An almost impossible mission.
It was November 1999 when I had my first contact with a refugee shelter. On the other side of the world, in a small country, on the east end of a beautiful island called Timor. A few weeks earlier, its population had voted for independence. In retaliation, paramilitary forces in Indonesia waged a terror campaign, murdering thousands of people, raping hundreds of women and girls, destroying schools, public buildings, commerce, houses, creating the forced displacement of more than 300,000 people. In less than 3 weeks, the beautiful capital Dili was reduced to ashes.
I was participating in an international missionary conference in Foz do Iguaçu when we received an urgent prayer request by a team of Brazilian missionaries who were missing in Timor. After the meeting, there was a discussion of what else could be done. There was a desire to do something, but what? How to enter a country at war? Several experienced missionaries from the global north and LA claimed that for political reasons they would not be able to get a visa. On the other hand, some remembered that due to our common Portuguese heritage and the great sympathy that the Timorese people had for us Brazilians, it would be strategic if someone was willing to go and try to locate them. I prayed, talked to my wife and counselors, and volunteered. With the support of friends, we raised funds for tickets and some food (later on we decided on powdered milk) for the thousands of homeless children. We also bought a few hundred bibles and, in less than a week, Margaretha, Hsiung, and I was embarking on one of the most impactful trips I have ever taken.
I confess that we had no idea what we would find. We flew to Jakarta and from there to Bali, where we would try to fly to Timor. But there were no flights. The only weekly flight was due to leave for West Timor 3 hours before we were able to arrive. What to do? Come back? Abandon the mission and give up? No! In a huge step of faith, we understand that the One who took us there would be able to do the impossible. We decided to embark, even against all possibilities. What was our joy when we approached that small airstrip and saw a single plane down there… It must be ours! It needs to be ours… and, 3 hours late, there he was !!!! We didn't know the reason for such a long delay, but our aircraft stopped right behind the other and, without even going through the airport lounge, we boarded the runway right there! I remember how we were watched by incredulous looks as we loaded the many boxes and backpacks with powdered milk and Bibles ourselves, from one plane to another.
We landed in West Timor. We were close but things just got more and more difficult. Because of the war, the border, roads, flights, and communications were blocked. Why are you going to Dili? Those who could have already left. Whoever is there now cannot leave. Are you sure you want to go there? Powerfully experiencing the Lord's hand with us, because we are “religious” and carrying a considerable amount of powdered milk, we were granted a special FAO pass (UN Food Agency) and we flew the last part of the trip on an army plane from Australia. It was a military observation flight in search of possible outbreaks of rebels ... so we flew most of the time at low altitude and with the doors open ... The arrival in Dili was strange. The only movement we saw, still on the airport runway, was a large group of refugees embarking on a UN flight to Australia. I remember their anguished faces carrying small and clumsy bags.
When we left the airport there was no taxi, no cars, no movement on the street. No one to receive us, or give us any information ... It looked like a deserted city. What to do? Where to go…? What to do with our precious luggage? Once again, D’us’s supply found us… A European nun (I don’t remember where she was from) observed us from afar and approached us. When she heard where we were from and why we were there, she offered us a ride. But there was still an issue, we said. We have a lot of luggage ... to which she pointed to her huge pickup truck parked right there ... What do you have in those boxes? Powdered milk, we said… Glory to God! said she, who was in charge of a shelter with many children and, that morning (!) she had cried out to the Lord to send food, for it was all over! He always thinks about the details ...
I let Margaretha go to the cabin with our new nun friend and I went to the pickup truck. (At this point it was just me and her. For diplomatic reasons, Hsiung cannot board). All along the way, I saw the only destruction… everything had been burned. Many bloodstains on the floor… What a tragedy these people were experiencing… Our first stop was at a sports gym where hundreds of families huddled together in small spaces, sleeping on straw mats, with pots, bags of clothes, and domestic animals delimiting their area. Seeing a child with the shirt of the Brazilian team there, in that distant and chaotic piece of the world, touched me. I identified myself and received a huge, wide smile in return. How many and how many times have I not been well received just for being Brazilian ...
A strong odor took over. There were not enough toilets. Many glances stopped, without reaction, still in shock at having seen his house burned and his loved ones murdered by ax blows, sickles, and machetes. The crying of babies and small, hungry children stood out over the general murmur.
We managed to rent a small red cart (detail, the direction in the opposite hand ... what an uncomfortable experience!). After a few days of wandering around, talking to locals and peacekeepers sent by the UN, we were informed that there was a group of Brazilians in the Portuguese forces' camp. It can only be them! We think. Glory to God! An enormous feeling of gratitude to the Lord for having preserved their lives and allowing us to find them safe and sound.
The story is long and maybe one day write more about it. I am bringing this story today because last Saturday, together with dear Margaretha Adwardana and many brothers, I participated in the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the AME mission - Associação Missão Esperança, which I was privileged to be one of the founders of. AME owes its birth and vision to this trip we made to East Timor. one where we went, whether in East Timor, several cities and islands in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, all, without exception, made appeals to us: “we need help! The Brazilian church needs to come here! Send us servant workers, people with their hearts in the heavens and their feet on the earth. People who do not hesitate to give their lives for the Lamb to be known and adored among all nations ”. And so it was done! The Lord has blessed us with a special team of missionaries ...
Today, looking back, a huge feeling of gratitude and smallness takes over my heart. What a privilege to be part of the wonderful purpose of God in revealing, in Christ, his love for every language, people, and nation. May the Lamb receive all the glory, honor, and praise, always and always! I am grateful to you who intercede, encourage, and share your resources so that our family can exercise this sublime vocation of ours. You are part of this and, for sure, in eternity, you will receive hugs from strangers thanking you ... Thank you! Thank you so much for meeting us and introducing Christ! Rejoice with us!