I am in Brazil. This is my seventh visit in nearly 21 years. As usual I am here on business, but business is revealing the changing dynamic of this influential Latin American nation.
There is a great likelihood that anyone who has flown between small cities in the United States has flown on an Embraer Jet. This Brazilian company has a large share of the American market for regional jets, those narrow silver cigars that we stoop our bodies to walk within and fold ourselves to be seated. Such is the drive for airline economy that companies like Embraer have done an excellent job of usurping the 737s and DC9s of the past.
One of the company’s slogans: “We are big supporters of some of the world’s smallest things!” is indicative of the spirit of a nation whose entrepreneurism has grown their economy rapidly in the years since economic stability was achieved. They recently surpassed the British economy to become the world’s sixth largest. To crown their rising influence they will host the soccer World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.
Despite endemic poverty on the fringes of the cities, materialism is on the rise. Indications of greater wealth are everywhere. The malls in Sao Paulo are filled with every conceivable modern fashion and convenience. Fast food, even that of the Brazilian variety, sells at prices considerably higher than those prevailing in the USA. Visits to the resorts of Buzios and Monte Verde confirmed that there are many with plenty of disposable income. I would add that I saw more people with dental braces on than I think I have seen anywhere at any time in the past – a further indication of disposable income.
With this rising tide of materialism has come a changing dynamic to the church. Twenty years ago many were offering for service in overseas mission fields. Many have gone, but many have come back, lacking the basic partnership of church and supporters to enable them in ministry. Churches that once gave are now spending more on themselves.
The church is everywhere. It has undergone phenomenal growth in the last half century and some say that as many as 17% of the population are evangelical Protestants. Little church buildings can be seen in many streets of the big cities, and large churches occupy whole city blocks, warehouse-style. They come in every shade, from Methodist, to Assemblies; Presbyterian, to Baptist; and independent through to the pseudo-cult.
But Brazilians are still offering themselves for international service in Christian mission. I met several who are heading toward French West Africa, and another who will move to Indonesia. Not all is lost in materialism. I was challenged to learn that a pastor whom I previously met recently sold his house and downsized so that he could invest the proceeds in building an orphanage in Haiti.
Professionals with medical, business and vocational skills are now offering for missions, where a past generation may have included many with little education. The challenge of church and mission is to find the appropriate pathways down which they may travel to join in the great adventure of reaching the nations for Christ.
As the Brazilian economy is growing its share of the world’s business, may the Brazilian church also grow in participation and leadership in the advance of the Kingdom of God in the nations.