by Murray Decker and Ryan Keating
Three hours outside of São Paulo, Brazil in the small town of Monte Verde, sixty Brazilians and other Latin Americans are training to become the next wave of missionaries to the 10/40 Window from “The Radical Project.”
Three hours outside of São Paulo, Brazil in the small town of Monte Verde, sixty Brazilians and other Latin Americans are training to become the next wave of missionaries to the 10/40 Window from “The Radical Project.” The Radicals are missionary appointees with Missão Horizontes, the Latin American branch of World Horizons, the UK-based mission organization. As the Brazilian church takes increasing responsibility for world evangelism, the Radical Project has become a model for partnership in mobilization that has proven highly effective and merits further scrutiny for adaptation in other emerging mission sending nations.
The Radical Project began in January 1999, under the leadership of Brazilian David Botelho, a man of extra-ordinary energy and vision. Botelho is a former missionary with the Assemblies of God and now the international director of Missão Horizontes. His five-year plan to mobilize missionaries from Brazil, train them in Latin America and move them to the 10/40 window to work in existing World Horizons fields was unprecedented.
In that first group, Radical Project One, there were one hundred candidates, most from Brazil, with a handful from Venezuela and Paraguay, and one from Guyana. Of those initial one hundred candidates, ninety are now on the mission field. The success in recruiting, mobilizing, training, financially supporting and sending this large of a group at once is unprecedented in the Brazilian church. Radical Project Two is now underway with the first sixty candidates in training. The goal for Radical Two is ultimately to send three hundred missionaries to the field in 2004 and 2005.
RADICAL GOALS REQUIRE RADICAL COMMITMENTS
he Radical Project draws candidates, “Radicals” (as the members are called), from many denominations of the Brazilian evangelical church. They range in age from eighteen to fifty-five, with the majority in their twenties, both men and women, single and married. Beyond the required testimony of faith and solid church references, the candidates must have a high school education and pledged support of about $150 a month which is figured in terms of Brazilian “minimum salaries,” since inflation in Brazil makes it impractical to set a fixed amount in the local currency, the Brazilian real.
When new Radicals arrive at the Monte Verde base, they keep a minimum of personal items, with all excess given to common group ownership. If a candidate arrives with two tubes of toothpaste, one is kept while the other goes to the “store” for someone else to use. No personal money is allowed and all incoming support is kept in a common fund. A box of cookies mailed to one Radical is shared equally with everyone. If a Radical finds a coin on the ground it is surrendered to the common fund. Personal freedoms and ambitions are surrendered with the simple ethos: either we will all get to the field or none will make it.
Money for the common fund comes from several sources. Radicals enter the project with two minimum salaries of pledged support. Additional support is raised from offerings and book and video sales as Radicals visit churches on extended trips throughout Brazil. Every trip is an opportunity to educate the Brazilian church about the unfinished task in the 10/40 Window. The idea that the Brazilian church should send missionaries is new to many. The Radicals teach a straightforward message about the compelling need for missionaries to the Muslim world, supply literature, enroll folks in the Radical Project Missions Correspondence Course and create excitement about missions through their testimony and high-energy presentations.
Radicals commit themselves to a five-year program, the first three spent in training and preparation. Year one takes place in Brazil at the Missão Horizontes base in Monte Verde. In year two, the Radicals are sent to one of the other World Horizons Latin American bases in Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay or Venezuela to receive a first-hand cross-cultural ministry experience. Year three brings them back to Brazil for another period of training and then to the UK or Europe for language learning (French or English) depending upon the “team language” of their destination field. The final two years are spent on the mission field. The members of the first Radical Project currently serve in Egypt, Greece, India, Morocco, Niger, Pakistan, Spain and Turkey.
The men of the Project are set apart by a commitment not to shave their beards for their first year. The no shaving policy is a visual reminder of contextualization: if you are going to the Muslim world you’ll need a beard to fit in. The bearded brothers make a striking fashion statement in the clean-shaven Brazilian culture. As they enter the churches, heads turn and people grow silent—“radical” is certainly an apt description. The beards and other commitments made to the group serve as an essential component of a curriculum that emphasizes a group devotion to reach the nations of the world at any cost.
