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Brazilian Baptists experience ‘best of both worlds’ in Orlando

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–International Drive gives witness to the burgeoning Brazilian community in Orlando, Fla., as business owners along the strip display the green and yellow flag of their homeland outside their shops and restaurants.
Estimates indicate as many as 20,000 Brazilians live in the Orlando area, making it the third-largest nationality in the city. Four to six Brazilian newspapers written in Portuguese are published in the community to create awareness of news and cultural events.
Brazilians are flocking to Orlando, said Isidoro de Paula, a longtime Florida Baptist music minister and native of Brazil, because they are familiar with the city after traveling to its tourist attractions. Its international flavor and abundance of jobs in the service industry draw young Brazilians to the area. The Florida lifestyle lures wealthier Brazilians, who buy retirement homes while maintaining businesses in Brazil.
Edna and Humberto Bombardi came to Orlando in 1986, leaving their homeland because of the poor economic conditions, Humberto said. “In Brazil, there are the very poor or the very rich. Here there is a middle class.” The warmth of the climate also is appealing to the South Americans, he said. “New York is too cold.”
For the past 18 months, the Bombardis have been attending First Brazilian Baptist Church, which meets Sunday nights in the sanctuary of Downtown Baptist Church, its sponsoring congregation.
They attend this church even though there are at least five other Brazilian congregations in Orlando, because “our children are Americans now. Here they can learn the Bible in Portuguese so we can talk to them about Jesus,” Bombardi said.
They also are drawn to the pastor, Daniel Paixao, because of his Bible knowledge and the traditional approach he brings to worship. “This church means everything to us,” Edna Bombardi said. “It’s like being in Brazil.”
Since the Brazilian Baptist church was started, attendance had grown to more than 200. The congregation quickly outgrew Downtown’s chapel and has moved to the main sanctuary, filling up the front middle section and spilling across the aisles.
The worship services are joyous and celebratory, appealing to many young adults who have left their homeland to begin a life in America.
“The Brazilians are very easy for us to reach and establish communication with them,” said pastor Paixao. “The people are very open, easy to make friends. The church functions as a church as well as a community center. They come to meet other people from Brazil, people who speak their language.”
A native of Brazil, Paixao came to Orlando from the Baptist Convention of New York where he served as education director, coordinating Sunday school, discipleship training, church music and theological education.
While serving as president of the Association of Brazilian Baptist Churches in America from 1996-98, Paixao targeted locations where Brazilian Baptist churches were needed. “Our goal was to plant Brazilian Baptist churches in every major city with a great concentration of Brazilians.”
He felt drawn to Orlando and soon left New York to lay groundwork to start a new church, working in partnership with Greater Orlando Baptist Association and the Florida Baptist Convention.
“I love the city of Orlando,” Paixao said. “Of all the places I have lived, Orlando is perfect.”
It is obvious that his church members love him, too. During a worship service, greetings of hugs and kisses on the cheek are exchanged with him and others. “Our people are very loving and their relationship with their pastor is very strong. They see the pastor as sort of a father figure.”
He is reaching persons of Catholic background with ease. “It’s amazing, when they come into a congregation with Bible study and they begin to study what the Bible is all about, it is not difficult to make the transition,” Paixao said.
Orlando has two Portuguese-speaking communities, consisting of Portuguese, who are European, and Brazilians, who are South American. About three families from Portugal, with even stronger Catholic backgrounds, have joined the fellowship. “When they accept the Lord,” Paixao said, “they become faithful Christians.”
Twenty people are awaiting baptism. “There is something about new churches, they grow much faster than established churches to reach new converts. It’s amazing,” Paixao said.

    About the Author

  • Barbara Denman

    Barbara Denman is communications editor for the Florida Baptist Convention. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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