Jesus without Borders: What Planes, Trains, and Rickshaws Taught Me about Jesus

Jesus without Borders: What Planes, Trains, and Rickshaws Taught Me about Jesus


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780310325543
Publisher: Zondervan
Publication date: 03/31/2015
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 913,102
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Chad Gibbs, former baby, is the best-selling (Okay, regional best-selling) author of God and Football: Faith and Fanaticism in the SEC. He has written for CNN, The Washington Post, and RELEVANT Magazine, and has made multiple (Okay, three) appearances on ESPN. Gibbs and a fellow mammal reside in Alabama with their offspring and two canines that are not their offspring. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Jesus without Borders

By Chad Gibbs


Copyright © 2015 Chad Gibbs
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-310-32554-3



When twilight dims the sky above, recalling thrills of our love, there's one thing I'm certain of: Return, I will, to old Brazil.

—Ary Barroso, "Brazil"

Mr. Gibbs, what was the reason for your visit to Brazil?"

The immigration officer stood waiting for an answer to the question I'd been dreading since we arrived back on American soil a little before four in the morning. I wasn't dreading the question in a "so I could stuff my body cavities with contraband and sneak it into the country" sort of way; it was just that, to be honest, I didn't have any reason for visiting Brazil. The trip was the result of a surplus of frequent flier miles, an idea for a book that no publisher had agreed to publish, and my wife's having a couple of days off work in early November. However, none of those things sounded like a reasonable explanation to give that frowning person who, I believed, had the authority to send me straight to Guantanamo Bay.

Preceding this trip, my knowledge of Brazil was sketchy at best. I knew where it is on the globe, because, as you know, I once owned a globe. I also knew Brazil is the world's leading exporter of swimsuit models. But apart from these things, when I thought of Brazil, I wasn't really sure what to think. Which is why Tricia and I spent most of our flight frantically reading about Brazil in the various travel guides we'd borrowed from the Auburn Public Library, which was probably unaware we planned to take the guides out of the country.

Tricia was the first to find a fun fact. "Did you know that if you don't include Alaska, Brazil is actually larger than the United States?"

"Why wouldn't we include Alaska?"

"I don't know. That's just what the book says."

"If we count only states called Rhode Island, Switzerland is larger than the United States. Your book is stupid."

"You're stupid, Geography Boy."

We touched down a little before 10:00 a.m. at Galeao International Airport and made our way through customs, which in Brazil is efficient, though perhaps less than thorough.

"Are you bringing things into our country you shouldn't?"


"Good! Welcome to Brazil."

Most everything in the arrivals terminal was written in Portuguese, an official sign told us in English that the airport advised using the prepaid taxi services, which were being run by hysterical women in booths who kept screaming, "You want taxi!" at every person who walked past them. We figured such an official sign couldn't be wrong, so we approached one of these women, and once she calmed down, we gave her R$99 for safe passage to our hotel.

The tropical spring air of Brazil was quite a contrast with the late autumn day we'd left behind in Atlanta, but before I could even comment, a man with a walkie-talkie grabbed my receipt and began pointing and yelling at several other men equally armed with walkie-talkies. I feared they were discussing which ones would hold us down while the others stole our money, but soon we found ourselves in the back of an unmarked black cab with a driver who, apparently, mistook us for Hollywood stunt drivers looking to be impressed.

Once on the Avenida Brasil (a street name that I believe translates as "Avenue of Fiery Death"), I realized our driver was just driving the way it seemed all Brazilians drive, like inebriated Earnhardts. There was lots of swerving and accelerating, but then we hit traffic and it was a slow trudge, except for the motorcycles, which zipped down the highway between lanes of traffic, constantly honking their horns, lest someone open a door and ruin their day. At places where the traffic had stopped completely, men, women, and children were out walking among the cars, selling sodas and snacks while dodging motorcycles. I thought vehicle-to-vehicle salesman has to be one of the five worst jobs on the planet.

Driving from the airport through Rio's North Zone, we passed many poor neighborhoods. Tricia and I exchanged "what have we gotten ourselves into" looks as we drove by abandoned buildings, rundown housing projects, and of course Brazil's famed favelas.

The favelas are beautiful from a distance. Multicolored buildings running up mountainsides give you the impression you're looking at a Mediterranean vacation village. But on closer inspection, you realize these villas are actually shacks, home to Brazil's poor. Drug lords and other deviants are scattered throughout the favelas, though it would be wrong to assume everyone living there would enjoy robbing you at gunpoint —a hyperbolic assertion I came across on a message board or two. That being said, the favelas do have some pretty astronomical murder rates, which is why Tricia and I had no plans to visit them on our trip.

We arrived, by the grace of God, a little after noon at our hotel, where we splashed some water in our eyes before walking down to Copacabana Beach, perhaps the most famous beach in the world.

