Always a full house

Nicole James | Brazil

On a warm February night in Indaiatuba, Brazil, Ivanir Christovam bustled around the small kitchen in her rented house, preparing the evening meal. “I like people to feel at home here,” she said, handing a cutting board and knife to one of the guests sitting at the table in the centre of the room. She placed a pile of freshly washed carrots on the board. “You can cut the vegetables.”

She set four plates on the table, for herself plus the three visitors in the kitchen. By the time the meal was prepared, she added two more plates—her husband, Vitor, and another friend were due home from church any minute.

After the six people finished their first round of hamburgers, the front door opened. Ivanir and Vitor expected their daughter, Marina, and a friend, to join the ever-expanding dinner table. But four young people trailed into the kitchen. Ten people sitting around the table originally set for four.

“I love it,” Ivanir exclaimed, referencing her full house. “I am such a mom.”

Move to missions

In fact, the couple’s move to missions coincided with starting a family. The church Ivanir and Vitor attend as a newly married couple hosted an annual missions service. That year, they had invited a pastor from OM to speak about missions. “God touched my heart, and I couldn’t stay in the chair. I said, ‘OK, God, I am here. Send me. I want to go where you want.’” Ivanir remembered. At the time, Marina was one and half years old, and Ivanir was pregnant with their son, João Vitor.

After the Christovams felt called to missions, they waited six years before joining OM Brazil’s training programme in 2004. There, one of the leaders shared about needs in three countries: Moldova, Kazakhstan and Iran. “Moldova is a nice place for a family to work. I think you can pray for this country,” he suggested.

Vitor and Ivanir took his advice and began praying for and investigating the country. When they told Vitor’s father about the possibility, he said, “Wow, this is the country where my mom and dad (Vitor’s grandparents) came from!”

“It was a nice coincidence, and we started to pray more,” Ivanir said. But when they finished their training at OM Brazil, they didn’t have enough money to go to the field. At the last minute, the Christovams received a donation from another OM field, in addition to the money from their church. They sold their car and some furniture, and in 2005, they packed four bags and headed to Moldova.

Unofficial ministry titles: Mom and Dad

Vitor and Ivanir spent four and half years in Moldova with varying official roles. Their “unofficial ministry” was member care. Ivanir counselled Moldovan girls about living in community and talked to young Global Action participants from around the world who needed help living as a team. “My job was to be the mom there,” she said.

Vitor and Ivanir became parents to the many Moldovans and foreigners who spent time at their house. “They called us mãe and pai,” mom and dad in Portuguese, Vitor said. “Many Moldovans said that we, Brazilians, we were very familiar for them. Maybe that’s why our house was always full of guests… Almost every day we had someone in the house!”

Food was a common tie between cultures. “In other cultures, sometimes, people don’t spend much time in the kitchen. In Europe, it’s normal to be more practical. They put it in the freezer and put it in the microwave, and in five minutes it’s all ready. In Moldova, they like to cook—to pick each [ingredient] and put it together, and it takes time to prepare. It’s like that in Brazil, too. We like to prepare the food.”

Each night, the Christovams lingered around the table long after dinner. “We like this place more than the living room,” Ivanir explained. “Here we talk, here we eat, here we pray together. We do almost everything together here. And Moldovans are the same. Maybe it’s everything about food. It made our relationship easier. It was very, very easy for us to love the people and to be loved as well.”

Brazilians enjoy spending time together and talking. “For us, it’s easy to stay with the people and talk about [their] heart, to start a deep conversation,” Ivanir said. “I think it’s natural; it’s a gift from our nation.”

It was also the Christovam’s joy.

Home away from home

Sometimes the field leader asked individuals on the team, who were struggling with various issues, to spend time living with a family. “All the time they chose our family,” Ivanir described. “Until now, we have friends from all over the world. This is our natural ministry.”

“I think it is important because when people are in other countries, they don’t have mom and dad. They don’t have family, and then I think they need a place that they feel comfortable… They need to feel like home,” she shared. “My family is a family that can receive other people.”

Because OM fields require different amounts of training, some individuals arrived on the field without sufficient preparation. One young lady from Eastern Europe joined a ministry team in the southern part of Moldova while the Christovams were living in the country. “We saw that she was not very well [emotionally] when she arrived there, and after a few months, we had to go and take her off the team,” Vitor recalled.

The field leader was out of the country on furlough, and the interim leader didn’t know how to help. “If you don’t mind, we will take her home and take care of her,” the Christovams offered.

In the beginning of her time in the Christovam home, the worker couldn’t even listen to the Romanian language, so Vitor and Ivanir spoke English to her. “We started listening to all the problems and the issues she was passing through, giving her space and time and praying for her, and God did everything to heal her.”

After two weeks, she returned to her ministry.

Another young lady from Western Europe also needed help dealing with emotional and spiritual issues. She asked the field leader directly if she could stay with the Christovams. For 10 days, they welcomed her into their family, again listening and praying. “I think we also helped her to get better,” Ivanir said. “God used us to open the door and to receive and to listen to people.”

Besides these two “intensive cases,” the Christovams regularly invited people into their home to talk. “We are sure this treatment makes a difference, just to be friendly, to listen to them, to be ready to receive them,” Ivanir stated. “Not to say, ‘No, today I am cleaning the house.’ If I am cleaning, you can help me clean. Come in.”

Before going to Moldova, Ivanir wasn’t sure how God could use her on the mission field. There she learnt God could use her natural ability to care for people to spread His word. “I didn’t talk about the gospel with people in Moldova. Our ministry was to take care of the missionaries who work there.”

Experience and opportunity

In January 2017 Vitor and Ivanir launched into their new role: member care for Latin America. “Of course, we are going to be prepared with [people care] courses, but in practical ways we have learnt [in Moldova] how to take care of people from different cultures,” Vitor said.

Ivanir agreed. “God showed us, in missions, you can take care of My people that I called.”

Pray for Vitor and Ivanir as they adapt to their new role in people care for Latin America. Pray that God continues to guide them and provide for their practical needs.

Nicole James is an international writer for OM, passionate about publishing stories of God’s work among the nations and telling people about the wonderful things He is doing around the world.

Published: Friday, 07 July 2017
Credit: Nicole James
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