Recently, I had the privilege of connecting with two WorldVenture alumni, Margaret and Al Palfenier. The Palfeniers were one of the earliest WorldVenture families to serve in Brazil. In some respects, the Palfeniers have the quintessential missionary story. After they were appointed with WorldVenture in 1960, they departed from the U.S. on a freight ship for a three-week journey across the Atlantic Ocean to Brazil.
“It was quite an experience with four little children. And looking back today, we’d never do that,” said Margaret, laughing. “But back then that’s what you did and we didn’t question it. Whatever they told us to do, we did.”
Many of the comforts the Palfeniers were used to in America didn’t exist in Brazil yet, causing the Palfeniers to describe one of the cities where they served as “heat, dust, and mosquitoes.” Despite it all, prayer marked the successes they saw in their field, where they helped plant new churches and train new leaders.
One of the first challenges the Palfeniers faced from this early Brazil field was reconciling with Catholic nationals. The Palfeniers say the Catholics in the country dominated the Brazilian religious demographic. They called the Christians “dogs,” and put down boards with nails on the roads they drove to puncture their tires. But eventually, the Palfeniers were able to witness the conversion of Catholics, some of whom were priests and Catholic leaders.
“Many people accepted the Lord because they finally heard the truth, which was a very exciting time to be there,” said Margaret.
Throughout their ministry, the Palfeniers saw how God had better plans than they had for themselves. One example of this: they took over the responsibility as house parents for the missionary boarding school. Although they intended to only stay for one year, they stayed for 12. While taking care of many children proved stressful at times, the Palfeniers look back on that time with fond memories.
“Try on our shoes for a few moments and you’ll know how much we need prayer in our ministry of caring for the physical, social, and spiritual needs of 18 teenagers,” wrote Margaret during this period of their ministry.
The Palfeniers also spent part of their time serving a leprosy colony, where they would host Bible studies and sing hymns under a mango tree. One Christmas, the Palfeniers brought presents, including slippers, popcorn, candy, and toothpaste. The lepers didn’t quite know what to do with the slippers, however.
“The first Thursday after Christmas when I went out there to have our meeting, there they sat with these [slippers] on their heads,” said the Palfeniers. “They didn’t know they were hats.”
The Palfeniers saw many successes throughout their various roles on the Brazil field, including record baptism numbers, growing churches, new church plants. The couple credits this to the amount of effort they put into prayer. They helped organize 24-hour prayer chains throughout their churches starting in 1990. The 10-year, 24-hour prayer chain was just one aspect of the field’s “Mission 2000!” goals the Palfeniers helped implement. Other goals included 200 churches, 20,000 church members, 225 pastors and workers by 2000, and a Bible reading marathon where every Christian read one chapter per day for 10 years.
“I believe that’s how we reached our goals,” said Margaret. “It was because of the prayer. I really believe that.”