Portugal Serving Up Hope, Restaurant-Style
Portuguese Grandmother, 77, Transforms Café Into Matthew Home
December 9, 2011 - The minute Lori Wagner heard about the My Hope Portugal outreach project, she didn't hesitate to get involved. But where to host it? "I woke up one morning and it hit my head," Wagner said. "The Lord was telling me to invite people to the restaurant."
All I want to do is serve the Lord as much as I can before I die.
— Lori Wagner, 77, My Hope Portugal Matthew
By Trevor Freeze
Inside this tiny Lisbon café, two rows of crammed tables waited expectantly for My Hope visitors.
Bottles of water, plates of bread filled with bits of ham, and piles of Sachertorte—a rich Austrian brownie dusted with coconut powder and filled with peach jam—were placed strategically in the restaurant's 9-by-15-foot eating space.
Lori Wagner had struck again.
The mother-in-law of the restaurant's owner, and resident in-house baker, had whipped up a couple of her specialties, as this brisk December night in Lisbon was one she had talked to customers about for weeks.
It started that morning when she heard the voice of the Lord speak to her about where to host the Billy Graham My Hope Portugal project.
"I woke up one morning and it hit my head," Wagner said. "The Lord was telling me to invite people to the restaurant."
So Wagner, 77, began inviting anyone who would listen.
A believer in Christ for 40 years, her enthusiasm for people and evangelism made her heart jump the minute she heard about the My Hope project. In fact, she almost jumped out of her skin.
"I went to church and someone told me that Billy Graham or his son Franklin Graham had been to my church and I was so upset I missed it," Wagner said.
But when she realized that My Hope would bring Billy Graham and Franklin Graham to Portugal through the power of television, DVD and Internet streaming, she was immediately on board.
"All I want to do is serve the Lord as much as I can before I die," said Wagner, full of the life and energy of someone in their 40s. "I'm proud of my age. And I love my wrinkles."
And she loves her God.
"I'm not just here to wash cups and saucers," she said. "I'm here for this. I want to share Christ with everybody."
And by 9 p.m. on Thursday night, 16 customers had squeezed into her café, most of them professionals from the apartments above the restaurant. And after sharing what was about to take place and serving a bowl of green bean soup—a Portuguese staple—the flat-screen in the corner began the 30-minute program.
As cars whizzed by outside on the brick, tree-lined streets and pedestrians occasionally stopped and cupped their hands to look inside, the crowd's attention was laser-focused on the My Hope program, which mixed Billy Graham's preaching with quick cuts of impactful testimonies and regional music.
After Billy Graham ended the program, giving an invitation to receive Christ, both Wagner and her pastor from Acção Bíblica church, Paulo Chaveiro, shared their stories and gave the same opportunity. And while nobody made a verbal decision, there were many positive signs that God was at work.
"It was one more step," pastor Chaveiro said. "And even though I didn't see any decisions, I could see in their faces that walls were coming down."
Pastor Chaveiro was excited about the turnout, even though Wagner had invited "three times" the number of people. Her outspokenness and obedience has been a great example to his church.
"She's very passionate about evangelism," he said. "Every opportunity that comes up, she takes advantage of it and shares with everyone she meets."
Wagner is not letting Thursday's response discourage her. As someone who didn't come to know the Lord until age 47, she knows it's never too late. There were seeds planted and many heard the Gospel who have never heard it so clearly before.
In fact, Wagner plans to keep showing My Hope to friends in her home "forever," she says, or until the DVDs wear out. On Wednesday and Friday, she used her home to show the program to two sets of friends who had trouble getting around.
"There was a start," Wagner said of the café showing. "Something will happen."
And it was evident by the crowd of people who stayed past 11 p.m. to talk about the program, including three who committed to coming to church on Harvest Sunday.
"One lady in the corner, I could see it in her eyes," pastor Chaveiro said. "She didn't speak but as she left she told me, I will be at church Sunday."
Other My Hope Highlights
More than 960 churches and at least 7,000 Matthews have been trained throughout Portugal.
On Tuesday night: Two men in their mid-30s were supposed to come to an 8:30 showing in Cartaxo, a northern suburb of Lisbon, but had to work until midnight. They called up their friend and asked if they could still come over. The two men were so moved by the first program, they asked to watch all three back-to-back-to-back and stayed until 3 a.m.
"By the end they were both crying and praying to receive Christ," said Daniel Rezende, pastor of the Cartaxo Community Church. "It was wonderful."
The same pastor received a text message on Friday that one of the new Christians invited his brother and sister-in-law to watch My Hope on Thursday night and they both made decisions to receive Christ.
On Thursday night: A Nazarene church near a bull-fighting arena, one of the oldest in Lisbon, welcomed 45 homeless people, mostly men, to watch My Hope. Before the meal was served, the program was shown at the church, ending with an ovation. After the pastor gave a short testimony, about 20 raised their hands to receive Christ and 12 came forward to pray and receive counsel.
On Wednesday night: An Assembly of God church just north of Lisbon has been ministering to a rough neighborhood full of drug and alcohol abuse, and feeding people once a week. The church invited many from the neighborhood to watch the My Hope program there. Over 100 people came, many with their children, on Wednesday to over three different showings; 22 made decisions for Jesus.
"We're doing it every Wednesday and Friday night until we've shared with at least 1,000 people," pastor Alvaro Ladeira said. "Those who invite Jesus to be their hope, I invite them to bring their friends the next time."
On Thursday night: Cesar and his wife, a young Brazilian couple, received five unsaved neighbors to their home, as well as other members of their church for prayer and support. After My Hope ended, Cesar shared how he was addicted to cocaine for several years until he found Jesus and has cleaned up his life. An older couple received Christ for the first time and another gentleman rededicated his life.
On Thursday afternoon: Paulo and Sandra Rodrigues live in an first-floor apartment furnished with 24-inch ceramic red tiles and hosted eight family members in their near-coastal town of Marinha Grande, about 120 miles north of Lisbon. Paulo is a part-time assistant pastor at his church and a full-time auto parts distribution manager. The couple took advantage of the holiday by hosting a 3 p.m. showing to Sandra's family.
No decisions were made, but the couple was encouraged by the conversation afterward, including one sister-in-law who agreed to come to church.
"Even though you may think this is all about church, this is not about church," Paulo told his family during his testimony time. "The most important thing I want you to know is you need to receive Jesus in your life. He sent his son to die for you and me, to give you life and to give you hope."
On Wednesday evening, Paulo's 12-year-old daughter Claudia invited three friends over to watch My Hope with one accepting Christ. On Saturday, his 16-year-old daughter, Rebecca, will be the Matthew host to seven of her school friends while Paulo hosts the program at a nearby restaurant.
"It went well," Paulo said. "The two brother-in-laws, they were listening. I got the feeling they were touched in their hearts by Jesus."
Pray for My Hope Portugal
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