Year end giving in my 40th year of Christian service.

I am not sure how I feel about the heavy traffic of e-mails I get with Christmas greetings mixed with an appeal to me to give money to everyone’s favorite charity.

I admit it is part of the system that has defined “missions” from the American church to the rest of the world and that we have done some good.  This system has made it possible for me to eat, have shelter, and to serve people and support them in Latin America and around the world as they follow Jesus, as his disciples and to sustain this commitment for 40 years. ccc7fda2f711bddcc2e376cfda49edd3

Sometimes, though, it feels like the system is getting out of hand.  The picture on the right does not apply only to the Roman Catholic hierarchy.  It reflects a growing pattern in Christian charities.  More on that sometime.

On the other hand, the generosity of family and friends is what makes it possible for me, and for so many others to dedicate our creativity, time and energy to our service to others.  That generosity has given me a very special privilege.  For 40 years now, I have been free to give of myself to others, and I have greatly enjoyed the ride.  I don’t plan to stop now.

Finances and charitable giving have been an important part of that experience.  So here is my letter that goes out on December 26 about giving opportunities in Martureo. Martureo is built on generostiy | Hallshighlights.

I believe so much in the opportunity that Martureo represents that I am giving my life to it.  I am pushing back my retirement and rearranged the commitments of my life so I can help.  Young Brazilians have the opportunity to develop a tool that they can use as they follow Christ into the world that He loves and for which he gave his life.  Their efforts will shape the future of global humanity.

Sounds like many well-to-do Americans are seeking to use their wealth along the same path. This article was published this week in the Wall Street Journal:  Charity Accounts Become the Hot Holiday Must-Have.  I think it is great, and hope that some of this generosity can be shared with Brazilians, and others around the world, whose efforts in global mission are increasing.

The story of Jesus has not only captivated my life, it has shaped history (usually for the good, but often hijacked for the fame and fortune of people who think God can be co-opted for their own self-promotion).    Our Christmas letter  is a celebration of the story of Jesus, a story that we are all affected by.

The Christmas greeting I prefer to give, is about the unfolding story of Jesus and his followers.  As I greet you, and I also pray for God to provide for all that I need in 2017 and all that Martureo could use so that I can participate with them in the next steps as the story of the birth of Jesus, and his life point forward to the “fullness of blessing”, as He intends.


Polycentric Missiology, by Allen Yeh

I wish we could sit down and read Polycentric Missiology together.  We might find ourselves talking together about what difference mission makes. Hopefully our conversation would take us beyond celebrating or condemning missionaries who went out froPolycentric Missiology.jpgm a “Christian” North to a pagan South. Instead we would talk about how the world changed in the 20th Century and reflect on the surprisingly decisive role that Christian mission played.

I would really be excited if reading it together, you might also find a way to help me resolve a long standing frustration of mine.  When we first went to Brazil as missionaries, I discovered the world was not really organized in the way the “missions” narrative I learned from had portrayed it to me. I can’t say that was the frustration.  After all that narrative convinced me to invest my life as a “missionary.”  Nor was I frustrated when it motivated our friends to make generous contributions so we could stay “on the field,” and more to do some pretty special work.  For all that we are very grateful!  It has been an amazing privilege.

I also can’t say that the misconstrued narrative actually got in the way of our work in Brazil and Guatemala. I look back in amazement at how important and fruitful some tasks proved to be.  The places, however didn’t quite conform to the narrative nor to our role as implied in complicated label like “missionary. ” But we could deal with that misconstrual because of the help of Brazilian and Guatemalan friends.  They took the time to show us how different reality was from the narrative that took us to their countries.  Despite the differences in narratives, they welcomed us and helped us figure out how to do things in appropriate ways.

The frustration manifested itself more when we were “home” in the USA where the narrative lived. It told us how the world was arranged, why missionaries were needed and what missionaries should do.  The narrative encouraged efforts to change the world.  But in practice, I think it actually required the world to stay the same.  Missionaries were sent from America, where we had it together, to places in the world that were defined by their need.  Since we were the missionaries, at home we fit into a predefined role in the narrative.  Whatever words we tried to use to rewrite the narrative, those words did not so much inform as fit us into a world that was neatly arranged into missionary senders and receivers.  I suspect that any attempt we made to inform the narrative with new facts about the emergence of vibrant new initiatives in Christian mission from “the field” must have sounded more like fancy new ideas rather than like our attempt to actually describe and deal with real changes.

If is there is a resolution to this frustration it might be found in Polycentric Missiology.  Allen Yeh opens up a new window on the narrative of Christian mission in the 20th Century.  He frames the story of the emergence of World Christianity, and shows its significance for the future through the story of some meetings in 5 continents in 1910, 2010 and 2012 that, at first glance, may seem important only to “missions wonks”.

