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Following Jesus in the Midst of Suffering

“We walk into her home – a small and simple concrete house that was built on the very edge of the lake. The reeds are high all around it and we had to take a narrow path down a dark, wet alley to get there. Stones and other random materials have been placed along the way so that people’s feet don’t sink into the mud. This lady and her family just recently got to move back after the rains came and caused severe flooding.

She sits on her couch feeding her newborn baby. Her older son and daughter move into their bedroom to give us room to sit down. We sit and chat with her, asking about her and her baby’s health and how life is now that she has been able to come home. She points up at a large crack running down one of the walls, from the roof. They are going to get that fixed, she says. I look up at it and instantly feel uneasy. I notice the gap between the roof and the walls and see the places where the rain comes in. Mold has begun to grow in several areas.

I gaze around the rest of the room. A sofa and two chairs with cracked legs make up the living room. A small tv is playing one of the Brazilian soap operas, propped up on a box. A low wall separates us from the kitchen that is scattered with utensils and dirty plastic plates. The two bedrooms have their doors open, allowing the breeze to flow through the house more easily on this hot day. Clothes and blankets are stuffed into closets and beds are pushed together to accommodate the growing family. Five people live here now, although there were eight when we first started to visit her.

She tells us that her son has been skipping school. If he doesn’t go, she won’t be able to receive the government’s financial help. One of our male volunteers goes to sit with the son and encourage him. Her daughter comes in and grabs a folder off a shelf to show their school report cards.

My eyes move back to where the folder had been and there I see an open Bible. Almost every sentence is underlined. Words are circled. The pages are well-loved. A lump forms in my throat as I fight back the tears because here, here, in the middle of poverty and hardship, is a testament of devotion to God. A Bible with the backdrop of a dirt-covered wall; a Bible in a house where the evidence of the enemy’s theft and destruction is so clear to see; a Bible that has been clung to and studied and meditated on. And I’m reminded of the promise, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied.” (Matt 5:6)

I walk away, challenged. The scene has offended, in the best of ways, my perspective of what it is to be a follower of Jesus in the midst of suffering. This world clashes with my own Western, comfortable experience of the gospel. What does it mean to live in poverty and be devoted to the Father? I don’t know. I wonder what she understands when she reads the words of scripture, that I cannot. It’s in this place and with these thoughts that I want to sit at her feet to learn and have her teach me – the missionary – how to love God more.”

He is their Father

“When the servant of the man of God got up and went out…an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. ‘Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?’ the servant asked. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ the prophet answered. ‘Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ And Elisha prayed, ‘Open his eyes, Lord, so he may see.’Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” – 2 Kings 6:15-17

On Thursday nights, you can find a group from Shores of Grace in downtown Recife participating in the ministry that we call ‘Street Church.’ A fountain takes center stage in the town square where we minister – it is a place where people both bathe and wash their clothes. The water is a murky green and stagnant. The bushes that surround the raised sides are filled with rats and you can watch them run around, scavenging amongst the trash. A couple of blankets can be seen in the middle of a dirt lawn and a young woman is lying there, asleep. Pre-teens and teenagers waunder around with plastic water bottles containing glue, stuck down their shirts. Their young bodies have heavy eyes and clumsy movements, as they inhale the fumes. Little kids sit around or find objects in the dirt to play with. Men and women sit in small groups of twos or threes on the park benches.

The needs of each person in that place are endless. The mental illness, addictions, prostitution, homelessness (and more) staring you in the face, all at one time, can be overwhelming.

You can begin to feel very small, very limited, very useless. I ask, “But what can I do in two hours when a lifetime of need is before me?!” and God responds, “What can’t I do? Remember who I AM. I am their Father first.”

As I look down at my hands, empty and limited, I remember the One who dwells within me. Our perspective can no longer be solely an earthly one when we walk with GOD within us! Because don’t we know where we see the Red Sea, He sees dry land? Where we see a rock, He sees a spring of water. When we see a fortified city, He sees the wall-breaking obedience and worship of His people. When we see hungry people, He sees a gathering for a feast. When we see brokenness, He sees healing.

And He doesn’t just see it, He reveals it, inspires it and He brings it!

