Hello everyone! My name is Derek Steffen and I recently got to spend time with Matt, Janelle, Mariah, Jaelah, Luke, and Sierra in Brazil, so they asked me to write a short account of my experience. For a little background about myself, I am originally from Alto, Michigan and I count myself very blessed that I got to meet the Steidinger family while they lived in Michigan for Matt’s flight school. During their short time in Alto they had a big impact on the church community there and my family especially enjoyed their friendship. This year I just graduated from college (thank you, thank you) and I have a short break before I start my first professional job. I asked Matt and Janelle I could come visit them in Santarem and even though I didn’t give them much notice, they were extremely generous and accommodating making it possible for me to see Brazil and their mission there.
I first flew into Manaus where I had an overnight layover and stayed with another American missionary named Jim Benson. During that short stay with Jim, he introduced me to the violence and corruption of Brazil. He told me a little about the different missions in northern Brazil and how there are tens of thousands of unreached communities along the Amazon. Jim was an extremely interesting person who has served in the military and lived in almost all 50 states. I think if I had spent my entire trip talking with Jim, it would have been a trip worthwhile.
After my all too short layover in Manaus I finally flew into Santarem where I was picked up by the entire Steidinger family. All of the kids wanted to come along; what a warm welcome! We had to drive all the way across town to get back to the mission and the streets of Santarem are very poorly maintained with potholes that could swallow a small truck. The lanes in the streets might have been painted once, but a “four-lane” road was treated more like a seven-lane road with cars, motorcycles, and trucks doing whatever it took to get ahead each other while dodging potholes, stray dogs, and horse drawn carts. Matt had obviously adjusted well to the culture as he raced through the traffic and potholes with formula 1 precision. Luke calmly read his book in the back of the car seemingly unaware of the surrounding traffic buzzing like a beehive.
That afternoon I helped Matt attach a wing to his float-plane named Rebel. Two bolts and a prayer later, we had the wing attached. Matt always test flies his planes after a repair to make sure all of the instruments are working correctly. He asked me if I would like to go with him to test fly the amateur built float plane over the Tapajos river that had a missing wing just minutes before. He didn’t have to ask me twice! I waved to the fishermen in their canoes as we skipped, bounced, and lifted off the water in the orange light of the setting sun.
Marcos (left) and his father, Nilton (Right)
That night we stopped at a small village along the river. Even though it was a Saturday night, the river community was very excited to have church and hear the visiting pastors preach. We started with worship lead by an electric guitar and drum set. The entire community was in the church with their hands raised in worship. Each of the visiting pastors took turns going up to preach. Marcos very graciously translated the fast-paced, energetic sermons for me to hear.
The next day we took off down the river again. We found a sandbar just up the river of Santarem and spent most of the singing praise songs on the boat and swimming around the sandbar.
During my stay, I also got to go to church with the Steidinger family. There are dozens of small Igreja da Paz churches all over the city. We attended the largest church. The worship and sermons had so much energy and passion! I couldn’t help but feel rejuvenated and encouraged even though I didn’t understand much of what was being said.
My favorite part of the trip was all of the many wonderful people I met. I would describe Brazilians as being friendly, genuine, and anxious to celebrate anything! Saying hello or goodbye to anyone involves a ritual of a dozen hugs! I personally wouldn’t mind if America adopted that practice 😊. While I was sitting in the Santarem airport before I flew out, some men tried to talk to me. They were obviously fascinated by an American in Santarem. We had a hard time communicating, but I recognized the words “Igreja da Paz” and I quickly lit up! Yes! That’s why I’m here! One of the men explained through cognates and hand gestures that he was a pastor and the other men were his disciples. I told them that the famous pastor, Abe Huber, was my cousin. He’s technically my 2nd cousin once removed, but I don’t know how to say that in Portuguese. They were so impressed they wanted to get a picture with me! They all gave me many hugs and shouted every English word they knew, “Chicago bulls! Michael Jordan! Scottie Pippen!” They each took turns taking pictures with their own smart phones smiling and patting me on the back. Apparently, since I’m part Huber, I’m a celebrity in Brazil! It was a very fun way to end my time there and the epitome of Brazilian friendliness!
Now when I read about the corruption in the news, and see the statics about the violence, it brings me real sorrow. I can’t help but share the burden of my brothers and sisters in Brazil. Brazil is full of beautiful people but you can’t miss the ugly razor wire around the houses and the metal bars covering doors and windows. There is a richness in their joy, but you can’t ignore the poverty that infects the city and the countryside. I had a very fun time, but the main thing I am taking home with me is a new sorrow. Pastor Nilton was right, now that my eyes have been opened to the need in Brazil, I am a part of the story. May Your Kingdom come and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.