He shows that the events really had broader significance by focusing on how the contexts that brought them to be, and located them geographically and historically was itself fruit of Christian mission.  The conferences themselves shed light on one of the 20th Century’s most more important developments: the failures of the triumphalist vision hidden behind the White Man’s burden at the beginning of the century and simultaneously, the rootedness Christian faith in thousands of cultural contexts around the world.

The triumphalist vision motivated Protestant missionaries from the USA and Europe in 1910 when they convened a World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh Scotland.  But hopes of global transformation that were behind the conference had to face the events of two World Wars (the first of which took place in the decade immediately after the Conference).  European Christians warred and killed each other.  Eventually the failure of the European global project led to a pull back of the colonial empires, the pathway on which the missionaries had traveled.  But even as Western Christians were coming to grips with the failure of their twentieth Christianity to forge a peaceful and prosperous new world order, new Christian communities were asserting the the global relevance of faith in Christ.

Polycentric Missiology tells the story of five conferences that laid claim to the Edinburgh legacy one hundred years later.  They stand as assertions on five continents that something important happened to greatly transform once triumphalist narrative.

Not everyone thinks Christian mission made a positive contribution in those 100 years.  For many, the 20th Century discredited Christian mission.  During that time mission was identified with imperialism and with trampling on other people’s religions. In addition, Christianity is identified as a “Western religion” so that a “decline” in Christian faith is regularly narrated alongside the collapse of European colonialism (so closely linked to Christian mission).

Today Western Christians ourselves are sorely tempted to abandon traditional aspects of the mission.  The most attractive option is to turn missions into a purely humanitarian projects (And the causes are compelling:  orphanages, peacebuilding, clean water, caring for refugees, stopping human trafficking, creation care, micro-enterprise loans etc.).  And mission outreach has become shy about inviting others to become disciples of Jesus, even the projects are often envisioned as ways for their creators to follow Jesus.

It’s not just because I am stubborn that I continue to believe that Christian mission will continue to be the major force that will drive future history and shape the geography of humanity. The story Yeh tells in Polycentric Mission reinforces that conviction.

The abundant syllables in the two-word title of the book should not intimidate readers. Personally, I like the word “Polycentric.”  It has great value for understanding the manner in which mission from last century laid a groundwork for producing new global futures.  I might use it more regularly if it were more familiar to people.

Yeh’s use of the word “polycentric” points out a new 21st Century reality: the reality of World Christianity.  But World Christianity does not turn out to be the result of mission from Europe and North America.  It the result of efforts of Christians from myriad locations.  Thus christians from everywhere were agents in the project of shaping the world according to the gospel–all for different reasons based on how their world is informed by their Christian faith.

Multiple locations for Christian faith assure that no Christians in the world will be able to think of the world through the concept of mission as simply a project whereby they send missionaries from their country to make the world in their image.  Rather, mission has involved both sending and receiving.  People who find themselves anywhere in the world meet Christians who have come to them, who think of them as a mission into which God has sent them.  Both Christians and non find themselves responding to this new World Christianity and to Christians in mission from elsewhere, and will do so more in the future.  How they respond will determine how they take (or not) new opportunities to work together to overcome barriers that resist salvation, peace, justice, freedom and hope for all.

Dr. Yeh uses this story to draw attention to the spread of Christianity throughout the world in the last century and to how that spread has produced an amazingly diverse World Christianity today.  World Christianity opens up new locations from which to learn good missiology.  Rather than seeing World Christianity as a triumph of the Western globalization project, he describes World Christianity as a location in diversity from which to think more completely about the mission of the people of God and with a better informed theology:  “world Christianity is the scope and theme of this book: it is the new way that Christianity should be viewed.”

I particularly appreciate that he takes note of Latin America’s unique (and somewhat unnoticed or marginalized) status in World Christianity, and gives it proper importance and that he does so through the story of CLADE V — the Latin American Evangelization Congress which took place in Costa Rica in 2012.

We used the same word for the theme of the 2016 Panama Consultation where I spoke at earlier this month.  We called it POLYCENTRIC MISSION – from all nations to all nations. You could even end up using it!  We will need it more and more if we are going to talk about how the God of Israel is pulling off his project to bless all the peoples of the earth.  We chose Panama 2016 as the place and date for the Consultation to call attention to an earlier and important meeting Panama 1916 — Conference on Christian Work in Latin America.  Panama 1916 helped create the shape how American Christians have done our missionary work, especially in Latin America, for a century in a similar way.

An illustration of the polycentric.


I have three valued friends with the same name, spelled three different ways (actually I have more friends with that name who are not in the picture).