Who He IS allows me to minister from rest and peace: I am more aware of all His goodness and love than of everything else I see with my physical eyes. In this place, the size of the ‘army’ in front of me does not matter, and I can interact with the joy and peace that comes from confidence in the Lord, bringing His Kingdom.

You see, He was at this town square before I was. He’s been singing over these children of His for their lifetimes. He has been steadfast in His love for them since the dawn of time. I may be seeing their need for the first time, but He has lived with them through it – constantly wooing and whispering His affections to them.

He isn’t overwhelmed by the need, though His heart aches for them.

He knows who He is.

And He knows the power of their ‘Yes’ to Him, because of the power of what He has done for them on the cross.

His identity draws me into rest and awakens faith within me.

His identity moves me to action.

And I know that no matter how little my actions seem to do in that place, He will be there when I leave.

For He is their Father, as He is mine.

My prayer for you is that you would know God’s greatness in the midst of the ‘army’ in your life, and that the next time you feel overwhelmed your eyes would be opened to His presence and perspective. Amen!


In 2 Corinthians 10:1-5, Paul addresses the division among the Corinthians, with a somewhat snarky tone. He begins, “By the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” toward you when away!” Timid and Bold are in quotes because some of the Corinthians took issue with Paul being all lovey dovey when he was ministering with them in person, but corrects and disciplines them through his written letter. For Paul, this division is an enemy of the Christian faith. He goes on to remind them that they, and we by extension, do not wage war the same way the world does, but we take captive and destroy every thought and stronghold that sets it self up against Christ, with the divine power that has been imparted to us through the cross. In other words, as Christians we don’t engage in the same back biting and rumor mill spinning that the world loves to partake in.

In a grander sense, Paul is giving instruction on how we overcome the strongholds that keep us stuck and make us feel less than or insignificant. There is an incredible sense of moving in authority thinking with the mind of Christ, to tear down the thought processes that distort our created purpose. 

I’d like to introduce you to Ann. She is a woman in her late forties that has been living on the streets of Philadelphia for years. On a typical day, Ann will sit on the front step of our house all day because she knows she is safe here. She speaks very little, even when spoken too. Her frame is tiny and sickly, and the few teeth she has left, are rotted and close to falling out. Despite her appearance and the way the world sees a person in Ann’s present state, she is one of the most loving kind people we know in Germantown. She barely speaks a word. As a matter of fact, I could probably count on one hand the number of times she has actually spoken in our presence. Nevertheless, she loves to hangout by the house and always wants to be near Alisan and myself.

For quite sometime, Ann believed the lie that because of the way she looks, the way she smells, or the lack of teeth she has, dictates who she is as a person and how the world perceives her as a middle aged woman of color living on the streets of a major city in the United States. No matter how hard Alisan and I would press her to come hang out at movie nights, community cookouts or the like, Ann did not see herself worthy to participate with the rest of the “normal people.” Though we all have the power and authority to tear down strongholds, sometimes, God’s plan is to see those strongholds broken by someone else. We love Ann, and speak into her life almost daily, but saw little change in the way she saw herself.

This past weekend we hosted a huge outdoor concert in the yard. There were 6-7 artists that performed and easily a couple hundred people from the community hanging out worshipping God together. From the front of the stage, one of the artists yelled into the microphone, “look at my friend Ann! Isn’t she beautiful?!! You are so beautiful Ann!” We watched as her face lit up like it was the first time someone had told this homeless woman, who hadn’t changed her clothes in months, how beautiful she is. The stronghold that made her think she was less than was broken and for the first time in two years, she walked all the way into the yard, and sat in the front row for the rest of the concert bopping to the music and smiling ear to ear. The thought process that told her she doesn’t deserve a place in the front was broken as she walked to the head of the table. 

We all have some stronghold in our life whether we recognize it or not. We may not be in the same situation as Ann, but the enemy is constantly scheming to make us feel less than or insignificant so that we do not take our seat at the table and join in fellowship with the body of Christ. Maybe it is something as simple as not speaking up because you are convinced someone else is more qualified than you. Maybe it’s not trying your hand at something because you failed once before, and that failure stung.  Or, maybe it is something visible to the rest of the world, like Ann. Either way, you have the authority to tear down those strongholds in your life, in your family, and in the lives of the people in your communities. When we tear down strongholds, and pretentious thoughts, we begin to think more fully with the mind of Christ. 

