Impressed. Inspired. Awed. Those are a few of the words to describe what I felt the first time I visited Paz in Brazil. They were not yet 30 years old, yet they had planted hundreds of churches across Brazil and were raising up new leaders and pastors left and right. Some of their churches were huge, including the Paz Church I would eventually call my home church in Santarém and have the privilege of serving as the leader of their worship ministry. It’s a church of 60,000 members in a town of about 200,000 people!
My initial connection to Paz was two-fold: first I was interested in Ruth Hrubik, the daughter of the directors of Paz. Interested, as in marriage interested. But before visiting Brazil for the first time, I had only heard stories about her family. Fantastic stories of jungles and boats, missionaries and danger, stadiums and alter calls, as well as plane wrecks and heartbreak. I knew that Ruth loved the work and the ministry, and that she wanted to serve with Paz in the future. I also knew that she had a call of missions on her life. I was open to missions, but had never dreamed of being a missionary. At that point, I knew that God had called me to the music ministry. I had completed an associates of engineering and a bachelors in music and had just started serving full-time for a church 3 hours outside of Chicago. Ministry was front and center in my life, however missions was the furthest thing from my mind.
The second connection I had to Paz was my parents, who had just left their comfortable lives and jobs in Central Illinois to become missionaries in the Amazon Basin with Paz. The very first Christmas on the mission field they decided to fly all of us kids down to Brazil to be together for the holidays. At the same time, Ruth and I had become good friends and I was almost sure I would marry her, however there was one little hiccup: she didn’t like me! (At least romantically.)
So with my brother and sister, we boarded a plane in Peoria IL and continued to Saint Louis, Atlanta, Miami, Sao Paulo, Recife, Fortaleza, Sao Luis, Belem and finally Santarém. When we finally got to Santarém we were so ready to be off that little jet plane! Little did I know that God was setting the stage to unveil the curtain on the next act of the play he had already written for my life.
In one masterful swoop, in a way that couldn’t have even been imagined by the best and brightest of Hollywood script-writers, God unveiled a game-changer. For as I walked into my very first service at Paz Church in Santarém on a hot Sunday morning, the praise music began to play, people began to celebrate and dance, and I began to weep as God spoke to me, saying so clearly to my heart “This is what I have for you.” At the same time God flipped a switch in Ruth’s heart and she fell head-over-heals for me. Not joking! I had been invited into more than just a life of missions, but I was chosen by God to join a great two-fold legacy: a family legacy in church planting going back three generations and an apostolic legacy going back to the very beginning of the book of Acts!
Years passed and God opened the way for Ruth and I to become missionaries with Paz. We said some difficult good-byes to friends and loved ones (cue the song Friends by Michael W Smith), we sold our house sight-unseen to the new buyers, and off we went to Santarém to serve. It didn’t take me long to realize that although we had moved there to serve, we were also there to learn. And so I learned all I could from a plethora of leaders, missionaries and pastors. I was incredibly blessed to be able to put into practice what we were learning in our missions outreaches on the rivers, into our cell groups and our discipleships. Eventually I had the immense honor of leading the huge worship team (nearly 300 members) at Paz Church in Santarém as we produced CDs and led worship in the 60 odd-some services across nearly 30 campuses in Santarém. It took me nearly a year just to visit all the different campuses and see our teams in action!
Ministering at conferences across Brazil came with the huge benefit of personally meeting influential pastors from around the world. I was continually inspired by their examples and continued to grow in respect and admiration for our own Paz leadership.
So it was a bittersweet time when we left Brazil for Japan. Our ministry had flourished in Brazil, but we left it all to go help the fledgling Paz Church here in Japan take off. We knew it would be a huge transition, and even still we weren’t completely prepared for all that we would pass through as we sought to see the dream become a reality in Japan. They say the first phase of any business or church plant is “difficult beginnings,” and we certainly got in on that phase! But we had a conviction in our hearts that Japan would experience a spiritual awakening like never before, and we felt God’s invitation to be a part of it.
Over the years God has been faithful to answer our prayers, pleas and cries for a fresh move of God here in Japan, and by God’s grace we’ve seen the ministry begin to grow and blossom. Neighbors have come to Christ and been baptized, we’ve been able to work with some amazing people along the way, and we’ve recently seen new leaders being raised up. The same thing that happened in Brazil is happening here in Japan, and this time we’re a part of the pioneering team.
So you can imagine our joy to have recently hosted here in Japan the leadership summit for the very same pastors, leaders and missionaries who have inspired us so much and have literally changed Brazil for eternity. Our joy overflowed as this same group of pastors and leaders laid their hands on us and prayed over us, ordaining us as pastors of Paz Church. It was a moment I’ll never forget. We were passed a great legacy from those who came before us.
Looking back I can clearly see how God has paved the way for the next generation to continue the legacy that was started even before Paz had begun. A legacy that had been handed down from generation to generation, from nation to nation, until the whole world knows of the saving knowledge of God in Jesus Christ.