It used to be that when people thought of “missionaries,” the image that came to mind was of men going off into dark jungles to live among tribal people in a primitive, pre-industrial culture. This concept has changed over the years as missionaries have reported back to churches from savanna grasslands, major metropolitan areas and everywhere in between. Still, the second time I went to Brazil one of the first-timers (who, by the way, had missed the pre-trip orientation) was nearly shocked to discover we were in a teeming city of hundreds of thousands (Belo Horizonte) and not in a village along the Amazon. All he’d ever heard of that vast South American country involved rainforests, something almost as far from the daily reality of most Brazilians as it is of most Americans. Brazil is a large, populous country with a powerhouse emerging economy that is counted as part of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China).
Brazil is a connected nation. When I moved to Brazil in 2001 I had to take a bus across town in Uberlândia to use the Internet at a cybercafe. By the time I was able to go online at my house (via dial-up) there were cybercafes all over the city. Now I hear that broadband is becoming common in many homes. Even many of the favelas of Rio and São Paulo are finding their way online, legally or illegally, in much they way that they’ve managed over the years to tap into the power grid.
Still, vast inequalities continue to dominate in Brazil. The strongly centralized governmental system concentrates a great deal of power in few hands, and the bloated governmental bureaucracy at all levels opens the doors to immense corruption. The situation is arguably better than in times past, and certainly an improvement over the inhumane leadership of the military dictatorship that dominated for decades, but hundreds of thousands are slipping through the cracks.
What keeps a poor boy from a life of theft and drug dealing? How can a girl from a home where more than one meal is a luxury find a way to avoid the lure of prostitution? Strong, united families can overcome these obstacles, but throughout the poorest neighborhoods of Brazil (and even some of the less-poor) dysfunctional homes and a pervading sense of hopelessness with the status quo proves too much for many young people.
A resource-rich nation with a creative, entrepreneurial population like Brazil can do better. The elements are all there, it’s just a matter of organizing them and bringing them together. Sometimes the missing piece is simply the Good News that Jesus is Lord. That alone can forge a new community of disciples that labors for the hearts of the lost and the future of a nation.
Brazil is a nation with a broad but shallow Roman Catholic culture. It isn’t unheard of at all for children to take Bible stories to school and have them read aloud. A generally tolerant nation, no offense to other belief systems is intended by the implicit acceptance of Catholic culture. It’s simply a part of life.
With a common identity shared by many in a Christian tradition, it is no wonder that the Bible is widely respected and evangelicalism continues to grow as the biblical message is preached and taught. In my own experience I rarely encountered any resistance when I referred to the Bible as a primary source of religious authority.
In such a context, where infrastructure is being built (albeit unevenly) and can be tapped into, where profound inequalities are known to exist and readily admitted, and where the claims of Christ can unify a vital group of disciples, great good can be accomplished. Brazil has a lot going for it. I believe that with the right community development strategy, including English and tech training courses together with a missionally-impelled program of Bible training, the lives of many can be transformed. Homes, neighborhoods and even entire cities can feel the positive impact of the reign of Christ.
I want very much to be a part of ministering on this emerging grid.