by Dr. Kenneth Eagleton
Find out more about the ministry of Free Will Baptist International Missions by visiting their website: www.fwbgo.com.
When Dave Franks, Free Will Baptists’ first missionary to Brazil, arrived in Campinas 50 years ago, he faced multiple challenges. A hostile religious environment spawned by deeply entrenched religious beliefs made communicating the gospel in the world’s largest Catholic country extremely difficult. Many African traditions and spiritual rites brought to Brazil by the slave trade had been incorporated into religious practice. The introduction of evangelical Christianity during those early years received much opposition.
As people were saved, another hurdle arose. National believers answered the call to the ministry, but Free Will Baptsts had no training programs. Many who were saved in our churches received Bible and pastoral training from other denominations. They now serve within those denominations, leaving a national leadership vacuum among our churches.
Many churches were started; some survived, others didn’t. A national association of Brazilian churches was organized, but it did not endure.
A Fruitful Harvest
In the last few years, however a new crop of national leaders has come on the scene. Trained by the three FWB institutions and extension classes in several churches, they bring fresh enthusiasm and vision. Most of our churches and mission works are currently in the hands of Brazilian pastors and lay leaders. These men are the key to our continued growth.
Our 25 churches and missions are located in 10 cities and towns distributed in four areas of two states (eastern and northeastern São Paulo; western and south-central Minas Gerais). An awareness of the need to reorganize into regional associations, and eventually a national association of churches, is growing. In 2007, the attendance in our churches increased by 16%. Together, they witnessed over 220 conversions and baptized 155 new converts.
We labor in large cities such as Belo Horizonte—2.5 million people with a metropolitan area twice that size—and in smaller towns. Our churches minister to those with a basic education, as well as those who are well educated. Congregations use a variety of strategies to reach out to their communities with the gospel message, in addition to demonstrating the love of Christ through practical, loving actions.
The Brazilian Church has been actively involved in cross-cultural missions throughout the years. Several Brazilians have served as missionary pilots with the Brazilian branch of Missionary Aviation Fellowship, while others have taken the gospel to Ireland, China, and the Brazilian Indians in the Amazon. A general awakening to the needs of unreached people groups around the world is occurring, and Brazilian Free Will Baptists want to be a part of the missionary effort.
We continue to face the challenge of training national leaders who are thoroughly versed in FWB doctrine and history. To that end, we hope to develop, and translate into Portuguese, literature that will systematically enlarge our pastors’ understanding of FWB distinctives.
The “hub” concept is a strategic method we can use to expand the work in Brazil. A strategic city with a strong church serves as a hub. National leaders are trained within that body and then sent out to start other churches in the area. The nearby support of the sending church and its leaders strengthens the mission church.
Additionally, as we identify less-reached areas of Brazil, we’d like to identify cities that can serve as future hubs. In partnership with the national church, we would send a national pastor and a missionary to plant a strong church. This church should become self-propagating within a few years.
The Brazilian Church has acknowledged her own role in the Great Commission. We’d like to see the national church not only answer the call to go, but prepare missionaries and send them to other people groups. We need to take the gospel to Brazilian tribal groups who are yet unreached.
Brazilians are typically well accepted in many countries Americans find it difficult to enter. We look forward to the day when we send missionaries to Muslim and other peoples within nations North Americans cannot easily access.
On March 21-22, delegates from most of our FWB churches gathered to celebrate what God has, is, and will be doing through Free Will Baptists in Brazil. As I looked at the faces of missionaries past and present, at believers who have stood firm through much testing, at pastors who sacrifice monetary wealth for heavenly rewards, and at generations of Brazilian Christians, I rejoiced at what great things God has done. And, I look forward to the fruit that will join the harvest in the next half-century.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Dr. Kenneth Eagleton and his wife Rejane serve in Campinas,
São Paulo, Brazil. They transferred to Brazil after serving almost
20 years in Côte d’Ivoire.