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The Olympics and Church Growth

After finishing up the Thanksgiving and Christmas leftovers and putting away the Christmas tree, I was thinking back six months to when we were enthralled with the summer Olympics – the medal count, the adulation of the Olympians and the views of beautiful Brazil. Let your mind drift back to watching the skillful athletes performing before thousands in the stands and before millions on television. But also take a closer look off to the sidelines — who are those men and women watching with intent eyes, muscles tensing with anticipation? Ah, the coaches!

The Coaches

How important are coaches? Ask any athlete and the answer will most likely be “indispensable.” They are the ones who keep at the athletes, demanding work, asking for and getting improvement of a particular skill. They are the ones who stay up late, planning and mapping out the “course” for the athletes. They provide the training, the dietary direction and the encouragement.

There is a church in Brazil made up of believers from the Gavião people group. The believers are intensely involved in the work of the church — the New Tribes Mission missionaries are now the coaches for the team. The missionaries have demonstrated how to evangelize and the Gavião church has learned and is following suit. Church leaders work with their “coaches” to prepare Bible study materials and to teach Sunday school classes.

Just as there are multiple coaches for any sports team to handle the different areas of expertise, the same is true in the Gavião church. There are three families who work with the church, each family having its own niche. Adilton and Vilma Campos, Valmir and Ana Lourdes Ferreira, and Don and Dalvani Austin make up the “coaching staff.”

Still, it is the athletes who must perform, not the coaches.

The Pentathlon

As the Ferreira family were returning from home assignment, they found that their “coaching” had borne fruit. While the Ferreiras were on home assignment, the Gavião church drew up an official list of things that they wanted to discuss once the missionaries returned. There were five things that they centered their attention on, and they weren’t things that were going to be easy.

The first step was visiting other Gavião villages; they were concerned with the sick and the unsaved of their own people.

The second leg of the run expanded their reach: they wanted to go to other ethnic groups close to them, sharing with them the gospel.

The third part involved their desire to continue the translation and adaptation of Bible lessons into their heart language.

The fourth, very closely related, was the desire to see more of the Scriptures translated. Thankfully, there are Gavião who are being trained to take on the third and fourth legs. Adilton is the translation coach, working side by side with the Gavião translators and adapters.

The fifth leg is actually a huge step: they are trying to discern what all the “coaches” need to continue doing and what they can do for themselves. One area is the legal registration of the Gavião church. The “athletes” are beginning to take responsibility for their competition.

The Hurdles

Just the name of the sport indicates its difficulty. The speed and grace needed to get over a hurdle to win the race is incredible. Adilton shared a “hurdle” story with us to help understand what it’s like.

Culture for the Gavião provides ample hurdles for the growing and maturing church. In the Gavião culture, the typical response to the death of a loved one is anger, fighting, denying the death, destroying the loved one’s possessions, death threats and not eating or doing anything for at least a month.

A church leader’s father had passed away. Would the leader respond in the “correct” Gavião manner? No, he did not. He ran the race, taking the hurdles of culture in stride. He continued to open the church doors, kept the meetings going, threatened no one and lived a normal life in Christ, his Hope.

The Steeplechase

You remember this one, don’t you? Running, jumping barriers, splashing through water — looks exhausting. This race included a 16-year-old Zoro husband, a pregnant wife and the husband’s believing Zoro parents. (The Zoro live near the Gavião and have been deeply affected by the Gavião church.) If someone dies, according to Zoro culture someone else must be held responsible.

The young husband was killed in a motorcycle accident; the truck driver (not a believer) was very afraid of the expected repercussions. The young man’s father went to visit the driver, much to the agitation of the driver.

Barrier coming.

The father simply shook the driver’s hand and expressed his desire to speak with him in the name of God and assure him that there would be no vengeance sought.

Barrier cleared.

Another cultural barrier involves the dictate stating that one can’t eat or do anything — just sit there and be sad — for at least one month. One week after the death of the young husband, the family met together and ate, celebrating the entrance of their loved one into the presence of God. And a week after that, they all attended a conference hosted by the Zoro.

Water crossed safely.


Ah, the grace, the flexibility and the endurance of those gymnasts were amazing, weren’t they? And that still applies to the Gavião church. There is one couple, Zenilton and Adriana, who, with their two small children, have taken a huge step and have begun studying at New Tribes Mission’s Bible school in Brazil. Willingly extricating themselves from their own culture, they must bend and flex, adjust and adapt — and land on their feet. They are doing just that and watching the Lord provide for their needs.


Nimble feet, taking advantage of every opportunity and using a sword — sounds somewhat similar to what Don and Dalvani Austin do. They are involved in an outreach into a housing area for Indians who have to come to the city for medical reasons. Don takes advantage of every chance to give Bible studies to a variety of ethnic Indians who have to be there. He wielded God’s Sword at a chief’s son and family; that same Sword was used to penetrate the heart of Pedro, another chief who had been resistant to the gospel. After this “coach” showed how it was done, Gavião believers were given the opportunity to teach in Pedro’s village — and Pedro even wants a shelter built so all can listen together.

Communication and Whistles

How difficult must it be for an athlete to be in a foreign country with hundreds of others that don’t speak the same language? How can you tell what is being communicated? Yes, the coaches speak the same language, but what if that coach originally came from yet another country? A whistle is not too difficult to understand. On the soccer pitch, field hockey green or volleyball court, the whistle is used for two things: stop and start.

Some of this holds true for the Gavião church. The missionaries have had to learn their culture and language in order to share Truth with them. But how do you learn … whistling? That’s right. The Gavião are able to communicate whole thoughts with a whistle! It’s more than just “stop” or “start again.” As Truth is shared by the Gavião church, I wonder how many times a whistle will communicate the feelings, the nuances or the culturally accepted concept. Who would have thought that a whistle could do so much?

The Medal Count

Right now, we have no way of knowing what the medal count is. Heaven will reveal all the trophies that have been won in the Gavião group. And you know what? There will only be gold medals in heaven! The Gavião will gather around our Savior right beside you and me, and together we will cast our crowns at His feet.

The Olympics are enjoyable to watch, but really they are of no eternal value. The medals will deteriorate and end up burning to nothingness. But the church among the Gavião? It has incredible eternal value. Throughout the endless ages, those trophies will be singing their Lord's praise in His presence.

POSTED ON Jan 06, 2017 by Bruce Enemark and Judy Roszhart

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