Feature

Passing Go

The Brazil field catches hold of the Commission

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By what criteria do we evaluate when a field is “mature”? What is the evidence that the job is done? How did mission leaders decide it is time to pull our staff out of Brazil and invest in other regions of the world? Are feelings sufficient? Are convictions needed? How about statistics? No, surely those will not suffice. Or will they?

What do the answers look like? How can we be sure we are even asking the appropriate questions?

Missions work is similar to building a house or teaching school. Construction workers know that when their task in completed, they turn over the keys and move to the next project. A teacher always has the next day, and when the school year is over, he or she knows another group will fill the classroom in the fall. The job never ends; the teacher simply retires.

Similarly, in Brazil or anywhere around the world, the need to reach the lost never goes away; the missionary simply goes back to the homeland one day. A major difference is that the one who will carry on the work need not be another “hired teacher” (international worker); preferably, it will be a former student (national disciple)—young and energetic, with new ideas and methods more sensitive to cultural and language contexts.

Missions work naturally deals with investing in lives, so though we have a clear goal in mind, finishing the job can be hard to quantify. We can most easily evaluate that which we can touch and see. But Jesus taught that His Kingdom is not of this world but within or among us, something of amazing power and impact, yet not visible (see Luke 17:20–21). Thus, unlike building a house or promoting a student, it is not necessarily clear when the job is done.

The Alliance did not do what we call “pioneer” work in Brazil. Other churches were here before us, some even well established. For example, the Presbyterian Church sent its first missionaries to Brazil in 1854. Since its inception, The Alliance has worked from the principle of not duplicating the work of others, according to the apostle Paul’s words in Romans 15:20. In practical terms, this meant not going into countries where another evangelical mission was already present. But eventually the sheer size of Brazil, its population exceeding that of the other 10 South American nations combined, made it impossible to ignore this needy nation, and the C&MA of North America sent international workers in 1962 (the C&MA of Japan had sent a missionary in 1959).

We began doing what we know to do: evangelizing the unsaved and discipling them toward maturity and planting local churches where they can worship, fellowship and obey the Great Commission by reaching out to their communities, their nation and the world.

But if we are just to make converts, how many are enough? If the objective is simply to plant churches, how many are needed? If we desire to leave a solid denomination, describe what that looks like. And what does The Alliance offer to Brazil that other denominations perhaps have not accomplished?

Statistics alone are not decisive. The Alliance in Brazil today comprises 26 local churches, about 2,500 members, 50 pastors (half of them ordained), a Bible school and a masters-level program. Over the course of 48 years, the C&MA of Canada and the United States have sent a total of 66 workers to Brazil. Each of them by God’s grace has played a vital part in laying the cornerstone and placing bricks on the first few rows of this house being built for the glory of God.

Like all international workers departing to their field of service, I imagined in 1986 that I would spend my life cultivating relationships, bringing lost people to a decision for Christ and investing my gifts and energies to form leaders and establish vibrant churches. And that is indeed what happened—for the first few years. Then in 1993 I was elected field director of the Brazil mission and became responsible for administrative duties, meetings, guiding our vision and maintaining relationships with the national church leadership. Six months later, when it was time for our annual Field Forum, I had to write a report to my team of colleagues and found myself asking these same hard questions about our work.

I reread the book of Acts and marveled at how soon the early churches sent out missionaries. I reviewed C&MA history, amazed once again at how Simpson sent international workers in 1884, three years before this fledgling movement was even officially organized. It began to become clear—the answer is mission. How to know we had reached the goal? The church could not just exist, not just grow, not just thrive in Brazil. While those things are vital, they are woefully inadequate, in fact eventually irrelevant, if the church is not a missionary church. If we gather a large number of Christians who are obedient individually but corporately disregard our Lord’s commandment, how can we consider that His church?

As we preach the gospel to the nations, each people group must understand that the Great Commission is given to them also. Not just was given, to 12 disciples two thousand years ago, but is given today, to us, to every church. We can never waver on that point. It suddenly seemed obvious; The Alliance did not first become a church and then later send workers; it started as a missionary organization and grew into a strong denomination exactly because of that. So why would it be any different in Brazil, or any place in the world for that matter?

