Brazil’s Pentecostal and charismatic missions target Brazilian diaspora, Europe

There are probably 3,000 Brazilian Protestant missionaries abroad, mostly Pentecostal, and 90 percent of them are sent  by Brazilian missionary agencies, reported Paul Freston (Wilfrid Laurier University) at the conference of the International Society for the Sociology of Religion in Lausanne, Switzerland (July 4–7), which RW attended. One in five Brazilians today is Pentecostal. Like South Korea and Nigeria, where sizeable Protestant minorities can be found, Brazilian denominations send missionaries abroad not only in order to care for Brazilian emigrants but also to convert non-Brazilians. Brazilian missions abroad started in the 1980s. Freston describes Europe as the ultimate test for such missions. Reversing an historical missionary flow holds a fascination in itself. Moreover, Brazilian Pentecostals perceive Europe as spiritually cold, having experienced a loss of spiritual vitality, and feel that they may play a role in changing the situation. There is also the idea of repaying a spiritual debt in the same way grandchildren would help sickly grandparents.

Finally, sending missionaries to Europe reinforces legitimacy in the highly competitive Brazilian religious market. Many missionaries feel that the problems of European Christianity are largely the result of European churches themselves. Freston identifies different modalities of approaching missionary work in Europe. Using diaspora churches as a launching pad meets with little success since Europeans are unlikely to see them as potential teachers. Some have the idea that diaspora churches can galvanize European Christians, and European churches have sent members or even teams to these new churches; there have been several examples in the U.K. There are also global Southern ministers working as partners with European denominations. But one also encounters unmediated, unsolicited, and self-funded missionary efforts by Brazilian denominations or missionary agencies. Obviously, success is far from guaranteed. But those preachers who fail to develop missionary work often fall back to the diaspora as a substitute for their ministry, Freston said.