To have the three of them together in the same picture is a great illustration of the polycentric missiology that the Allen pictured in the middle makes evident in his book.

Alan, on the left, was a missionary from UK in Bolivia who now heads up Latin Link an agency through which Europeans and Latin Americans work in partnership for the gospel.  They provide structure and mechanisms for Latin Americans to serve in countries of Latin America other than their own, for Europeans to serve in Latin America and for Latin Americans to serve in Europe.

Allan, on  the right, is from Costa Rica, and has worked broadly in the Muslim World alongside Christian workers from 20+ countries. He spoke recently at the Urbana Missions Conference.

Allen Yeh, in the middle, is the author of Polycentric Missiology.  He writes from his position as professor of Missiology at Biola University.  It is written in an accessible style, probably because he seems to aim it at opening the minds of University students in the West to the amazing changes in the world that parallel the advance of the gospel over the last 100 years. But it  valuable beyond the classroom for understanding both mission and World Christianity.

Postcards from the Hotel Tivoli

I am in Panama this week for the Global Consultation of the Mission Commission, of the World Evangelical Alliance.

To help the participants from 80+ countries who will meet in Panama, October 3-7, 2017, I wrote this little piece.

Postcards from the Hotel Tivoli

Background on the Panama 1916 Congress on Christian Work in Latin America


The  2016 Global Consultation of the WEA Mission Commission will take place in Panama City October 3-7, 2016, around the theme of “Polycentric Mission”.  The place chosen for this major missions consultation invokes the memory of an earlier event in modern mission history: the Congress on Christian Work in Latin America (CCWLA), held in February 1916 at the Tivoli Hotel, pictured above.

The purpose of this article is to help participants in the 2016 WEAMC Global Consultation discover the context and themes of 1916 Congress, and relate them to the challenges of global mission after 2016.  We have included, below, links to some of the literature from the 1916 Congress, including the actual compendia in three volumes.


It is appropriate that the Hotel Tivoli is now defunct. Panama 1916 was held in a hotel owned by the US Government located in the “Panama Canal Zone”– Panamanian territory under US control at that time.  Today, it is the location of a Tropical Research Center, the canal and the canal zone belong to Panama, and new Panamanian initiatives are transforming global commerce in ways that go way beyond what the American builders and owners originally conceived for the canal.

In the same way, the context and the sources of global mission have changed dramatically since 1916.  And the gospel has transformed Panama itself into one of the centres from which the Spirit of God moves Jesus’ disciples into mission.

The 2016 consultation will not take place in the same hotel, and it will not attempt to return to old geographies and approaches to mission from one hundred years ago. Nevertheless CCWLA is relevant to our conversation about “Polycentric Mission” after 2016 because it shaped the world from which God’s people join Christ in his mission today and tomorrow.  The language first deployed at CCWLA continues to shape how we narrate the emergence of “new centres.”

Interestingly, the Congress on Christian Work in Latin America included only a handful of Latin Americans.  Evaluations of subsequent Congresses paid close attention to how many Latin Americans were included as delegates to each Latin American ecumenical congress (CCLA/CELA[1], CLAI[2], CLADE[3]).

This 2016 Consultation includes participants from Asia, Af3259_pqsdzaydygrica, Latin America, USA and Europe who will stand in Latin America, with Latin American evangelicals, and discuss mission to all the world.  Multiple (and sometimes conflicting) narratives find, in the Panama 1916 story, diverging bases for their own participation in God’s global mission to all of humanity.

As you peruse the documents, you may be filled with criticism, pride, anger, hope, or any other sense of connection of your life and calling with that of those who met here 100 years ago.  Take some time with these documents to look back.  What did they think they were doing?  What kind of world did they help create?  In what way did their efforts contribute to the particular starting point from which people in your part of the world engage in global mission today?02_Roosevelt_Tivoli.jpg

The geopolitical context:  The Panama Canal officially opened on August 15, 1914.  The US Government built the Hotel Tivoli in territory that it controlled.  There it received its honored guests.   Theodore Roosevelt, the first President of the United States to travel outside the country during his presidency, was one of the first guests of the hotel just 10 years prior.

The ecclesiastical/missional context:  “The CCWLA was intentionally modeled on the Edinburgh Conference of 1910 and was held in Panama City from February 10-20, 1916.” Not only was it patterned after Edinburgh 1910, it was  “an unanticipated outcome of World Missionary Conference, Edinburgh, 1910.”  CCWLA was organized by the New York based Committee on Cooperation in Latin America (CCLA) because the Edinburgh Conference excluded consideration of Latin America from its proceedings, due to controversy over the appropriateness of Protestant evangelism in the ostensibly Roman Catholic region[4].

