One of our donor church partners recently had the chance to visit some of the Surge Project work in Brazil that they had helped support. The following are insights of that experience and how the Surge Project functions as told by Bill Cook, one of the leaders from the donor church who was on the trip.
To provide some background, I’m currently on the Missions Leadership Team at Northwoods and am an Economist by training and profession. I’ve had the opportunity to work for a Fortune 500 construction equipment manufacturing company for 38 years. Two decades of that time was spent living outside the USA. Additionally, I’ve served on the Board of other independent missions organizations throughout the years.
At the annual Surge Project leader’s gathering in Baton Rouge last year, I was shocked to learn that the organization didn’t utilize a formal church planter’s training curriculum, but had been raising up thousands of church planters over the years. In my mind, $3,000 (the average cost to fund a Surge Project church) was clearly not enough to successfully plant a church. The failure rate among missionaries is far higher than the failure rate I was hearing at the Surge Project. My message to the leaders here at Northwoods was that there must be something going on that we simply did not understand. As a stand alone organization, the Surge Project could not be doing what they are doing with the funds they were getting. There had to be much more going on.
Northwoods has a strategy to plant 20 churches ourselves in the USA by 2030, and we are launching a school to train people to staff and do it. To accomplish this, there has to be lessons learned from the Surge Project if the initiative is as successful as it appears to be. Northwoods has to be fully invested into the “movement”, which means we needed to understand the model better. That understanding will eventually drive a “sending culture” in our own church. For this reason, I recommended we invest in a “Strategic Church” (a larger Surge Project church that is planted with a team and located in a densely populated city) and then visit it to “get behind the curtain”. This led Northwoods to financially help launch a new church in the Rio De Janeiro metroplex under the leadership of Philip Murdoch (Surge Project’s Regional Director over Brazil), mainly because Pastor Cal (Northwoods’ lead pastor) has invested much of his personal time in ministry in Brazil over the years. I also lived there for 7 years in the 1980’s.
Our trip to Brazil was aimed at answering questions and trying to put our Surge Project partnership in context of the new Northwoods strategy.
Frankly, I was blown away by what I saw. Because I speak Portuguese, I was able to get private time with everyone we met – the drivers, the cooks, the young people at the door, the musicians…wow!!! Philip and Renee Murdoch and Marcos Frota (their administrator) were great, amazing people, but that’s what I expected in Surge Project leaders. I didn’t need them to filter what I was seeing. Because of the insights this army of believers gave me, I was able to ask questions and make comments that Pastors Cal and Craig might not consider…
The first insight was how the Surge Project’s network works. Philip Murdoch’s own church has really unlimited needs. Yet he is coordinating the Surge Project funding of multiple networks of amazing church planters, all of whom do church planting their own way. The “wow” of this is the incredible unselfishness of Philip to connect other organizations within Brazil to funding. Larry Stockstill (Founder & Executive Director of the Surge Project) mentioned this in his book, but it is profound.
Last October-November, Northwoods’ income was well behind budget, and many started to blame diversion of funds to the Surge Project. December revenue made up all the difference and then some. An in-depth study showed that our Surge Project giving was “above and beyond” giving. Giving this year at Northwoods is running above the business plan. God’s blessing of obedience to participants in the Great Commission is difficult to comprehend. Philip demonstrated this core value in a profound way.
Second, the strategic church campus in Campo Grande barrio of Rio, which Northwoods donated funds to, was amazing. So much bigger and more potential than we were led to believe. Furthermore, in only the first three months, there were 300 plus regular attendees and growing rapidly! It is an excellent venue to take teams from the USA to, and we’ve already set some dates for next year with Philip and Marcos. The capacity to minister to thousands exists at this site. Then, the stories of some of the leadership’s life experiences amazed us. We were so grateful to have an opportunity to invest in the ministry of such people. With all Philip has on his plate with the church he pastors, I was just wowed by the Apostolic focus on planting more churches through other diverse organizations across Brazil. With an economist’s perspective, this kind of behavior is not natural for any organization, church or otherwise. Clearly, God’s hand is at work.
Then we met Cesinha, Suellen, and their son, Lucas Emanuel Sitta, in Parana state, and we understood why the Surge Project funds leaders like them. I’m still in awe about what God is doing through this family. They’ve planted 74 churches in six years, and he’s not yet 35! He is not the charismatic type of leader whom an American would expect to find doing such things. They inspire, mentor and equip an army of pastors with a small “p” who have hearts burning for a lost world. Furthermore, the equipping follows God’s call and the proof is in the fruit. He and all around him were so humble and soft spoken. They all said the same thing, “we are not capable to do what we are doing, but God is.” Cesinha introduced us to over a dozen church planters, three of which Northwoods directly invested in. Each one had anointed stories. We concluded that those whom Northwoods intends to train to plant churches need to see this and meet these people. We are planning a trip there next year.
The key is all of these pastor’s with a small “p” have hearts burning for a lost world. When I asked Cesinha how this happened, he said, “We pray. We pray a lot!” Clearly God’s Spirit was moving there, and everyone we met reflected HIM. They are making disciples committed to be Gospel witnesses in the Power of the Holy Spirit in obedience to the Great Commission. I was profoundly humbled. What a privilege to invest in such people!
Thank you, Surge Project, for making it possible to meet such incredible people of God.
Now, where do we go with this experience? I suspect Surge Project is working with hundreds of people like Cesinha. The basic principles are the same, but the execution differs widely from leader to leader, region to region. Here in America, it can be hard to keep simple principles at our core, and provide still freedom for everything else, then focus and pray ….. a lot … to raise up an army of pastors with a small “p” who are witnesses in HIS Power. Cesinha kept emphasizing, “We keep it simple!”
Thanks for the honor of serving with you guys.
We serve an amazing God.