Paul and Sheri Moreland
The following is taken from Paul and Sheri Moreland's mission website:
Paul is the son of William J. "Bill" Moreland and Janet Marie Stewart Moreland. In 1971 the Moreland family moved to Brazil, South America to serve there as missionaries with the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ. The first couple of years they were in Belém, Pará and then they moved south to Araguaína to work with Bill's brother, James E. "Jim" Moreland and his family.
Paul's schooling was a mixture of private (Amazon Valley Academy), one room school house (The "MoreBach" school), public (Wapato Elementary and Memorial High School) and home schooling - before homeschooling was the "in thing" to do. Growing up in Brazil gave him an opportunity to see mission work up close and personal. Being a "third culture kid" or "missionary kid" gave him a different perspective as he learned to appreciate the positive aspects of the Brazilian culture and also to appreciate the positive aspects of his parents' home culture. As he observed mission work around Brazil and the world (by association with missionaries in various settings) he developed definite ideas on a more Biblical approach to missions and as a teenager he dedicated his life to serving the Lord in Brazil.
Sheri is the daughter of Mark T. Stringer and Barbara I. Hillis Stringer. She was born in Bogotá, Colombia and raised on the mission field. The Stringers have served in Colombia since 1966. They adopted four Colombian children, Sheri being the first to join the family.
Sheri was raised in Colombia's eastern plains region and also in Bogotá. She learned about mission work by observing her parents and other missionaries. As a teenager she dedicated her life to serving the Lord in Colombia.
In 1986, Paul and Sheri were students at Ozark Christian College. Sheri was a sophomore and Paul was in his final year there. As they came to know each other better they decided to get married and to serve the Lord together - but the question of “Where?” had to be answered first. As they analyzed their situation and the commitments they had made, they came to the conclusion that to best start off their work they should first serve in Brazil, where Paul was raised, to fulfill Paul's promise to God to return and teach a small church that his father had started many years before, but had never had a full time preacher to fully found them on the Word of God. However, they left open the possibility of serving God in other places as He should lead and provide. And that is how they settled on the name, “South American Christian Mission.
Paul graduated from Ozark Christian College in 1987 and their wedding was on June 26 of that year in Montrose Colorado, their mothers' home town and the same congregation where both sets of parents were married decades before. They had already begun to seek supporters for the work they planned to do, but the going was slow and difficult. Paul's permanent resident visa would expire if he did not return by mid January 1988 so the pressure was on. As the year came to a close support was no where near what the various missions agencies were telling them they should have. One agency declared that they needed to have $50,000 US yearly PLUS work expenses. Independent missionaries were telling them they needed about half that – PLUS work expenses. But near the end of the year they had only $150 a month pledged and Paul's student loan that he took out to pay for the last semester of school was about to come due. So they placed their situation before the Lord and made the commitment that if He provided them the airfare, they would go to Brazil on faith that He would supply what they needed when they needed it. In December they had $150 a month pledged support, a commitment of $50 a month for the student loan, another commitment of $25 a month for newsletter mailing costs and airfare to Brazil by way of Colombia where they planned to spend a few weeks visiting Sheri's folks. So with faith in God they went.
In 1988 they first worked on getting Sheri's paperwork together for her permanent residency visa and then they moved to the town of Balsas in the state of Maranhão. During this time they lived on the $75 a month that was left from the support that had been pledged prior to their leaving the US. However, once they reached the field, many individuals and congregations stepped in to provide for other needs than their living expenses. With the funds provided they were able to acquire an empty lot in Balsas and build a small house there. This became their base of operations as they learned to work together and as they reached out to the community around them.
At the beginning they did not have communications with the small church they hoped to work with. It was in a remote area and they had no guide to help them get back there. So they began to evangelize in Balsas. The town was far different from the first time Paul had visited there in '84. During the intervening years a so called “revival” had occurred in the area with a great expansion of Pentecostal/Charismatic sects that effectively vaccinated the population against the Gospel of Jesus the Christ. Everyone they met was either a member of one of the various groups or had been a member or had family, friends or neighbors who were members. The reputation of these groups was such that the people said, “Never sell on payments to a soldier or a 'crente' (as the members of these groups were known). It was tough sledding, but the Lord was working on furthering their education and preparing them for the time they would be able to reach the small church back in Genipapo.
In January, 1989, Paul and Sheri became the guardians of a baby boy. His mother was unable to care for him and gave him to them. They began the paperwork necessary to eventually adopt him and continued to work with the community around them. During this time they produced Sunday School and other teaching materials by hand, using a spirit duplicating machine that had been given to them. This gave them materials for teaching the children who didn't care about the squabbles and problems the adults around them had. In March of 1990 the Morelands were blessed by the arrival of their second son, Timothy.
