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Sao Paulo students reaching campuses for Christcomment (0)

October 7, 2010

Scriptures, prayers and random thoughts — scrawled in white ink — cover the prayer room’s black walls.

“For nothing is impossible with God.”

“Whatever it takes.”

“Show us your glory.”

“Give us the nations.”

“Use me.”

The words reflect something big God is doing in Sao Paulo, Brazil — population 23 million. The Christian students who wrote them share a vision for reaching Sao Paulo’s 1 million university students for Christ.

Nearly three years ago, in the Sao Paulo neighborhood of Marajoara, International Mission Board (IMB) representatives Chris and Melody Julian started “Igrega Zoe Marajoara” (Zoe Marajoara Church). Its members simply call it “Zoe,” Greek for “abundant life.”

“I never saw myself as a church planter, but God did,” said Chris, whose background is in student and youth ministry. “We just took a leap of faith and said, ‘Let’s start this thing.’”

The Julians had tried to reach students through Bible studies on several Sao Paulo campuses. “But we never really saw any fruit,” Melody said.

But at a conference in Moscow, God showed Chris how to reach people where they are. Afterward, the Julians and three Brazilian students began studying the Book of Acts. As they prayed about how to reach Sao Paulo’s students, “God put it on our hearts to start a church in our home,” Melody said. “So, with much fear and trembling — because we didn’t have a clue what we were doing — we began Zoe. God has blessed beyond our wildest dreams.”

As the team’s work got under way, they invited Southern Baptist young adults to help them build relationships with Brazilian students.

“The Lord never said, ‘Invite [lost people] to come and then make disciples of all nations.’ He told us to go,” said Chris Black, who recently completed his service in Brazil through the IMB’s Journeyman program, a two-year overseas missions opportunity for single college graduates, 21 to 26 years old.

On any given day, you’ll find Black and Zoe colleagues “hanging out” with Brazilian students on university campuses, in coffee shops, cafés and bakeries, on buses or in the subway.

“Wherever students are, that’s where we’re going to go. And we’re just ourselves. We’re just real,” Chris Julian said.

“Sao Paulo is a very large city, but it can also be a very lonely city,” added Colby Sledge, IMB Hands On volunteer whose term ended in 2009. “I think a lot of students look for some sort of relationship wherever they can find it, because it’s hard to ... maintain relationships in this city.” Hands On is an intensive short-term missions program for college students and young adults.

“They work, they go to school, they sleep, they study — that’s their life,” Chris Julian said. “And so they are searching. They’re empty. They’re lonely. They want purpose. They’re searching for purpose in their studies but after that ... what’s after that?”

Students who have answered that question — and others still searching — gather for worship in the Julians’ backyard for Zoe’s monthly theme night. Recently the theme was a Hawaiian luau. On this particular night seven students were baptized.

Among the baptismal candidates was Roberto Campos, a 21-year-old information technology student.

“I considered myself an agnostic. ... I felt that my life was kind of empty, without purpose, like I was just living,” he recalled.

But three months after Campos began attending Zoe fellowships, he became a Christian. “I started to cry,” he said. “I had a real touch of God on my life. ... Now I can honestly say that God exists. I’m being baptized tonight to show He’s a part of my life.”

Orlando Soares Jr., a founding member of Zoe, reflected on the baptisms.

“The baptisms [12 in all since the church began] are a gift from God, showing us that we are doing His work, according to His will,” he said.

Another sign: Church members are giving 100 percent of their offerings to missions. New Zoe leaders are receiving in-depth discipleship training. And in other parts of the city, Zoe members have started three new groups at student hangouts.

“It all goes back to what Zoe is all about,” Black said. “It’s just going out ... showing Christ, loving people wherever you are. If we’re believers, our lives aren’t our own. We’re commanded to go and make disciples. And this redemption story is too incredible of a story for us not to go out and tell.”  (BP)

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