A report from Jeff and Angie Sundell on the work in Athens. In July the team spent 30 days in the harvest. Here are the outcomes:
2,746 people across Athens, Greeks and refugees, were engaged in a spiritual conversation
680 people received prayer
1848 heard the Gospel
744 red lights — they didn’t want to know more
641 yellow lights — they want to find out more
79 green lights — they want to follow Christ
151 believers trained in how to share the Gospel
358 are being followed up
30 days is a long time and follow up is hard work. It’s not easy to get to consistent discipleship and church formation. But it is possible.
The people who see multiplying disciples and churches do what Jeff and the team in Athens do. They don’t just talk mission. They have a vision, they act and they mobilise others.
Want to see how all this fits together? Listen to Jeff Sundell’s vision for NoPlaceLeft Europe.
I first met Steve Addison a decade or so ago when a couple of friends and I were in the early stages of church planting. What struck us most was Steve’s humility and his wise, generous advice to a bunch of rookies starting out. It was a breath of fresh air.
Ten years later, Steve’s latest book The Rise and Fall of Movements: A Roadmap for Leaders, reflects that fresh approach we first experienced.
The Rise and Fall of Movements takes the lifecycle we are familiar with in church leadership – Birth through to Rebirth and overlays it onto missional movements, showing how and why they rise, and just as importantly, how and why they fall.
Steve Addison’s new book is a welcome follow up to his exploration of transformational movements
Steve’s conviction is that the centrifugal force of the gospel of Jesus compels the church to be a movement that, once it stops, solidifies and settles, is in constant danger of falling into the downward trajectory of the life cycle. And it takes a work of God among the people of God to ensure that this is avoided.
Yet it’s no scold. It begins with Steve’s own personal journey and his honest account of how even in his church planting successes decades ago, he came to the realisation how without God’s power this thing could go south pretty quickly! He points to the moment he asked himself if the risk of moving beyond what he was already doing was worth it:
“What do I have left? I have Jesus who died for me and rose from the dead. I have the unconditional love of God for all eternity.” Then I thought, “Ok, if that’s the deal, I’ll take it.”
This story will give you an insight into the world in which multiplying movements of disciples and churches are flourishing inside the prisons of Rio de Janeiro. It shows the vitality of the churches and how they have adapted to the gang-controlled culture of the prisons.
At exactly six o’clock the Comando Vermelho’s grito de guerra (war cry) rang out from the cells in Salgado’s south wing, started by the throaty shout from a single detainee. The lone voice was immediately answered by the four hundred inmates living in the gang-controlled cells, and everyone else throughout the facility stopped what they were doing and stood silent when the gang’s call-and-response ritual began. The war cry built to a crescendo, then ended with the repetition of the powerful final phrase five times:
“Comando … Vermelho, Comando … Vermelho, Comando … Vermelho, Comando … Vermelho, Comando … Vermelho.”
A somber hush fell over the building, and in the silence that followed I asked an inmate standing next to me what I had just heard. He responded, “It’s their war cry. They do this every day and always at six o’clock.” The daily ritual reminds both the inmates and the guards that Rio de Janeiro’s most powerful gang, the Comando Vermelho (Red Command), controls the south wing of the jail.
But that wasn’t the first grito de guerra I had heard that day. Fewer than thirty minutes earlier, on the other side of the facility, the members of the Heroes for Christ Prison Church performed a strikingly similar ritual. After the ninety-minute worship service, the pastor of Heroes for Christ, an inmate himself, yelled at the top of his lungs, “By what are we saved?” Then the thirty participants answered, “By the blood of Christ!”
The pastor continued, this time with more intensity, “If he is your shepherd?” The inmates responded, matching the pastor’s heightened passion: “Then we will lack nothing!” The inmate pastor continued leading the call and response, pacing through his incarcerated congregation to make his final, most dramatic declaration: “Church, together with all the inmates here, with tremendous faith, give us Lord Jesus …” and all of the men let loose with everything they had—“FREEDOM!!!”
In Rio de Janeiro, autonomous, inmate-led prison churches like the Heroes for Christ Prison Church are the heart of Pentecostal practice behind bars. “The church is ours. It belongs to those of us on the inside,” Cristiano, a Salgado inmate and the leader of the church’s war cry, told me.
He walks into the room, handcuffed, escorted by the guard that brought him from his 5’x9’ cell on L line of solitary confinement at Darrington Maximum Security Prison. From head to toe his body is covered with prison tattoos. The teardrop tattoos around his eyes symbolize murder – taking the life of another man.
