by Pierre Rosa
Missiologists have already observed that the center of the Christian faith has shifted to the Majority World (Latin America, Africa, and Asia), what most of the current literature in missiology calls the “Global South.”
The understanding that Christianity is no longer a Eurocentric and North American faith is at the core of World Christian Studies as a new discipline. Missiologists have already observed that the center of the Christian faith has shifted to the Majority World (Latin America, Africa, and Asia), what most of the current literature in missiology calls the “Global South.”
Although both terms define the same global region, here I use the term ‘Majority World’ because the three continents above house most of the world’s population (Hill 2016, 16). The region is fast becoming the agent of retransmission of the gospel as former mission fields become a mission force. Contemporary literature in missiology is now employing the term “southern Christianity” to refer to the shift (Athyal 2014).
One of the features of Southern Christianity is enthusiasm for missions and evangelism; however, missions is often done from a Majority World nation to another. Missions at this level represent one of the most impressive phenomena in contemporary Christianity. The subtheme deserves more academic attention (Jenkins 2011, 16).
In the last three decades, a worldwide force of Brazilian missionaries has developed, causing observers to predict the leading role of Brazil in World Christianity by the middle of this century (Smither 2010, 95).
However, the precise characteristics of Brazilian Christianity are uncertain. Has the world’s largest Roman Catholic country surpassed South Korea as the leading missionary force in the Majority World? Is the nation projected to send more missionaries than the United States? If so, who will lead the way—Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, or Southern Baptists? I want to answer these questions by tracing Brazil’s transition from mission field to mission force.
Below I argue that because Brazil has become a mission force in South-to-South mission (i.e., from one Majority World country to another), it can also lead the way in South-to-North mission in the twenty-first century as the Global North (Europe and North America) experiences rapid secularization.
If it can be determined that the country is a mission force, one can attempt to forecast what denominations will drive the Brazilian missionary movement, and assist mission agencies and churches in how to better allocate financial and human resources.
The Brazilian Missionary Movement: A Brief History
Elben M. Lenz César, a Brazilian Presbyterian scholar, divides the history of missions in Brazil in three parts:
• The arrival of the first Jesuits in 1500 belong in the three-century period of pre-evangelization.
• The nineteenth century, the great century of Protestant mission, brought about the evangelization of the nation.
• The twentieth century produced the post-evangelization of the country. This can be attributed to the Pentecostal movement (César 2010, 15)
The first Catholic Mass celebrated on April 26, 1500, in the land that would become Brazil. This Mass included more than one hundred and fifty natives. Pero Vaz de Caminha, a scribe serving the Portuguese crown, was aboard the first expedition.
After the arrival of the Europeans, Caminha wrote a letter to the king, Don Manuel I, requesting missionaries to cross the Atlantic with the purpose of winning the nationals for the Catholic faith. The king granted his request forty-nine years later, when six Jesuits arrived, led by Manuel da Nóbrega and accompanied by Tomé de Sousa, the first governor of the new colony (Metcalf 2014, 29).
More Jesuits embraced the missionary call to Brazil in the following years, notably José de Anchieta, known as the “apostle to Brazil,” and Antonio Vieira, an eloquent preacher (César 2010, 32).
The Jesuits established missionary villages, called aldeias, starting in the Bay of All Saints, in what would become the state of Bahia. The forced relocation, justified by the need to end cannibalism and polygamy among the tribes, was part of the priests’ strategy of evangelism. Relocated tribes lived under Jesuit supervision, and Portuguese law as transit in and out of the aldeias was controlled. The Jesuits feared that the nationals would participate in sinful practices if they left the compounds (Metcalf 2014, 45).
With the arrival of slaves from the west coast of Africa in the sixteenth century, the Jesuit missionary effort expanded. Once they arrived at the Brazilian ports, their captors baptized the African captives (without true conversion) and gave them Portuguese first names and place of origin for last names (e.g., Manuel Congo, Maria Moçambique, and Antonio Angola) (César 2010, 41).