Because the majority of the Radicals are single, no dating is allowed for the first year. The group lives and works very closely together; so, the potential for romantic entanglements complicating the task of mission preparation is proactively forbidden during the first year. After the first year is complete, if there is interest between two Radicals, there is an opportunity to declare their intent to the leadership and their romantic relationship is allowed to move forward. There were several marriages that came out of Radical Project One. The Radicals accept these commitments and constraints as part and parcel of their greater goal to reach the mission field as a group. Botelho states, “We break individuality. Our success isn’t a personal thing; it’s team work.”
The leadership of Missão Hori-zontes describes the Radical Project curriculum in three categories. Formal training occurs in the classroom with a curriculum of theology, intercultural studies and missions classes. The teaching is done by a mixture of local professors and outside scholars. Among the teachers who have spent time in the classroom with the Radicals are Don Richardson and Luis Bush. Informal training occurs as the Radicals enter into a busy schedule of daily responsibilities including cooking, cleaning and landscaping. Submitting to the common purse and traveling across Latin America are also non-formal aspects of the training process. Informal Training occurs in the daily experience of living with sixty other men and women; sleeping in tiny dorm-rooms packed with beds, and learning to cope with short showers and strict curfews.
MARKETING MISSIONS IN SOUTH AMERICA
The Radical Project has had tremendous success generating enthusiasm within the Brazilian church. David Botelho is a tireless promoter with a knack for creative marketing. When the Rads show up at a church, they are dressed in the national clothing of a 10/40 Window country—picture the flowing robes of Morocco, Niger or Senegal. The women often have their faces covered as any fundamentalist Muslim woman would, and the bearded men are wearing the requisite Muslim head covering. Church presentations include song and dance from various nations, drums, drama and other creative media. The Rads are, quite simply, an exciting group to be around. All that energy and passion is contagious. After the service the Radicals are surrounded, the book table is busy and the draw is unmistakable.
When Botelho speaks in the church he drives home the fact that Brazilian Christians spend more money annually on Coca-Cola than on giving to missions. He stands before the congregation with a Coke bottle in his hand and simply asks, “What do you spend more on—Coca-Cola or missions?” To underscore that point, he had thousands of cans printed with a variation of the red and white Coke script that say “Radical” on them. These cans have a slot in the top to serve as a bank for loose change. Everywhere the Radicals go they leave a trail of these red and white banks, and the five and ten centavo coins that fill these banks are added to the common fund—every little bit helps. The training base in Monte Verde has a Coke “museum.” Every time a Radical returns from overseas they bring more Coke cans and bottles to add to the collection. The message of the museum is two-fold. First, the Brazilian church does have the money to support missions; it is just a matter of priorities. Second, if Coca-Cola has found its way into every nation within the 10/40 Window, then it is realistic to expect that Jesus Christ can also be proclaimed in those same nations.
Another communication tool successfully used by the Radicals in the churches are a series of colorful overhead transparencies. The mobilization staff maintains files of more than four hundred overhead transparencies. Each transparency communicates a specific idea, fact, verse, graph, picture, map or other relevant concept. The presenter chooses from these transparencies to create a presentation of any length or emphasis. Then when they make their presentation, they move through their “slide show” in rapid succession. The effect is powerful—first a slide with the Radical Project mission statement, followed by three slides of Radicals working in various countries of the world in national costume, a map of the 10/40 Window, a simple graph with some statistics regarding the unfinished task, another slide of a Radical playing soccer with some boys on a dusty field, a cartoon, a Bible verse, a photo of a Brazilian drinking a Coke with the statement about spending priorities, more pictures and graphs—the compelling presentation of facts, ideas and pictures unfolds informally before the audience.
Most churches have overhead projectors and the expense of producing these transparencies is a fraction of equipping the teams with PowerPoint or slide projectors (with none of the technical hassle). The flexibility of this kind of system allows each individual to create and change their presentation according to the audience, time constraints, or leading of the Spirit. As a great new photo is received from a Radical overseas, it is easily converted into a new transparency. Individuals create specific slides that they want for their presentations, easily brought to life on a color printer. The master copies are kept on the computer and many have been translated into Spanish and English in addition to the original Portuguese. Armed with a file folder of transparencies, every Radical is taught to make a presentation any time an opportunity is presented.