The power of unified voices in community breaks the lies and the strongholds that hold us back from our identity. So, today? Take a step in faith and speak truth into the lives of those around you. Take a risk this week and tell someone they’re beautiful, and wait to see what the Holy Spirit does in their life and your community.


Transition… I confess that this word scares me a little, but we are in constant transition in our journey with Jesus.  From time to time, we end seasons and start new ones.  The important thing is to know when to end and begin them, so that our time is aligned with the Lord’s time, and we don’t walk in endless circles without arriving at the place and purpose He has for us.  And even though transition scares me a little, as it brings new challenges, I still choose to go through it in order to arrive at and live in the place and purpose the Lord has for my life.

After five years of serving with Shores of Grace in Recife, this season came to an end.  It was years full of learning and maturing, where my character was transformed through fire day after day (and in reality it still continues)!  But throughout these years, I witnessed and experienced a love so deep and restorative, which transforms broken hearts, transforms lives, and is a love that makes the deepest darkness transform into light.  I saw this happen in the lives of so many people who had been previously destroyed by prostitution, addictions, and so many other things.  How grateful I am to God for being able to participate in what he has done in Recife!

As every season has a beginning and an end, last year the Lord began to tell me that this one was ending. At first, I was a little reluctant to accept, because I loved what I was doing, but the Lord continued to speak with me.  After a time of prayer and conversations with our leadership, we understood that God was telling me that this season had ended and a new season was starting for me at Shores of Grace in Rio de Janeiro.  So on April 9, 2021, I transitioned to the city of Rio de Janeiro.

And now a new season has begun: full of challenges, new discoveries, and a return to the beginning.  Unlike Shores Recife, which is already well-developed in their work with evangelism and discipleship with men and women who came out of prostitution and at-risk situations, Shores Rio is just beginning to develop this work, and this was one of the main reasons for my transition there. At the time I am writing this, it has been exactly three months since I arrived in Rio de Janeiro: three months of many challenges and adaptations, but also three months in a new field with a new harvest – and the harvest is ready, just waiting to be collected!

The first month here was my chance to get to know the base, the people, the work, and what God is doing here.  It was also a time for inner reflection, looking inside and saying, “Jesus, align everything that isn’t aligned in you, and give me the tools I need for this new season.” In fact, I’ve continued praying that prayer since then. I dealt with a lot of  homesickness and various challenges in the first month.  We often think that culture shock only exists when we move across the world, but it’s not true!  Brazil is a very large country and has a variety of cultures; each region expresses itself and behaves in a different way.  I learn more each day about adjusting to and respecting differences!

Unlike my time in Recife, where I dedicated my time only to our Father’s Love outreach (to men and women working in prostitution), in Rio de Janeiro, I am still helping with this in addition to Street Church and our intercession ministry.  In my second month here, I started discipling two women from our Street Church outreach and a man (transvestite) from our Father’s Love outreach, who is currently working in prostitution.  

Some notes about our Father’s Love outreach: every week we go to one of the red light districts to talk to the men and women working there.  The reality in Rio is very different from what I saw in Recife.  While in Recife most prostitutes are working because they are unable to get a job, in Rio Janeiro, most of the people I have spoken with have an academic background or a profession.  There are, of course, also those who prostitute themselves because of poverty and still others that are working there because of their life circumstances, but many choose to prostitute themselves because they want to sustain a sophisticated standard of living.  

Some notes about Street Church: every other week, we go to a location where several families live, and the majority of people there are children.  In addition to this, we are doing weekly discipleship with two women, and one of them is the leader who keeps everything in order there.  We have seen through eyes of faith what God is going to do through her life in Rio de Janeiro, and that was one of the reasons we started discipleship with her.  It has been a time where God has shown us areas of her life that need to be healed and transformed; a time where Light will overcome the darkness.

In both areas, we have really lived out one of our core values, Urgency and Consistency, very intensely.  Just as the beginning of every new journey requires a lot of dedication and effort, our new discipleship relationships haven’t been any different.  At times we have encountered some resistance from them, but we know what is really behind it, as Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians.  Our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, and we know that what has come against us are these powers.  But we know there is a greater power, which is the power that comes through Jesus Christ, and intercession has been fundamental for those times of resistance.  I have been battling through some spiritual warfare, together with my brothers and sisters here, in hopes that through our prayers, the Lord’s kingdom would be established in Rio de Janeiro.  We understand that this battle is first won in the spiritual realm and only then can it come into existence in the natural.  That is why we pray and act, as He has directed us.

