Our local market is less than a 15 minute walk away and we pass 5 churches en route. There are at least another 4 within a one mile radius. This strange phenomenon has often puzzled me but I’m beginning to understand what’s going on…and this is just my own take on it.
There are several forces at play here:
1) There is great division between the vast number of Christian denominations. This is true of many countries but especially here. It seems there is snobbery, rivalry and self-motivation between the denominations which means that they rarely mix or work together. (Daniel and his mate were once thrown out of the volleyball pitch of another church when they realised they weren’t their own!)
2) If in doubt, start your own church. Church hopping is commonplace in all cultures but when church hopping isn’t working out or often when a member perhaps has an argument in his own church, here he can easily start his own. Little emphasis is placed on whether or not a minister is qualified or experienced, but more on the style of worship in his church, e.g. is the music good, is he an animated speaker, etc.
3) Passing fashions. The newest theory is often seen as the best so if your own church isn’t implementing it, why not start it yourself down the road?
4) Needing a job? There is sometimes a large financial interest among ministers who start congregations. They can work for themselves and have their own source of income. Ministers will suddenly take interest in you if he thinks you (and your offering) might be leaving.
5) People fear God and revere the bible. Lots of folk want to go to church here and seek out a local congregation in times of need. It is, afterall, a Catholic country. Hence, there is always demand for church and scope to have more!
More often than not, the result of all this is hundreds of churches across the city with very small congregations, weak theology and a lack of community impact. The pastors of small churches either are looking after several congregations or perhaps have other part-time jobs. In some contexts there is no pastor and an elder may look after the church. There are mega churches but they often preach prosperity and healing. There’s never an ideal church model but there’s something quite wrong here and you don’t need to go far to see the consequences of Christians who don’t know their bibles and are living complacent lives. We pray for change in the churches that are not teaching the bible nor looking after their members.
As we seek to truly love our the Christian faith as best we can, we continue to enjoy our ministry here. The weekly community visits on Saturday are going well and we are thinking about what we will do once we get to the end of the street. We are thinking about putting on an event for the women and getting the men together for football or food.
Yesterday, we were formally accepted into membership at the Primeira Igreja, having read and agreed with the doctrine of faith. To celebrate, Daniel was asked to join a mission trip to an indigenous tribe the church works with in Arame, some 6 hours from Sao Luis. It’s Children’s Day in Brazil on Wednesday. It’s a national holiday and a big deal so it’s a great opportunity for churches to put on events for kids and their families. The church is taking a small group to Arame on Friday to provide a fun day for 200 indigenous children while the adults have some kind of conference, I believe. Daniel will return Sunday afternoon and on Monday travels to Sao Paulo for the Fiel Conference where he will meet our home church Pastor, Mez McConnell, who is speaking at the conference. Daniel is looking forward to his 2 trips and I am making sure the freezer is well stocked and we’re well organised! It is helpful that I have already got used to driving here, even if I do prefer to avoid the busiest roads!
The steady progress continues with the workshop with various friends and local people stepping in to help with the paperwork and to give advice regarding the material we need to buy. We hope the main construction (or at least demolition of what is there) will be able to start this week.
Daniel has been at the Casa de Davi recovery house again this past week and has been encouraged to see the men battling there to change their lives around, on God’s strength. Not all of them are Christians but all are exposed to the bible and have the chance to hear the truth of God’s word.
Last Wednesday was Daniel’s mum’s 75th birthday and we managed to get most of the family together at our house for pizza and cake! It was good fun and Antonio enjoyed a late night!
I am glad to say thank things seemed to have quietened down after the election and we hope it stays that way. Thanks for your support and prayers.