Mobilising 50 million

Rafael Bertolino stood in front of the auditorium at Ibnai Baptist church and encouraged attendees—mostly young people gathered for the special Saturday evening English service—to connect their hands in a circle above their heads, then to lower each hand to the shoulder below. “Do it again,” he challenged.

“O,” he called out, as the group circled their arms high in the air. “M,” he continued, as they lowered their arms. “Now you’ll never forget the organisation where I serve.”

A personal touch

As a church mobiliser for OM Brazil, Rafael’s goal goes deeper than having people simply remember “OM”; rather, he’d like to see hundreds get involved with the Great Commission. Still, people cannot be sent if their pastors are not on board.

“We have realised that we go to churches, we talk about missions and everyone wants to go, but then the pastors stop [the process], so we are trying to focus on the pastors now,” Rafael explained.

Some, like Pastor Ademir Machado of New Alliance Baptist Church in Indaiatuba, have caught the vision. His church’s ministerial focus is to develop members’ callings through small group discipleship, and “in addition to that we have a priority to witness Jesus everywhere, especially among those who have difficulty accessing the gospel,” he said.

To that end, the church has sent people, past and present, to the mission field with OM. “I am very grateful to OM for being a channel of blessing in the missionary life of our church,” Pastor Ademir expressed.

However, having met with over 100 pastors during his two-year term serving in mobilisation, Rafael said most church leaders do not prioritise overseas missions.

One reason for reluctance is the generational gap, explained Pastor Humberto Maia Argao, a former field leader of OM Brazil. “A few pastors are young, but most of them are my age, 62, and they have never been outside [Brazil]. They don’t know much about missions,” he explained.

Furthermore, “they cannot trust that a little office without [many] resources…can mobilise the church in Brazil,” he suggested.

Pastor Alcir Garcia Ramos of Memorial Baptist Church in Inhoaiba first heard of OM when his daughter began volunteering at the São José dos Campos office. His church prioritises preaching the gospel, participating in world and national missions and engaging in social work within their community.

“We are already involved with missionary agencies of the Baptist denomination in Brazil,” he explained. “Even though we are a small church, with 40 people, we contribute considerably.” Introducing a new organisation to his congregation – especially OM, which is unknown in the Rio de Janeiro region – and finding additional financial resources would be difficult.

To counter these perceptions, OM must form solid relationships with church leadership across the country, Pastor Humberto stressed. “Brazilians, they like personal touch. We love to see people talking to us. I believe as the church in Brazil, we need to see more relationships between mission agencies and churches.”

Churches in Brazil “need help to understand their own context and to understand the world,” he added, but “it’s a matter of information from a friend...That’s why for me it’s very important to have guys like Rafael, who know the heart of a pastor and the heart of a missionary.”

50 million and growing

According to OM Brazil, in 2010 there were 97.5 million evangelicals in Latin America, with nearly 50 million of those in Brazil. They project that number rising to over 100 million for Brazilian evangelicals by 2020.

“I believe, theologically speaking and also as growth is concerned, that Brazil is one of the top countries today,” confirmed Pastor Humberto. “What we need is to have relevance to the things we do in missions. The church wants to see today from [people] who can facilitate the ministry in mission for the church.”

To build relationships and mobilise Brazilian churches, OM partnered with Global Focus to host a seminar on the OM campus in São José dos Campos in March 2017. Global Focus aims to empower local churches for global impact. Practically, that means “we walk with them for a whole year, and through this year, the church will see [members] become more involved with them [locally], but the church will also see the importance of missions globally, and we will offer them a lot of opportunities with OM,” Rafael explained.

While some relationships between OM and churches must be fostered over time, others spring up instantly. At a meeting of Brazilian pastors, Rafael shared about the OM Ships ministry. Afterwards, a pastor came up to the OM staff and invited them to share at his church. “When we left the meeting, we already had a date set,” Rafael remembered.

When the appointed Wednesday evening service came, Rafael presented OM to a room full of young people. Within a few months, the pastor’s two daughters had joined the ship. “He’s not only opening time in the service for us, but he even sent his two daughters. It was really nice. He’s been a really good partner for us,” Rafael said.

Key characteristics

In addition to increasing numbers of evangelicals in the country, most Brazilians exhibit key characteristics that allow them to thrive in international contexts.

Many young Brazilians join the Ships Ministry after their missions training (CTM) at OM Brazil.

“Normally the feedback we get is that the Brazilians are very adaptable, and they often receive leadership positions,” shared CTM director Nelia Leal. “Latinos are very warm, and they like talking…often they get called to help with other things because of being outgoing.”

“We are really flexible, especially about challenges. If something doesn’t work, it’s ok, let’s try Plan B,” explained a Brazilian OM worker living in North Africa. She has also found similarities between hospitality in her home and host countries: “In our culture, people are more important than duties or your time. So it’s ok to spend three hours on a visit or receive people to your house for a long time or even [have] unexpected visits.”

“The Brazilian church has received so much help throughout the years and now can make the difference,” stated Pastor Ademir. “Our people are relational, and this characteristic can be strategic to reach the world.”

Ten-year time lapse

Last year, Rafael was discouraged, having seen little fruit to his mobilisation efforts. Then he learned from a colleague working in mobilisation for a different organisation that research showed it normally takes ten years from the day someone feels drawn toward missions until the day he or she goes to the field.

When he thought about his own experience, Rafael realised that statistic held true. “My uncle was in a discipleship training with George Verwer. He came back and said something about a ship when I was seven or eight,” Rafael recalled. “God brought to mind the ship, and I googled it when I was 24. But when I actually said, ‘I’m going to missions,’ or at least I felt the calling, I was 14.”

Realising that those joining OM now probably had missions exposure close to a decade ago “was a relief at least,” Rafael said. But in 2017, half of the students attending the January CTM programme at OM Brazil came from churches where Rafael had presented the previous year—“It was an answer from God.”

Pray for OM Brazil to build strong relationships with local churches. Pray that pastors and churches will prioritise global missions and mobilise thousands of Brazilians to take the gospel to the least reached.

Nicole James is an international writer for OM, passionate about publishing stories of God’s work among the nations and telling people about the wonderful things He is doing around the world.