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Growing Locally & Globally

Alliance DNA is alive in Brazil

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“The big need outside and inside Brazil is missions,” says Jurandir Itizo Yanagihara, president of the Alliance church in that nation. “The Brazilian Alliance church is working as a light in the darkness. The task is huge, not only in Brazil, but in the entire world.”

As C&MA international workers retire or transition to other ministries in the United States, the Brazilian church is determined to answer the call to take the “whole gospel to the whole world” by developing “healthy, praying, missionary-sending churches.” Within the next 10 years, Jurandir hopes to have 30 new churches in Brazil, along with 100 trained church planters. But during that time, he also has plans to double the number of Brazilian international workers.

Tim Bubna, the U.S. C&MA field director in Brazil for 18 years, is confident that the transition of U.S. international workers out of Brazil has happened at just the right time. “Our team did not go to Brazil to win Brazil for Christ. Only the national church can do that,” he says. “We [were] there to form leaders who will establish a church.”

As church president, Jurandir is trusting God that the spiritual tools of prayer and discipleship will build a vibrant network of Alliance congregations throughout Brazil. “We are at a crossroads in the sense that we are now in the process of emphasizing both church planting and missions.”

He sees the story of the Brazilian church as a global adventure in which “God connects the dots.” In addition to ministry among indigenous people groups in the Amazonian rain forest, Brazilian missionaries are working in Europe, Africa and Asia. In several missions endeavors, the connection is linguistic. Since both nations are Portuguese-speaking, the Alliance church in Angola requested that the Brazilian church send workers to train the men and women who pastor in the war-torn African country. Language is also the strong bond to Portugal, where American and Brazilian international workers are partnering in a new missions outreach.

Brazilians have another cultural advantage that opens doors often closed to other Christian groups. “Soccer is a world-level sport for Brazilians,” Jurandir says. The international workers are using it as a tool in India, where Brazilian players are revered as heroes. After seven years in Calcutta, they have planted two congregations.

The national church is also supporting international workers in Japan, which brings the history of The Alliance in Brazil full circle. Mitsuko Ninomiya was the first Alliance international worker sent to Brazil. In fact, her arrival predates North American Alliance missionaries by several years (see sidebar).

Jurandir is grateful for the presence of C&MA international workers who have instilled the values of planting, sending and training in Brazilian leaders. “We will miss them very much but at the same time, the DNA they planted in the Brazilian church is very much alive.”

He knows that in church planting and missions work, everything is a spiritual matter that requires complete surrender to God. “The moment God calls for a specific task we must be ready,” says Jurandir.

(Videographer Jordan Christopher conducted the interviews with Jurandir Itizo Yanagihara and Tim Bubna.)

Samurai Spirit

Mabel Francis, a missions legend in the Alliance, was a powerful force in taking the gospel to Japan, where she stayed to minister throughout World War II (see “Land of the Rising Son,” Alliance Life, April 2006). Many new believers and national pastors were discipled by Miss Francis during her decades of service. One went beyond Japan’s borders to establish a “missions mentality” in Brazil that is thriving to this day.

Mitsuko Ninomiya was born into the samurai class in Japan and was determined to live a life of service to her country. However, after losing her high-ranking position in Manchuria during the war, she returned home to find that her parents, too, had lost everything. After hearing the gospel from her neighbors, Mabel and her sister, Anne Duesendorf, Mitsuko enrolled in the Alliance Bible School in Hiroshima, Japan, graduating in 1953. She worked with Miss Francis in the city of Matsuyama for the next five years but was unsatisfied, despite the success of the ministry.

“One morning as we were praying together, she shocked me by confiding in me that the Lord was calling her to take the gospel to the Japanese people living in Brazil,” Miss Francis later recalled. She was not enthusiastic about losing Mitsuko, who would not stop talking about the call. “I kept pushing it aside,” Mabel admitted. Finally, though, Mitsuko’s mentor was convinced that it was the Lord’s will that her coworker be commissioned as the first Alliance missionary to Brazil.

Mitsuko brought the need for support before the Japanese pastors’ conference. Members of the group laid hands on her, committing her future to the Lord. Later, the pastors took a Christmas offering for her as their “gift to Christ.” She sailed for Brazil in 1959 and graduated from Portuguese language school in 1960.

Mitsuko felt God leading her to Brasilia, so, without having any contacts there, she boarded a bus for the modern capital. In New City (a suburb of Brasilia) she encountered a Christian Japanese grocer who quickly built a small chapel on his land so she could hold Japanese services. She then went to Gama, another suburb, and established a Brazilian congregation.

While working among Brazilians, Mitsuko discipled Gardenia Alves, whom Jurandir describes as one of Brazil’s most energetic church planters. “So you see,” he jokes. “We have ‘apostolic succession’ through the women!”

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