EDITOR’S NOTE: This year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention will be Dec. 4-11 with the theme of “His heart, His hands, His voice — I am Southern Baptist missions” from Acts 1:8. Each year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering supplements Cooperative Program giving to support Southern Baptists’ 5,000 international missionaries’ initiatives in sharing the Gospel. This year’s offering goal is $175 million. To find resources about the offering, go to imb.org/offering.
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (BP) — It weighs on his heart: One day, he will go out to share the Gospel and not come back.
IMB missionary Eric Reese serves on one of the most dangerous mission fields in South America — the gang-controlled favelas (slums) of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“I wrote a letter to my wife,” Reese says. “I said, ‘Honey, if I don’t return, be strong. Let the girls know Dad’s going to miss them. That God’s got a plan for their lives, too.'”
“I want to love and show those people that they’re not a forgotten people group,” he says. “They’re not an unimportant people to Christ. Everybody has the same value at the foot of the cross.”
Reese and his wife Ramona have served in Brazil since 1999 and have raised their daughters Gloria, 13, and Alicia, 9, in Rio’s megacity milieu. The Reeses are from Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga.
Ramona works with women in the favelas and other low-income women in Rio. In the past few years, God has shifted her outreach to include middle-class wives and mothers she meets at the gym and at her daughters’ school and ballet practices.
Though Ramona rarely enters violent neighborhoods with her husband, his being there affects the whole family.
“I think I was really naïve and didn’t really understand what was going on the first four years,” she says. “But then you start seeing people die — people that you know. And you understand what’s really going on….”
That reality for Ramona hit home the night the police called Eric and asked him to serve as a mediator in a potential gunfight. He was the only person both sides trusted.
She didn’t want Eric to go, but she didn’t ask him to stay. She told her husband to follow God’s leading.
“I was so afraid. You know how when you’re just so afraid, you can’t do anything but pray?” Ramona says.
Looking back, the Reeses realize how Eric’s decision to go that night opened doors to share about Christ.
“I don’t find that Jesus said, ‘If you’ve got people with guns in front of you, don’t share the Gospel,'” Reese says. “I’m not going to let men stop me from sharing the Gospel. No matter what the obstacles are, you see, the Gospel has got to get to these people.”
When Reese first started ministering in Rio, he shared openly with his family about what he experienced. But he soon realized the effect it was having on his wife and children.
“When we speak to the girls about the risk factor that their daddy has to go through, [Eric] kind of leads us in that,” Ramona says. “If we just keep them safe and let them know the spiritual aspects of all of it, they’ll be fine. But we can’t tell them all the information, all the things that really, really happen. Then they’ll get scared and get nervous.
“There are certain things that, I think he knows now, he can’t tell me [either],” Ramona says.
The Reeses have been criticized for taking on such danger. But Ramona says such critics don’t understand the way God works.
“I’ve learned to trust in the Lord and to trust my husband with the Lord. The Lord is the main person that’s got to be in charge of keeping him safe in what he does. And I’m fully confident in that.”
Reese says his family remains on the mission field because of everything Christ has done for them.
“When I think of what Jesus did for me — He was beaten and He was spat upon for something He didn’t owe and something He didn’t do,” Reese reflects. “He died so that I could have a chance to be saved…. I’m willing to risk it all, seeing that He gave it all.”
Tristan Taylor has served as an International Mission Board writer in the Americas.