33 years in Brazil
After 33 years of serving God and the people of Brazil, John and Maria Dyer tell us something of their incredible journey. Be inspired as they tell you, in their own words, what their decision to be long-term mission workers for BMS World Mission achieved in Brazil and beyond.
Getting to know you
Our first year in Brazil was a pleasant surprise. We didn’t really know what to expect or whether we would settle in well, or not at all. A member of our home church wrote to us soon after we arrived and ventured to say that our early enthusiasm might wane once the novelty had worn off.
Well, the novelty has never worn off. We had fallen in love with Brazil. No doubt this helped us through difficult times and is perhaps a pre-requisite for long-term service.
The notion of ‘long-term service’ may have changed over the years but, for us, it means an indefinite period of time or commitment to a cause. Brazil became our adopted country and is where our son was born and reared.
The ‘mission worker’ tag has advantages and disadvantages. Brazilians are sometimes inclined to put mission workers on a pedestal. We longed to be considered equals with our Brazilian colleagues and strove for complete identification to the point that they saw no difference between us and themselves.
That can only be achieved through the building and nurturing of solid relationships. The greatest compliment of all our years in Brazil was to hear that we had been described by a prominent Brazilian pastor as having the “heart of a Brazilian”.
After language study we moved to the south-western edge of the Amazon basin – a place climatically and culturally very different from the European south of Brazil.
It amounted to a significant culture shock, unlike that which we experienced when we arrived in Curitiba. The pace of life was slower and the shops sold only the basic items of food.
Rice and beans, that were grown locally, were sent to São Paulo for packaging and then transported back to where they had been grown, to be sold in the local shops. Food prices in our neck of the woods were higher than in the industrial south-east of Brazil.
An abiding memory of those early days was the simplicity of ordinary people’s lives.
We soon learned that one could be happy with relatively few of the creature comforts that we had taken for granted.
The blackened interior of some wooden houses caused by smoke from the open wood stoves was so different from anything we had known before. In one such house we enjoyed Christmas dinner with table resplendent with good things and a pig’s head for decoration.
We, too, learnt to live more simply and were none the worse for that. On the contrary, those were among our best and happiest times in Brazil.
Identifying our long-term ministry
It was in Paraná that our major ministry of lay leadership training began to take shape. It soon became clear that this ministry was not only necessary, but also greatly appreciated by the Brazilians.
From the local church where we had cut our ministerial teeth in Brazil, we became involved with the Coastal Association of Baptist Churches. Though a backwater, this is a region of immense natural beauty. Lay training was our major emphasis and also our most significant contribution to the life of these churches.
Our first love continued to be the local church and through lay training we were able to serve the wider network of local churches.
This ministry took on an enlarged form when we moved further south to the state of Santa Catarina. It was here that we spread our wings and embarked on a state-wide ministry. Every challenge and learning curve had prepared and equipped us for the next.
On the move again
In the year 2000 we moved to the north-east of Brazil. Adjustments had to be made to another culture and climate. The predominance of wooden houses, with which we had become so familiar in the south, was now replaced by brick or mud houses, surrounded by exotic spreading mango trees.
We lived in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, the sun scorched earth parched for years at a time, but also periodically subject to flooding when the rains eventually arrived. We were invited to begin a theological seminary in the state capital, a departure from our previous ministry in the south.
Planting churches and training their leaders (lay and ministerial) go hand-in-hand. We have recently seen a paradigm shift in Brazil with regard to the vocation of the whole church. We have long advocated this and now it is a concept strongly advocated by the leadership of the Brazilian Baptist Convention.
From local to global
Our final period of ministry in Brazil took us beyond anything we had attempted before. An invitation came from BMS World Mission to develop an Internet-based leadership training project.
It would have been easy to sit back on past achievements, but the potential for this project was enormous. And so it has proved. Soon to be available in Spanish as well as Portuguese, the Timothy Project has been met with universal approval and acclaim.
It gave us a great sense of excitement to receive requests for the project in Mozambique and the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe. So, from a local church-based ministry in a far-flung corner of Brazil, we have arrived at an international ministry to all of God’s people. (Pictured: John and Maria with their son, Joao Marcos)
A good way to sign off and also something to keep us occupied in “retirement” as we continue to guide its fledgling steps.
We have seen many changes in Brazil: on the political and economic fronts, eight different presidents and five different currencies. Our particular contribution has been to the life of the people of God in that country. We have seen lives changed and thank God for being given a part in people’s life-changing experiences.
Brazil has also changed us. This probably happened quite soon after our arrival in that country. The biggest culture shock was on returning to the UK after our first period of service. It was totally unexpected.
But it wasn’t Britain that had changed; it was us. That would reflect the change that takes place when we become followers of Jesus Christ and live the paradox of being “in the world” though not of it.
We are now in the UK, but have maintained a home in Brazil. Our passion for mission grows stronger with the passing years. Our passion for Brazil is like an inextinguishable flame.
This is a gift from God, as have been all the years we have spent in Brazil. To God be the glory, great things he has done!