José Carlos Pezini - April 2018 Update
Portuguese-Language Ministries Coordinator
Dear brothers and sisters,
Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Let me begin by thanking you for your prayers. God has been great to us. In January I had prostate surgery. Thanks to God’s grace, I recovered well. Within two weeks of the surgery, I was ready to return to my regular ministry activities including my international travels. Odete and I are so thankful for your lives and the care that you have demonstrated towards us.
The SARA ministry has grown exponentially in these last couple of years. Today there are 13 mentoring core groups spread out all over Brazil. Each one of them has two retreats per year. This year alone, we have scheduled 26 different retreats. It is through God’s mercy that we have already reached around 500 pastors in 13 different denominations. We have helped them through their daily struggles. Many of them have testified that through our personal mentoring and spiritual formation retreats, they have been able to conquer depression and other signs of burnout. As they recover from their personal burnout, they feel motivated to perform their ministry with enthusiasm and great joy again.
Others have confessed that they had lost passion and hope for their ministry. They have testified how God has used the personal mentoring and retreats to bring back the passion and motivation that was lost due to the demands of their ministry. Others have said that after being taken care of, their churches have begun to grow again. They joyfully witness that lapsed church members have come back to Sunday services while new members have joined their churches. They have seen God move in a different way in their churches because of their personal commitment to daily devotional and spiritual disciplines.
Let me share an example. The Rev. Marcos Amaral has been the pastor of Jacarepagua Presbyterian church in Rio de Janeiro for the past 24 years. He said that for the first 22 years, he pastored his people as his job and not as his calling. He provided religious services to his members like a chaplain. Because he was a charismatic leader, the church’s leadership was pleased with the work he was doing and this personal recognition was the only reason that he continued as a pastor during all these years. He confessed that the only times he would pray and meditate on the word of God were for the preparation of Sunday sermons or Bible classes. His personal relationship with God was through deeds that he would perform for God. But he did not take time to be with God to nourish his soul. As a result, his church never had significant growth. But in September of 2015, he was invited to participate in one of our mentoring and spiritual formation retreats.
His life was completely transformed. I became his mentor after the 2015 retreat. He asked me if I could help him develop a discipleship program in his church because now he understood that this was exactly what Jesus told us to do in the Great Commission. A couple of years passed and in August of 2017, he invited my wife and me to come spend a weekend retreat with him and his disciples. During that weekend we studied the book by Colin Marshall and Tony Paine, “The Trellis and the Vine.” Our beautiful surprise was that his disciples were already discipling others. I was amazed to see that in 18 months, he had raised 70 disciples who were participating in the discipleship ministry. I received a call from him in March of this year inviting me to once again participate in a weekend retreat with his disciples and to my amazement, his disciple group has grown to 150 participants. He also shared that his two church services are overflowing with people, and new people are coming from many different places to worship our God. This past year his church experienced the largest growth in number of members that they have seen in the last 22 years combined. Click the button on the left below to view his personal testimony. You may also hear Rev. Marcio Tenponi's testimony by clicking on the button on the right.
When we invest in pastor’s lives through personal mentoring and spiritual formation retreats, we help them to develop the habit of setting aside time to be with God and to practice spiritual disciplines on a daily basis. Pastors are able to not only deal with daily struggles, but they also get rid of the burdens that they carry on their shoulders and regain their passion for ministry. As a result, the church grows again.
In the process of mentoring pastors, we have developed a methodology that focuses on three things: a) the pastor’s life with God. We teach them that the first pastoral task according to the scriptures is prayer. They make a commitment to set aside one hour a day to be with God. This is not the time to read the Bible to prepare sermons or for theological reflections; this is the time for them to feed their soul and enjoy the presence of God. b) the pastor’s physical and emotional life. Pastors commit to exercise five days a week and eat healthy food. They need to understand that improving their health is a spiritual discipline. c) the pastor’s life of the mind. We help them understand that after prayer the next pastoral task is to teach. Pastors can only give what they have. If they do not develop a habit of daily reading, they never find time to read because the demands of the ministry are enormous.
We are happy to report that this ministry to pastors is expanding beyond Brazil. In the month of February, I was in Mexico with the Rev. Juan Sarmiento, Associate Director for Mission of The Outreach Foundation. In Mexico Juan connected me with the Rev. Don Wehmeyer who has served for more the 40 years as a missionary in Mexico. After I shared with him and a group of Presbyterian leaders about SARA ministries in Brazil, they started conversations about developing an organization similar to SARA in Brazil. It is the Reformed Association of Support to Pastors (ARAP, by its initials in Spanish). They are planning the first mentoring retreat there in 2019.
In addition, we will have the first SARA mentoring retreat in the U.S. in Orlando, Florida on May 14-17 of this year. I praise God for what he has done and for what he is doing. I know that it is by his grace that we can move forward.
I want to thank all of you who have contributed to our ministry. I pray every day asking God to bless all of you and your ministry. Your generosity, ministerial vision, and faithfulness are the reason our ministry has advanced. God bless you.
Pezini and Odete
Read more about Pezini's ministry HERE.
The Outreach Foundation is seeking gifts totaling $95,000 for support and ministry funds for Pezini and $5,000 to defray costs of attending SARA retreats for pastors who cannot afford them.