Rev. Jonny Gumbel helped plant St Peter’s church in Brighton. Then he sensed God calling him to a new plant – this time in Rio, Brazil.

I really like England. I love the mild climate, the non-threatening wildlife, the stony beaches, cricket and books written in English.

In 2009 Tara and I had moved from London to join the staff team of St Peter’s Brighton. We had settled, had four children, and imagined that we might stay there forever. But in June 2020 we began to sense that God might be calling us to something new. For a year it was unclear what this new thing might be, but then, suddenly, a tiny thought emerged. It was nothing like a clear conviction. It felt so fragile. And I suddenly said to Tara, ‘I think we should consider Brazil.’ It was the country she had felt called to as a teenager, but for various reasons it had never happened – yet now it seemed like we might be called to go.

God calls us to go. It is one of the most frequent commands that God gives to his people in the Old Testament, and it is one of the most frequent commands that Jesus gives to his disciples in the New Testament. It is the first command that God gives when he begins to form his people through the call of Abram in Genesis, and it is the last command that Jesus gives to his disciples in Matthew’s Gospel.

God is always asking us to go. Sometimes going will be dramatic and obvious, at other times it will be more subtle and mundane. Sometimes it is to new places, sometimes it is new people or new activities. For us in 2022, it meant going to a new continent, as we took on the role of pastoring an international church in Rio de Janeiro.

It was exciting as we headed off into a great adventure, but also sad as we said goodbye to what we had known. Going always involves loss. When God calls Abram, it is to leave his country, his people and his father’s household (Genesis 12:1). He had to leave behind the place he knew, the relationships which had held him and the lifestyle he was used to. In our first few months in Rio we thought often of what we had left: not only our house, our country, a job, the children’s school and the ability to buy books in English, but also our community, the feeling of belonging and being in a place where we were known and loved. However, I was comforted when all my books (practically the only possessions we took with us) arrived a few months later.

And going doesn’t make life easier. Abram goes in obedience to God, but then immediately finds that ‘there was a famine in the land’ (Genesis 12:10). Our first two years in Rio de Janeiro have been the hardest we have ever been through, with all kinds of problems that we never anticipated. There were times when Tara and I asked one another whether we would have said yes if we had known what it was going to be like!

And yet God promises to bless us as we go. God was asking Abram to give up so much, but God called him so that he could bless him. As they respond to God’s call, Abram and Sarai go through some difficult and painful experiences, but they also see miracles, with angels appearing, and extraordinary provision and protection taking place. And for us, these first few years in Rio have brought more dramatic answers to prayer than we have ever seen before. It seems that as we respond to God’s call, both our weaknesses and his power become more evident. The challenges have been huge but the blessings have been even greater.

Article taken from Together magazine, July – August 2024.

About the author

Jonny Gumbel has been the rector of Christ Church, Rio de Janeiro since 2022. Previously he lived in Brighton for 12 years, where he was associate vicar at St Peter’s Brighton and taught at St Mellitus College. He studied theology at Oriel College, Oxford and King’s College, London. He is married to Tara and they have four children. He is author of ‘Loved’ and ‘Called’.