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Baptist Home teens minister in Brazil

Squatting down in the entryway, Jade Wise extends her arms and motions for the nearby preschooler to give her a hug. The 5-year-old is not so sure about the strange visitor and shyly lowers his head.

Sneaking a quick look upward, a grin slowly creeps across his face and the brown-eyed youngster makes a made dash into the teens’ open arms. He returns the hug, hops down and runs inside the group home as his friends take turns receiving embraces from Wise and her friends. 

 Hugs were in abundance recently at the Vinde a Mim Orphanage (Let the Children Come Unto Me Orphanage), a group home for children ages 6-12 in an urban and poor area of Florianopolis, Brazil.

Outside the group home, giggles and laughter fill the courtyard – enclosed with a towering fence topped with electrical wire - as the Brazilian children and a group of Arkansas teens began blowing and chasing bubbles. An older group of boys enjoy a hacky sack game.

 “These kids are precious,” said Wise, adding that while they ‘don’t really understand” our language, “It’s so fun to love on them.” Before leaving the home, Jade and her friend Krissy Eastridge taught their new 5-year-old friend to sing “Jesus Loves Me” in English.  “It was so fun hearing him sing,” said Krissy. “The look on his face was awesome.”

 Jade and Krissy were among eight residents of the Arkansas Baptist Home for Children in Monticello that traveled to the southeastern Brazilian city June 15-25 to take part in a 10-day mission trip. The first-ever overseas mission trip for any group of ABCHomes residents was funded by several generous ABCHomes donors.

The Baptist Home residents, along with 11 ABCHomes staff and representatives, ministered alongside Southern Baptist International Mission Board missionaries Ron and Alana Greenwich. Ron, who grew up at the Baptist Home, has ministered in the South American country for 28 years.

“I am so thankful  … for the group from Arkansas, especially those from the Baptist Home which is part of my past, for coming to Brazil to minister with us (Alana and I),” shared Greenwich. “I feel so very close to this group just because of our connection to the Baptist Home.”

It was a “privilege,” he said to host this group and to “watch them interact with little children who have even less than they do.”

During their trek to Brazil, the mission team spent two days ministering at a public school-in a Florianopolis favela - the generally used term for a shantytown in Brazil. This very poor, violent community is plagued with drug problems and domestic violence. Many residents’ only means of making a living is by collecting trash and sorting through it to find recyclable items that can be sold.

At the school, several Baptist home team members were allowed to lead a Bible study and share their testimonies in four classes. Others helped the Brazilian children make crafts and balloon animals.

Next door at a community center first started by the Greenwich’s, other team members led area teenagers in recreational and sporting events. American football and baseball were a big hit among the Brazilians.  Each teen was presented with a  Slipdisc·, a Frisbee-type disc with the gospel message in Portuguese on the underside decal.

 Noting that soccer is king in Brazil, team member Dave Bostian, said, the Brazilian kids enjoyed learning about the American games. “They didn’t quite understand the idea of running around the baseball diamond, but they sure did like to like to slam the ball,” said Bostian.

 Lucia Perry, wife of ABCHomes executive director David Perry, was among the group who traveled to Brazil. Lucia said one thing she noticed during a visit to the homes of two women living in the favela was the hospitality among those who had so little.

“At each home, they wanted to offer us food and coffee,” shared Lucia. “I was touched by these wonderful ladies.”

The team also visited two low-come day care centers where they led backyard-Bible-type clubs and recreational activities.  Four ABCHomes leaders shared about the history, program and funding of ABCHomes with a group who oversee Brazilian residential group/foster care-type homes.

At another orphanage for infants and toddlers up to 3-years-old, team members painted a bedroom and dining area. When team members learned there were three infants onsite, they jumped at the chance to cuddle and rock the precious little ones.

After cuddling 18-month-old Alexander, team member Robin Caldwell, noted, “When he said ‘mamaaaa’, I felt maternal instincts taking over.” Caldwell, an ABCHomes executive board member, jokingly said her husband could surly get used to baby boy around the house.

Each of the Baptist Home residents said they won’t soon forget the experiences and opportunities to minister they had the opportunity to be a part of during the mission trip.

“I can’t event put into words what it meant for me to come on this trip,” shared Jake Roberts, 18. “I’ll never forget it.”

Noting the living conditions of the favela children she observed on the trip, Caitlyn Bradley said, “We (Americans) get more and more things all the time and all we do is take and take. I was so inspired by the joy on the faces of these kids who really don’t have much.”

Team member Erica Wise called the trip an “incredible blessing. “I will never forget holding two of the most precious gifts God could create. It was so hard saying by to these precious babies.”

Krissy called the trip “life changing.” Noting some challenges she has faced, she said, “ We have so much and these kids don’t. I know God is taking care of me. And He sent me here … Just to see the changes on a child’s face when I picked him up was worth it all. “

Recalling her experiences on the trip and her time spent at the Baptist Home, Cynthia Skattebo, said, “It is crazy how much we take for granted. We don’t appreciate what we have, but being here I can see how much I have … It was an amazing trip.”