A crudely geographical division between Christendom and heathendom was the only basis on which the fragile ecumenical consensus at Edinburgh could be maintained.  For most delegates at Edinburgh such a territorial understanding of Christendom was a deeply ingrained feature of their understanding of the world.  For others it may have been no more than a rough, even regrettable, working assumption.  In the former category were a group of American mission secretaries, led by Robert E. Speer, who assembled for two unofficial sessions at Edinburgh to consider the Latin American missions which had been excluded from the agenda.  Speer, though believing that ‘there certainly is such a thing as Christendom which is different from paganism’, held that ‘nevertheless, there is a great deal of paganism in what we call Christendom.’  The unofficial Latin American sessions led eventually to a conference on missions in Latin America, held in New York in March 1913 under the auspices of the Foreign Missions Conference of North America, which established a permanent body to co-ordinate American Protestant work on the continent, the Committee on Co-operation in Latin America.  The committee convened a major Congress on Christian Work in Latin America, organized along similar lines to the Edinburgh conference, which took place in Panama in February 1916.

rare-tivoli-ancon-c-z-canal-zone-panama-u-s_1_784f31322908c7f0ebd63d22081d2d07.jpgThe World Missionary Conference’s division of the world into two sharply delineated geographical sectors — Christian and non-Christian — is the aspect of the conference that became outdated more quickly than any other, and which strikes the twenty-first-century observer as obviously unacceptable.  The first insistent question marks to be placed over the conceptual juxtaposition of Christian West and non-Christian east appeared within a few years of the conference, with the outbreak of war in Europe.[5]

In the middle of that war, the Panama 1916 Congress was held at the Hotel Tivoli.

Like a post-card from that exotic time and place, much of the literature from CCWLA and surrounding events is available for free on the internet.

Books published before Panama 1916

Protestant Missions in South America.  Student Volunteer Movement (SVM) 1908

The Young People’s Missionary Movement of the United States and Canada published several volumes about evangelistic needs of various parts of the world in preparation for the Edinburgh 1910 World Missionary Conference.
The entire text is available on Google Books.

South American Problems SVM 1912

Four years prior to the Panama Congress, Robert E. Speer  the Presbyterian missionary statesman, who led the rebellion over the exclusion of Latin America from Edinburgh 1910, wrote this volume, apparently to explain why he thought the Americas were worthy of missionary involvement.  The entire text is available on Google Books.

Islam in South America Samuel Zwemer, in The Muslim World April1916

This article was actually published a couple of months after the CCWLA, but it was apparently researched and written for the Congress.  It’s existence contributes to understanding the implications of Latin America as an integral part of the challenge of global mission.  

Books published as a result of Panama 1916

Reinaissant Latin America: An Outline and Interpretation of the Congress on Christian Work in Latin America, Held at Panama, February 10-19, 1916  Missionary Education Movement, 1916

Written by Harlan A. Beach, Professor of Missions at Yale, the first chapter is worth reading.  It is an excellent summary that highlights why the Congress seemed important at that time.
The entire text is available on Google Books.

Christian Work in Latin America.  The Congress Compendium Missionary Education Movement 1917

These three books contain the papers and addresses from the Congress and identify participants by name, country of service, and mission agency.

Volume one: Survey and Occupation. Message and Method.  Education.

Volume two :  Women’s work.  The Church in the Field.  The home base.

Volume three:  Cooperation and the Promotion of Unity.  The Training and Efficiency of Missionaries.  The devotional Addresses.  The Popular Addresses.

Panamericanismo: aspecto religioso: una relación e interpretación del Congreso de Acción Christiana en la América Latina celebrado en Panamá los 10 a 19 de febrero de 1916  Sociedad para la Educación Misionera 1917

Profesor Erasmo Braga, of Brazil wrote this “telling and interpretation” of the Congress, in Spanish.
The entire text is available on Google Books.

Timothy Halls

September 19, 2016

[1] Council on Co-operation in Latin America / Conferencia Evangélica Latinoamericana



Brazilians transforming the future of global mission

Martureo Assessment September 2016

I have just finished doing an assessment of the work done by Martureo over the last couple of years. This has helped me figure out where I can contribute in my new responsibility as Executive Coordinator.  When we finished this Assessment, we were actually quite amazed at how active the Brazilian Center for Missiological Reflection, Martureo has already been, and are encouraged by the response.

The work of Martureo made visible

Courses have been well attended.  13091967_1102364263156767_7803835923676788422_n The first missiological issue Forum involved Brazilians in the challenge of quantifying the mission task.2015.10.01.h.FOTO-GERAL-Com-Logo-Pequena1-e1465241742699.jpg
Books–translated, published– and well received.12662718_1043293279063866_2659353701255459139_n.jpg
Marcos is receiving more invitations to speak at conferences than he is able to accept.image-2-from-martureo-assessment-sept-2016-page-1
Series of 10 video series on Islam. The first three were viewed by 40k people and widely shared in social media.13958279_1175491752510684_5836863999984202270_o.jpg
Articles are read, commented and shared.


