From calling to retirement:

Memories of a retired pastor

Roberval Moura Marinho, MTh, is a retired pastor and administrator in Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil.

In my senior year at Brazil Adventist College, I read a newsletter from the North Brazil Union reporting about two missionary boats needing pastors married to nurses to work as medical missionaries.

Dulce, my young wife who was a nurse, and I, after much prayer, decided that if a call came to work on one of the boats, we would accept it. After encouragement, we shared with the union president our willingness to dedicate ourselves to the medical missionary ministry in the Brazilian state of Amazonas.

Soon afterward, we received an invitation to work on one of the Luzeiro boats. We were thrilled when we took over the first pastoral district in Maués, Amazonas, including pastoring the century-old farm where missionaries Leo and Jessie Halliwell had worked years earlier. The three years that we served on the boats Luzeiro IV, XIV, and V were unforgettable, with exciting stories of conversions, cures, and dangerous adventures. Those experiences confirmed that God was in charge of my calling to ministry.

Divine sovereignty

We began our first pastoral district with 32 churches and companies in the Maués region of Amazonas. Returning from one of the trips on the Luzeiro IV, we saw someone waving a white sheet in the distance on the riverbank. We immediately realized that the person was asking for help from the boat team. Exhausted after more than 20 days of sailing the rivers in the middle of the jungle, we wanted to get home before nightfall because the trip was hazardous after dark. We faced the risk of hitting giant trees that had fallen across the river channel. During the day, we could see the river channel better and keep in the deepest part where larger boats and ships sail. Additionally, for our very active two-year-old daughter, Roseane, being stuck in the vessel was a source of continual tension and fear.

As soon as Heraldo, the sailor who piloted the craft, pulled up on the bank, Dulce and I talked to the farmer waiting for us, anxious and greatly distressed. A surucucu, a huge and poisonous snake, had bitten one of her employees. The swelling of his leg had already reached his thigh, threatening to kill him. Dulce made a plaster of clay mixed with water and onion and placed it over the wounds left by the serpent’s fangs. As she wrapped the leg with a clean cloth, the farmer watched carefully to be able to continue the treatment. We instructed her to leave the plaster on for an hour and then wash it off. We also advised her not to feed the patient any meat or animal-derived food. We especially recommended the papayas and oranges available nearby as food. We told her how to prepare vegetables with low salt and fat and also told her to eliminate refined sugar during the treatment.

After reading the Bible with them, I prayed, gave that man’s life to the Lord, and pled for Him to perform a miracle on his leg. Three months later, I met that farmer. She was thankful to God, who had saved the employee’s life and completely restored him.

A church that rebelled

In the second year of my ministry on the Luzeiro XIV, we transferred to work with a church that had rebelled against the mission office. It had gone two years without a pastor. Since many of the church leaders rejected certain biblical doctrines, they refused to send their tithe to the conference office.

As soon as I arrived in town, as directed by the conference president and other experienced pastors, I visited all the members, reading the Bible and praying with families. I also called on everyone to return to reading God’s Word daily and family worship. In addition, I provided Sabbath School lessons for all ages, emphasizing its importance for spiritual life.

Then, I held a week of spiritual revival, preaching at night and visiting all of the members during the day, especially some who faced spiritual problems and no longer attended church, to invite them to revival services. The week ended with a moving communion ceremony and an appeal for reconsecration. Shortly afterward, I conducted a 30-night evangelism series, visiting interested parties during the day, explaining the Bible, and urging them to accept Jesus. Many people attended the meetings, but no one accepted the call for baptism. Five teenagers, children of the church members, responded to the appeal, but they did not get baptized because of doubts and resistance from their parents.

Sad and lonely, far from the headquarters of the mission and facing pastoral challenges alone, I began to think that this would be the end of my ministry. “What would I report to the pastoral council?” I asked myself with a feeling of failure. After spending so much time, money, and energy, I had no results to show for it. What should I do now? In my moments of spiritual communion, I asked in anguish, “Lord, what do You want from me?” After I cried out for wisdom, God impressed me with an idea that revolutionized my life and ministry: reading the book Gospel Workers and dialoguing with God. I termed this first hour of my three-hour pastoral study each day as “talking to God about my ministry.”