The desire to produce effective teaching materials for their work in Balsas was great, but the abilities of producing presentable material were lacking. At this time Brazil did not allow for the importation of any modern technology. In 1976 they had adopted a policy of “We can do it ourselves” and banned all importation of vehicles, electric appliances, computers and other such things. But by 1990 they began to realize that they alone in the world were trying to “go it alone” - and were falling behind. Such was the situation that the very government smuggled in computers for their own use, using “diplomatic bags” which were immune to customs searches. They began to allow Brazilians and permanent residents returning from at least a year's stay abroad to bring back a computer for personal use. Anything on the Brazilian market was around $20,000 US dollars so it wasn't hard to do the math and come to the conclusion that if they wanted to join the modern era and use modern technology for the furthering of the Gospel, they needed to spend time in the US. Arrangements were made and in June 1990 Paul took off to the US – leaving Sheri and the boys in Brazil to finish getting the boys' paperwork together so they could join him.
Over the next two months Paul traveled and spoke in various churches around the country. But week followed week and Sheri was unable to get the papers to allow her to join him. Finally, in August, the papers were in order and she was able to travel to meet him in the Seattle, WA area. Over the next few months they were back in SW Missouri and Paul took a few classes at Ozark Christian College as well as at a Technical school where he studied DOS 4, WordPerfect 5.1 Dbase 4 and Lotus 123 – the standard Operating System and programs of the day. The Lord provided through His people so that they were able to purchase an IBM clone with an AMD 286 processor, 1 megabyte of RAM, a VGA video card and a black and white VGA monitor. They also acquired WordPerfect 5.1, DrawPerfect 1 and DR Dos 5. Hard copy output was via a Hewlett Packard DeskJet 500. At the end of their year in the US they had all they needed to produce print basic teaching materials in a reasonably modern presentation.
Upon their return to Brazil they also were able to purchase a 1975 Jeep built by Ford in Brazil. This became their vehicle for finally reaching back into the interior so they could seek out the church in Genipapo. One of the elders in the church at Araguaína where Paul grew up came to Balsas and went with them back to Genipapo where they were able to start building again on the doctrinal foundations Bill Moreland had laid years before.
The main problem they encountered at first in this stage of their ministry was the presence of the same heretical doctrines that had infected the city of Balsas. A legalistic, external gospel had been invented which resulted in hypocrisy and a defamation of the true Gospel of Jesus the Christ. The main leader in the church at Genipapo was a man named Antonio Mendoza. He had never finished first grade, but once he came to know Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior he began to teach himself to read by reading the Bible. Each morning he would spend time reading before heading to his fields. At breakfast time he would again take time to read. At noon and in the evening as well. He knew the Scriptures well – but had been infected by the teaching of legalistic religious zealots who taught the ideas of men rather than the Gospel of the Living God. But over the next years as different issues would arise Antonio would say, “The 'crentes' taught me this.” and Paul would ask, “But what does the Bible say?” Often he didn't even have to name a chapter and verse, Antonio knew what the Bible said. And so he began to change and the Spirit of God began to make changes in his life.
In 1993 Paul spent most of the first part of the year away from home. First to travel overland to a missionary gathering in Santiago, Chile and then to help his mother as his father was diagnosed with cancer, went through surgery and eventually ended up returning to the US to seek more advanced treatment there. Paul joined them when it became apparent that no treatment was going to change the prognosis and on June 15, 1993 his father passed away. As the year came to a close it became obvious that their work in Genipapo was reaching the point where they had done what they could do. The population of the area was small and dwindling as the youth left to the cities in search of a better life than they had known on the small share cropping farms most of them came from. The surge to the cities in Latin America was in full swing and it became evident that if they wanted to be effective in reaching the world around them, they must also head to the city.
The question was, “Where?” As they looked at their options they took into consideration the possibility of joining a new work that Sheri's parents were starting in Ibagué, Tolima just to the east of Colombia's Coffee Country. They contacted her parents and the leaders of the church in Colombia and were given in invitation to join in the new work as Family Ministers. The house and Jeep were sold to cover the costs of the move and in the fall of 1994 they left Brazil for Colombia prior to taking a few months to catch up with their supporting churches in the US.Following several months of “Home Service” in the US they returned to Colombia in time to celebrate Thanks Giving with the missionaries there.
The work in Ibagué was new and there were four families involved. Mark and Barbara Stringer, Benjamin and Jovita Guzman, Gary S. and Nancy Philips and Paul and Sheri Moreland. In addition, there were two singles, Kristin Plettner and Andrew Stringer. The balance in the leadership worked very well and the congregation grew. But from the beginning the idea was to place the church completely in Colombian hands as quickly as possible. And so in 1998, with the church four years old, plans were made for it to be placed into the care of the Guzmans with the rest of the team pulling back and moving on to other endeavors. The Morelands took a few months in the US, returning to Ibagué in 1999. They chose to join a new church plant in Barranquilla on Colombia's Caribbean coast as disciplers in charge of helping the young men who would be involved in the work to grow in Christ. Differences of method and ideology cropped up and they began to feel the need of having the freedom to put in practice that which they had been learning over their lifetimes as missionary kids and full time missionaries. To not cause problems with the work in Barranquilla they felt it best to move to a new region. After a time of prayer and fasting they felt the Lord pointing them towards the city of Pereira, the center of Colombia's Coffee Country.