The response to Martureo in numbers Continue reading

Never Forget — Sept 16, 2001

“Never forget” is our September 11, 2001 motto, especially if we were old enough to experience that awful day.   I do wonder, though, why is it that holding onto a horrible memory so important?

One vivid  memory I have is that, for a few moments, everyone could see that the economic, political and military powers that rule the world might not be invincible after all.


From a Brazilian newspaper in the aftermath of September 11, 2001

All of a sudden we all got a glimpse of a disturbing reality:  everything could change.  That was bad news for some, and good news for others.  We Americans received a threaten, and we were going to hold onto what we’ve got and destroy whoever did this to us.

The globe was also awakened to the possibility that everything would change.  Many wondered if a world turned upside down might turn out to be for the good.

One way people worked through these sentiments was by turning to Psalm 46, from the Bible.  It seems like people were reading it everywhere, especially in church on September 16, 2011.

We read it then, how does it read us now?

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.

At each of the breaks, the text invites the reader to pause.  To reflect on what we just read.

Sometimes I think most of us Americans paused at the end of the first paragraph, and took it in because, in the context of September 11, 2001, turning to God provided a sense of stability.

If we made it through the second paragraph, we found some words of comfort that seemed to have been written for lower Manhattan  “God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved”.   We dared to believe that God was on our side, particularly when the nations are in an uproar.  We could be forgiven in 2001, if we that’s how far we got.  We might not identify with the kingdoms that totter when he utters his voice and the earth melts, but the Psalm is gently taking us to a place where it is we who are subject to God and not God to us!

There was so much to chew on in those first two paragraphs, that I don’t remember spending much time in the last one.   Perhaps it was uncomfortable to be read, and called to account by that last paragraph.

Today, in 2016,  when we get to the last paragraph we are still asked to stop, and reflect on what we have read.  We are confronted there with old words that seem to invoke modern realities.  The environmental degradation that continues to threaten the lives of many around the world, the wars that we cannot stop, the arms race, and the exaltation of the gun culture.  In the Psalm, these modern themes continue to resist the way of God who aims to “break the bow and shatter the spear and burn the shields with fire.”

As I come to the end of reading the Psalm again in 2016, I see that God doesn’t forget either.  He is interested in much more than America.  He doesn’t forget the nations, or the earth.  He is not “with us” so much to defeat our enemies, but to put an end to the war between us, and to offer refuge to both us and to our enemies.  The “us” that the Lord of hosts is with turns out to be all of humanity.   The “our” in “our refuge” is not exclusive, or limiting to the descendants of Jacob, but it is inclusive, extending to all the earth and to all the nations that inhabit it.

May that be what I “never forget”, even as I pause to continue to need to stop and think about what I have read, so that someday I may have the satisfaction of playing even a small role in its fulfillment.

The morning after Rio 2016 — everyone goes home (?)

Olympic travelers were told to get to Rio’s Galeão airport 6 (yes that’s 6) hours ahead of their flights today.  The airport is expected to be crowded today.   But not as crowded as the streets of Rio.  Rio traffic is notoriously congested, full of people who live there and want to get where they need to go.  engarrafamento-brasil

Those airport instructions, just like the geography in my blog title, have little to do with Brazilians.

images-12Rio is definitely not emptying out today. And if you identify with the idea that “the Olympics are over and I am going home”, then you aren’t from Rio.

But you did just get through an amazing 15 day opportunity to learn about Brazil, even if Brazil is not the place from which you enter and know the world.

In Rio, the party is over and for the moment, there is lots to clean up and put away.  Life will probably go back to where it was. Back to work. The old rules apply again.  Special, temporary rules let drunken American goldmedalist swimmers abuse Rio’s reputation to hide their own violence, irresposibility and arrogance.  But now they are gone.  The old rules are back.  Brazilians can manage their own violence again along with daily lives of both victims and perpetrators, in big cities where many people struggle to survive.

For Cariocas Rio is home!   Rio is not a place to go home from.  It’s their starting place!  It is a Brazilian place from which to know the world.   And religion has a lot to do with the place from whence they start.  christ-the-redeemer-statueI wrote four blogs at the beginning of the Olympics, in which I tried to point out what would not be visible in the media coverage. 