Of the many ideas that I gained through it, God especially used one of them to transform that church forever. My wife and I decided to give home Bible studies. Dozens of homes began to open their doors to receive the Word of God. On Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings, those who received the Bible studies in their homes now crowded the little church to hear Dulce speak about health. I prepared and presented a series on the life of Jesus, reinforcing the central biblical doctrines each night.

The Lord worked many miracles in that city. The president of the mission performed the first baptism of ten people. The following Sabbath, six more people were prepared for baptism. I baptized people each weekend. The new members tore down that little wooden hall they had been using and built a beautiful church. An Adventist school opened, and that rebel group became an organized church, a symbol of the role of divine sovereignty in a pastor’s ministry.

From battles to baptism

On one of the trips in the Amazon with the Luzeiro XIV, we arrived at a large village where there was a small Adventist group. I met with the members to arrange the health and evangelistic programs that we would conduct. A woman there named Taina1 was a witch who had an evil reputation. She mistreated children and fought a lot with her neighbors. When Dulce and I arrived on the missionary boat, the local members asked me to visit her and invite her to Dulce’s health talks during the day and the evangelistic meetings at night. Taina promised she would come.

As Dulce gave her health presentation, I saw Taina sitting in the front row, very attentive. Every night, I offered a Bible course that church members could teach to those whom desired it, and I noticed that Taina appeared very thoughtful. On the third night, when I handed out the application forms for the Bible course, she immediately filled one out and turned it in, stating that she wanted to study the Bible.

A spiritual revolution took place in her life. When we returned to that place on another trip, I had the joy of baptizing Taina in the muddy waters of the Solimões River to the honor and praise of God.

Lessons learned

All such experiences have made me reflect on divine sovereignty in ministry and that God guides His servants in many ways to fulfill His purpose. Pastors must have an intimate connection with the Lord to be able to discern the conviction that He seeks to instill in their minds. They need to be used to hearing God’s voice through daily Bible reading, meditation, prayer, and continual surrender of their lives to the Holy Spirit. God uses life situations, church needs, childhood memories, literature, and even a newsletter to signal the way He wants to lead us. The Lord’s sovereignty in the pastor’s ministry is amazing!

I also learned that the Lord knows each one of us well. He understands our emotions, motives, and thoughts. God understands what needs to be shaped, honed, or developed. To accomplish that, He permits or does not permit, grants or does not grant, and leads us along this or that path, preparing us for the task He has planned.

I realized that if pastors talk to God and spend time examining their hearts with Him, they will understand with praise and gratitude the work of the heavenly Father in their character and ministry. With a heart on fire (Ps. 39:3), full of passion, and a sparkle in his or her eyes, the shepherd advances fearlessly, full of faith and submission like a boat sailing through a violent storm. It all results from the sovereignty of God in the pastor’s ministry.

A continued commitment

After 37 years of ministry in different regions of Brazil, my time of retirement approached. After a lifetime committed to ministry, I kept thinking, What will I do when I retire? I did not know what work I would dedicate myself to. Little by little, I discerned the Lord’s will at every step. As I talked with Him on the subject, a firm conviction filled me that I must use my retirement for the Lord.

First, I was impressed to devote myself to the activities I love most in pastoral ministry: visitation, discipleship, Bible studies, and holding small group meetings to strengthen active members and rescue former members who had left the church. Second, for part of the day, Dulce and I engage in canvassing, which we call the “printed-page evangelistic, pastoral ministry.” Third, she and I seek to be role models of dedicated, committed, and faithful members, the kind we have taught others to be during our pastoral ministry.

This new way of life has given us inexpressible satisfaction and has promoted our physical, mental, and spiritual health. We find constant comfort from the Lord in the words revealed to the psalmist: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty” (Ps. 91:1, NIV).

  1. Name changed.

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Roberval Moura Marinho, MTh, is a retired pastor and administrator in Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil.

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