GAMA, Brazil (Mennonite Mission Network) - The church needed transformation. Their meeting place was squeezed in between two houses in a residential area. Opportunities for growth were limited as neighbors had already decided whether or not they would attend the church.
A lack of pastoral leadership for almost seven years had resulted in stagnation, plus moral and spiritual problems in the congregation. Did the Comunidade Evangélica Menonita in Gama, Brazil, have much of a future?
That was 1998. Today the Gama church not only thrives in a new, larger building, but has spawned new fellowships in three neighboring communities, thanks to youthful enthusiasm and faithfulness to God’s call.
Team bolsters relationships over building
NEWTON, Kan. (Mennonite Mission Network) -- The work helped make a noticeable difference in the appearance of the Mennonite church in Gama, Brazil, but the longer-lasting impact of visitors from Kansas will be the relationships formed and the fellowship.
The Comunidade Evangélica Menonita in Gama had submitted an invitation to Mennonite Mission Network for a fellowship and work team to help them renovate a former grocery store for a worship space. The Gama congregation already had finished significant projects, yet an overwhelming amount of work remained and resources were limited.
Meanwhile, at First Mennonite Church in Newton, Kan., congregational leaders had a long-range vision for a sizeable fund to provide resources for both mission and campus development. During a congregational meeting, the board chairman, John Good, expressed his desire to someday participate in an international work team. Linda Shelly, Mission Network director for Latin America and a member of the congregation, suggested First Mennonite consider experiencing ways churches in other parts of the world do outreach work.
On her desk was an invitation from the church in Brazil.
Even though the mission and campus development fund wasn’t actually in place yet, the congregation helped support a team. An intergenerational group of 10 people spent January 9-22 in Brazil.
“The leadership of the Gama church has already said that our help with the facility is wonderful, but that the fellowship is an even greater gift that we bring,” team member Dwight Regier noted by the third day of work.
The division of labor and the timing worked out well. Pastor Clarence Rempel said: “It seemed that in God’s providence, we had come at just the right time to give the congregation significant help and encouragement.”
During one daily prayer session, a Newton leader reminded the group of God’s promises in Philippians 1:6 – it is God who has begun the work of the church, and God who promises to see the work to completion.
“Completion” may be easiest to see in a building, yet implies much more. Mary Goering, one of the youth on the trip, shared with the church, “One of the amazing things about this trip was seeing the faith of the people at the Gama church, and coming back was a little difficult because of the connections we made there in Christ, but I think God is showing me that there will be more connections with these people in the future, and he has more plans for the relationships that we made.”
The congregation had a strong history and foundation from the time when mission workers from Commission on Overseas Mission and Mennonite Board of Mission, predecessor agencies of Mennonite Mission Network, had given leadership. Regional Mennonite leaders recognized the problems and noted that youth comprised a significant portion of the congregation. They began looking for someone to disciple and give guidance to the youth.
Meanwhile in the city of Goiania about two hours away from Gama, Deusilene Milhomen de Carvalho was working with youth in a Mennonite church. She had grown up in a Christian home that her parents opened to begin new churches. She sensed a call to ministry. When Carlos, her husband, was laid off from work, he saw this as a sign from God that he was to take Deusilene’s call seriously.
Deusilene and Carlos accepted the invitation to work with youth in Gama – for one year only.
For the first month they prayed, got acquainted, observed and said little. God revealed to Deusilene the problems of the church, and she worked hard the first year to deal with serious problems within the group.
After a year, they stayed, focusing on youth, prayer groups and developing a leadership team. By the third year, they were enjoying the congregation that was developing.
But they weren’t satisfied with stability. Sensing the need for outreach beyond their neighborhood, for seven months the church leadership met regularly to pray for opportunities to reach new people with the gospel. Marlene, a nurse who was part of the church leadership, offered her apartment 15 minutes away as a place to meet so that she could invite her neighbors.
One day while they were meeting in Marlene’s home, a woman who had come to the house to give manicures to Marlene’s daughters was listening. The second week, the manicurist accepted Christ. She invited the church people to come to her house the following week in the city of Céu Azul. To their surprise, more than 30 people awaited them, including a number of children. From that beginning, a viable congregation exists. Children and youth are given an important role in worship dramas and choreography.
Two more groups developed in similar ways in Lago Azul and Santa Maria. For three years the Gama leadership team divided responsibilities to go to each place once a week. It was tiring. Deusilene said she asked God for one new group and God gave them three. Once they had a baptism with 25 new believers — all from the new groups.
As leaders developed in the other groups, the Gama church reduced their visits to once a month and refocused on their hometown.
The congregation had expanded their facilities to the maximum. The space was not big enough for their own congregation and limited joint services with people from the new groups. While they didn’t want to invest money in renting another place, they also did not have nearly enough money to buy a property.
Church leaders spent six months praying. They felt certain that God had a property for them. One day Carlos met a friend in a bakery who mentioned that his uncle had just purchased a good property in the commercial area close to the Gama church. The owner was willing to work with them, and they agreed to a payment plan plus exchange of the former church building. But the building needed renovation.
The congregation enthusiastically set to work redoing the leaking roof, removing a sagging ceiling, replacing large garage-door style doors with walls and new windows, plus reconfiguring interior walls.
Overwhelmed, they prayed for help. While reading in Isaiah, members noted the verses about God’s provisions and foreigners coming. They prayed that God would put it in the hearts of people from another country to come and work with them.
After due processing and affirmations, an invitation for a work team ended up on the desk of Linda Shelly, Mennonite Mission Network’s director for Latin America. She shared it with various congregations in the United States who had Brazil connections. None responded until Shelly mentioned it at her own home church, First Mennonite Church in Newton, Kan., in the context of learning how to do outreach work from churches in another part of the world.
In January, 10 people from the Newton church went to Gama to offer support as they physically helped prepare the building for painting and worshipped with the congregation.
This new, remodeled location affords more visibility and opportunity for witness on the streets of Gama. There is space for children’s ministries and English classes, especially on the upper floor.
People addicted to drugs and alcohol shuffle along the street, curious about what is happening in the former grocery store. The congregation has a vision and passion to reach these people with the life-changing message of Christ’s love and forgiveness.
The church has a future.