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“Giving All They Have”: How Small Churches Are…… | News and reports

For weeks, Tárik Rodriguez had been working to bring in a guest preacher and worship leader from across the country to help his church celebrate its third anniversary. In 2021, Rodriguez and a small team launched Viela da Graça Igreja in Novo Hamburgo, a small town in Brazil’s southernmost province, Rio Grande do Sul.

Then it started to rain.

The flooding did more than interrupt the small Reform congregation’s celebration plans. They devastated the community. The storms that began in late April hit the most densely populated areas of Rio Grande do Sul and killed at least 116 people. Around 130 people are still missing. Rising waters closed roads and even the airport, which blocked flights until May 30. As of Friday, May 10, nearly 400,000 people have been displaced from their homes and 70,772 are in public shelters.

Some of them found their way to Viela da Graça, located on higher ground and largely protected from a water gap. Since May 4, Rodriguez and members of the 75-person congregation have hosted about 50 people in a 3,500-square-foot building with two bathrooms.

“As Christians, we had to open our doors,” Rodriguez said. “And that’s what we’ve done.”

Beyond the constraints linked to the bathroom, the situation is far from ideal. Power cuts are frequent (1.2 million people have been affected by cuts) and the building no longer has access to running and drinking water because the sanitation company cannot treat dirty floodwater. A neighboring residential condominium, which draws its water from a well, provided drinking water and showers.

Although Brazil’s evangelicals are known around the world for their megachurches, flood relief efforts have highlighted the impact small churches can have in serving their communities in the most secular state from the country.

“It’s like the widow’s offering in Luke 21,” said Egon Grimm Berg, executive secretary of the Baptist Convention of Rio Grande do Sul. “They give everything they have.”

Or sometimes even more.

Igreja em Reforma, a congregation founded three and a half years ago by Pastor Emanuel Malinoski in Quarto Distrito, a trendy neighborhood of Porto Alegre, has 80 members. When the nearby Guaíba River overflowed its banks last week, it flooded the first floor of the church. The water could take weeks to recede.

Nevertheless, since last Sunday, the church has been cooking, cleaning and providing donations to 82 people in an improvised shelter, donated by a church family in the nearby town of Canoas, which until a month ago was a warehouse . Today, the state civil defense is sending refugees there following the floods.

“None of those being served are evangelical,” said Malinoski, who was in the church building trying to save furniture when the waters began to rise. “We are giving an important witness to our community.”

Rio Grande do Sul has one of the lowest percentages of evangelicals among Brazil’s 26 states. The capital, Porto Alegre, had 11.6 percent evangelicals according to the last census in 2010, the lowest proportion among Brazil’s 27 capitals. Most churches have fewer than 80 members, according to Ricardo Lebedenco, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Ijuí.

Located 300 miles west of Porto Alegre, ground zero of the disaster, the 800-member Lebedenco congregation is sending supplies to distribution centers in this city of 1.3 million.

Although they are just one of many organizations sending resources to victims, many lay leaders are encouraging people to prioritize working with churches when it comes to donating and distributing clothing, water bottles, food and money.

“They say we are more organized and more mobilized,” said Tiago Gomes de Mello, pastor of Igreja Batista Boas Novas in Novo Hamburgo.

This is the second tragedy that Gomes de Mello has witnessed firsthand. In 2014, high winds from a storm damaged the church to the point that the building had to be rebuilt. During the rebuilding process, and then later during the COVID-19 pandemic, the once 500-person church lost 90 percent of its members. Gomes de Mello took over as pastor in 2022 with a mission to revitalize the church which now numbers 51 people.

On Friday, May 3, around 5 a.m., he started receiving requests for help. He left his home in Porto Alegre to open the church to two families, but found he could not return.

Water had flooded the streets and surrounded his house. His wife, Thaís, and their children Ester, 16, and Josué, aged just over a year, were rescued by boat on Monday and taken to a relative’s home. Gomes de Mello was finally reunited with his family on Tuesday, but only after four days of hard work at the church, which now houses 45 people.

The churches’ sacrificial service stems from people’s love for God, says Marco Silva, pastor of Montenegro’s Primeira Igreja Batista, located 90 km from Porto Alegre and which has sent support to small churches in the region.

“When we prepare a meal, when we go out on a boat to get food, when we fold blankets to bring to displaced people, each of these things is an act of worship,” he said.

For Church members, then, the focus is not on suspending worship services, but on putting their “theology into practice,” Rodriguez said. On Tuesday, the Viela da Graça pastor recorded his sermon from his living room and will upload it to YouTube for people to watch on Sunday. It will be a condensed program, with two songs of praise, announcements and a sermon on Jude 20-21, verses which served as a personal reference in these difficult times: “But you, dear friends, edifying yourselves in your holiest faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, remain in the love of God while waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

Igreja Batista Boas Novas is one of the few churches in the affected region that has managed to hold in-person services. In fact, their numbers have even increased. Gomes de Mello preached Sunday, Saturday and Wednesday.

On Sunday, the message focused on Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains: whence comes my help? »

Many participants knew that the weather forecast for the region called for more rain and that temperatures would continue to drop as winter began in just a few weeks in one of the coldest parts of the country.

“The Church knows that our help comes from the Lord,” said Gomes de Mello, who took the opportunity to make an altar call during the service. “And after the rain comes the harvest. »