Today we actually met “the necklace lady.” Her name is Eliane, and her heart and faith in God seems to be as genuine as her smile.
Despite kids that were near the end of their rope after walking around Rua Grande this morning, we decided a quick bite to eat would energize us all. Well it wasn’t quick, but we did have an incredible first experience of moqueca (fish and shrimp stew) at a hole-in-the-wall-of-a-run-down-building-on-a-side-street-deep-in-the-historic-district restaurant. Then we set out to try to find the store owner that made the necklace for our brother-in-Christ Tim. That description doesn’t really even begin to tell the story of her significance in our story though.
18 months ago, after just finishing a powerful SERVEiVOR retreat in Fortaleza, we were sitting together recalling the amazing things God showed us during the week and dreaming of the possibilities of the future. We were about to take a trip to São Luis and Teresina on a scouting effort to try to determine if either city was “right” for our families to move to with the purpose of eventually planting a church. During that discussion, Tim shared with us a message that he received from his wife, Misty. The message challenged us to consider instead whether or not “we” were right for either of those two cities. That kind of question
seemed much more difficult to answer and there was certainly thought about how were we going to be able to figure it out with only 3 days scheduled in each place. 3 days, as more significant history would argue as well, is more than enough time for God to display His glory! This is where Eliane comes in.
We each wanted to bring something from Brasil back to our wives. Tim found a necklace he liked in the historic district of São Luis on our first day but he didn’t buy it right away. He went back on day 2 of 3 to try to purchase it, but it was gone. He asked the store owner, Eliane, if she had another and she told him she could make one for him. Day 3 of 3 he went back to get the necklace but Eliane wasn’t there. So just before we got into the van to take us to the airport the next morning, Tim ran to the store to get the necklace. While checking out, our friend and mentor Scott heard Portuguese Christian music playing in the background. He asked Eliane if she was a believer and she affirmed that she was. He replied “Praise God, we are too.” Then she said, “You know, when you were here the other day I kept asking myself ‘Lord, could it be that these are men you have sent to help us here.’ Now I know that you are the answer to that prayer, I just never expected Him to send Americans. Tell your friends that when they come back, I have lots of friends that will help.”
This encounter was a powerful testimony to God’s answer to our seemingly impossible prayer. We asked him to show us if we were right for the city of São Luis. He responded by stirring the heart of one of his servants to ask Him if these “random” strangers in her store could possibly be the answer to her prayer for help in the Kingdom. She had no way to know that we were in São Luis to try to discern just that! Because of that encounter, and several others that left us with chills running down our spines, São Luis became the answer to our own prayers about what to do with our futures.
Fast-forward to the present. When we were finally directed to Eliane’s shop, Lembranças da Ilha (Memories of the Island), she immediately remembered the encounter with Tim and Scott over a year ago. Her heart shined through a giant smile as she was reconnected with Tim via a video chat. I am not sure who was more excited to see the other, Tim or Eliane. It was an emotional moment to share with her (through butchered Portuguese) how her words 18 months ago have encouraged, challenged, and affirmed us in the direction we have taken to move to São Luis to “help [spread the Kingdom] here.”
Just today, God directed our steps and met our needs in abundance! Here is what happened. We wanted to get a quick street lunch. They were all closed. Just then a man shouted “hello” in English from across the street. That started a conversation which led to his recommendation to eat at a restaurant nearby. That lunch provided an opportunity for Caden and Jude to practice their Portuguese with a boy named Pedro who wanted to practice his English. After exiting the restaurant Mark stopped to talk to a couple about getting them some food and that provided time to enter another store and ask if they might know of a lady who makes necklaces in the area. That led us to Lázara, who makes necklaces too but is not the one we were looking for. She took us to another shop to meet her friend who also makes necklaces, and that friend happened to be Eliane.
It would not be difficult to explain all of this away as circumstance or a series of events in a particular line of events that may have ended with the same result through a different series of events at another time. And that may well be true. But for us, today and 18 months ago, the encounters with Eliane have affirmed to us that God hears our prayers and in fact has been working to answer them long before we even uttered them. God, the great Maestro, perfectly conducting individual stories and weaving them together to create a masterful orchestra! There is no one like our God, and this is not the end of this story…!