By Jonathan Madison
“A terrible storm is coming.” These are words we dread coming from a ship captain. For our mission’s team, it would mean cancelling another church service in a nearby village, and potentially fighting for our lives on the world’s single largest river – the Amazon River. Thereafter, the sky was filled with impenetrable black clouds, cracked only by brief flashes of lightning. Fierce head winds, crosscurrents, and mounting waves pummeled the ship from every direction.
At that moment, some of our team began chanting worship hymns at the bow – the single most dangerous place to be during the storm. Compelled by their joyful spirits, I joined them in singing. Within minutes, our entire team was present at the ship’s bow, praising God with a loud cry. From the eyes of the ship crew, we were a peculiar group. We were completely drenched by pouring rain, blown about by abrupt winds, and struggling to find balance on the rocking ship. To us, our joyous hymns were our collective decree that, no matter how great the storm, we would not be moved – our spirits were held in place by an anchor unseen. That joy compelled us to sing until the storm ceased.
Our reaction to the storm was a catalyst for the challenges and experiences we encountered for a 13-day period. It forced me to reconsider the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12, where Paul describes his unspeakable joy during the most tumultuous circumstances, including ship wrecks, beatings, hardships, sleepless nights, and several other persecutions. Paul concludes by suggesting that it is in our weaknesses, not strengths, that we are truly made strong.
I saw this verse demonstrated many times during those 13 days. I consider a small village along the Amazon River in which we ministered to dozens of children. Several children came running to our ministry without sandals or sufficient clothing. Nonetheless, their joyous spirits broke all language barriers – their genuine smiles, laughs, and participation in our ministry evidenced that. Perhaps these children did not know they were living in poverty in one of the poorest places on Earth. Or, perhaps they did not care much for the material possessions for which we have placed such value. One thing is certain – I witnessed children at the world’s lowest poverty level. Yet, these children owned riches far greater than any material wealth – they were rich in spirit.
The book of Matthew tells us of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where he teaches his followers to pray by urging God’s Kingdom to be experienced on Earth “as it is in Heaven.” Upon reading this passage, I wrestled with how we, mere mortals, could experience Heaven on Earth. In essence, I witnessed Heaven’s manifestation on Earth in Brazil.
After conducting research, I learned that the term heaven is derived from the ancient word “heofon,” which is interpreted to mean an all encompassing state of joy wholly independent of material and mundane rewards or concerns. In essence, heaven means to be in a state of perfect love. It is the all-empowering manifestation of a climatic and jubilant experience for which no words can describe. This state is more than the trillions of atoms composing our human bodies: more than the billions of neurons making possible our brain activity. It is the intangible love that brings us to an emotional state of peace and solicitude for all life.
Love itself is evidence of Heaven manifested here on Earth. If you want proof of Heaven, look no further than the joy you have experienced from one who deeply loves you. Look no further than the love you have shared towards beloved friends and family members, and the care with which you place toward others. Look no further than the indescribable love a mother has for her child.
Consider the forgiveness we are given in life when we least deserve it. Think of the helpful hand we are given by those who are not obligated to do so. Consider the joy in witnessing the miracle of a child’s birth – the glamour in the newborn’s eyes as they wince open for the first time. The intimate embrace of your beloved spouse during the exchange of sacred vows. The inexplicable rejoice in witnessing your child’s first step.
Taking it one step further, consider the heavenly experiences we take for granted daily. Take the miracle of your life. Consider the fact that you woke up this morning while about 90,000 others in our nation were not as fortunate. Consider that as we speak, your heart continues to supply blood to thousands of vessels in your body, pumping 115,000 beats per day without ceasing.
Finally, there is the heaven you and I personally bring here on Earth – our dreams, visions, and purpose. Jesus explained in Matthew 5:14 that in spite of the flaws intrinsic to our humanity, that each of us possesses an everlasting light – a piece of Heaven, if you will. This passage demonstrates that, despite our inevitable shortcomings that come with being human, each and every one of us possesses a flame in the darkness of our ever-changing world. With that light, we have the power to manifest Heaven on Earth toward one another in this lifetime.
In Brazil, I consider the Holy Spirit’s manifestation in some of the world’s most forgotten villages. It was evidence that Heaven’s manifestation on Earth means no one is beyond the reach of God’s great love. I consider the Glad Tidings’ youth that performed wonderful dramas and dances. Through their performances, the lives of many were completely transformed, generational curses and chains were broken in families.
I consider a young girl from Manaus declared suicidal. Her life was completely transformed by one drama performed by the Glad Tidings’ staff – a transformation the young girl’s school psychologist could not reconcile. I consider a pastor’s wife who was healed of kidney failure after being prayed for by our mission’s team. I consider the Holy Spirit’s supernatural manifestation during the mission’s team evangelical ministry, and the subsequent move of the Spirit that left us speechless and in tears on the boat.
I truly believe that Heaven lives within each and every one of us. And, if we are willing to share it, we can experience Heaven on Earth daily. What transpired in Brazil can happen anywhere. This is what Jesus meant when he urged that Heaven be experienced on Earth – that each of us would do our best to share our gifts, visions and purposes to uplift and love one another. This, I would say, is proof of Heaven on Earth.