Making disciples. What does that look like, really? Jesus’ second greatest command is to love our neighbors as ourselves. (Matt. 22:39). Now, if you’re a linear thinker like me, that literally means my neighbor – next door. Thankfully, Jesus also commands us in Matt. 28:19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In all the nations we are to make disciples. That means the poor and the wealthy, the fathered and the fatherless, the married and the widows, the native and the foreigner.
We are further encouraged by James when he says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress….. James 1:27a. At the time James wrote these words, if widows and orphans didn’t have anyone to care for them they became beggars, sold themselves into slavery, stole or starved. And, this problem is still with us today, over 2000 years later. We still have widows, orphans, the homeless. They have become beggars and are selling themselves or their children into slavery or stealing for their next meal or simply starve. They are exploited and we are commanded to ensure that this exploitation stops and to give them hope through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
They go hand in hand, you see; caring for the physical and spiritual needs of our neighbors around the world. That is exactly what my friend Patrick and his wife Barbara are doing through Living Bread Ministry. Read, now, their holistic approach in caring for the global poor.
HFT: Patrick, tell us how your vision for Living Bread Ministries was born.
P: The vision Bárbara and I have for Living Bread developed over several years. We have always had a heart for the poor, even as unbelievers, especially in Bárbara’s native Brazil. After coming to know the Lord in 1999 he began to shape a vision for ministry among the poor and needy. Our journey as Christians took us into two denominations and we noticed something very interesting about them both.
The first church we joined after coming to know the Lord was from a tradition that emphasized caring for the physical needs of people. We later found ourselves in a church that was more focused on spiritual needs and thus emphasized evangelism. We realized that these concerns were not mutually exclusive. When we decided to begin a ministry among the poor we wanted it to be built around the local church so church planting was essential, but we wanted to plant churches that cared for whole people. In early 2004 Living Bread Ministries was launched with the vision to plant churches among the poor in South America and equip those church plants to minister to their communities in a comprehensive way. The vision has since grown to focus on the global poor.
HFT: Patrick, I’ve heard you say that you want to plant churches that minister in a comprehensive way. Please elaborate on what that means for your ministry.
P: As I mentioned, we don’t see a dichotomy between the spiritual and physical. We believe the mission of the church involves ministering to whole people. It’s not enough to feed someone and leave him or her dead in their sin, nor is it acceptable to lead someone to Jesus and leave him or her naked and hungry. So, our focus is to plant churches among the very poor and equip those churches to minister to the needs of their community.
Practically this means each of our church plants is proclaiming the gospel and calling people to repentance, while at the same time responding to the tangible needs around them. Each church operates feeding ministries and is involved in any number of aid and development works. Some help drug addicts, care for widows and street children, provide job skills or English classes, and others are helping the homeless get off the streets.
The churches are making disciples and modeling in the community what it means to obey all that Christ commanded. The result: the church is an agent of transformation in their community. We’ve seen church members take in orphans, care for blind widows and the handicapped. It is significant that they have done these things even though they often are just as impoverished as those they are helping.
Typically, church planting and humanitarian ministry are done separately. We are bringing the two together in the context of a local church led by members of the actual community.
HFT: Patrick, I’ve also heard you use the terms interdependence and Three Self Paradigms. How does each of these thoughts apply to LBM?
P: The Three Self Paradigm is a view that most Western mission agencies have operated by for a long time. The paradigm arose as a corrective to the “dependence” of indigenous works upon foreign aid and missionaries. Often missionaries would work to plant a church but when the missionary left the field and the foreign resources dried up, the church would disband. As a result the popular belief became that to correct this missionaries must work to plant truly indigenous churches which was defined as churches that were self-governing (local leaders), self-propagating, and self-sustaining.
The self-sustaining aspect became the focus and mission agencies determined that all financial assistance to indigenous works results in dependency. As a result, mission agencies and missionaries determined not to give financial resources to help any indigenous works. This is still a foundational principle among most Western mission agencies.
While the issue of dependency is a real one, one of the unintended results of the focus on self-sustaining is a lack of church planting efforts among the very poor. Often church planting has been reserved for the middle class and wealthy while to poorest communities have only received humanitarian ministries. They’ve been given bread but in many cases have been left without a local church.
This is where the concept of interdependence comes in. We affirm that dependency is an issue, but we believe it has less to do with the giving of financial resources and more to do with Western missionaries proclivity to control indigenous workers, often using money as a means to do so. We do not believe the proper response to a concern over dependency is to abandon the poor because they cannot “sustain” a church. Rather, we believe the way to avoid dependency is through interdependence.
We are not called to be dependent, but neither are we called to be independent. Like the human body each member is interdependent upon one another. We need each other. No single contribution is more significant than the other. By beginning from this perspective, the local community has ownership of the church from the beginning. It’s their church and they work to grow and sustain it. We may provide some financial capital, but they also provide financial resources, according to their means, and they provide the human capital to love and care for the community. In this case who is dependent upon whom?
HFT: Barbara, here at HFT we encourage women in their identity and authority in Christ as ambassadors to the kingdom of God. As women, how do we assert these qualities for a ministry such as LBM’s?
B: By using our gifts and talents to further His kingdom and fully surrendering to his plan. As Patrick’s wife and co-founder of LBM I am fulfilling my purpose as his helpmate (Gen. 2:18); I am a sounding board for new ideas and opportunities, as well as a prayer partner for the needs and future of the ministry. As the Lord entrusted this ministry to us, I am able to use the languages I’ve learned and the cross-cultural experiences the Lord blessed me with from my early years into my teenage years. I also have an opportunity to serve on the leadership team of Living Bread Brazil as I am a native Brazilian. The Lord has given me a love for people, community, relationships, languages and other cultures. By creating me in his image, He has given me the responsibility to care for all of his creation. This responsibility brings the need to surrender and be obedient to him in the role he’s given me. I must daily die to self and surrender to his plan so that I can carry on with my duties in his creation, part of which is my role in LBM. As disciples, whether men or women, we are called to deny self take up our cross and follow Christ.
HFT: Finally, tell us about the human trafficking aspect of LBM. Is this something that has always been on your radar or something that evolved from your ministry work?
P: We have always been concerned about the comprehensive needs of the poor. The global poor are very susceptible to many issues; hunger, disease, and exploitation to name a few. Human trafficking is an issue that preys upon the most vulnerable, the poor. Whether the issue is sex trafficking or forced labor the poor and needy are especially vulnerable.
They often have no voice and no advocate, because there is no local church in their community. In urban slums, where community has totally degenerated and everyone is fighting for survival, no one is looking out for the weak. Traffickers, factories, brothels, etc take advantage of this to prey upon the hopeless.
We believe that by establishing Christ centered local churches in poor communities, discipling them to care for and protect the weak, and by providing some basic essentials like food kits, medicine, etc we can impact this issue. When people are no longer desperate and vulnerable the traffickers cannot prey on them. When toddlers are no longer crying from hunger then mothers are no longer desperate enough to send their twelve year olds into prostitution in order to by bread.
HFT: What are the ways our readers can contact you for more information?