MARANHÃO, Brazil (Mennonite Mission Network) – A routine response to Paulo Roberto Filipe Silva’s e-mail fertilized the seed that quickly grew into a church in Maranhão, the newest Mennonite church in northeastern Brazil.
Silva, a young father and school teacher, was surfing the Internet, looking for help in leading a gathering of about 15 Christians who meet in his home in São Luís each Sunday, when he discovered the vision statement on the Mennonite Church USA website.
As he read the Mennonites’ articulation of their vision, “God calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to grow as communities of grace, joy and peace, so that God's healing and hope flow through us to the world,” great excitement mounted within Silva.
In a correspondence dated August 7, 2009, he said, “I found a bridge to a beautiful description of intelligent Christian life.”
Silva named discipleship, community life and active faith that makes a difference in the world as elements that compelled him to learn more about Mennonites.
Linda Shelly, Mennonite Mission Network’s director for Latin America, responded to Silva’s request by putting him in contact with Brazil’s Junta Menonita de Missoes Internacionais (International Mennonite Mission Board) that expanded two years ago to form PRONAM (Project of National Missions) that ministers within the country.
In September, JMMI studied Silva’s request to plant a Mennonite church in the Maranhão region.
“We rejoiced at the possibility of starting a new church,” said Valdeti Campos, treasurer and communications director for JMMI.
After corresponding with Silva for five months, members of the Brazilian mission agency invited Silva to their March meeting in São Paulo for an interview. Much impressed by the leadership qualities they saw in Silva, they began to formulate a plan for mentoring him and supervising the Maranhão congregation across the distance that separates São Luís from São Paulo, more than a thousand miles.
During an intensive three-day orientation in São Paulo, Silva received a crash course in Anabaptist theology and absorbed Mennonite community life. Silva said that soaking up the Mennonite way of life blessed him personally, and by extension, his family and his small group of faith companions in São Luís.
“Their concern with my spiritual and physical life caused me to be even more certain of my own salvation and my missionary call,” Silva said.
Silva’s passion was contagious as he returned to São Luís and shared what he learned about the “Mennonite way of being.” The small church began meeting on Wednesdays, as well as Sundays, to study the Bible and worship together. The group quickly outgrew Silva’s small home. They met outside until they were able to construct a place to meet that protects them from torrential rains that can make the streets almost impassable.
JMMI accompanies Silva through pastoral care, marriage counseling, ongoing leadership training and regular visits as he grows into the Christian maturity necessary to be ordained as a full-fledged pastor. As the young Maranhão congregation does not yet have the means to pay a salary, Silva will continue to teach in a local school to provide for the needs of his family of five.
Although São Luís is a beautiful, modern city with a rich cultural heritage, the neighborhood where the Mennonite church is located has been neglected by the government. Infrastructure is deteriorating and the crime rate is escalating.
Silva requests the prayers of the global Mennonite church as his small congregation facilitates community development projects and reaches out to the surrounding community to create improvements in their environment.
In 1998, Aliança Evangélica Menonita (the alliance of Portuguese-speaking Mennonite churches in Brazil) formed JMMI to send missionaries to Mozambique and Albania. Today, the Mennonite churches in Mozambique are led by national pastors who received training from the Brazilian missionaries. In Albania, JMMI, in collaboration with Virginia Mennonite Missions, is preparing to give more emphasis to training national church leaders.
When PRONAM was created two years ago, Brazilian Mennonites set a goal of tripling the 32 congregations in their own country within 15 years.
“In the past two years, eight new churches were planted,” said Paulo Campos, executive secretary of JMMI and husband of Valdeti. “This allows us to believe that our goal will be reached in 10 years, instead of 15.”
Mennonite Mission Network partners with the AEM through an annual grant of $1,600.
With thanks to Antonio Souza Ribeiro and Glenn Musselman for translations.