ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Brazilian Baptist pastor Silair Almeida speaks with the confidence that comes from nearly 20 years of ministry among some 300,000 Brazilians who now call South Florida home.
Almeida was one of 14 Brazilian pastors and church leaders who met for two days at the North American Mission Board to establish a Brazilian Mission Network that aims to exponentially expand the spread of the Gospel among an estimated 1.3 million Brazilians living throughout the United States.
Only 12,000 of the Brazilians across the country worship in about 75 Baptist churches, reported Mark Hobafcovich, NAMB’s consultant for urban church planting in North America.
“We need to cast a God-sized vision to a larger audience to get people to believe in something much bigger than themselves,” Hobafcovich told the Brazilian Baptist leaders. “If we do the same things for the next 20 years we’ve done in the last 20 years, we’ll plant only 75 new Brazilian churches by 2030. That’s just not good enough.”
The 1.3 million Brazilians in America predominantly live and work in nine metro areas: South Florida, an estimated 300,000; Boston, 350,000; New York, 350,000; Washington, D.C., 26,000; Atlanta, 80,000; Houston/Dallas/Austin, 50,000; Chicago, 27,000; Los Angeles, 52,000; and San Francisco, 45,000.
To begin reaching these Brazilians, Hobafcovich said Southern Baptists need to plant 400 new Brazilian Baptist churches by 2030, roughly one new church for every 3,000 Brazilians. That’s a formidable five-fold increase, Hobafcovich said.
Almeida and his wife immigrated to the United States from Brazil 19 years ago. Together, they and five others started First Brazilian Baptist Church of South Florida in Pompano Beach. Today, with 1,600 members, it is the largest Brazilian Baptist church in America — and a powerful magnet drawing Brazilians in South Florida to Christ.
A few years ago, the church, which adds about 200 baptized believers each year, was named one of the fastest growing churches in America by Outreach Magazine.
“Reaching Brazilians for Christ is a big challenge,” Almeida said. “You can’t reach them in the traditional ways. You start with relationships, friendships and social ministries.”
First Brazilian Baptist operates 28 different ministries -– staffed by 450 volunteers — for Brazilian immigrants in South Florida.
“We have a strong food ministry and a ministry that finds jobs for people,” Almeida said of the various initiatives to help Brazilians in South Florida turn to Christ and start a relationship with the church. Once a year, the church connects 12,000 local Brazilians with 200 businesses for networking.
“Our church is the only Brazilian church in the U.S. housing a Brazilian consulate, where people can come to get passports, visas and other Brazilian documents,” Almeida noted. “About 300 people come to the consulate each week, and not all of those are Christians.”
The church offers a 26-vehicle, car-loaning ministry, in which members donate their old cars, church mechanics keep them running, and the cars are loaned to those with transportation needs. When the person buys their own car, they return the loaner to the church for someone else to use. Available to local Brazilians in and outside his church, the “loan-a-car” ministry is free.
First Brazilian Baptist’s ministries also include the usual programs featuring sports (especially soccer), music and Brazilian culture and traditions, including annual observance of Brazil’s Independence Day.
In its global focus, First Brazilian Baptist sponsors five to eight mission trips a year to countries as far away as China and Hong Kong. Several members have just returned from Haiti, after an extended period of ministry, Almeida said.
In Boston, the large Brazilian presence resulted from those who came to New England looking for jobs in construction, business, cleaning, housekeeping, hotels, restaurants and landscaping.
Robert Souza, who works in ethnic church planting for the Baptist Convention of New England, was president of South Brazil Baptist Theological Seminary in Rio de Janeiro when he felt called to resign and move to Northborough, Mass., 45 miles west of Boston.
Souza said there are only 26 Brazilian Baptist churches in New England for a 350,000-person mission field. And these 26 churches average only 50 to 60 members each, a total of only around 1,000 Brazilian Baptists in all.
“Our challenge is for people to start churches and train people,” Souza said, citing a need to train “indigenous people to plant churches here” but acknowledging, “It’s hard to bring in people from Brazil because of immigration issues.
Also needed: “partners to support our Brazilian pastors in this area,” Souza said, “because it’s very expensive to live in the Boston area. We also need space for worship, prayer meetings, Bible studies and social gatherings. We usually have to find meeting space from existing Anglo churches.”
Souza said Brazilians, most of whom are Catholics, are more receptive to the Gospel than ethnic groups rooted in other religions.
“They are Catholics, but Catholics who are looking for something new and fresh in their personal spiritual lives,” Souza said. “It’s tough to get them together, though, because so many Brazilians in New England must work two jobs to get by, so they don’t have much free time. Also, many of them don’t speak English.”
In addition to Almeida and Souza, other Brazilian pastors attending the March 16-17 NAMB strategy session were Paulo Capelozzo, New York City; Levy Penido, Kearny, N.J.; Jedaias Azevedo, Orlando, Fla.; Jason Silva, Marlborough, Mass.; Jose Monteiro and Dantas Lima, Hartford, Ct.; Dylmo Castro, Jacksonville, Fla.; Fernando Silvado, Chicago; Aroldo Silva, Washington, D.C.; Ledo Corral, Austin, Texas; Dinê Renê Lota, Oakville/Toronto, Canada; and Heralto Pacheco, Cumming, Ga.
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.