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Tending the Garden

By Nikki White


“When I saw the yard space of our new home, I was excited to think that I could finally have the garden that I always wanted,” said Brazilian church leader, Emerson Cardoso, as he recalled his recent move. 

“It did not work out quite the way I planned,” he added wryly, “but through that garden, God taught me a lot about church planting.”

Emerson has been instrumental in promoting a regional network in Latin America that now has twelve countries actively collaborating in the areas of mission, education, pastoral care and conference building. He currently oversees church planting and pastoral training as President of the Mennonite Brethren Conference in Brazil (COBIM). He also serves as Chair of the Executive Board of the International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB) and as Multiply’s Regional Leader for Latin America. He is also pastor of a church that recently purchased a sports arena in order to reach youth. Emerson is a visionary, a strategic thinker and a dynamic missional leader. 

He is also, by his own admission, a terrible gardener. 

Once his family had settled into their new home, Emerson made an impulsive mass purchase of plants with his new yard in mind. Impatiently, he yanked out handfuls of grass in his yard, dug some holes and began planting. Two weeks later, they were all dead. 

“I decided that the problem must be the soil,” Emerson laughed. “So, I pulled out all the dead plants, bought big bags of fertilizer and dumped them all out on the ground. Then I bought new plants, dug new holes and tried again.” 

The result? Large, lush, healthy weeds. They sprung up with appalling speed and quickly choked the life out of the fragile new plants. 

Emerson realized that he was looking for shortcuts to healthy growth. Eventually, hard work and humble consultation with more experienced green thumbs resulted in a pretty decent garden. He now references this gardening experience frequently as he consults for other MB conferences regarding church planting in Latin America. 

“In a garden, I learned that the soil must be worked and enriched over a period of time,” he said. “It cannot be rushed. Weeds must be identified and removed at an early stage. These principles apply very well to church planting.” 

Recently, in one Latin American country, Emerson saw these lessons clearly illustrated.  “We gathered a group of pastors together to talk about church planting, but it was evident that the soil of these pastors’ hearts was hard. There were weeds of jealousy and unforgiveness germinating. This was not going to change within days.” 

It took three years for Emerson’s team to work through these issues with this group of pastors. “Imagine if we had just started by dumping resources on these churches,” Emerson said, “in the same way I dumped fertilizer on my yard. Those sins, like weeds, would have only grown bigger and faster, choking out whatever we tried to grow!” 

Instead, Emerson and his team took a more careful, intentional approach, and the process resulted in healthy growth. Today, MB churches in that country are multiplying and flourishing as never before. Emerson and his team are now focusing on a similar collaboration with the MB conferences in several other Latin American countries. 

Emerson is a busy man. He no longer has much time for tending his garden at home. But his passion for growing things is still strong, as is evidenced in the way that he is investing in mission partnerships and serving churches throughout Latin America. 

Panama Team, Witness Article, Witness Spring 2020

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