Brazilian pastors start fellowship for churches

By Karen L. Willoughby

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) – At this year’s August retreat, Brazilian pastors and other leaders voted unanimously to start the Fellowship of Brazilian Baptist Churches in North America.

Leaders say it’s a win for Brazilian churches, who need tools, resources and connections, and it’s a win for the Southern Baptist Convention because Brazilian churches can supply people who speak two and three languages, who are eager to spread the Gospel throughout the United States and the world, and who are comfortable ministering cross-culturally.

“We had a lot of meetings with pastors over the last year,” Ney Ladeia told Baptist Press. Ladeia was voted to be the president of the newest ethnic fellowship. He’s also pastor of Pompano (Florida) Brazilian Baptist Church.

“Everybody was ready to do this step,” he said.

About 130 Brazilian Baptist pastors and their wives met at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to formally establish the Brazilian Fellowship.

The pastors’ retreat Aug. 1-5 at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary – with a theme of “Irresistible Ministry” taken from 1 Timothy 3:1 – provided “fellowship, inspiration and challenge,” Ebenezer Santos told Baptist Press.

Santos, who moved from Brazil to the U.S. in 1989, started his pastoral ministry among Spanish-speakers in Texas. In 2007 he became the pastor of Central Brazilian Church in Bedford, Texas. He was elected at the meeting to be the new fellowship’s executive director.

“Something different happened during this retreat,” Santos said, referring to “the presence of the two presidents, the support of the leaders of SBC, and the feeling of everyone looking at the creation of the new fellowship as a sense of God’s blessings to all of us. It was very special to us to have Dr. Bart Barber, the president of the SBC, and the president of the Brazilian Baptist Convention, Pastor Hilquias Paim, together with us.

“You cannot imagine how thankful we [Brazilians] are for the IMB and NAMB, supporting what God is leading us to do,” Santos continued. “They are awesome awesome, awesome. And they can count on us.”

Brazilian representation in the SBC has grown since a large community of Brazilians in Pompano Beach, Fla., decided in 1990 to start a Baptist church. Today, about 400 Brazilian, Haitian and Spanish-speaking people attend Sunday morning worship there. Pompano Brazilian Baptist Church offers simultaneous translation from Portuguese into Spanish and English.

The majority of Brazilians in the U.S. live on the East Coast, south from Massachusetts to Florida, but they also spread across the nation as far west as California. Churches not yet affiliated with the SBC that are part of the Fellowship will be encouraged to join their state Baptist conventions as well as the SBC, Santos said.

“Among our 80 churches, 30 were born in the last five years,” Ladeia said. “Immigration from Brazil is growing, and the church is in a time of unprecedented growth. We’ve had times of growth in immigration in the past, but not a time of growth in the churches as we have now.”

(Left to right) Pastor Evaldo Santos, pastor in Vidoria, Brazil, was the conference’s main guest speaker; Fellowship Executive Director Ebenezer Santos; SBC President Bart Barber; Fellowship President Ney Ladeia; and Fellowship secretary Alberto Marcos.

Southern Baptist Brazilian pastors have gathered once a year for more than 20 years, and the pastors came to realize the churches needed a strong organization to help them, Santos said.

“We felt the need to offer something to the pastors and churches, so they can be well-equipped to minister to the people,” the executive director said. “If you have leaders who want to serve but they don’t have the tools, they can get discouraged. We want to place the tools in their hands.”

Bible studies and discipleship materials as well as children’s and music ministry resources in Portuguese and with a Brazilian cultural context, training for pastors already serving, seminary education for those newly called to the ministry, and the fellowship that comes from being part of a larger group are among the tools and resources Santos and Ladeia mentioned.

“As soon as I came here six years ago, I started working with pastors and churches, trying to establish relationships with them and the SBC and its entities,” said Ladeia, who was sent by the Foreign Mission Board of the Brazilian Baptist Convention in 2017 to plant churches in North America. “From this work, NAMB has helped us plant some Brazilian churches in the U.S. Ten or more have support from NAMB.”

Ladeia said he wanted to work with the SBC because Southern Baptists started the work that led to the formation of the Brazilian Baptist Convention, which today, with 1,988 missionaries abroad, is the second-largest missionary-sending organization in the world. The SBC is the largest.

After the 2022 pastors’ retreat in Massachusetts, planning for the new fellowship began, including a meeting of 50 Brazilian pastors and several SBC entity leaders at the SBC annual meeting in June in New Orleans. The event was designed for Brazilian pastors to meet with the leadership of the SBC, “to strengthen the connection between Brazilian pastors and SBC leaders, to be more connected,” Santos said.

That meeting foreshadowed the August gathering of 130 pastors and their wives in Fort Worth, when the vote was unanimous to establish the Brazilian Fellowship.

Business was limited to the election of officers for the new fellowship, with Santos as executive director and Ladeia as president. Vice President Victor Nunes is studying at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Secretary Alberto Matos and Treasurer Wilson Junior both are associate pastors in Orlando.

A constitution and bylaws, as well as a budget, are to be presented at the first annual meeting of the Fellowship of Brazilian Baptist Churches in North America, which is set for Pompano Beach in 2024.

“Right now the idea is to commence this time of convocating pastors and churches together and spreading this vision of growth, mainly to church-planting projects,” Ladeia said. “We want to strengthen this connection with SBC entities. We’re sure we have potential missionaries in our churches, most of them bilingual or trilingual, at least.”

Santos said much the same, adding, “So many people in our churches want to serve, to come to seminary, to work side by side with the SBC and its mission agencies. We want to seriously carry out the Great Commission given us by Jesus.”

Luis Lopez is the SBC Executive Committee’s associate vice president of Hispanic and Brazilian Relations and Mobilization, with the “and Brazilian” recently added.

“We as Southern Baptists are so very happy to see God work among this group,” Lopez told Baptist Press. “We are all a big family and what unites us is the Gospel, cooperating with each other, working together for the sake of the Gospel.”

Published September 6, 2023

Karen L. Willoughby

Karen L. Willoughby is a veteran Southern Baptist journalist and a freelance writer.