have been watching the recent news reports of snow, snow, and more
snow in many parts of the US - maybe even where you live - with concern and maybe even a bit of longing. While we have put up our small artificial tree with some lights and family ornaments, it somehow just doesn't feel the same here at the height of summer.
But there is a chill in the air that has indeed reached to places like Brazil: the meltdown in the global financial system and fears of recession and job losses. While developing nations have been slower to experience these results of excesses in the US housing and financial systems, these days they are very much in the news. In just one example, a neighbor in our apartment building who is a truck driver for an auto transport company has been out of work for the last four months. Due to tight credit and increasing unemployment, Brazilians have stopped buying new cars and dealerships have stopped stocking their lots. The challenge in developing nations is that this most recent crisis has come on the heels of rapidly increasing food prices, and this impacts those countries and families least able to cope.
It seems that we've been hit with wave after wave of this cold wind of fear these last several years. That's why at this Christmas season it is good to remember the words the shepherds heard that cold night in Palestine over 2,000 years ago: "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people."
Has it ever struck you how many times the Bible records God (or God's messengers) saying this to people? It comes up something like 59 times in the Old and New Testaments. The list reads like a veritable "who's who" of the Bible: Abraham, Hagar, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah (the prophet), Zechariah (John the Baptist's father), Joseph and Mary (Jesus' father and mother), the shepherds, Jesus to his disciples, and the apostle Paul. What's also striking is to see how during crucial moments God often repeated the message "Do not be afraid," for example to Joshua when preparing to enter the Promised Land and to various people during the time of Jesus' birth.
That's why it is good to remember these encouraging words at this time. Jesus, God's "good news of great joy for all the people," was born at a time of fear and uncertainty so that we would experience peace and security. Not that our troubles and world's uncertainties cease when we put our faith in Jesus. Sometimes far from it! But, as Jesus said to his disciples "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
May you, too, remember the greatest of God's gifts in Jesus' birth this Christmas season. May you experience this peace as the cold winds of global recession and fear blow through your life.
Thank you for your prayers and for your financial support to International Ministries-ABCUSA on our behalf during 2008. Your partnership makes possible all that we are able to do at JAMI, our local church and through the churches of the National Baptist Convention of Brazil. Thank you for your generosity during these tough times, and the sacrifices you make to enable our ministries to continue.
Please join us in prayer for:
* Celso, Andreia and their boys, our former students, who are on their way to Senegal
* Glinder, who has just arrived in Uruguay to serve during his internship as an interim pastor
* João Paulo, who has been serving with several churches in Uruguay for the past 3 months
* Denilson, who leaves at the end of this month for North Africa (see photo of his last English class)
* The new students for JAMI's new missionary training program who will arrive in February - that God would strengthen their hearts as they respond to God's call on their lives
Que a alegria e esperança do Natal estejam com vocês (May the joy and hope of the Birth be with you),
Ann, Bruce, and Asa
Belo Horizonte, MG, Brazil