I wrote four posts about how Brazilians enter the world from a uniquely religious place:

  1. Brazilians enter the world as religious innovators. Brazilians are much more diverse religiously than a pie chart can portray.  They have created, and exported new varieties of Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, and Spiritism.
  2. Brazilian Christianity is perhaps more evangelical, protestant and pentecostal than it is Roman Catholic . But don’t get confused.  You cannot map Brazilian Christianity to the same labels as American or European Christianity.  Brazilians are so innovative. They transform anything they receive and make something Brazilian out of it. Evangelical, Protestant, Pentecostal and even Catholic mean something very different in Brazil from what they mean in the United States and Europe.
  3. Brazil is the world. Like Americans, Brazilians draw on a history of immigration, mixing of cultures, for their religious innovation and outreach.  Differences in sources of migrants and relations between them go a long way toward explaining how they engage the the world with a different perspective on religion.
  4. In Brazil, evangelicalism is a form of resistance.   In their attempt to follow Jesus into a world of exploitation and oppression, Brazilians are constantly inviting exploited and oppressed people to join them in following Jesus.  I told one story about how they used the Olympics to resist the powerful global forces that perpetuate all kinds of injustice in Brazil.

In the global north, we don’t begin ourus-army.png relation to the rest of world from a perspective of intentional and outspoken religion.  That would be too aggressive and show our lack respect for other cultures, religions and for non-religion. Instead we often begin from our geopolitical and commercial project. Our soldiers are ready to go anywhere in the world to fight for democracy.

In the humanitarian space, international institutions (like FIFA and the Olympic Committee), promote “tolerance” by managing or banning expressions of faith, as if faith were a performance enhancing drugs.  The global north enters the world with post-colonial sensitivities.  It wants to avoid a repeat of the time when a particular religion was associated with global (colonial) power.  The result is a kind of secularism in which religion is a private, personal matter.

Not so with Brazilians.  Religion is up front, it is a starting point for many.  tumblr_n6rpdbC6vK1rbf4mpo1_500Not having the power to impose religion colonially or legally on the world (or on Brazil for that matter) they enter the world from a different perspective. Human flourishing is to be pursued in a world of religious diversity.  Personally, I think theirs is a great foundation for finding a way and giving testimony about Christ in the  religiously diverse global context.  Life in the wide world involves making claims about God, and expecting to talk about the differences.  Brazilians are happy to discuss and argue religion, beliefs and practices, and rarely will you hear of religion as a reason to kill people.  Tolerance plays differently from Brazil.  There it does not silence religion; and it does not have the power to surpress the claims of religious rivals.

Brazilian soccer superstar Neymar is outspoken about his Christian faith, despite pressure from FIFA to keep his religion out of the public view.  He regularly celebrates his victories with a head band that says “100% Jesus.” But last year FIFA pictures of the Barcelona victory in the European Cup had airbrushed the words off of his headband.  5698bd1b553a4_569811c646d01_neymarG630

For Cosme Rimoli a sports writer for R7 — a Brazilian media outlet that is tied to one very powerful, but marginal, religious group–FIFA is the one that is being intolerant.  In his article he made a very important observation about religion in Brazil.

“The player is an evangelical.  As a boy, he often used the same headband to thank Jesus Christ. But now Neymar is feeling the brunt of religious intolerance. It’s one thing to use the headband as a young man, in Santos. After all, Brazil is a secular country that accepts all faiths. It is common here for a Jew to be friends with a Palestinian. A spiritualist to be married to a Umbanda. There is tolerance. Crimes committed in the name of religion are rare.”

Just because he invokes Jesus, Neymar does not get a free pass, though. After the game, he was filmed in an ugly and aggressive exchange of words with a fan.  Evangelical leaders responded today by calling themselves to greater integrity.   Felipe Fulanetto wrote on his Facebook page:

Integral mission not concerned only with executing the entire mission of Christ in all of society, but also with the integrity of the evangelist in mission. Mission without holiness is like the wind, it emits sound, but it only lasts for a time.

Cassiano Luz, the leader of the Brazilian Cross-cultural missions association, posted:

A dichotomous perspective  has grown in our midst that will produce a religion full of speech but lifeless. This is a warning first to myself.  We need to think of how to address this issue in our families and churches.

So, after Brazilians hosts the world for the Olympics, Brazilian evangelicals who are thinking about the world do so with serious introspection.  They want to pay attention to  who they are and how they follow Jesus in the world.

The Olympics were a great opportunity to revisit their connection in the world. Flavio Ramos wrote about that connection, in light of the Neymar controversy, ” Jesus não quer marketing, ele quer testemunho e andar de modo digno do evangelho ~ Jesus doesn’t want better marketing, he wants (lived) testimony and living in a manner that is worthy of the gospel.” (my adaptation for clarity).

During the Olympics, the banner on the Martureo Facebook page asked “Rio 2016:  what might this encounter of Brasil with the world mean in terms of the mission  of Christ?”


