Far Beyond Four Walls
by Fabrício Francisco de Fraga and Silas Gomes de Oliveira Neto
Take a regular Seventh-day Adventist urban church. Add a deliberate focus on prayer and spiritual renewal. The result? A change in the spiritual vision of an entire congregation, and a passion for mission that reaches other cities, far from home.
The recent history of Portão Seventh-day Adventist Church in Curitiba, Brazil, can be divided into two distinct periods—before and after. In its “before” phase, Portão church was a comfortable, prosperous church in an equally comfortable and prosperous city. With 1,200 members in the city’s central area, Portão church was known for fine preaching, excellent music, and well-planned events. But the focus was mainly on the needs of church members, and little effort was made to connect with the broader community.
Today, in the “after” phase, Portão church is no longer merely four walls, a roof, and a floor. It’s a vibrant, living community of believers, sustained by prayer, and committed to demonstrating Christ’s wholistic ministry in unentered urban communities.
What marks the dividing line between before and after? The simple answer is prayer.
An affluent mission field
Viewed from above, the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba is a patchwork of tall skyscrapers, historic buildings, and—tying everything together—vast swathes of green parkland. The city sprawls out over a gently undulating plateau almost 300 meters (1,000 feet) above sea level and is known around the world for its decades-long focus on innovative urban planning. Although it is home to almost two million residents, the cosmopolitan city of Curitiba manages to blend both efficiency and aesthetic appeal, a combination that has earned it the title of “the world’s most livable city.”
The residents of Curitiba are known for being well educated, culturally sophisticated, and economically comfortable. It’s little wonder, then, that Portão Adventist church, the second-largest Adventist church in the city, mirrored its community. Some in the church, however, were concerned about the fundamental attitude of their spiritual community.
The turning point came with a season of prayer. In 2011, Pastor Silas Gomes de Oliveira Neto became pastor of the Portão church and, together with his leadership team, developed a pilot project called Portão Global. The project aimed to transform the way the church related to its community, so that its default focus was no longer inward but outward—toward the needs of non-members.
Rather than plunging directly into mission activity, church leaders announced a project called Quarenta Madrugadas de Oração—40 Dawns of Prayer. For 40 consecutive days, the doors of Portão church opened promptly at 5:30 a.m. for prayer. For these 40 days, many church members and friends got up early and made their way to the church to pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. As they prayed and sought the Lord together, the Spirit responded. The outcome of this intense period of prayer was a spiritual “reset”—a revival—of the congregation. It marked a dramatic change in its vision for mission and service.
As a result of the 40 Dawns of Prayer, 40 people were baptized. Also, 80 church members committed to leave Portão church and go to a nearby suburb—Água Verde—to begin planting a new church there.
Água Verde, literally “Green Water,” is a wealthy neighborhood with tree-lined streets, expensive shopping districts, and a reputation for being one of Curitiba’s most elite areas. Over the weeks and months, the core group of church planters made friends, and their small group steadily grew. Five years later, the Água Verde Adventist Church has almost finished construction of a large, modern church building, with seating in the main sanctuary for 600 people.
This offspring of the Portão church is keeping alive the mother church’s original vision for service and outreach. Alongside their new church, they plan to build a Center of Influence affiliated with the work of the Adventist Church’s Novo Tempo television network. The facility, called Espaço Novo Tempo (Novo Tempo Venue), will offer spiritual, educational, and health support for the neighborhood.
In the wake of the 40 Dawns of Prayer and its launch of the Água Verde church plant, Portão church began to develop what it calls Esperança Global—Global Hope. This plan has ambitious goals: every year, Portão church seeks to reach into a community with no Adventist presence, model Christ’s method of ministry, and establish a new Adventist church.
Early on, leaders of Global Hope realized they’d need to build up a network of partners who could support the ministry. First, they found encouragement and backing for their efforts from the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Central Paraná Conference and South Brazil Union. Another faithful partner has been the Brazilian Red Cross, which provides equipment and medical specialists, as well as access to individuals who can often open doors for the ministry.
Within Portão church itself, two significant partners have been the Instituto O Amor Chama—the Love Calls Institute—and the Chama Coral—the Flame Choir ministry. O Amor Chama is a not-for-profit organization created by a group of friends who are members of the Portão church. It partners with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) and the Civil Defense of the State of Paraná, and is focused on social action. The group’s projects are wide-ranging, creative, and practical. One recent event in the church hall saw hairdressers cut the hair of hundreds of volunteers, providing hair donations to make wigs for cancer patients. The Chama Coral is a 200-voice choir of the Portão church that works closely with O Amor Chama. The members of these two ministries, many of them young people, provide enthusiastic, hands-on support for the Global Hope projects.
Global Hope has developed an approach to working in urban communities based on principles drawn from Scripture and the counsel of Ellen White. It’s consciously modeled on the way Jesus and His disciples moved among people, caring for their physical needs and drawing them into a relationship with their Creator.
