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Whoever Has Ears, Let Them Hear!

Off the northern coast of the major Brazilian city of Belém, the Island of Cotijuba sits as the gateway to the Amazon River chain. Encompass Global Workers Wayne and Ellen Patton moved to this little island in 2010 with their partners, Crossworld missionaries Kim and Dave Johnson, ready to bring the light of God’s word to a spiritually dark place. The Pattons had lived and worked in Belém for years and felt that they had a good idea of what living on the island would be like, but it didn’t take long for unexpected challenges to arise.

Initially, the islanders’ previous bad experiences with outsiders made them afraid of interacting with cross-cultural workers. The Pattons and Johnsons worked to develop a Kid’s Club, which succeeded in overcoming some of this suspicion and established their ministry on the island. They were greeted more often and in a friendlier manner, but they still saw very little spiritual progress.

The main issue was the challenge of reading the Bible with the islanders. On Cotijuba the term “pastor” had become equated with “thief” because many pastors had come and stolen from the Cotijuba people. These false pastors always carried the Bible, so the physical scripture had become a symbol for stealing. In addition, most of the islanders were illiterate, their culture predominately oral. Wayne and Ellen’s discipleship strategy was heavily literature and Bible-based. They had no idea what to do.

In January 2015, the Pattons returned to the States for a year of home-ministry. They left behind the Kid’s Club, a women’s group, and a small Spiritual Family gathering in the care of a Brazilian couple named Jeú and Ester. Jeú, was one of the pastors on nearby Monkey Island. His church had been helping the Pattons with their work on Cotijuba since the beginning, and Jeú decided to leave his full-time ministry for a season to serve in the Patton’s place. Jeú and Ester enjoyed their time but also made little headway with the ministries on Cotijuba.

Back in the States, the Pattons began searching for a better strategy to use on the island. They discussed the issue with Encompass Executive Director Dave Guiles, who suggested they look into the Bible Storying Strategy. Storying is designed for oral cultures and consists primarily of sharing Bible stories from memory. The Pattons immediately loved it and believed that Bible Storying would be the key to reaching the people of Cotijuba. They attended training and went to a conference to equip themselves.

When they returned to Brazil in February of 2016, the Pattons began implementing Bible Storying. They shared their new skills with Jeú and Ester who also began telling Bible stories by heart. Their ministry nearly quadrupled in size, and the depth of their relationships with the Cotijuba people began to develop. Their Spiritual Family grew exponentially and they now meet in three locations each week. At these gatherings, the Pattons focus on relationships and use discussions instead of reading. There is a lot of singing and sharing of Bible stories, along with social games and a time of prayer. In the past year, the Pattons have seen an amazing transformation among all of their Cotijuba friends. Like a double-edged sword, the Bible is powerfully piercing the hearts of the islanders.

Wayne and Ellen praise God for giving them the solution they eagerly prayed for. They hope to train others in how to share the Bible in an oral format, in order to build up the body of Christ throughout the Brazilian islands.