For months to come, Brazilians will be working on this question.  Indeed, they have already been working on it.

This is what we are talking about when we talk about “Missiological Reflection.” Missiological reflection is what we in Martureo want to see more of.  That’s why we are the Brazilian Center for Missiological Reflection.  If we do it right, when Brazilians reflect on the mission of Christ, it will make a positive difference in all the world, and in our own.  In different ways, we are participating in Servo de Cristo Seminary and with South American Theological Seminary (SATS) during the the next couple months,  as they focus Brazilian missiological reflection on the mission of Christ in two particular global contexts:  first, seeking “new paradigms to giving testimony about Christ among Buddhists” and, then, following Christ into mission in the context of human movment and global diasporas.





Day 4 –Visibility of exploitation

The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio are in full swing.  The visibility of the Olympics on NBC is limited.  You could get the impression that the USA is taking home all the nbc-2016-olympics-logo-riogold!

Some Brazilians are making visible some hidden aspects of a global event.  They are seeing, and showing the Olympics through their religious, evangelical commitments.  (I have written about these commitments in posts over the last three days, that you can read, if you are interested).

Brazil is visible to the athletes primarily the Olympic village, but from a different perspective than we see through NBC.  One former student of Christian Academy of Guatemala is competing for Guatemala.  On Sunday night he streamed live, and we could see as he moved from the Olympic village to Maracanã.

Tourists from around the world are seeing Brazil from yet another perspective, depending, perhaps, on where they get to stay.  Today’s paper in São Paulo had a long article about the Penthouses and Mansions that smart Carioca’s rented out.  One went for $40,000…a night!

Some see the world gather in Rio from a place of exclusion.

But there are many Brazilians who have found courage in Christ to confront sexual tourism and exploitation of adolescents in the name of Christ.  And this is one way international visitors will discover the visibility of Brazilian evangelicals, particularly if they don’t get the chance to drive through neighborhoods and see all the buildings that house churches.

One Brazilian movement has been praying and preparing for several years to go this month to the Plazas and Venues where Olympic visitors will gather or circulate.  They are trying to be visible and speak out on behalf of sexually exploited kids whose lives are destroyed through global connections that come together at events like the Olympics.  I hope you will take a minute to read the report from   Bola na Rede about their first day on the streets.  I have put this article into Google Translate for you so you can access it in “good enough” English.


Bola na Rede is an amazing movement.  The vision of Bola na Rede is to confront the sexual exploitation of adolescents–particularly in the context of construction of venues (money and concentration of workers) and the realization of global events (One of the themes of Brazil and its interaction with the world has been through the lens of sexual exploitation).

The movement mobilized churches throughout Brazil to pray and to find helpful teaching in the Bible and to recognize the context.  They taught churches to ask God to use them to rescue adolescents from exploitation, culminating in the Olympics.   In the process, many churches have had to confront the sexual exploitation within the churches.  It has been quite a journey to prepare for this engagement with the world.

They are now making themselves visible, so that the exploitation will be visible, too, and vulnerable adolescents can come out into the light where they be protected and rescued from exploitation.

Day 3: Brazil is the world!

Did you see the opening ceremony for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil?

As expected, they put on a beautiful show.  I liked how they focused on how Brazil relates to the world.  We got to see representations of how the world made Brazil, how Brazilians  transform global culture for their use and how Brazil’s struggling eco-system and struggling economy reflect global realities.

Highlights for me included the artistic portrayals of the contribution of Africans who came to Brazil involuntarily as slave labor

and the art in the portrayal of Japanese immigrants and their contribution. 20160806-02.jpg

Just as during the first two days, I am trying to share things that the Olympic coverage might not tell.  In today’s theme–Brazil is the world–I want to call attention to the connections between Brazil and the Arab (not necessarily Muslim) world.  Some say that there are more Lebanese living in Brazil than in Lebanon.  Brazilian fast good includes kibe, esfiha, shawarma, not just hamburgers and chicken nuggets.  And I am told that Brazilian food is easy to get in Beirut.   The two best hospitals in São Paulo are fruit of migrants from the Ottoman Empire:  Hospital Einstein (where our daughter Angela was born) is a Jewish Hospital.  Hospital Sirio-libanés has Arab roots.  Before 1948 the lines between the Jewish and Arab communities was not very clear.  Even today a web-site carries on the difficult tradition of telling their shared story.

If Brazil has been made with the help of Arabs and Jews since the beginning of the 2oth Century, Brazilians are also interested in Israel and in the Arab countries. And the spiritual perspective that runs so deep in Brasil helps inform that interest.

