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In Brazil, his fluency is missions catalyst

EDITOR’S NOTE: This year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions, Nov. 30-Dec. 7, focuses on missionaries who serve in South America as well as churches partnering with them, exemplifying the global outreach supported by Southern Baptists’ gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. This year’s theme is “Go Tell the story of Jesus”; the national offering goal is $170 million.

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (BP)–When Phil and Donya Kesler started language school in Campinas, Brazil, in the late 1990s, neither knew a word of Portuguese.

After the first few months of study, Phil was fluent, Donya recalls.

So he headed to the favelas (slums) of the city with one of their daughters, Anna, then 9, to start a Portuguese-speaking church. They began a Bible study in a home before moving to a school. Anna taught children not much younger than herself Bible stories, while her dad shared the Gospel with adults.

Soon Phil began inviting fellow language school students to practice their language skills by teaching Bible studies to the congregation.

Two years later when the Keslers returned to Campinas to visit, the church was still thriving with an attendance of 150 people.

For more than a decade, Phil’s gift for learning languages has contributed to his success in training Brazilian missionaries in cross-cultural outreach. He can read, write and speak Portuguese, Arabic, French, Chinese and Spanish as well as read and write Greek and Hebrew. He has written Gospel tracts in Arabic, Chinese, Spanish and Portuguese.

This year, Phil began serving as the Brazilian Home Mission Board’s ethnic ministries coordinator, leading evangelism courses at Wake Up Brazil home mission conferences throughout the country.

“We have [ethnic ministries] going on all over the country, but not as much as I would like,” says Phil, a Virginia native. “This is why I am going around the country teaching.

“I am working on a five-year plan to select, train and supervise up to 20 new Brazilian missionaries that will work with ethnic and immigrant groups -– Chinese, Japanese, Arabs -– in the nation.”

His love for reaching these groups grew, he says, over the seven years he and his family lived in Foz do Iguaçu –- home to not only some of the largest waterfalls in the world but also the largest mosque outside the Middle East.

The city is located at the Tríplice Fronteira (Triple Frontier) in south Brazil, an area susceptible to black market dealings where the borders of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina meet.

Word quickly spread that Phil was reaching out to different ethnicities there and starting churches among them.

“Many pastors … knew someone who wanted to be trained,” explains Donya, a native of Alabama. “That’s how the whole [ministry] team was formed. God just did it -– just word of mouth.”

Phil began taking other believers with him when he spoke in house churches. The believers observed his preaching, then gradually began to lead the churches. A national believer guided the established church while Phil started another one, in a strategy called Churches Multiplying Churches (Igrejas Multiplicando Igrejas). The church-planting strategy encourages U.S. and Brazilian conventions, associations and churches to adopt people groups and population segments in Brazil that are unreached or under-engaged with the Gospel.

When the Keslers and their four children — Anna, Bethany, Carlos and Aline — moved to Rio de Janeiro in 2006, trained nationals were leading all the churches Phil had planted. One of the first things the Keslers noticed when they moved to Rio de Janeiro in 2006 was the international connections the city offered -– produce shops managed by Chinese workers and Arabic mosques a short distance from their home. His hope is that churches and associations throughout Brazil will adopt the Churches Multiplying Churches strategy to spur a church-planting movement.

Brazil, as Phil puts it, “is the next major country, we believe, to send waves of missionaries to help [spread] the Gospel from the unreached places in Brazil to the farthest nations on earth.”
To learn more about Churches Multiplying Churches, go to missionsnow.sambrazil.org. Gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering provide vital support to the International Mission Board’s more than 5,300 missionaries worldwide, including the Keslers. To give, go to imb.org/offering.

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  • Emilee Brandon