in Rio had reached out to Saddleback to see if they could get help for their churches. Rosana worried if the team would be able to do any meaningful work to help them. She felt inadequate to provide assistance for pastors that have been leading churches for years.

Stepping into this new venture was intimidating. But once she was there, she shed a lot of the fear and anxiety she was feeling. The pastors were hungry for resources to help their churches. Many had attended Purpose Driven Church conferences taught by Saddleback Church pastors in the past, but found themselves struggling to implement the specifics within their church. As she began to understand their needs, she realized she could teach them the things that she had been seen done on a regular basis at church. Rosana’s team stepped into that gap and worked with the pastors and volunteers — providing help to organize small groups, Celebrate RecoveryⓇ (CR), and membership classes. As the plans came together, she saw God guiding her through each step.

On Rosana’s first trip to Rio the team showed the local church what CR looked like by hosting a service. The Brazilian culture often overlooks individual’s personal struggles. This made discussing issues and offering solutions a tricky prospect for the team.

“Last year at CR one of the girls on the team gave her testimony,” Rosana said. “She was sexually abused as a child — it was her first time the church in Rio had someone share this type of story.” At the end of the service several women came forward and said the same thing happened to them but they had never felt the freedom to talk about it.

“One woman revealed that she had been abused by her father since she was two years old,” Rosana said. “She told her mom that she needed to talk about what happened, she needed to tell someone, to get help. Her mom forbid her from talking about the abuse. When her mom heard the story being shared, she realized her mistake. Her mom witnessed the pain of what the woman went through and better understood what her daughter must have gone through. She told her daughter to talk to someone about what happened and get help.”

The men were shocked to hear these stories. People had never spoken up before. They had no idea this was going on inside homes. Many families in the church were holding onto this pain and no one was talking about it.

“This has been a huge breakthrough,” Rosana said. “ Through CR, people are more willing and open to talk about their pain. They are more welcoming to others that are struggling and people feel like they have purpose when they can release some of their hurts and then help others.” The church leaders in Rio saw firsthand what an impact that ministry could have and launched CR within their church.

“One pastor they worked with in Rio said when he met our group that it was more encouraging to see everyday members of the church doing extraordinary things,” Rosana recalled.

Since that first trip, Rosana has returned several times on PEACE trips to Rio. In the time between Rosana’s first two trips, the small groups and Celebrate Recovery quadrupled in size at one church. New volunteers were stepping forward, people were sharing their stories and encouraging one another — an exciting difference in the life of the local churches they were helping.

“Returning to Brazil on the PEACE trips, I began to understand why it was so important for me to be part of this. I understood the language, I understood the culture, I knew how to navigate some of the tricky issues that come up when you’re in a foreign culture.”

She never imagined herself going back and helping the people from her home country. When she returned to her home country she was able to help others find so much freedom. She didn’t realize how powerful the act of showing up with a willing attitude to serve could be. When Rosana was unsure what her future would hold, she remained open to God’s plan — choosing to be led by him. Because of her willingness to serve, she built strong relationships with new friends in Brazil and she has seen incredible growth in the local churches of Rio.

“I knew this was God because I didn’t have to force anything,” Rosana said. “I really can’t take any credit.”

Through just a few short trips, she has built life-long friendships with the members of her team and local pastors in Rio. Because of these relationships, Rosana was invited to help at the Purpose Driven All-Africa Pastors Gathering this year to translate for the pastors. At the conference, she worked alongside church leaders from several African nations so they could get Purpose Driven and The PEACE Plan established in their own churches.  She has seen many lives changed, and can’t wait to watch God continue to challenge her to take bigger steps of faith.

Click HERE to learn more about The PEACE Plan and how to get involved.