41q7S-SM1zL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_As a Brazilian form of evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity has grown, and has involved many Arab Brazilians, Brazilians have reached out into the Middle East.  And Brazilian experience helps shape how Americans think about Christian mission in the Middle East as well.  Ed Smither is a professor of Intercultural Studies at Columbia International University and he has written a book that is used here, but that is about Brazilian missionaries and how they live as Christ followers among Muslims.

If you are interested take a look at Ed Smither’s Brazilian Evangelical Missions in the Arab World.


Day two: Evangelicals in the Rio landscape


Tonight the opening ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio should be very special. Brazilians know how to throw a party and they know how to Bring people into their shared life, into their community. Be prepared!

rio-2016-bannerWe were welcomed into the lives of people, into whole families and into church communities when we lived there. So much so that we will feel like we are part of Brazil, and estranged members of several families.

As I mentioned yesterday, there is much to say about Brazil that might be overlooked in the coverage of the Olympics. It is not just quaint information about religion or spiritual practices. Brazil is much more diverse religiously than anyone can get their mind around. And there is no way to live in Brazil without engaging with the active religiosity/spirituality of the Brazilian people. 

More significantly, the Olympics remind us that Brazil participates in the becoming of the world, and Brazilians engage with the world, primarily from their religious place, experience and see the world through a religious lens.

When I first went to Brazil in 1971, “evangélicos” made up 5% of the population (there were 5 million then). Today, there are 45 million Brazilians identify as “evangélico”.

EVOLUÇÃOToday, nearly 25% of Brazilians identify as “evangélicos”. It does not however, translate over to English very well. Evangelical in USA has political connotations and more clearly defined “theological boundaries” than in Brazil.

Templo Evangélico na Periferia - RJ

House of Peace church on the perifery of Rio (typical suburban church) preparing to “March for Jesus.”

Rio de Janeiro 156

The Presbyterian “Cathedral” in Rio. Established in 1862 when Brazil could be called a Catholic country.


Cogregação Cristã is a Brazilian denomination born out of the same revival that started the Assemblies of God. It grew large, mainly among Italian immigrants, in the early 20th Century.


There are more than 15 million members of the Assemblies of God in Brazil. They have a mission TO the United States.


Baptisms are frequent. Statistically 4400 people become Protestants or Evangelicals EVERYDAY in Brazil.




More importantly, the vast majority of evangélicos in Brazil are NOT the fruit of American or European evangelical missionaries who taught Brazilians to “believe like us”. Most of those who call themselves “evangélicos” in Brazil are from churches and movements that we do not have in the USA, or if we have them, they are here because they have sent missionaries here!

And a good number of them we might call “sects”, or “name it and claim it” preachers.

Catedral Mundial

Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. Seats thousands who come for healing, for deliverance from addictions and demonic posession. They have spread around the world and many US inner cities.


A Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in Compton, CA. They have churches in the USA in at least three different languages.

One more thought. It might be easy to conclude that a lot of “sheep stealing” has been going on, turning Catholics into evangélicos (including groups that we might simply call Protestant, Pentecostal, or Charismatic here). But that might also be inaccurate. Many were not practicing Catholics, but followed an animistic, or “pagan” outlook. Many have become evangélicos, not to be forgiven of their sin, but because their gods were not powerful enough, and they turn to Jesus and the God of Israel for their help. In addition to all this,over these 40 years the Catholic church itself in Brazil has changed. It has been affected by all this religious change. Many have “become” Catholics in practice, who were Catholics in name only, and Catholic practice has changed to include more Bible reading, more practical life-changing teaching, creating community and being a prophetic voice in society.

The pictures are intended to help you “see”–to get an idea of how all this is “written” on the landscape in which the Olympic games are taking place.

Day one: Brazilians are innovative religiously.

Tomorrow the Olympics begin in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

You probably know that Lois and I lived in Brazil from 1977 to 1986 where, as missionaries, we provided support to pastors and leaders in the rapidly growing numbers of churches.

A lot has changed since then, but we still have dear friends in Brazil, and I have begun working there again.

The Olympics coverage may or may not tell much about religion in Brazil, so I thought I might highlight the “spiritual” side of Brazil, to broaden your view of what you will see on TV.

Brazil is a VERY religious place, and diverse.Most Americans think that Brazil is strongly Catholic, but that is a mistake. The circle chart of Brazilian religious identities is misleading.4310851

Brazilians are much more diverse religiously than that chart lets on. In addition to the mostly Christian religions that immigrants brought and the Islam and animistic religions that slaves brought with them, the religions of the native peoples of Brazil have also had a strong influence on the social fabric of Brazil.

Brazilians are innovative religiously. They have invented many new and unique religions. And they have created new varieties of Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Spiritism and mixtures of them. Some of the spirituality is deep and meaningful, and some of it seems quites strange to us. And Brazilian religions can be found around the world.