One of the highlights of the trips for me had to be the opportunity to sit with over 20 youth workers from all over Rio Grande de Sol, Brazil. Most churches are very small and Catholicism & Spiritism still dominates the culture. Think Voodoo mixed with patron saints. We were told that most folks go to mass on Saturday morning then to their seance on Saturday night.
Here’s a quick list of the challenges they face:
* There are two kinds of Christianity competing in this culture. The “God wants you rich so do these things in order to secure his blessing” kind and those that stress the grace of God and Jesus death and resurrection. They are struggling hard to emphasize the Gospel and the grace of God, not man’s attempt to make God happy.
* So many churches fight against teens and children, fearing change.
* There are little to no student ministry resources in Portuguese.
* Churches are small and poor. Many times the Senior Pastor is the only paid staff of a church.
* Volunteers who run student ministries suffer from discouragement as there is no infrastructure of support for youth workers. There is also very little training for youth workers.
* Student culture is highly SEXUAL. Lot’s contributing factors to this – Brazilian teens can’t get a job until they are 18, school is only in session for half a day, and there are no sports or clubs for teens to get involved in after school. There is a lot of free time for students to do whatever they want with little to no accountability. Workers said they feel completely overwhelmed by sexuality in the culture – and it is everywhere – music, movies, fashion.
* Parent involvement is next to nothing in most churches. This has two huge negative side-effects for the churches. There is a very small pool of people to find volunteers. Whatever “good” the church does has to compete and stand against the 6 days, 22 hours they are away from church.
* Southern Brazil is called the Missionary Cemetery. The average lifespan of a Christian missionary in the area is 18 to 24 months.
All of these factors are what pushed Thomas Schneider to start Palavra da Vida Sul 20 years ago. Over the years, he’s developed a long-term strategy and team to help churches and communities in reaching teenagers with the clear message of the Gospel. Their Bible Club ministry is designed to train leaders how to teach the Scriptures to teens in a systematic way as well as providing Portuguese resources to churches for student ministry. Some of these Bible Clubs stand alone in communities where there is no evangelical presence, many of them partner with local churches as their student ministry. Their camp ministry and sports tourneys are opportunities for churches and these Bible Clubs to bring lost students to an environment where they can hear the gospel clearly.
As I listened to these youth workers talk about their struggles, so many of them were just like the ones we face in the States. Lack of parent involvement, the constant sexual pull of the culture, church cultures that seem to fight against teens instead of for them.
When I see what Thomas and PVSul is doing to help churches, I know I’m a part of something very special and unique in this culture. They are the pioneers right now, emphasizing to local churches the importance of life on life discipleship and engagement in the teenage world.
Tomorrow, Part 2. The Question & Answer session with these leaders.