20 April 2021
Reflections from Brazil - Women and Children
Shortly before the pandemic hit, Carolyn Lawrence visited Brazil to see at first hand the work and mission of the Methodist Church in Brazil.
In Brazil there is a lot of violence against women, not helped by the belief that women can be punished by men, but the Methodist Church is working against this erroneous and dangerous belief. Within the church the ministry of women is valued and there is also widespread support for the ‘Thursdays in Black’ campaign which seeks to make a stand against gender based violence.
When I visited the Faculty of Theology within the Methodist University of Sao Paulo, I met Dr Margarida Ribeira who is the co-ordinator for a women’s empowerment programme. We met in a room which was set up in the 1970s as a tea room for women’s meetings and I noticed that the cabinets still held the original tea sets and a bell which was used in the past to call the women to tea! Margarida told me that the World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women (WFMUCW) still hold their meetings in this room today!
As well as offering ministerial training at the Faculty of Theology they also offer leadership training for women. Around 7000 women a year engage with this including Portuguese speaking people from other countries across Latin America and the United States. Women share testimonials about the course and go on to share in leadership in their local churches.
They help teach people about issues surrounding violence against women as well as about how to care for the environment. The course provides resources to help women stand against violence. Even women who can’t travel are able to access the course via the internet and this was all before Covid made internet courses popular! One woman who took the course remotely said, ‘It is good to know that you are seeing us.’
Margarida said that the college would warmly welcome any women from the UK who would like to take part in the empowerment programme in the future and sent greetings on behalf of the women of the Methodist Church in Brazil to Methodist Women in Britain.
Everywhere I went in Brazil it was clear that the church put a lot of emphasis on reaching and discipling people of all ages and that families are a big part of church life. In several of the services I attended the families were invited to the front of the church with their children and as the pastor prayed a blessing on the children, the parents or carers were asked to lay hands on their children to bless them. It was wonderful to see the pastors speaking words of encouragement, promises of God and blessings over the children and their families. I also noticed that children and young people were encouraged to play a part in the worship and in prayer during services. Instead of just running around and playing during the worship times, leaders and parents were actively encouraging children and reminding them to engage with what was going on in the service. I also witnessed many young people taking part in leading worship and playing instruments and it was great to see their gifts valued in this way.
The care for all ages was also evidenced in the importance of Bible study for all ages. Each church holds a ‘Sunday School’ before the Sunday morning worship in which people study the same passage from the Bible in different age group categories. The materials for this are produced centrally by the National Sunday School team and encourage discussion and study for all ages. Bishop Paulo Rangel in Rio explained the importance of ministry to whole families and said that through their outreach in his region whole families are coming to Christ.
We met Pastor Tavares at the Igreja Alfredo Naciemento who has a ministry amongst children and families. He spoke to us about the importance of this work. At this church they run a cell group for children called ‘Amigos de Deus’ (friends of God) at which children and families take part in music, art and activities to teach them about Jesus. He said they have had the joy of seeing families restored by the love of Jesus in this challenging area where there is a lot of economic hardship. He explained that in the previous four years the numbers at the project had grown from around 50 to about 75 children. Many of the children come from homes broken by drugs and other issues and they are seeking to help people restore their relationships. The community around them are seeing the wonderful work they are doing and are supportive of the church. Pastor Tavares said he believes that as churches we need a heart of love for our communities so that we can reach out and build relationships and introduce them to Jesus.
Carolyn Lawrence, Vice-President of the Methodist Conference, 2020-21.
Photo: Alfredo Nacimento, Pastor Tavares, his family and Carolyn and Mark Lawrence.
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