Challenges & Opportunities
Imagine for a moment that your church’s attendance had doubled over the past two years. That would be great, right? And that is exactly what has happened with us. But now suppose that 90% of the new people that began attending your church had moved to your town from England. While you speak the same language and share many common traits, there are also significant differences. The new people speak with a British accent, and drink tea instead of coffee at fellowship time. Instead of talking about college football, they talk about soccer and Brexit. The list could go on. While you are all brothers and sisters in Christ, there are cultural barriers. Where there are differences, there is the opportunity for Christian love and unity to shine, just as there can also be the potential for misunderstandings and conflict.
As I was thinking about our experience, this was the closest example I could come up with to describe to you what is happening here. Many Brazilians are immigrating to Portugal, and every month brings several new families who have just moved to our town. Brazilians speak the same language, but with a different accent. Culturally, they are as different from the Portuguese as Americans are from the British. Thus, our church is growing in number and in cultural diversity. Most Sundays now, we have more Brazilians than Portuguese. Don’t for a moment think that this is a complaint. On the contrary, we see this as an opportunity, and we are grateful for new members who desire to serve the Lord. At the same time, we are aware of the challenges. We’re doing our best to be a church that maintains its Portuguese identity, and yet is welcoming to all who come. We ask that you pray with us in this way:
- Just this past Sunday, we had a new members lunch where we had more than 25 people come expressing interest in joining the church. Pray that God would help us receive these new families well, and that all the members of the church would find their place in using their gifts and serving the Lord.
- Pray that God would unite our hearts and that our church would be a brilliant example of Christian love and unity. Pray that God would guard us against division and cliquishness.
- Pray that God would keep us focused. With a growing church, there are many needs that can veer us away from the mission God has given us. Pray that we would continue to focus on evangelism and church-planting. In Acts chapter 8, the church in Jerusalem was scattered, and the gospel spread as a result. Pray that God would help us leverage this growth to better reach Portugal with the gospel.
In our work with the deaf, we are facing a different challenge – building the practice of faithfully gathering together as the church. There are many who have attended our deaf church off and on throughout the years, and yet getting them to commit to faithfully gathering is a challenge we have yet to overcome. The good news is that, over the years, many dozens of deaf in Portugal have had the gospel clearly explained to them in their language and have access to a church where they can gather to learn more or to grow in their new faith in Christ. The bad news is that we still have many Sundays where just a few, or even none, will show up. Pray for an awakening in the lives of the deaf, and pray for us that God would give us great perseverance and wisdom to know how to move forward. As always, know how grateful we are to God for you. We feel as the apostle Paul did when he wrote, “We give thanks to God always for you all… Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”