A two-week mobilization trip by a vanload of Radicals will frequently involve as many as two hundred presentations, speaking wherever they are given an audience. Other non-Western mission mobilization efforts have often met with limited success due to lukewarm enthusiasm and support from the national church. The grass-roots support from their churches is critically foundational to the ongoing prayer and financial support the Radicals will require. The Project is successfully creating this kind of supportive network of churches and individuals. Each person that selects a book on missions from the book table, who signs up for the correspondence course, or who carries home a red and white change bank is one more supporter or future Radical.
The Man Behind the Movement. David Botelho is one of the seven international directors for World Horizons. He has worked tirelessly for years to advance the knowledge of missions in the Brazilian church and to create the infrastructure needed to support missionaries. Botelho, now in his fifties, wears the requisite Radical beard that reaches halfway down his chest, and speaks and prays with a passion that is infectious. He is on the road speaking and meeting with church leaders about four months a year, with the rest of his time split between São Paulo and Monte Verde. He is the heart and soul of the Radical Project, and has surrounded himself with a dedicated team of support staff.
Botelho is a pragmatist. His strength as a leader is in the implementation of practical measures to move Latin Americans to the 10/40 Window. He reads widely and has built relationships with mission leaders from around the world. When asked of his mission heroes, he mentions George Verwer and Frank Dietz of Operation Mobilization. Dietz taught for some time at the Sahel Project (the precursor to Radical One, where sixteen Brazilians were trained and sent to Niger) and was influential in shaping the future of the Radical Projects that followed. Botelho also mentions Oswald Smith as a role model. Smith was the pastor of Toronto’s Peoples Church who at one time was responsible for sending out over four hundred missionaries. Smith’s books are used in the Radical Project Correspondence Course. Botelho states, “His books are very practical and give a careful overview of all the steps it takes to get to the mission field. He writes in an old style but the books are very directive and the Brazilian church needs that.”
David spends much of his time working with leaders and teaching the mobilization course. “I don’t speak at many mission conferences any more. The impact of church mission conferences is minimal. I spoke last year at a big church missions conference and asked the leadership ‘How many years have you been doing this conference?’ They answered ‘Eight years.’ ‘And how many missionaries have you sent out?’ ‘None,’ they replied. I thought that they should just cancel their conference—what difference is it making? But when people take the mobilization course, they come away changed and ready to do something about their convictions.” The Mobilization Course is a flexible, intensive course (usually three or four days) designed to train Brazilians to be mobilizers. The course takes place in churches around Brazil throughout the year.
Botelho shares that the central challenge is to educate pastors that it is time for the Brazilian church to step-up and take a leading role in world missions. “We did a twelve hour mobilization course at a church for about 150 people. After we had finished, the pastor approached me to say that it would have been better if we had never come because now the Christians know that they must do something.” But in contrast, another pastor completed a similar mobilization course with a new conviction to radically alter their churches priorities. “We did a class for about four hundred people at a large church in NE Brazil. There were denominational leaders at this course and regional representatives for the 150 churches in that area. At the end of the course, I challenged that group that out of their 150 churches, they should set a goal to raise-up and send one hundred missionaries. The pastor of that large church followed me to the pulpit and said, ‘This church alone will send one hundred missionaries.’ That was encouraging to hear.” That church has been taking radical steps to follow-up this commitment in recent months.
SUCCESS, SETBACKS AND CHALLENGES
The Radicals have written a theme song that they sing as new Radicals arrive at the base. With guitars and Latin percussion they sing,
What was once a dream,
has become real, today the Lord
has made me a Radical.
I will go onward, toward the goal,
there is no looking back.
I will throw open The Window
and forever disrupt
the Strongholds of Satan…
We will, all together, proclaim
salvation to the nations.
The goal of Radical One, to send one hundred missionaries, was audacious and unprecedented for the Brazilian church. Today ninety of those original Radicals serve in teams scattered across that Window they vowed to throw open. They are representatives of the first wave of what Botelho and others believe will be a new Latin American era in mission sending.