Colonialism and evangelism were difficult to distinguish as the country became incorporated into European Christendom. Thus, the Catholic missionary project, led by the Jesuits, held a monopoly in the ‘religious market’ in the country for the next three hundred years (Cavalcanti 2002, 424).
French Huguenots arrived in Brazil on November 10, 1555, under the command of Nicolau Durand de Villegaignon (Doria 2012, 45). The expedition included three ships containing six hundred crewmembers and passengers seeking freedom of religion. Their goal was the establishment Antarctic France, a Protestant colony. They celebrated the first service on March 10, 1557, and eleven days later founded the first non-Catholic church in South America.
However, the Huguenot colony was short-lived. On January 20, 1567, Mem de Sá, governor of Rio de Janeiro, ordered the French to leave (César 2010, 39).
Sixty-three years after the failed Huguenot enterprise, the Dutch occupation of 1630 brought the Reformed faith again in Brazil. The occupiers attempted to establish a colony in the state of Pernambuco (César 2010, 50). The New Holland experiment, although brief, produced an estimate of twenty-two churches, and at least one prayer book in Tupi, Portuguese, and Ducth (2010, 54).
During this time, Catholic Portuguese, Reformed Dutch, national Brazilians, Africans, and Jews lived together in the northeast region. This ethnic and religious diversity contributed to the development of syncretic versions of Brazilian Christianity that are peculiar to this day.
Americans led the way in Protestant missions to Brazil during the nineteenth century, but they were not the only ones; Latvians, Germans and Swedes established Evangelical churches in Brazil during this time (Bebbington 2010, 235). Until that time, very few Protestant missionaries considered the country a potential mission field. The Evangelical awakenings in North America, which placed emphasis in personal conversion, contributed to a shift in thinking, propelling missionaries to South America (Smither 2010, 91).
Influenced by Charles Hodge from Princeton, Presbyterian Ashbel Green Simonton (considered the pioneer of the denomination in Brazil) arrived on August 12, 1859, as a career missionary. There, he founded the first Presbyterian Church in Rio de Janeiro (César 2010, 88). His strategy included personal evangelism by every believer and Bible distribution throughout the nation (2010, 89). Simonton died in São Paulo after seven years on the field.
American Methodists sent two missionaries to Brazil in 1836 and 1837. Justus Spalding and Daniel Parish Kidder pioneered the work of the denomination, which because of internal conflict, suspended missionary activities in the south for twenty-five years (César 2010, 91). Nevertheless, the work produced Union Church of Rio de Janeiro. The English-speaking congregation exists until this day.
With wife Anne Luther Bagby and Zach Clay Taylor, William Buck organized the first Baptist church in the Brazilian territory in 1871, an English-speaking congregation in Santa Barbara, which was an American community of Confederate exiles in the state of São Paulo (Lancaster 1995, 46).
The Bagbys learned Portuguese and soon started to look for a place to plant a Portuguese-speaking Baptist church. After traveling the empire (Brazil was not yet a republic at the time), the couple concluded that Salvador, in the state of Bahia, was the best location (Lancaster 1995, 59).
The Bagbys and the Taylors called Antonio Teixeira de Albuquerque to shepherd the church in Salvador. The converted Catholic priest had embraced Methodism, but decided to be baptized by immersion because of his conviction about the proper mode of the ordinance (César 2010, 98). For this reason, Albuquerque is considered the first Brazilian Baptist pastor. The new church, planted on August 31, 1882, emphasized personal evangelism as a growth strategy.
The year 1910 marks the beginning of the Pentecostal century in Brazil. Two Swedish immigrants in the U.S., Daniel Berg and Gunnar Vingren, became fascinated with the Azusa Street revival of Los Angeles in 1906. The two seminarians started attending Pentecostal meetings promoted by the First Swedish Baptist Church in Chicago and the North Avenue Mission (McGee 2001, 93).
During one of the gatherings, a fellow member, Olaf Uldin, reportedly prophesied that Berg and Vingren would be missionaries in Pará, in northern Brazil (Escobar 1998, 89). They arrived in Belém, the capital of the state, on November 19, 1910. There, a local Baptist pastor welcomed the new missionaries. Tension arose when Brazilian Protestants embraced the new doctrine, particularly the subsequence of Spirit baptism, and the feature practice of the movement, glossolalia.
