By Lindsay Peyton
Not long after the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe, Rev. Emily Everett, who was serving as a global missionary in Brazil, returned home to Texas to quarantine with her family in Bastrop. Her work, however, did not stop. In fact, Everett explained that all Methodists are called to mission work – whether that means serving overseas or in their own backyard. Learning how to listen, prepare and find a way to still make a positive impact are lessons for all in these uncertain times.
COVID-19 forced Rev. Emily Everett to return to Texas a little earlier than she planned. “I’m just taking it one day at a time,” she said.
Every three years, United Methodist missionaries return home for itineration, a time to visit churches and tell the story of what God has been doing in their place of service.
Everett was in Brazil for about two and a half years before she returned – and was set to itinerate in October and November. She has simply decided to start the process a little sooner – and to go virtual.
Everett grew up as a member of St. Paul’s UMC in Houston. “I was there all throughout my childhood,” she said.
In college at Texas Woman’s University, Denton, Everett joined InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a campus ministry, which led her to spend six weeks in the Philippines and another six weeks in San Antonio for missions during the summer.
“I felt this awakening, to see God in other cultures, to see that God is so much bigger,” Everett said.
When she graduated, she decided to follow the desire, to do more mission trips. She had studied Spanish and applied for a position with Global Ministries’ Global Justice Volunteers Program in Nicaragua.
A reply letter informed her that an opportunity was open instead in Brazil. “I didn’t speak a lick of Portuguese at the time,” Everett said.
Still, she packed her bags and off she went. Her first day remains a vibrant memory. “I have this image as clear as day,” she said. “Something deep in my soul said, you are going to lose a big part of your heart in this country and never get it back. I heard God saying those words.”
And He was exactly right. “I fell in love in every sense of the word with the Brazilian people,” Everett said. “I sensed I could see myself doing this long term. I felt alive in a way that I never had before.”
God, however, had other plans for Everett. When she came back to the U.S., all she wanted was to return to Brazil.
At the same time, Everett became assistant youth director at St. Paul’s UMC. There also was a call to ministry which began to creep into her heart. At first, Everett fought the call. Then, she enrolled at Perkins School of Theology in 2009 to earn her Master of Divinity. She was able to spend nine months in São Paulo, Brazil, as a Perkins Student Intern.
When Everett graduated, she served as associate pastor of outreach and congregational care at FUMC in Pasadena and remained there for the next three years. She bought a home and settled in the area, assuming that her missionary future was, at best, on hold.
Then, an opportunity arose with the General Board of Global Ministries’ Shade and Fresh Water Program in Brazil. She was commissioned in October 2017.
Shade and Fresh Water is a national network of after-school programs for at-risk children and teenagers across Brazil. The focus is on character development and social responsibility. Everett’s work includes promoting the program as an international mission partnership.
She explained that there are about 55 projects currently around Brazil, serving about 2,000 children. “My role is to help tell the story, to the churches in the U.S. and to publicize it here in Brazil,” she said.
Everett also administers grants and continues much of this work during lockdown. In the future, she hopes to return to Brazil to continue building up Shade and Fresh Water.
After her next couple of years with the mission, Everett plans to see where God will point her next – whether that is back overseas or with her family in Texas.
“All people are called to participate in God’s mission – whether that’s in a conference office, a local church or in a school teaching,” she said. “We can bring about God’s kingdom by working for the kingdom’s values of love, equity, peace and justice. Each one of us has to respond to that call.”
Being courageous enough to hear God, to truly listen and follow that guidance, can be a challenge. “It comes down to listening to that spirit voice inside of you, that spirit that never lies,” she said. “God is always there nudging us. We can ignore it, but it’s always there.”
Mission does not stop after a mission trip, Everett added. “There is a glamor, an exotic nature of going on a two-week mission trip,” she said. “But there are all kinds of ways to be in Mission, whether that’s in Zimbabwe, Brazil or Houston, Texas. We’ve got to experience God and help where we can.”
Going on a trip is only half the experience, Everett explained. “Coming back and using what you learned is harder,” she said. “It’s about being transformed in the long-haul. It’s learning to be involved in mission and God’s kingdom.”
During the coronavirus, Everett said, everyone is forced to look at different ways they can participate in mission, instead of going on a trip.
“Just because we are stuck at home, doesn’t mean God isn’t with us and that God isn’t working in our lives,” she said. “God is still moving.”
Everett added that being at home is an ideal time to learn more about mission. “Whatever is in your heart – food scarcity, health care, education – we can better understand the problem, better understand the solution and learn how to participate,” she said. “There’s a lot of pain in the world right now. Don’t look away. God is here. God weeps with people who are weeping.”
This is the time to join Him, to love each other and find how to help one another. “Right now, the coronavirus has made us quieter,” Everett said. “We’re at home. We can’t do what we used to do. It gives us space to ask God, am I on the right track? God, what is my call? We have this unique opportunity to engage with God in new ways.”