When’s the last time you went bowling in the church basement – in a real bowling alley? It was a first for me when I visited pastor Emerson Cardoso’s church.
The congregation had grown significantly. God led them to rent a sportsplex complete with indoor soccer pitch, gym, snack bar area, and bowling alley. The church rented the place, but allowed a soccer school to maintain its program under reduced rent.
It fit completely within the entrepreneurial, visionary spirit of pastor Emerson. He was leading his church to find multiple ways to reach out to their community just outside Curitiba, Brazil.
Indeed, the day I visited, he showed me another major project of his church: a daycare and drop-in centre for children of single, working moms. The church also discerned a need for temporary housing for young women leaving an abusive relationship or otherwise without a place to stay.
Since then, Emerson has become the president of COBIM, the Mennonite Brethren conference of Brazil. He has brought that visionary spirit into leadership of the national church.
I asked Emerson if he would tell their story to our regular ICOMB summit in 2016, and again to the Mission and Prayer Consultation in Thailand in 2017.
Leading up to his election, he and several others embarked on a years-long process of renewal. They felt that their conference needed a new encounter with God. Emerson joined with pastors Paul Duck and Reginaldo Valim, and they urged other pastors to join them. They deliberately humbled themselves before God, confessing their faults and failures; fasting; praying, and holding many prayer gatherings. (Read more about Paul Duck’s process of prayer.)
These pastors publicly supported the people then in leadership. They recognized the great contribution those leaders had made to strengthening the conference in organization and stable finances.
Renewal efforts sometimes produce difficulties with incumbent leaders, but everyone worked to maintain unity throughout.
Upon election, the new COBIM leaders have continued to seek God earnestly. The prayer and fasting events continue.
When I visited them, they showed a map of the country marked with their church locations. I saw that all the COBIM congregations were in the south where the European Mennonite immigrants and missionaries had started the work. I challenged them to look up north.
Now, God is providing wonderful opportunities for COBIM to plant new churches in regions of Brazil beyond their base. Moreover, a group of churches that left the conference some years ago recently sought to reunite. This is now in progress.
Emerson, Paul, and Reginaldo all had different stories to tell of the work of God in COBIM. It didn’t start with a “trendy” idea like a bowling alley. It didn’t even start with determination to serve their community based on needs. Rather, it started in hearts that longed for God – deeply, persistently.
Renewal flowed when individual longing became corporate longing. They emphasize that corporate effort is critical. Certainly, this reflects the very nature of God, who exists in eternal triune love.
In the movie Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore explores the tragedy of a high school shooting in Littleton, Colorado, USA. What made the young men do this terrible thing to their classmates – destroying lives and the peace of a community?
Flip that around: what makes church leaders build up the spirit of a community, both outside and inside the church?
What a difference it can make when we seek God with all our hearts (Isaiah 55:6).
[David Wiebe is director of ICOMB, the International Community of Mennonite Brethren. He loves to assemble people of God, opening space for all to listen to God as a community for inspiration and direction.
Did you know?
- In the last seven years, COBIM (Convenção Brasileira das Igrejas Evangélicas Irmãos Menonitas) expanded from 48 churches to 86 churches + 35 smaller congregations and church planting projects: about 12,100 members.
- Leaders are developing churches in the northeast, Amazon region, and in Uruguay in cooperation with the Uruguay MB conference.
- Some churches in the south, settled by Mennonite refugees from Germany and Ukraine, still worship in German. All have added Portuguese language services in recent years.
- The devaluation of the Brazilian real (currency) has significantly challenged COBIM financially, but prayer and vision have doubled the contributions in this period helping to drive the expansion. Churches contribute about nine percent of their income to the conference. Through a regionalization concept, 50 percent of the resources stay in the region and 50 percent goes to the national organization.
- There continue to be more cooperation activities between COBIM and the other two major Mennonite conferences in Brazil.