Berg and Vingren founded Missão de Fé Apostólica (Portuguese for Mission of Apostolic Faith) with eighteen new followers. The new group multiplied and became the largest Protestant denomination in Brazil: Assembléias de Deus (Portuguese for Assemblies of God), with twenty-three million members currently (Johnson 2013, 54).
From Mission Field to Mission Force
The Pentecostal movement generated independent and fully Brazilian churches, some of which became large networks of congregations. Such was the case of Brasil para Cristo (Brazil for Christ), founded by Manoel de Mello in 1955, Deus é Amor (God is Love) started by David Miranda in 1962, and Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (Universal Church of the Kingdom of God), the most expansionist and controversial, founded in 1977 by Edir Macedo (UCKG hereafter) (César 2010, 177).
Missionary zeal accompanied the explosive growth of Christianity in Brazil fueled by Pentecostalism, which in turn drove the Brazilian missionary movement. The country has become “a launch pad for the mission of the church” (Walls 2000, 18).
Brazilian charismatic Christianity, with its excesses and blessings, has since expanded rapidly throughout the world. From 1990 to 1997, the number of Brazilian missionaries abroad doubled. Five hundred from a mission force of 1,700 were from UCKG (Freston 2008, 43).
Lusophone Africa (Mozambique and Angola in particular) is the preferred mission field of Brazilian Pentecostal churches, which seem better equipped to deal with African problems than their northern counterparts (van de Camp 2013, 345). The determining factors are language and the roots of Afro-Brazilian religions such as Candomblé and Umbanda.
By 2005, UCKG had planted over four hundred congregations in the region (Freston 2005, 33). Free from post-colonial guilt, they will continue to advance in the Majority World (Freston 2009, 7).
The Brazilian missionary movement has reached all continents, but the Majority World has proven to be a fruitful mission field for both Pentecostals and Roman Catholics. The latter sends more missionaries. In 2000, seventy-two percent of Brazilian missionaries worked in southern countries, while twenty-eight percent ministered in Europe and North America. In 2010, missionaries sent outnumbered missionaries received by fourteen thousand, which placed the country among the top ten missionary-sending nations, second only to the United States (Johnson 2013, 76).
Northern Mission Fields
Missiologists have observed another phenomenon in World Christianity. The North-South migratory route that launched the missionary enterprise of the sixteenth century has reversed directions (Walls 2008, 194).
This new pattern, combined with enthusiasm for mission, is a major contributor in the transformation of Brazil from mission field to mission force. The preferred destinations of Brazilian migrants are North America and Europe. Their diaspora creates a new mission paradigm: informal, unofficial, and fueled by the economic needs of the migrant. Brazilian Pentecostals in the North aim at providing for their families and plant new churches (Palomino 2004, 57).
Many migrate illegally, which makes it difficult to document their missionary activity in detail (Kalu 2008, 5). Their congregations cater to their own people, but the vibrant forms of worship and evangelism inspire their hosts.
They are returning the favor of the pioneer Protestant missionaries of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and in the process bring a willing workforce and present the gospel afresh to post-Christian Europe and North America. Andrew Walls describes the state of secularization of his native Scotland in a way that can be representative of Europe in general. He laments,
It is too late for revival; the need is basic, primary evangelization, cross-cultural evangelization such as missionaries once sought to carry out in other continents. Old Christendom has been succeeded by an essentially non-Christian culture. Our god, if we have one, is Mammon, and Mammon’s altars are as gruesome as Moloch’s. (Walls 2008, 199)
If current migratory trends remain, Brazilians in Europe and North America will answer Walls’ call for this re-evangelization of the North, where they will view the immigrants as a former colony, “peaceful and geopolitically uncompromised” (Freston 2009, 8). There, Portuguese-speaking churches “of neo-Pentecostal style that will target other immigrants and will also help local congregations to become spiritually revitalized” (Palomino 2004, 58).
A new century of missions may be at hand. Only this time, its direction will be northward (Jenkins 2011, 135).
