RICHMOND, Va. (BP)--Eric Reese, a Southern Baptist missionary serving in Brazil through the International Mission Board, has been awarded the Pedro Ernesto Medal of Merit by the city of Rio de Janeiro. Also honored was Carlos Novaes, pastor of Barão de Taquara Baptist Church in Brazil.
Presented during a ceremony Nov. 11, the medal is the highest honor conferred by the city to its citizens and foreigners who have rendered meritorious services. The award is named for Pedro Ernesto Baptista, a former mayor of Rio de Janeiro who labored to improve conditions in the city's slums during the 1930s.
Reese and his wife Ramona work with the urban poor in the favelas (slums) of Rio de Janeiro. Shootouts, prostitution and drug trafficking accelerate their urgency to share Jesus.
"My phone has been tapped before because I was having so many conversations with drug traffickers," Reese said. "Some people thought, 'This gringo is crazy, so we need to get rid of him.'
"I might be crazy. About seven people die in the favelas every week. I put signs on the back of my truck that say, 'Jesus loves you' and 'Smile.' But one thing I know. I know Jesus, and I'm gonna preach His name."
"Into the Favelas," a video produced by the International Mission Board, helped garner public interest in Reese's work. While the Pedro Ernesto Medal is an encouragement, Reese said he was even more elated Sept. 6 when 51 city commissioners agreed to help turn Rio de Janeiro "from a place of terror to a place of peace."
"I feel like Brazilians have honored me as well," Reese said of their commitment. Many of them, he said, "have become more bold in their faith."
Reese's voice cracks when he thinks about the dangers he has survived.
"I'm passionate about my work. Back when I was in the Army, fighting and jumping out of airplanes ... I told God I'd do the same for Him."
Knowing of the spiritual battlefield Reese steps into daily, IMB missionary Guy Key calls Reese a committed Christ-follower.
"Eric is a person of integrity and works hard at mentoring a church-planting team to reach our city. He has encouraged young people to make a commitment to mission service and has seen several follow through with this.
"Ramona is also a gracious missionary who keeps her priorities straight with God, family and ministry ... in that order," Key said.
Reese agreed with the compliment of his wife, saying, "If it weren't for Ramona Reese who prays for me, who's being at home and worrying about me ... she's the backbone of what I do. I sometimes hear her gather our kids together and say, 'We're gonna pray for Daddy before he leaves.'"
A former pastor of Cedarcliff Baptist Church in Cedar Hill, Texas, Reese originally is from Albany, Ga., where he received a bachelor of arts degree in political science from Albany State University. He also earned a master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
He and Ramona were appointed missionaries to South America in November 1999. They have two children.
Reported by the international bureau of Baptist Press in Richmond, Va. To view "Into the Favelas," a video produced by the International Mission Board about the ministry of Eric and Ramona Reese in Rio de Janeiro, click here