The world is well aware of Brazilian excellence on the football (soccer) pitch. During the recent 2002 World Cup, the Radicals at the base were praying for a Brazilian victory so that they might use football to open doors for ministry overseas. Brazil did in fact win the tournament, and Radicals are using football successfully to advance the cause of Christ. In Niger, two Radicals have started a football league in one of the poorest neighborhoods of their town. Teams of boys compete in this league, coached and ministered to by two soccer-crazy Radicals. Local officials became aware of the league, and now supply funding and support to the league. Recently, the Governor took a great interest in the work of the Radicals after a personal visit to see the new soccer league. The Radicals minister openly in this community with the blessing of this Governor (and with the soccer ball he donated).
The most pressing challenge facing the Radical Project today is financial. Raising enough support to live and minister overseas has historically been one of the greatest challenges facing Latin American missionaries, but recent economic trends have drastically increased the severity of the problem. Since nearly one hundred percent of the financial support for the Radicals comes from within Brazil in Brazilian reals, the Radicals on the field are dependent on international exchange rates to be able to draw out and use their support. This year has seen tremendous inflation rates in Brazil, particularly against the dollar. Just twelve months ago, the dollar was valued at well under three reals, while at the writing of this article, it hovers near the four reals mark. Since their support does not increase proportionally, the Radicals have, in effect, suffered a forty percent cutback in their already slim financial resources. The problem has become so serious, in fact, that Missão Horizontes is in the process of making difficult decisions about whether the current Radicals on the field will be able to remain.
The Radical Project has become accustomed to working with limited resources. Missions literature, for example, is scarce in Portuguese leaving the Radical Project to find creative solutions to the problem of finding good material. Botelho often cites the example of the publication The Church is Bigger than You Think, by Patrick Johnstone. No publisher in Brazil, including those owned by missions organizations, was willing to publish the book, convinced that Brazilians would not spend money on a missions-oriented book of its size. Botelho, however, convinced of the value of the book to the Brazilian church, committed to publishing it through Missão Horizontes. Making a serious financial sacrifice, Botelho risked the money required to publish Johnstone’s book, which is a follow-up to his reference work Operation World. The first printing of three thousand copies sold out in a matter of weeks and today plans are being made for a third printing. The bookstore at the Monte Verde base now stocks one of the most comprehensive selections of missions literature in all of Brazil. The staff is always searching for a new text that they can obtain permission to translate into Portuguese and use for training and sell after church presentations.
A significant challenge faced by the Radical Project is petty denominationalism and a spirit of competition within the Brazilian church. In January 2002 when the Radicals where scheduled to arrive and begin their training, Missão Horizontes received word that approximately150 candidates from one large Brazilian denomination were no longer coming. One week prior to arrival, their denominational leaders pulled their financial support. This represented fifty percent of the new recruits, and threw the entire plan for Radical Two into crisis. Budgets were revised, arrangements for facilities were altered, and recruitment was re-started. It knocked the wind out of the new project right as it was getting started, catching the leadership unaware. The group went forward, but with only sixty rather than the anticipated two hundred.
This is not entirely uncommon in Brazil, as church groups are highly competitive and generally work independently. Because Missão Hori-zontes is non-denominational they work hard to cross denominational lines with a wide spectrum of evangelical churches. Independent mission agencies are slowly gaining credibility throughout the Latin American church but old rivalries remain strong. Some of the blame for these rivalries can be laid at the feet of the North American missionaries of the past two generations who brought their own brand of tribalism to Latin America and planted a church that was taught to work independently and maintain artificial walls of distinction.
A REPLICABLE MODEL FOR MOBILIZATION?
Arthur (pseudonym), a World Horizon’s missionary, has proposed that the Radical Project no longer be considered a Latin American model for mission training, but be adopted worldwide. Arthur is now in the position of receiving Radicals to work with him in his host country, and has been positively overwhelmed with the effectiveness of these new missionaries. In an internal World Horizon’s memo, Arthur listed many reasons why he feels this model should be copied throughout the organization. Three of these reasons are listed below.
1. Low budget, shared finances— One of the blessings of Western culture and missions is independence and individuality; however, it is also a curse. A common purse is a tough but effective discipler of workers, building teamwork and encouraging living as a family. It breaks the rebellious, independent spirit that wars against the building of God’s family and his kingdom. It also brings us closer to how most people live in the 10/40 Window. We know that if we have a common purse the overall budget drops dramatically, releasing those whose finances are limited.