Rio de Janeiro is a place that became known worldwide for its music (Bossa Nova), for Carnaval, and its women’s sensuality (in a very vulgar way), not to mention violence, drugs, and many other things.  But I believe in the Lord’s redemption and transformation over this city through His love, and this has driven me to remain and follow what He has called me to do here.  It’s not always easy to leave something that’s already working to start something from scratch, but it’s gratifying to know that even though you may be starting from nothing again, you’re living in the good and perfect will of God. It’s the best place to be!

Text by Shores Rio Missionary, Maria Neta

“Lord, what can I DO?”

Most often this is where my thoughts go when I am on the streets of Brazil. Whether it is in outreach to the women in prostitution as part of the Father’s Love outreach team or when I am passing someone who is hungry and hurting in my everyday going-about-the-city business, my default response is, “Lord, what can I DO?” 

Recently, the Lord confronted me about this. During a team meeting, our base leader Pedro said these words, “Apathy can masquerade as empathy.” My first thought was, “Okay, that sounds good, but what does that mean?” And I thought, surely this does not apply to me…. Because I FEEL things, you know? Like I really FEEL them deeply and am affected by what I see and feel in the hardships and turmoil of others. Often this overwhelms me and I withdraw and almost shut down in this sea of despair that we see on the streets. 

I would for sure not classify myself as apathetic. 

But, for some reason, I felt that God wanted me to hear that word. So, I listened as Pedro explained that this looks like being busy doing “things” instead of having compassion. And I felt convicted. But why? I wondered. I have compassion and I weep and it is messy and hard!

The Holy Spirit was quick to reveal that instead of sitting with people in their pain – if I move to doing things, I can avoid the intensity of the emotions. In the doing, I perceive that I have some control and it feeds my need to be effective or helpful. You see, I will do things or try to solve the problems instead of just feeling. Are any of you this way? 

As this was revealed to me – I thought well, sure, God – I am trained as a social worker and someone who is highly driven to find solutions. This is my go-to way of being! I get tired of crying and then feeling shut down, because I can’t cry anymore and I don’t know what to do with everything that I feel, so I want to solve it all… today. What is so wrong with that? 

But God. God was speaking to me through Pedro to seek Him. His ways are higher. He wants me to be with Him and let Him have the space to show who He is for others in their loss, their hardships, and their needs. They don’t need more Robyn. They need Jesus.

And I felt lighter. But not resolved. Because… what exactly does that mean for me? (Remember – I want solutions!) 

That following Sunday I was in church here in Texas. The preacher was giving a great word and he took us to Acts 16 – the story of Paul being called to Macedonia and then imprisoned there. As he was talking, I felt Jesus saying, “Pay attention to this – it’s good.” 

Paul and Silas, undaunted, prayed in the middle of the night and sang songs of praise to God, while all the other prisoners listened to their worship. Suddenly, a great earthquake shook the foundations of the prison. All at once every prison door flung open and the chains of all the prisoners came loose. (Acts 16:25-26 TPT) 

As Paul and Silas were in the prison, they praised and all of the prisoners were freed. I felt the joy of Jesus as He said, “Robyn, when you sit with them in their prison of pain and begin to praise – they will all be set free.” 

I took hold of that word and went home to meditate on it. Immediately, I was stuck… Jesus?? What does that mean – practically – to sit with them in their pain and praise? Surely you don’t mean that I am to go to the red light district and sing songs of worship and gladness over someone who is hungry? That would not seem to be the most loving thing to do. And then, it was like my eyes were opened that THIS is what intercession is. I have prayed and I have even been in intercessory prayer and on intercessory teams. BUT. This was a different call to intercession and prayer than I have felt before. 

So I asked Rachael, “What does it mean to you to praise in intercession?”

I want to share her words with you. I believe it will help us all become ones who can sit with people in their prisons and praise. We will see chains fall, jail cells open, and captives setting their oppressors free and leading them to Jesus. 


