Madison youth share love in Brazil


By Susan Marquez
The Madison County Herald 

When two exchange students from Brazil came to Madison last year, it piqued the interest of several students at Madison United Methodist Church.


“They loved the exchange students and wanted an opportunity to take a mission trip to Brazil,” said the Rev. Bill Barksdale, youth pastor of the church.


Barksdale took a group of 23 to Salvador, Brazil. “We took 18 students who had completed the 10th through 12th grades, one college student and four adults,” he said.

The group was stationed at the Boca del Rio Methodist Church, where they were divided into three groups.


“One group did a soccer ministry, where they played soccer about four hours a day with local children, culminating in a soccer tournament at the end of the week,” Barksdale said. “The associate pastor’s son was a soccer superstar in Brazil, so he worked with the kids as well. Nathan Weber and Katie Harris were in charge of the soccer ministry.”


“I’m a soccer junkie anyway, so playing the national sport with the Brazilian kids was incredible,” said Weber. “They are so good, really better than us, but they were three and four years younger than us.”


Weber said that prior to leaving on the trip, they gathered soccer balls and equipment to take with them. “Those kids didn’t have much, so when we told them they could keep it all, the look on their faces was priceless.”


Another group did construction on the sanctuary. “It was an open, tabernacle-type sanctuary, and they needed some walls relocated,” Barksdale said. “Mason Phillips headed up that project.”


Phillips said that although he’s done some light construction work in the past, this was much more than he had ever done. “I had never laid bricks before, but it was easier than I thought. I had to work with a crew using an interpreter, which was a challenge, and I had to learn to do things the South American way,” he said.


The third group did a Bible study all week, using materials they brought from Madison.

“They did Bible stories and craft projects,” Barksdale said.


He said language was a bit of a challenge, but by the end of the week, his group had picked up some phrases in Portuguese, while the Brazilian kids were speaking a little English.


Barksdale said the trip had three goals.


“We wanted to develop leadership in our kids, so we really had them step up and take control of their areas. The second goal was for the kids to bond as a team, which they did because they relied so much on each other. And third, we wanted to help foster an attitude of servanthood.”


Phillips said the trip was a wonderful experience for him and the others, and that he’s anxious to go back.


“It was great to help the people down there and to see that what we were doing was making a difference. But I came back with a real sense of gratitude. I appreciate my lifestyle more, and I’m grateful for all that’s been given to me.”


“I’d go back tomorrow,” Weber said. “It was a great experience that really opened my eyes to the needs of others.”


One unexpected event for Barksdale was when the girls noticed the children were all wearing shoes that were too small.


“They went to a local department store with an interpreter, and they arranged to provide vouchers to each child so they could get a new pair of shoes,” he said.


After working with 30 to 40 children for a week, the group spent three days on an Amazon excursion before coming home.


“It was simply beautiful. They got to see God’s handiwork in a special way,” Barksdale said.