After planting a church in Água Verde, the Portão church decided to focus next on Inácio Martins, a city some 130 miles from Curitiba. It was chosen in part because it was on a Global Mission list of cities in the State of Paraná with no Adventist presence. This first project outside the city of Curitiba set the pattern for subsequent projects and provides a good case study for the seven-step Global Hope method.
1. Mingling with people
After the city of Inácio Martins was chosen and all necessary arrangements were made with the city government, project leaders and local ADRA representatives began a campaign in Portão church to gather donations of nonperishable food and clothing. Then three buses carrying some 150 volunteers left Curitiba headed for Inácio Martins. They called this first stage “Impact Hope,” during which the ministry teams from Portão church aimed to visit all the homes in the city, averaging some 2,000 visits each day.
The purpose of these visits was simply for the volunteers to talk with families in Inácio Martins, develop relationships, pray with them about their problems, and to understand what needs each family had. Before they left each home, the volunteers invited the families to attend a forthcoming Expo Saúde, or Health Fair.
2. Caring for needs
At the Health Fair, volunteers from Portão church offered a vast array of free services to the Inácio Martins community, including basic medical tests, dental and psychological consultations, legal services, haircuts and skin cleansing, group exercises, and spiritual counseling. For the children they provided a playground, popcorn and cotton candy, dramas and games, and the star attraction, Dr. Smile—a “medical clown.”
As well as the various professionals who donated their time and skills at the Health Fair, other volunteers included personnel from the Red Cross and many Portão church members, including Pathfinders.
The day ended with a gospel concert provided by Chama Coral, followed by distribution of donated clothes and food. All of these activities took place in public schools or health centers around Inácio Martins.
The purpose of the Health Fair, say leaders of Global Hope, was to “relieve people’s pain and enhance their self-esteem—even if it is for only one day.” They add, “We wanted them to understand that we care about them, and we want their very best. This helps us to create a relationship, and later on in the process the trust gained will help us in the process of asking them to follow Jesus.”
3. Sharing Jesus
The third step involved Bible workers from Portão church, called Mensageiros da Esperança, or Messengers of Hope. They moved into Inácio Martins with their families to build on the public awareness created by the recent Health Fair. They also looked for a well-located auditorium in the community for a series of evangelistic meetings.
These Bible workers built friendships in the community and started spreading the word that long-term health and education projects, similar to those showcased at the Health Fair, would soon be established in the community. Organizers say this part of the process helped smooth the way for the coming evangelistic meetings.
The fourth step took place back in the Portão church and was named Pentecostes da Esperança, or Pentecost of Hope. For 50 days the church held three daily worship services, spending one hour each at dawn, noon, and sunset in communion with God through prayer, hymns, and Bible study, seeking individual and collective spiritual revival. Throughout this period, the church served breakfast and lunch every day to all participants, and on some days, more than 300 people attended the noon service and stayed for lunch.
This intense period of prayer focused on a specific need—the Holy Spirit’s guidance in the preparation for the upcoming evangelistic meeting.
The volunteers at Inácio Martins kept preparing for the upcoming citywide evangelistic program, which they called Auditório da Esperança, or Hall of Hope. Back at Portão church, the Pentecost of Hope program kept outreach front and center and helped church members feel a sense of participation and real connection with the project, even though it was taking place in another city.
In the city of Inácio Martins, some 400 people from the community attended the evangelistic programs each night. As interest grew, the team of Bible workers already in place within the community assisted Conference evangelist Pastor Julio Padilha in giving Bible studies. The result? At the end of the series, almost 90 people were baptized and a new church was established in the previously unentered town of Inácio Martins.
6. Building a church
A vital sixth step in the Global Hope method is to provide a place of worship for the new Adventist community. This can mean either building a new church or refurbishing an existing building.
7. Making disciples
The final step is called Conservando a Esperança, or Keeping the Hope. It is a long-term, ongoing effort to help new believers become true disciples and ministers, and it is crucial to the entire process. Here, new believers realize that baptism is just the start, that those who have been saved by Christ are now invited to participate in His work, learn from Him, and follow in His steps. This represents the end of one cycle and the beginning of a new one.
Sharing the Love
Lessons from the front lines of urban mission
- Base everything on prayer. The foundation and orientation for all of Portão church’s mission activities is prayer. Prayer started the mission movement, and prayer continues to sustain it.
- Involve non-believers. A key value of Portão church’s outreach efforts is to involve community members as much as possible. A team of four professional hairdressers, who are not Adventists, have joined in every mission effort of the church.
- Partner with government and community agencies. Where possible, utilize the resources and experience of other agencies that are willing to work with you. Portão church has, for example, forged a valuable partnership with the Brazilian Red Cross.
To find out more about Esperança Global ministry, visit www.esperancaglobal.com.br.