2. Developing character and servant attitude—This was a strong feature in the early days of World Horizons, but again we have lost some ground. This needs to be the primary focus of pre-field training and is a noticeable strength with the current Rads. These are the most needed qualities in reaching out to Muslims and others. The Rads here cleaning the stairs in their apartment blocks has opened wonderful doors of opportunity for sharing Christ. This idea wouldn’t have even entered the minds of most missionaries here (and if I am honest, myself too).
3. Trainees are the recruiters—The trainees, while still in their home countries become the best recruiters. Along with character development the other main pre-field focus is recruiting and mobilizing, visiting churches, youth groups, universities, Bible colleges and the like. People are attracted to action and movement and to people who have some sense of their own destiny, however tender it may be. Enormous momentum is then generated as people often return from recruiting visits with new people—this happened when the Rads were in Liverpool for three weeks.
Similar mission training models that rely upon an intensive group training experience have proven successful around the world (most notably YWAM’s DTS program). What the Radical Project uniquely offers is a model where the lines between mobilization, training, education of the local church, support-raising, and generating excitement and prayer frontier missions are blurred. The success of the Radical Project in Brazil should be thoughtfully considered by church leaders in nations that have traditionally been on the receiving end of the mission enterprise. This model might be successfully replicated by the national church in other “developing” nations, for the equipping of the saints and the proclamation of the Good News around the world.
Murray Decker is the chair of the Undergraduate Department of Anthropology and Intercultural Studies at Biola University, La Mirada Calif.
Ryan Keating is a missionary with World Horizons, and directs the Radical Project cultural and theological training program at the Missão Horizontes base in Monte Verde, Brazil.
GREATEST PERSONAL LESSONS FROM SERVING SEVENTEEN YEARS IN LATIN AMERICA
William D. Taylor
It was my privilege to be born and to spend most of my childhood and youth in Latin America. Then I returned to serve seventeen years with a very young bride, Yvonne. Kudos to her for willingly entering my worlds! Our three children—now young adults—were born in Guatemala and were significantly shaped by its cultures. I lived there a total of thirty years, and it was my privilege to do my doctoral work in Latin American studies. It was then that I had a succession of “aha!” moments of understanding the history of Latin America. My primary work was on the faculty of the Central American Theological Seminary in Guatemala. But alongside the joy of teaching and shaping future leaders for the Latin churches was the experience of planting a church and serving it for ten years. We are still connected to them as part of their supported missions team.
Some of the lessons learned:
1. Recognizing the importance of seriously studying Latin culture, its history and people. We came to appreciate and deeply love so many of their strengths: the supportive role of their extended families, their relational skills, their warmth and sense of humor, the beauty of Spanish (and Portuguese for others) and its rich subjunctive case.
2. I have been irrevocably changed by witnessing the power of the gospel to transform individuals and families. It was a delight to live in an historical moment of an “Acts 29” scenario in Guatemala. At the same time it was frustrating to observe the limited cultural transformation of society in spite of the growth of evan-gelicalism in all sectors of society.
3. I was glad we were there long enough to gain a longer-term perspective on the progress of the gospel, both in leadership training and in the life of a local church. Sadly, it also taught me that some missionaries should have returned to their home country long ago. Longevity does not guarantee quality service.
4. I witnessed the unfortunate divisions between Evangelicals and Charismatics/ Pentecostals, and the surprising tension between Pentecostals and the newer Charismatics. Where is the unity of the Body? In what ways did I contribute to division or cooperation?
5. I wish I had known and embraced a practicing supernaturalism that would have enabled me to confront a reality close to the experience of Jesus and the early church. During those seventeen years I had occasion to confront the evil one in diverse situations. But I had neither a theology nor ministry skills to adequately deal with evil supernaturalism. My theological paradigm of those years explained away too much or labeled it as superstition.
I cannot rewind history and start again, but perhaps others can learn from my experience.
William D. Taylor is executive director of Missions Commission World Evangelical Alliance.
EMQ, Vol. 39, No. 3, pp. 312-321. Copyright © 2003 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.