Copacabana Beach is almost two and a half miles long and shaped like a crescent moon, and the first thing you notice is how wide it is. This is because the hotels are all across Avenida Atlantica, leaving the sand unspoiled for volleyball nets, soccer goals, and workout equipment.

As for beach attire, what you and I call skimpy, Brazilians call modest. Men, women, and children all were in Speedos and G-strings, and none seemed the least bit self-conscious about it. And sure, some of them had the bodies to pull off these swimsuits, or lack thereof, but many did not. Still, no one seemed to care. "Surprisingly," Tricia said, "this place does wonders for your body image." And I guess it does. Go to Copacabana Beach and you won't be the best looking person in a skimpy swimsuit, but you certainly won't be the worst.

We dipped our feet in the Atlantic, which was freezing, then took a stroll up the beach, dodging frisbees and soccer balls, quickly turning our heads when we saw more of someone's behind than we wanted to see. After a while we walked back up toward the road and walked a little more on the Portuguese pavement of the Copacabana promenade, stopping later for a burger at one of the beachside cafes.

"Are we really here?" Tricia asked, staring down the beach at the waves crashing into Morro do Leme.

"Well, if it's a dream, let's not pay for lunch."

But it wasn't a dream. We were in Brazil, looking out at the most spectacular stretch of ocean I'd ever seen, eating average hamburgers and struggling to stay awake. Anything seemed possible.

* * *

That evening Creedence Clearwater Revival asked through our taxi's speakers if we'd ever seen the rain. It was early Friday evening now, and we were on our way to church. I don't get the impression that Brazilians typically attend church on Friday night; they seem to be Sunday morning folks, like us. But this was a new church, and they were trying new things. In fact this was the first ever service for this church, which was going to be called River Church.

In the weeks leading up to this trip, I'd scoured the internet searching for churches to visit and believers to talk to, and when I came across River Church, I couldn't believe my eyes. Not because a church was holding its first service the day we would arrive, which was quite a coincidence, but because Andrew, the man starting it, is from Sylacauga, Alabama, about an hour's drive from where we live.

I contacted Andrew immediately to find out why someone from the 'Cauga was starting a church in Rio de Janeiro. Turns out Andrew had married a Brazilian, Juliana, and the two of them had spent time in Europe and Africa and were now back in Rio to start a church.

Tonight was the first of three "prelaunch" services for River Church, and Andrew planned to lay out the mission of the new church to the forty or so folks who would show up. We were, I suspect, the only international visitors.

River Church had rented an auditorium on the second floor of Centro Empresarial Botafogo, a high-rise building in Rio, and upstairs we met Andrew, who gave the impression of a man who'd spent the previous ten hours pounding double espressos. I'd never given much thought to starting a church, but apparently there are a lot of moving parts, and Andrew was in charge of most of them. Tonight the video screen was not cooperating, and Andrew was anxiously trying to get it working. Even so, he stopped to greet us, thanking us repeatedly for the two large jars of creamy peanut butter, a delicacy hard to come by in Brazil, that we'd smuggled brought from the States. Then he asked, "Will you two stand here and greet people as they arrive?"

Tricia said yes before I could say no, and we took our posts at the door.

"You do realize we don't speak Portuguese?"


"So, welcoming them in English might not be very welcoming."

We'd looked over some common Portuguese phrases on the plane and tried to remember what the word for welcome is, but neither of us could. It was like a test we'd forgotten to study for. Soon the first visitors to River Church were arriving, and we decided to just smile and nod as they passed through.

After the first group, I told Tricia the smiling and nodding was a little creepy. "They probably think we're brainwashed and they're joining a cult." Just then Andrew came running by and I asked for the Portuguese word for welcome.

"Boas-vindas," he said.

"Boas-vindas," we repeated.

And when the next group came through, we greeted them with a hearty "boas-vindas," to which they replied, in perfect English, "Thanks. Are you two from the States?"

The service was supposed to begin at 7:00 p.m., but now it was 7:30, and Andrew explained that River Church would be run on Rio time, which meant it was after 9:00 p.m. before a couple of guys took the stage and began to play worship songs. The tunes were familiar Chris Tomlin, Hillsong, and Jesus Culture songs, but the words were very Portuguese. The good thing about worship songs, though, is you tend to repeat six words over and over for the better part of half an hour, so we soon found ourselves praising God in a foreign language, which was pretty cool. From time to time the singer switched to English, which was great, but by the end I kind of preferred the Portuguese.

After thirty minutes of worship, Andrew and Maria, one of the founding members of River Church, took the stage to talk about the church's mission. At first Andrew spoke in English, while Maria translated into Portuguese, then after a few sentences, they switched languages. It was impressive, and I began to wonder if linguistic gymnastics had been added to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and these two were training for the gold.