Fueled by the missionary zeal of its Pentecostal movement, Brazil has become a force in South-to-South mission. Towards the second half of last century, the country has transitioned from mission field to mission force, becoming an agent of retransmission of the gospel.
This transformation took place along with the emergence of the new centers of the Christian faith. The Brazilian missionary movement sends Christians to the Majority World by the thousands, exporting a distinctly charismatic and vibrant (and sometimes doctrinally deficient) Christianity. The establishment of the UCKG in Lusophone Africa is a case in point.
Through immigration, Brazil may become a force in South-to-North mission, and perhaps surpass the United States as the leading missionary nation of the world. The encounter of Brazilian Pentecostals with the secularized northern mission fields deserves ongoing academic observation (Smither 2010, 95)
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Bebbington, David W. 2010. Baptists through the Centuries: A History of a Global People. Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press.
Cavalcanti, H.B. 2001. “The Right Faith at the Right Time? Determinants of Protestant Mission Success in the 19th Century Brazilian Religious Market.” Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion 41(3): 423-438.
César, Elben M. Lenz. 2000. História da Evangelização do Brasil: Dos Jesuítas aos Neopentecostais Viçosa: Ultimato.
Doria, Pedro. 2012. 1565 Enquanto o Brasil Nascia: A Aventura de Portugueses, Franceses, Índios e Negros na Fundação do País. Nova Fronteira: Rio de Janeiro.
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Freston, Paul. 2005. “The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God: A Brazilian Church Finds Success in Southern Africa.” Journal of Religion in Africa 35(1): 33-65.
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Kalu, Ogbu U. 2008. “Changing Tides: Some Currents in World Christianity at the Opening of the Twenty-First Century.” In Interpreting Contemporary Christianity: Global Processes and Local Identities. Ed. Ogbu U. Kalu and Alaine Low, 3-23. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Lancaster, Daniel Boyd. 1995. “In the Land of the Southern Cross: The Life and Ministry of William Buck and Anne Luther Bagby.” PhD dissertation, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
McGee, Gary B. 2001. “To the Regions Beyond: The Global Expansion of Pentecostalism.” In The Century of the Holy Spirit: 100 Years of Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal. Ed. Vinson Synan, 69-95. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
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Palomino, Miguel A. 2004. “Latino Immigration in Europe: Challenge and Opportunity for Mission.” In International Bulletin of Missionary Research 28(2): 55-58.
Smither, Edward L. 2010. “The Impact of Evangelical Revivals on Global Mission: The Case of North American Evangelicals in Brazil in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.” Verbum et Ecclesia 31(1): 95.
Van de Camp, Linda. 2013. “South-South Transnational Spaces of Conquest: Afro-Brazilian Pentecostalism, Feitiçaria and the Reproductive Domain in Urban Mozambique.” Exchange 42(4): 345.
Walls, Andrew F. 2000. “The Mission of the Global Church Today in the Light of Global History.” World & World 20(1): 18. _____. 2008. “Christian Mission in a Five-Hundred Year Context.” In Mission in the 21st Century: Exploring the Five Marks of Global Mission. Ed Andrew Walls and Cathy Ross. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis.
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Pierre Rosa serves as the pastor of assimilation at Shadow Mountain Community Church in San Diego, California. Born and raised in Brazil, he is an observer of World Christianity. He holds a Doctor of Ministry from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
EMQ, Vol. 53, No. 1. Copyright © 2016 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.
Questions for Reflection
1. How is informal mission through immigration transforming the former centers of Christianity?
2. Do you agree with the author that the former centers of Christianity are becoming secularized? If so, do you believe other religions will fill the void? Which ones?
3. The author coined the term “Brazilian missionary movement.” Who were the pioneers of that movement? Who are the current drivers of the movement?
4. Do you agree with the author that “the Brazilian missionary movement sends Christians to the Majority World by the thousands, exporting a distinctly charismatic and vibrant (and sometimes doctrinally deficient) Christianity”? What are the positive aspects of the encounter between Brazilian Pentecostalism and mission fields? What are the negative aspects?