U.S. Ministry Approaches Don’t Work Just Anywhere

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MERCER ISLAND, WA (March 3, 2010) – Ken Lottis had plenty of experience ministering to college students in the United States and was confident his approach would be as effective in doing the same kind of outreach work in Brazil.

Then he arrived.

Ken and his wife, Carol

Lottis and his wife, Carol, ministered alongside another couple, Jim and Marge Petersen, all veterans of campus ministry. They found that none of the methods that were so successful in the United States worked in Brazil.

In Brazil, they didn’t have the large campuses and few students had any biblical literacy. The standard four spiritual laws or the bridge illustrations did not register with folks. The people were not receptive to memorizing scripture using the famous memory cards and the booklet employed by the Navigators, the organization with which the two missionaries were associated.

“That question-and-answer format got a negative response,” Lottis says. “In the first 16 to 18 months, we had scuttled the Navigators material we had grown up with.”

Instead, relationships would need to be developed; however, the Brazilians were wary of the Americans. It was the 1960s and tensions between Brazil and the United States ran high. The students were leery that the Americans might be associated with the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency).

Over the years, however, the ministry grew and multiplied across the country in ways the missionaries had not imagined. Lottis, a longtime member of Mercer Island Covenant Church, has written, Will This Rock in Rio?, a narrative of how the ministry grew among college students and subsequently among young adults.

Lottis wrote the book as a narrative because he believes telling the story was important to provide a historical record. There are almost no first-person accounts of contemporary mission stories and the format also betters shows how the relational ministry developed.

Petersen does add a section to the book that provides a more didactic approach to the experience. Lottis says the idea is based on the pattern found in the gospels: Jesus would tell stories, and the disciples would later ask, “What did you mean?”

Lottis was not a member of Mercer Island when he traveled to Brazil, but he later met the congregation’s pastor, Bud Palmberg, as well as Karl Olsson, who proved to be major inspirations. “Our experience with them was so critical to shaping our thinking as we were putting this ministry together.”

Lottis says he consumed Karl Olsson’s classic history of the denomination, By One Spirit. “Aspects of that Covenant history in Sweden were as critical today as ever. It will be done differently, but the (relational) core is the same.”

Lottis is the deacon of Mercer Island Covenant’s mission board and resident missiologist. He continues to commend Olsson’s work in helping to understand contemporary outreach.

Lottis’ book is not as detailed as By One Spirit. At 256 pages, it is far shorter than the 810-page current volume of Olsson’s tome.

“That was a mesmerizing story when I was reading it for the first time, but it is a rather daunting book, sort of like War and Peace,” Lottis muses.

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