In August and September of 2001 Paul took a quick trip to the US to report to their supporting congregations about the upcoming move. Then in November Paul and Sheri flew to Pereira to look into the housing situation. Their prayer was simple, “Lord, please help us to find a house where we can have ample room for the church to start in our living room. Please give us rooms for each of the kids and if possible a private bathroom and master bedroom.” Well, the Lord answered that and more. He provided a room for each of the boys. A master bedroom with private bath. A room for the two young ladies who were living with them at the time. A large dining room/living room with ample space for gatherings of all kinds. A large kitchen. An enclosed laundry area with plenty of space for hanging clothes. A large room for the boys' homeschooling. A garage large enough to park up to four vehicles. A large hall to use when the church expanded. And another large hall for class room space for the Sunday School. And this showed up their first full day of looking. And the owner cut a deal for rent that their budget could afford. So they signed the contract and returned to Barranquilla to start packing.
Then the letters came. One stated “You hurt someone's feelings when you preached here. We will no longer support your work.” (The never DID point out any doctrinal errors, just that Paul had stepped on someone's toes over an issue he had NO idea they were dealing with). And another one stating, “If you don't join in with the Stringers in Medellin we will no longer support you.” Two letters that lead to a loss of 20% of their pledged support. And expenses were going to be greater in Pereira than they had been in Barranquilla. But the lessons of their first term were still with them. Head the way the Lord points you and pay no attention to the nay sayers. And so the Lord has continued to provide what they need when they need it, just like He always has.
Over the next few years the church grew. When the Morelands reached Pereira they knew no one except the landlady. But the Lord began to open doors. At first they gathered together on Sundays as a family. Just the six of them. Paul, Sheri, their two sons and two young ladies they had been helping to finish their high school studies and get a start in life. But from the beginning the Lord had pointed them to where they should go. The man Paul hired to install the gas system in the house joined with them the first Sunday they held public meetings and became the first convert to Christ through their ministry in Pereira. The man who the landlady hired to fix things around the place started coming to their weekly meetings. And through them they started making more contacts and the church grew. But the life of direct support missionaries is not an easy one. If you do not maintain personal contact it is easy for folks to forget about you. Especially when you are overseas and local and national ministries have a constant presence amongst the churches. So in 2006 the Morelands took their first family visit to the US since 1998. Eight years is a long time when it comes to personal contact with the churches that support you.
The main problem was – who to leave in charge. In some groups it is common to take a new convert and call them a “preacher” or “pastor” or “elder” or “deacon” and set them up in a position of power in the church. But the scriptures are clear in I Timothy 3 than an overseer should NOT be a new convert. And the longer the Morelands work in the church, the more they are convinced of the importance of that admonition. So they prayed. And the church started to shrink. Entire families picked up and moved from town. Individuals left town. Each one went a different way, but soon there were only two families left besides the Morelands. And then they began to see what was happening. The Lord was doing as they asked – and taking care of the flock. As each person or family moved, they joined in with an existing church and were being fed and nurtured. And the two who were left were like a pruned rose bush, waiting for winter to pass so it can branch out and blossom once more.
So the Morelands went to the US in 2006 for six months. They visited their supporting congregations and spent time with family as well. And the church continued to meet each week and to encourage each other, just as the Scriptures admonish us to do in I Corinthians 14.
Since their return in 2007, the Morelands have worked more and more with family ministry. They began a monthly gathering for the couples in the church, as well as any friends or family members who wish to come. The emphasis is on learning to build a family based on God's instructions in His Word. They are very up front about it. “We aren't trying to change your religion, we simply are teaching what the Bible teaches about marriage and child rearing.” The church is once more growing and soon they will be in need of larger quarters than the place that they currently occupy.
In 2009 the Morelands took two months “Home Service” to visit their supporting congregations and their sons who now live in the US. The church continued to meet each week and was strengthened as they learned how to contribute, each according to their gifts. The emphasis of the Morelands has always been on disciple building. Feed the flock and it will reproduce. Care for the sheep and they will multiply, provide wool and milk products. It's simple, and effective. Rather than attempting to fill a large building with people based on emotional events, they work at teaching people to live the Gospel of Jesus the Christ in their daily lives. This leads to a transformation in the individual's way of thinking as well as an expansion of the church through natural growth – just like the Apostle wrote in Ephesians 4.
If you would like to receive a monthly report about the work the Morelands are doing, use the contact information in the main menu to send an e-mail and request that your address be included in “Rejoice and Pray!” - their monthly e-mail news letter. If you would like to pray for the various special needs that come up, use the same method to ask that your address be included in “Prayer List” - their e-mail prayer needs list. At this time the Morelands only send out “snail mail” (hard copy) newsletters to financial supporters, a note that is included with their receipt. E-mail and the internet is the tool of the 21st Century and that is what they use for regular communications.