Melba's Mission Journal: In My Backyard (Oct. 29, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Melba's Mission Journal: In My Backyard

Oct. 29, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0188}

NOTE:  A headshot of Whitaker is available at

An e-Review Commentary
By Melba Whitaker**

Clergy Spouse's Mission Trip to Brazil, Sept. 17-Oct. 1, 2002

The purpose of this trip was to visit community-based mission sites of the Methodist Churches of Brazil. Community-based mission projects are the hallmarks of the outreach ministries of the local congregations in Latin America. It is a radically different way of "doing missions" than the methods we employ. It is quite exciting, and the results change lives and communities.

One example comes from the Brazilian community outside the city of Vitoria, an ocean resort city on the east coast that is also one of the most crime-ridden urban areas in the country. A member of a local Methodist church had some property to give to the church to use for community purposes. There are so many social concerns and needs, how could the church choose? Their decision and how it was made are quite remarkable.

VITORIA, Brazil — Clergy spouses Candy Smiley, left, and Irina Brightly, greeting the director of the Methodist Association for Addictions and Treatment Center (AMART) drug rehabilitaion program for men, tour the facility here. Photo by Melba Whitaker, Photo #04-0107.

The church called a meeting of the community-both people who were members of the church and those not connected to the church. After much discussion of the many ideas brought forth, the community decided it needed a place for men who were addicted to drugs and alcohol-a rehabilitation center. And this is how the property is used. It was incredible that no one started a movement against the rehab center, which is in the middle of the town, surrounded by homes. No one said, "Not in my backyard!" The community saw a need and a way to fulfill it.

This is the way the Methodist Association for Addictions and Treatment Center (AMART) for adult male drug and alcohol addicts got started. It is only for men 16 years of age and older. (Brazil is known for its problems with street children, and one of its laws has inadvertently caused early drug abuse. Children under 16 cannot be arrested for drugs and are often used as drug transporters. As a result, they often become addicts themselves.) People in Vitoria had seen the government run drug rehab programs were not working and wanted to try a different approach-a Christian approach.
The small buildings that were on the property housed the men at first. Part of the recovery process was the building of the center itself. The men actually built their own recovery center, a beautiful two-story concrete, stucco building that is sparkling clean, airy and inviting. It is surrounded by tropical, jungle vegetation that is soothing to the eyes and spirit. Up the side of the mountain is an outdoor chapel, and as you climb farther you come upon a large cross nestled among the Jackfruit and trees and surrounded by stone seats where the men can pray in small groups or private meditation. 
The voluntary recovery program is based on conversion to Christianity, which is the first step in the program. Ministers and Christian counselors provide spiritual and emotional guidance for the men and their families. Men who have been through the program successfully also work there. Methodist women cook the nutritious meals that are served in an outdoor dining room. When the men join the program, they are often in poor physical condition, and providing good nutrition is an important part of the program. Other Methodist women do handwork that is sold to support AMART.

VITORIA, Brazil — (Left to right) Clergy spouses Candy Smiley, Crystal Barham and Jeannene Riddle talk with the director of AMART, far left, in the treatment center's meditation area. Photo by Melba Whitaker, Photo #04-0108.

After touring the building we were able to meet the residents and hear their stories of how drugs and alcohol had taken over their lives and destroyed their families. They were so grateful to have a place to take them in, a place in their own communities where they could go for treatment. Most of all, they were grateful for the love of Christ that had been shown to them through the Methodists. All of the men were hopeful they would be able to go back to their homes as better husbands and fathers and be reintegrated into their communities.

The success rate of AMART was more than 90 percent-less than 10 percent returned to the program. They credit failure in the program to the inability of a person to accept Christ and going back into the same environment in which the drug abuse occurred. Because the men that came to AMART live in the community, it is easy to follow up on their progress, and this helps keep the recovery process part of their lives. The cost of six months' treatment, the minimum stay, is $60, a cost they can afford. If cost is an issue, the men can stay if they are committed to the program.
How amazing that the church and community chose to build a recovery center for addicts on that beautiful property! The community spoke and the church listened to its needs. It was an unselfish expression of trust and commitment to a community to build something that would help lost men find God, themselves and their way back to their families. It would be most shocking to find a community in the United Sates that would embrace a proposal like this. It is much safer to build a nursery school, teen center or clothes closet.

This is just one example of how my traditional ways of looking at mission have been turned upside down by the selfless love and commitment to serve "the least of these" by the Methodists of Latin America. When the church asks a community, "What do you need?" and "How can we help you meet that need?" miracles of healing can take place. 
To learn about the many missions of the Methodist Church in Brazil or other Latin American countries visit the General Board of Global Ministries Web site at Simply type the name of the country of interest in the Web site's search engine.


This commentary relates to Missions.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Whitaker coordinates the Florida Conference's Children's Harvest ministry and leads conference clergy spouses in mission trips around the world as part of an initiative by spouses of United Methodist bishops to promote and support mission activities.

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