"We are a relationship movement," Andrew said, "unified, not defined by what divides us, but defined by the power and presence of God, on us and through us."

The passion in Andrew's voice was evident, and I scanned the room of attentive faces, wishing we could move here to be a part of this new church. This new adventure.

"Our assignment is simple," Andrew said in closing, "transform the planet."

And with that, some people went down front and prayed for the future of the new church, while Tricia and I made our way toward the food in the back. While I was stuffing my face with little ham sandwiches, Tricia began talking to Claudia, a young woman we'd met earlier in the lobby.

Turns out Claudia had spent the last two years studying in the States, first at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where she earned her PhD, then at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore for her postdoctoral fellowship. When I'm intimidated by someone's intelligence, as I was with Claudia's, I tend to ask dumber questions than normal. "So why do you guys paint lines on your roads if no one pays attention to them anyway?" Claudia smiled at me the way I smile at my nephew when he tells the world his diaper is stinky, then she turned around and resumed smart person talk with Tricia.

We hung around fellowshiping for an hour or so, but it was getting late, and despite the Brazilian coffee River Church was serving, Tricia and I were exhausted from our thirty-six-hour day. We said goodnight to Andrew, Juliana, and the rest of the wonderful people we'd met and then took a taxi back to the hotel for a night of dreamless sleep.

* * *

The River Church service felt similar to a typical service back home in so many ways, but still there were obviously some differences between believers here and believers back home; I was just having trouble putting my finger on them. After we returned home, I spoke to Emilio, a friend of a friend, and a Brazilian pastor of a Presbyterian church in Brasilia. "Protestants are the minority here," he told me, "unlike in the USA, and for decades there was some persecution of Protestants—not too harsh, but still. Back then, people who claimed to be Protestants really meant it, but more recently this group has grown to the point that you now have many nominal Protestants, like you do in the States and like many Catholics here."

Emilio attended seminary in Mississippi, so I was eager to ask him what differences he saw between Christians in the US and Christians in Brazil. His answer surprised me.

"Christians in Brazil tend to be way less involved in politics. We are not a society that has two parties with clear stances like the US does. Things here are much more nuanced, and voting for a given party relates very little to your religious affiliation. I see American Christians naively associating their country with the kingdom of God; here believers are less prone to such things. We are less enthusiastic about our country's history, military achievements, anthem singing, and all of that. It's not a lack of patriotism; it's just a greater separation between a citizenship in heaven and one on earth. There would never be a flag ceremony or singing of the national anthem during a church service here."

Living in Alabama my entire life, I've gone to my share of God and country services at church, and for years I never thought twice about American flags in the sanctuary or wondered why "The Star-Spangled Banner" is in the Baptist hymnal or even considered how "God Bless America" must sound to foreign ears. But lately I've been more concerned with these things, not because I'm unpatriotic or because I'm ungrateful for the sacrifices that have been made by our servicemen and women, but because I'm not sure why we so eagerly want to associate our imperfect country with a perfect God. I've read the Bible, and unless I missed it while skimming through parts of Numbers, the United States of America isn't mentioned. Yet so many of us have a hard time believing God would have a plan for our lives that doesn't align with the American dream.

Then Emilio touched on why the service still felt American in many ways, as did many of the church websites I'd browsed before our trip. "Brazilians tend to imitate American culture," he said, "without much filter. That goes for Christians as well, so practices, ideas, and theology, good and bad, are assimilated without much reflection. Every trend in American culture and the American Church will soon find its way into Brazil." Hearing this was both encouraging and terrifying, because American culture and American Christian culture both have produced some amazing things, but we've also produced Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Christian T-shirts that rip off every fast-food restaurant logo. It serves as a good reminder to us all to be careful what we produce, because the world is watching and imitating.

* * *

When I travel, adrenaline usually carries me through the first day, but the second morning always gets me. Our room in Brazil was just dark enough, and the pillows were just soft enough, that sleeping until 3:00 p.m. was a distinct possibility. But we were in the country for only a few days, so we groggily downed a few more cups of Brazilian coffee and took a taxi to the bottom of Corcovado Mountain. At 2,329 feet, Corcovado stands out, even among the other peaks that make Rio so spectacular. But it's the 130-foot statue of Jesus, Cristo Redentor or Christ the Redeemer, that makes this one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.


Excerpted from Jesus without Borders by Chad Gibbs. Copyright © 2015 Chad Gibbs. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Prologue, 11,
Brazil, 21,
Spain, 37,
England, 49,
Russia, 63,
Uganda, 79,
Italy, 95,
Japan, 109,
The Netherlands, 125,
Australia, 141,
China, 157,
Israel, 173,
India, 189,
Turkey, 205,
Epilogue, 221,
Acknowledgments, 229,
Appendix: A Call to Travel, 231,

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