The guard hands him off to our team and we allow him to say a few words of thanks to the prisoners celebrating behind the cage – the ones who have shared the Gospel and demonstrated to him the love of Jesus, but aren’t allowed to have physical contact with him. Now his eyes swell with real tears – symbolizing the suffering Lamb of God who died for the forgiveness of his sins and has transformed him from the inside out. We guide him into the portable baptismal, and soon he rises from the water to the sounds of cheers filling the room – his face glowing with the full awareness of the radical lifechange his baptism represents.
Today we baptized 13 men just like this…in the past year Sugar Creek has baptized 77 men in solitary confinement at Darrington. Next month, the new Warden, embracing the movement of God breaking out, will allow the inmates who discipled the men to conduct the baptisms for the first time.
At Coffield Prison in Palestine TX, the largest prison in the state, over 225 disciple making groups meet weekly in every living area of the prison. They average 30-40 baptisms each month.
One of the inmate leaders of this movement, in for life with no parole, was recently transferred to Darrington. Last week he began a 12-week high intensity, high accountability group disciple-making training at Darrington…the 40 participants are already starting groups throughout the general population.
There are over 100 men on the wait list to attend this training…a genuine movement of God is taking place – no man can control it, nor take credit for it since this is the unstoppable, unshakable Kingdom of God! The fruit of surrender to the Spirit – obedience to the Word of God – and pursuit of the mission of No Place Left where the Gospel has penetrated every person in the prison and beyond!
Find out more about this movement of God: 182-NoPlaceLeft Behind Bars.
Read the case study and others in The Rise and Fall of Movements.
Visit to a gang controlled neighborhood
Andrew Johnson describes his first visit to a Comando Vermelho (CV)–controlled neighborhood in the company of a pastor, an Assemblies of God deacon and a recently converted Pentecostal who had recently ended a multiyear crack cocaine addiction.
The story will give you a feel for the environment in which multiplying movements of disciples and churches are spreading in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas and prisons.
After waiting fifteen minutes we were summoned by an armed teenager who told us that the CV leader was ready to speak to us. The pastor had called for the meeting because the gang decided to shut down Cracolandia, the open-air crack market that had been operating thirty yards from the table where they sold marijuana and powder cocaine.
The number of crack users had dropped from a few hundred to a few dozen since the CV announced that crack sales would stop, and the remaining users smoked the small, pale-yellow rocks under printed signs that read “THE SALE OF CRACK WILL SOON BE PROHIBITED HERE.”
The CV leader arrived with a semiautomatic pistol tucked into his shorts, a thick Rolex on one wrist, a two-inch-wide gold bracelet on the other, and chunky gold rings on three of his fingers. Two bodyguards, who were also dripping in gold, accompanied the CV leader everywhere he went.
We all shook hands, and the pastor started the conversation by telling them that God was pleased with their decision to stop selling crack because the drug destroys individuals and families. The gang leader shrugged in agreement and continued to listen to the pastor as he told the gang members how he hoped God would continue his work in the community and eventually end the “rest of this,” pointing to the three sofas full of teenagers and the open-air drug buffet.
Though the pastor made it clear that the drug business was not a neutral activity in God’s eyes, he did not vilify the gang members. He did not accuse them of anything immoral or imply that they were the root of the problems facing the neighborhood and city.
I could sense that the men lowered their emotional defenses in response to the firm but respectful way the pastor spoke with them. He brought a positive message, telling them that God was pleased with their decision to stop selling crack, as opposed to saying God was displeased with them selling drugs.
Building on the moment, the pastor then asked if he could pray with the three men. The gang leader nodded in consent, and the pastor, deacon, and former crack user placed their hands on the men’s shoulders and began to pray. Though the gang members were not Pentecostals, when the pastor started to pray, all three immediately bowed their heads, closed their eyes, and accepted the prayers, as well as the touch of the other men. The pastor prayed that God would protect these three men and thanked God for their decision to stop the sale of crack cocaine in the space they controlled. He prayed for blessings and peace in the neighborhood, which had been one of Rio’s most violent over the last decade, and ended by thanking God for the men’s lives.
In stark contrast to how much of the city talks about and treats gang members, the pastor prayed as if the gang members’ lives had value. He affirmed their dignity even though they all were carrying weapons and the leader held a sack of drug money in his hands. The pastor’s interaction with the men was radically different from the interactions these men have with the police, government officials, the media, and the rest of society. The pastor directly spoke against the gang’s drug business and indirectly against their control of their neighborhood, but not against the gang members as people. In short, he treated them with dignity.
I argue that this sort of interaction is one of the primary reasons that Pentecostals are treated with respect in these areas. There were no tears from the gang members, no signs of remorse, no confessions, and no promises to change their affiliation with the Comando Vermelho. But after the final amen the gang members thanked us for coming and we all hugged each other.