The task of writing my report had just gotten easier. The long-term goal was crystal clear: we must work and invest our lives, so that the C&MA of Brazil would as soon as possible fulfill its God-breathed mission to become not just a church, not only a denomination but also a missionary-sending church. That did not seem likely in 1994, but in 2010 the facts are these. Today ACEMBRAS (the C&MA of Brazil) has nine international workers who serve in Japan, India, Russia and among the indigenous tribes of the Amazon basin. Last year church leaders began sending pastors to Angola to teach modular classes to C&MA pastors there. This year they plan to send a couple to Portugal.

As the Brazilian Alliance church has stepped out in faith, God has been faithful and has honored their obedience. That brings us deep joy despite the huge challenges and occasional bumps in the road. But it also makes it easier to conclude that the job has been done, and stewardship of Kingdom resources suggests that it is time to invest in nations where the darkness is more prevalent and desperately needs to be pushed back.

As we transition in various Latin American countries, please pray: 1) for the strength, vitality and growth of the national churches; 2) for increased multicultural missionary vision; 3) for the Lord’s clear leading in the lives of international workers, many not yet of retirement age, who are terminating their service and 4) praise the Lord that His promise continues to be fulfilled—He is indeed building His Church!

A Vision for Missions

Jose* was born in northeast Brazil in the 1960s. His family was poor, and his mother was an alcoholic. When he was a boy, a spiritualist began visiting his family, and soon they were practicing Candomble and Umbanda, ritualistic forms of demonic appeasement. While still a child, Jose was tormented by a spirit called “Time,” which often left his body only after he lay exhausted on the floor. His own mother led these sessions, together with the local medium.

When Jose was 14, he headed to São Paulo, the fourth largest city in the world. In 1980 he crossed paths with an older brother, whom he barely knew, the pastor of an Assembly of God church. Jose came to faith through his influence. However, Jose was young and without much direction, and his heart was full of bitterness. Within two years, he was in the wrong circle of friends and began using marijuana, cocaine and LSD. Soon he was an addict.

One day, while having dinner with friends, he heard a voice repeatedly say “Jesus is coming back.” He literally ran home and, while reading his Bible, received a miraculous healing from his addictions.

Jose became a street preacher and a fervent evangelist. He met a young woman named Anita*, and while they were engaged, they visited Airport Alliance Church in São Paulo. After they were married, Jose and Anita sensed God calling them to go as missionaries to India.

Jose began to study at the Alliance Bible Seminary in São Paulo and continued street preaching, as well as going on short-term missions trips. From 1999 to 2001, Anita and Jose worked on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, among the urban poor. After returning to Brazil, he completed his studies and also received a soccer-coaching diploma from a professional club in São Paulo. The Brazilian national church confirmed God’s call and sent the couple as missionaries to a large city in India.

Jose runs a soccer school, which opens the door into the lives of young Hindu teens. They have seen many come to Christ and be baptized, and two young men have recently gone to seminary, preparing for ministry.

Jose’s story is just one of many, as Latin young people are answering God’s call to go. God is igniting the flame of missionary vision in many national churches. The Peruvian national church has sent workers to Spain, North Africa, Italy and to work with immigrants in London. Recently, Peruvian churches gave more than $250,000 to missions. The Ecuadorian national church is challenging its members to give monthly to missions, and the first cross-cultural Ecuadorian Alliance international worker is being sent to Papua New Guinea this year. The national church in Brazil is small, with about 26 churches, but it is mighty in its missionary vision, supporting missionaries in Russia, India, Japan and the Brazilian jungle.

As national churches begin sending their own international workers, Alliance North American workers are transitioning out of several countries in Latin America. This is cause for celebration, but it is also very difficult for them to leave the people and culture they have grown to love.

In the late 1800s, Alliance missionaries began sharing the gospel in several countries in Latin America. Throughout the last century, lives were transformed and churches with missionary vision were planted. Alliance churches that were planted by North American missionaries are now becoming partners in mission as they send out Latin missionaries with the goal of completing the Great Commission.

—Bill Mangham, Latin America regional director for the U.S. C&MA

*name changed

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