BRAZIL – What’s a good way to learn a language? Converse with a native speaker. What’s a good way to advance the gospel? Invest in a missionary. What can catalyze both objectives? A global pandemic, apparently.
When COVID-19 grounded IMB missionary Caron Johnson from travel (which had included an intensive English class in another city), she contacted Fernando Brandão, director of the South Brazil Seminary and executive director of the Brazilian Baptist Convention’s National Mission Board (JMN), and offered to launch virtual English classes. Her idea was to connect volunteers in the U.S. with Brazilians to meet online for English conversations.
Brandão is a leader in the advance of the gospel. “It is my goal to have top leaders on my team,” he said, “so I need to invest in my team.” Connecting his team to Johnson’s English classes helps Brazilian Baptists minister locally and globally.
English is a world language, used by people of various mother-tongues to collaborate internationally.
“We connect in English,” said Brandão, who is also vice-president of an influential global network of churches. He said Brazilian Baptists mentor rising gospel partners from other nations through this shared second language.
English attracts people outside the church, too. Johnson’s curriculum, based on the Book of Mark, prepares students to use English classes as a ministry platform.
Samuel Moutta, JMN vice-president, said, “I need to reach my people with the gospel . . . to train leaders . . . plant churches.” Johnson’s classes provide a useful tool for Moutta’s work.
“This program…is wonderful,” Moutta said. “We are…talking about the Bible, talking with our friends and at the same time developing our English.”
Brazilian Baptists cherish their partnership with Southern Baptists. They share a 139-year gospel-centered relationship. English skills facilitate international dialogue and partnership among churches, Baptist entities and theological seminaries.
“It is very important for us to connect. We have partnerships with churches, state conventions, IMB.” Brandão said. Brazilian leaders value “Baptistic knowledge” and leadership formation gleaned through these ties.
Mobilizing missions as the world stands still
“I wanted to do something to help missions and to help people,” U.S. volunteer Kelly Pyron said.
Johnson, who serves with her husband, Wendal Mark, in Brazil, wanted to mobilize Southern Baptists to join mission efforts in 2020, although closed borders meant cancelled trips for scores of U.S. churches. Southern Baptists could not connect to Brazil by plane, but they could, Johnson realized, connect by phone.
“I suggested the idea of conversation helpers to some of my social media friends,” Johnson said. “I was blown away by the response.”
Missions—praying, funding, serving—is the Southern Baptist heartbeat. Neither travel restrictions nor the financial strain of a global pandemic causes Southern Baptists to forget who they are: churches united to fulfill the Revelation 7:9 vision of a multitude from every language, people, tribe and nation knowing and worshiping our Lord Jesus Christ.
Pyron is one of 18 U.S. volunteers equipping Brazilians with language skills to facilitate their role in the missions movement. Additional volunteers await new students currently learning enough to converse.
Conversation partners discuss the week’s Bible lesson. As they review for an oral exam on the 3 Circles gospel presentation, they are further equipped to lead others to Christ.
“The ultimate goal,” Johnson said, “is for both Brazilian students and SBC volunteers to work together to share the gospel in a cross-cultural context, learning from one another.”
Pyron is paired with Lorena. Both lead children’s Bible classes in their respective communities. Their “conversation partners” role has segued into mentoring and mutual encouragement. Similarly, Pat Bryant encourages the young Brazilian mother assigned to her, and Pastor Brandão inspires Pastor Steve Hussung to guard time alone with God. Bill Rogers, having come to Brazil seventeen times, now pours into Renato, JMN ministry coordinator for people who are drug-addicted or displaced and for children orphaned or living on the streets.
Since launching classes for South Brazil Seminary and JMN, Johnson has added classes at an additional seminary and at Krieger Language Center—a commercial institute housed on South Brazil Seminary’s campus.
Johnson reports, “I have done some initial training with several Krieger teachers, [who] hope to offer it to more students soon.”
How will you advance the gospel this season?
Consider launching Bible-based ESL classes. Virtual courses are easily advertised on a church marquee or website. Enlisting conversation helpers is a good way to expose church members to cross-cultural ministry at home.
Please fund gospel advance ministries like Wendal Mark and Caron Johnson’s. Find resources to promote the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions in your church or give now to support the spread of the gospel to the nations.
Jennifer Waldrep of the International Mission Board wrote this article.