Dr. Mark Coppenger became the pastor of First Baptist Church in El Dorado in 1983, and as a young and enthusiastic pastor he brought changes to the church. The former pastor Dr. Don Harbuck had faithfully served the church for twenty-nine years, but in his last few years the church had become complacent and lost its’ earlier zeal for soul winning and missions. One of Dr. Coppenger’s priorities was a re-focus on evangelism, and a few members began training in door to door witnessing using the program Continuing Witness Training (CWT). It took almost a year before the training bore fruit, but those involved remained faithful. Along with other changes there was a greater hunger for short-term overseas mission trips. At the time the Arkansas Baptist Convention was in a cooperative effort with the Southern Baptists in Brazil in a partnership called the Amazon-Arkansas Partnership Mission. Our church made plans for its’ first mission trip to Brazil in August, 1986.
Cathy and I had never been on a mission trip and were convinced this was the Lord’s will for us. Our children were old enough for us to be away from them for the ten days required to make the trip. Our church was combining forces with members of Three Creeks Baptist Church to go far down the Amazon to a small town named Redencao (Hay’ den saw) in the state of Para. We began the planning meetings in April, and there were soon a total of thirty people committed to make the trip. The purpose of our mission was to begin the building of two churches in Redencao and to send teams doing door to door evangelism. In addition to Cathy and me my brother Berry Lee (Bubba) and his youngest daughter Becky made plans to go. Years before Bubba had made a mission trip to Panama where he provided medical care to the Kuna tribe on the San Blas Island. The photo above shows our entire team and includes Pastor Lowell Snow of Three Creeks Baptist and four of his members.
As part of our preparation each of us wrote our personal salvation testimony. This was translated into Portuguese and printed on a single sheet with English on the front and Portuguese on the back. Each missionary had multiple testimony sheets for distributing in airports, shops, on the streets and in the homes we were to visit. In our planning sessions we had people with Brazilian backgrounds tutor us in the language, customs and cultural differences. The meetings helped in bonding our team and gave us opportunities to commit ourselves in prayer for the work ahead.
Cathy and I wanted a few days of rest with her family in Florida before leaving for Brazil, so we drove to Fort Lauderdale with Mary Kay and Ginny. On the trip we stopped in Kissimmee, Florida to briefly visit Cathy’s sister Nancy and husband Norman to see their new law office which Norman had designed. John Aaron was already in Fort Lauderdale having spent several weeks working with his Uncle George (Cathy’s brother). Those days of being together at Gram Young’s ocean-front apartment were both fun and relaxing.
The plane trip from Miami to Belem, Brazil was particularly memorable. I had flown overseas once years before, but because I don’t particularly enjoy flying I had more anxiety than necessary. Cathy said during the six hour flight I just sat there looking straight ahead without talking much and having a white-knuckled grip on the arm rests. I couldn’t close my eyes for very long because my inner ear would give me the sensation the plane was in a slow climbing bank to the left.
The large Boeing 767 was packed with returning Brazilian tourists, and the cabin was hot and loud with excited Brazilian children having been to Disney World. I kept thinking if we had an in-flight emergency we would be surrounded with people with whom we couldn’t communicate. It was not a fun experience for me, but we finally touched down in Brazil. I think I was actually surprised we made it.
On arrival in Belem at 3 A.M. we were met by a Mission Board missionary who assisted us in getting boarding passes for the next leg of our trip to Redencao. At 7 A.M. we boarded a much smaller twin-engine plane for the trip which took another three hours. As we flew down the beautiful Amazon River with nothing in sight but the rain forest I asked the flight attendant what we would do if we developed engine trouble. He said we could not land in the trees because they were as tall as two hundred feet, and it would not be wise to try to ditch in the Amazon because of the piranhas. He left the solution to my imagination. By then I was too tired to imagine.
The landing strip at the Redencao airport was a dirt runway, but we landed safely in a massive cloud of dust. The Magnum Hotel was clean and new and the thirty members of our team completely filled it. We were the first guests in this new hotel and were told our safety was assured since the owner was the local Chief of Police.
Our first meal was in a well-known bar-b-que which Brazilians call a churrascaria (shoe ras’ ca rea). They bring to your table a large sword-like device holding barbecued beef, chicken, sausage and a meat called picanha which is the hump of a Brahma bull. We cautiously ate the meat and rice and found it to be delicious. We had already been made aware of the risks of developing gastroenteritis (“touristas”). After a much-needed nap we dressed for our first encounter with our Brazilian hosts when we went to the evening church service at the Temple Baptist Church ( Templo Da Igreja Baptiste). To be continued–
Great memories from Brazil. Thanks so much for revisiting those days. Sharon and I cherish those days of ministry with you and Cathy.
In writing this remembrance, I went through the many photographs we have and the memories just flooded back of those great days. I have copies of the Tidings regarding the trip and laughed out loud again at the hilarious comments you made under each photo! Thanks to you and Sharon for such great leadership.
These 2 postings were a thrill to read as the account ofb the word is going out. The results leave etetrnal memories of this Godly effort in the power of the Holy Spirit. You shared it then to a people and now shared it to a multitude of folks. To God be the glory! John