We started a church meeting earlier on Sundays close to their work, and several visited. We tried visiting their homes and families, most living in the interior city Esperança. We tried afternoon lunch break Bible Studies, but these restaurant people are pretty sleepy on their break.
Then we did something that doesn't work well with my biological clock: we started a Bible Study at midnight. Amazing: this is the time of day that these people are most alive and ready to do something after clocking out from work.
The restaurant would close, and we would study the Bible on the front sidewalk, not advisable in a city listed as the 3rd most violent in Brazil and 9th in the world, but God is in control, and in these years we have never had an incident, though it is about three blocks from where Jeremy got robbed at gunpoint. We did get rained on, but God controls that too.
This Bible study has had its ups and downs, at times twenty people would stick around, and then weeks would go by with only the faithful two or three. We tried moving to their dorm, then to their dorm sidewalk. And it may not have helped, having me fall asleep while giving the study, but fortunately Michel was always there to pick up where I left off, sometimes right in the middle of a sentence. In these years, nine people were baptized, and seven still meet with the church at Irene's beauty salon, but growth is slow.
Michel has had to deal with a lot of frustration; he is like a counselor in the restaurant. Everybody comes to him with their problem and he gives good advice about how to make changes, but people don't change, and dig deeper holes for themselves and their families, even some of the baptized.
Being down, though, doesn't stop God from working. Reginaldo, the restaurant owner, floundering under loan shark debts in the millions last year and having banks reject his requests for more money. He made it worse by escaping each night through drunkenness and prostitution, being a terrible example at work. It got so bad, he came close to taking his life last March, had the gun, called his mother to say goodbye, about to pull the trigger when he heard a voice tell him to put the gun away and go home. He obeyed. That day representatives from another bank he didn't know about showed up out of nowhere, asking him how much he needed to help him make it through.
Change, though, started to come when a man eating at his restaurant, whom he didn't know, asked to pray for him, and prayed about the specific things he was going through in his life. And then Michel has spent every night this past year till three or four a.m. talking to him about God's will.
He quit drinking, quit the partying, started spending time with wife and his twins, now he takes every opportunity to tell people about how God saved his life, the workers, the clients, people at the bank, a lady selling cloth in the street, etc. About when the midnight study was slowing to a stop, he invited us to start doing a movie night in the restaurant. We showed movies with spiritual messages for a couple of months, and gave short exhortations along with them. And, low and behold, several of the participants started asking for the Bible study again.
And that is what we do now. And we invite others to come teach if they can handle the early hours of the morning; Jeremy taught till 2:30 a.m. I now try to take a nap to be fully alert!
Michel, though, is an example of sacrifice for Jesus. He gets home each night at 3 or 4 a.m., sticking around talking and praying with Reginaldo and others that stay up. Then back to work at 10 a.m., usually getting only three or four hours of sleep. I don't know how his body can handle it. Through his example, God is calling me to spend more wee hours of the morning with this community that has formed: starting a Sunday midnight meeting, prayer and counseling sessions, and individual Bible studies.
I have put off writing about this work at the restaurant, because there is so much happening, a lot of which I have a hard time explaining, it's like anything I say doesn't seem to do it justice, I mean, I think God is doing something marvelous, and I confess my feeble mind can't fathom it all.
These pictures are last Thursday Bible Study (I was there from 10 to 3am - the singing, study and sharing lasted from 12:30 to 2). Present are Reginaldo, Francinaldo (the owner of the bakery across the street), Teteu (the owner of a Chinese restaurant across town), the rest are employees and their families, and even clients who stay after their evening meal. The attendance is around thirty. Maybe I feel a little like Jesus felt when he saw the crowd, and so I ask you to pray his request: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:37