1. I fix my gaze on Jesus. I might sing in tongues or my own spontaneous song telling the Lord how beautiful he is. 

2. I’m very visual, so I let him show me how beautiful he is. As I respond, I’ll sing about what beauty he is showing me. 

3. Then comes the intercession: I bring a name to him, and ask for him to reveal the same beauty to that person.

The beauty of Jesus and His presence brings peace, provision, passion, purpose, and power. When we praise from a place of pain and imprisonment, He is faithful to shake things up, walk through locked doors, and turn hearts around so that families are restored and saved and free. 

My friends, let us be people who refuse to shut down and get busy, when all we need is to be still and sit in the pain. Look to Jesus and praise; welcome the presence of Jesus. After all, He is our Savior King. He is worthy of it all. His presence changes everything. 

My prayer for you is Ephesians 3:16-19 (TPT).

“And I pray that he would unveil within you the unlimited riches of his glory and favor until supernatural strength floods your innermost being with his divine might and explosive power. Then, by constantly using your faith, the life of Christ will be released deep inside you, and the resting place of his love will become the very source and root of your life. Then you will be empowered to discover what every holy one experiences—the great magnitude[a] of the astonishing love of Christ in all its dimensions. How deeply intimate and far-reaching is his love! How enduring and inclusive it is! Endless love beyond measurement that transcends our understanding—this extravagant love pours into you until you are filled to overflowing with the fullness of God!”

Text by Robyn Owen-West, Missionary – Shores of Grace Recife

Roots that Remain

No one can argue with the fact that there are few tragedies as deep as being orphaned. Being unwanted scars the core of the human soul. I grew up in a home with both parents present, and can only imagine what it is like to search your whole life for someone who truly knows you. Real nurturing cannot be forced – it cannot be done without your whole heart, and perhaps it is the bravest human action. In this season we have had six infants living in Bethany home, the most at one time to date, and that also means more adoptions than ever before. I watch our staff bring these babies so close that the reality of their loss for a moment fades away. Despite what they have lived through at such a young age, I know that they are cherished beyond human limitations. They have a family of 30 caregivers; who laugh with them and cry with them, who take them to parties and the mall; who lovingly pick out their clothes and cut their hair, who feed them, who fight over spending time with them, who take them to the doctor in the middle of the night, who dance with them and teach them to sing. Watching our staff cry as the children leave from a combination of grief and joy, I have no doubts they are some of the most loved children on earth. And that is how I remember each of them. The babies get a book when they leave – with pictures and letters so that 10 years from now, they will know what their infancy was like. Their first two years will not be empty time with questions and mysteries. It’s like a cast full of signatures so that you can never forget what you came through, or those who walked beside and wrapped around you. The spirit of adoption is not a soft ideal; it’s an unbreakable covenant, made from the inside out. Strong as bone. We are simply the lucky ones who secure it’s setting. It’s the same covenant Christ made with us, calling us his very own body.

Two letters from the above book:  


Since the day I met you, it was easy to love you! Seeing everything that you have conquered and knowing that for a moment we were able to be part of your story is an honor! You are such a happy kid, smart, kind and really funny. You like to wear hats, play soccer and just love it when uncle Ned beat boxes! You also love when I dance with you. You play guitar and sing songs for everyone. You have such an amazing heart and I’m very happy for you to have a new family. I know that God has an incredible life for you. Love you forever. Love, Aunt Larissa.

Dear Little Marcus,

Thank you for loving us in such a simple and pure way, and for letting us love you and have funny moments with you. Thank you for everything that you taught to us (for training us to be future parents) and for all the amazing moments that we have spent together. We will miss you, but we are very excited for your new family. Forever you will be one of my best friends!      – Uncle Ned.

Another of our girl’s adoptions inspired an article that was published on Father’s day in the city newspaper. To summarize, this couple waited four years and ten months in line for adoption at the Court of Pernambuco. When they had almost lost hope, the news came that the process was approved. They adopted their daughter at 1 year of age, which means they began preparing for her 3 years before she was even born.  Her adoptive parents attest to the immensity and infinity of the love of a father, which transcends blood ties. “When we saw her photo, it was love at first sight. It was nothing different than the way we felt for our two biological children. Everything about her is beautiful and it looks like she was ours from gestation.”

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