Paula Harris graduated from Union School of Theology in 2011 and now works in Brazil, with children in the prison system. Through her work, she has many opportunities to talk about Christ and she is seeing some exciting fruit.
“My calling to Brazil spans over many years. For years I had a desire to work with street children in Brazil - partly because of the books 'Run Baby Run' by Nicky Cruz and the autobiography of George Muller. In 2004 I had the opportunity to be part of a summer team to Brazil, working with a project serving street children, and I loved it. I had just completed a teaching degree, and after the Brazil trip, I stayed in Birmingham and taught for 3 and a half years. After going to Union School of Theology, I then moved out to Brazil. During my time in Birmingham I was not always certain that going to Brazil was God's will, but the conviction to go and work with these children never left me, and I also had good advice and guidance from wise people.
My training on the BA course at UST has helped me to serve in Brazil in several ways. I learned a lot from fellow students I lived with at the college, including how to work and study well together, planning events and learning how to graciously agree to disagree! A lot of the work in Brazil has been dealing with relationships within teams which is not always easy, so the lessons I learned about building good relationships from the Union community have been invaluable to my work.
The BA studies gave me a real love for God and his Word, and I was able to clarify beliefs through the study, research and essay writing. The course had lots of very useful modules. The modules on mission, pastoral skills and women’s ministry have been particularly helpful for me. They gave me an insight into mission work and living overseas, as well as invaluable pastoral skills.
After finishing my study at UST in 2011, I went to Brazil to live and work. After learning the language, I worked with street children for 4 years, and am now working with a project called Pro Vida (meaning ‘pro life’). The project, based in Northern Brazil, has 2 departments; ‘Prevention' that works with young children in poor areas and 'New Direction' – (or ‘Novo Rumo’ in Portuguese) that works in prisons.
I started the ‘New Direction’ work in August 2016 and am enjoying it immensely. There are always at least two of us that go into the prison. We either speak to the whole prison block or we take a message to each cell where we can speak more personally and spend more time. Sometimes there can be up to 6 people in a cell. In total we visit 9 prisons altogether. Two of them are for girls aged 13 to 18, the rest are for boys aged 18 to 21.
As a team we are currently putting together a discipleship booklet, especially meant for the new converts we’re seeing from the prisons. This is a lot of work as it is dealing with all the aspects of life before, during and after conversion - a sort of mini systematic theology. In addition to the work in the prisons, I have been running a discipleship group for 5 teenage girls from my church, I’ve also been helping run our church’s kids club for a few years now.”
Paula is seeing some exciting fruit from this work. If you’d like to find out how training at UST might equip you to serve Christ, read our prospectus here.