By JEFF PICKELL
Former rural Waldron resident David Durling had lived a good chunk of life before he felt the call to be a missionary.
After earning his master’s degree from Grace Seminary in Winona Lake, Ind., he actually returned home to work on the family dairy farm. It wasn’t until 15 years ago, when he was 30 years old, that he and his wife Dorothy felt compelled to help spread Christianity.
“The Bible and the message of Christ changed our lives and we wanted to share it with others,” he said.
That was when they contacted CrossWorld, a non-denominational missionary organization with more than 400 workers in 25 areas of the world. After a year of attending screenings, filling out applications, and seeking donations from area churches, the Durlings were assigned to Castanhal, Brazil, a city of 154,000 in the northern state of Pará.
While Brazil is largely a Roman Catholic country, there are many residents who are involved in spiritism or who aren’t religious at all, David said. Poverty is rampant in some areas, and, as with most places in the world, many lives are ruined by alcohol and illegal drugs.
“There’s a huge difference between the haves and the have nots,” David said.
People born into wealthy families are likely to stay wealthy. With an hour minimum wage of less than an American dollar, it’s difficult for the poor to improve their situation.
He found out quickly that the best way to minister to the people was through creating social networks.
“I make contacts with people and make friendships with sinners, then I introduce them to the friend of sinners,” he said.
One way to do this is through charitable work. He also finds that soccer, the most popular sport in the country, is a great way to make people lend an ear.
“If I ask a man if he plays soccer, he’s going to say ‘yes,’” David said. “So I tell them we’re renting an indoor facility for an hour or two and they’re welcome to play.”
“At half-time, everyone will be too gassed to talk and I’ll just read a verse or two from the Bible,” he said.
He also visits patients at a substance abuse facility, where he asks open-ended questions in an effort to start conversations about religion.
“The question I like to ask the most is ‘what is the meaning of life?’” he said. “Some answer that it’s ‘being good,’ while others are more shallow—’making money’ or ‘staying healthy.’ But the biggest answer is ‘I don’t know.’”
When David does manage to reach someone about the message of Christianity, the result is more than worth his toils, he said.
“It’s just so exciting to see people’s reaction when they grip the message of Jesus Christ. It just totally changes them,” he said.
Since moving to Brazil, the Durlings have become changed people as well.
“Brazilians are people-oriented, not time-oriented,” David said. “It’s not a problem for things to start 45 minutes late and go 45 minutes past schedule. If [a company] says they’ll deliver a refrigerator tomorrow, it could arrive a week from tomorrow.”
Some Americans might consider Brazilians to be lazy or to have a poor work ethic, David said, but they’re just different from Americans. Instead of getting an hour for lunch, nearly all Brazilian businesses shut their doors from noon to 2 p.m., during which period workers eat lunch and nap.
“It’s basically the hottest period of the day. It would be hard to stay productive,” David said.
Due to the heat, Brazilians do a lot of socializing in the coolness of the night. The socializing often involves loud, loud music.
“We’ll have the windows up, the air conditioner on, and even our own music on and we still have to wear ear plugs,” he said.
Typically after four years of missionary work, the Durlings return to the United States for a year—an experience that sometimes comes as a reverse culture shock.
“You just get blown away going into Meijer and seeing all the types of cereal,” David said. “It’s as big as the rice section in a Brazilian supermarket.”
During these extended periods back in the U.S., the Durlings speak at a multitude of churches, take adult education classes, and take time to get reacquainted with friends and family.
Do the Durlings ever toy with the idea of moving back to the U.S. for good?
For now, no, but ultimately, David said, the decision is in God’s hands.– Feb. 28, 2007