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Fertile Ground in Miami for Brazilian Faith Communities

By Marcelo Gomes*

At one point in my ministry, my heart’s desire was to become a missionary working with people of different ethnicities and backgrounds. I think that’s been a passion I have had since I was a child. I grew up in Brazil, but I also have ties to Boston, where my mother and brother live and where I studied as a teenager. I grew up thinking about sharing God’s grace with people.

I didn’t set out to pastor a Portuguese-speaking congregation in the heart of Miami. Yet, that’s where you’ll find me today.

Photo.jpg                                      The Rev. Marcelo Gomes. PHOTO: COURTESY MARCELO GOMES

Fluent in both Portuguese and English, I was assisting a United Methodist congregation with a ministry targeting Brazilians in Boston when leaders from the Florida Conference contacted me about the possibility of starting a new Brazilian faith community there. They had identified a sizable population of native Brazilians settling in the Miami area.

In 2015, I moved to Miami to start a new faith community on the campus of First United Methodist Church in Miami, which has found fertile ground. The fledgling congregation has grown to about 45 people, with gatherings twice a week, five small groups, and a weekly program that teaches Portuguese to 87 Brazilian children. That ministry also has the goal of preserving the Brazilian language and culture among those children raised in United States.

My work with the Brazilian community in Miami also seeks to develop cultural opportunities for people, building relationships and strengthening a holistic perspective of mission. Before becoming a pastor, I who was a psychoanalyst and then worked as a sociology professor in Brazil. Recently, the famous philosopher Viviane Mosé came to Miami for a dialogue event on Philosophy and Theology and the challenges of immigrants. Mosé and I presented a lecture about “liquid modernity” and the challenges of post-modernity.

Immigrant Faith Communities

The Miami Brazilian mission is the Florida Conference’s latest effort to meet the diverse needs of a state with a high influx of immigrants. Those efforts include missions or ministries targeting Hispanics, Haitians, Koreans, Micronesians, Filipinos, and people of Slavic descent, with services tailored to their cultural and often alternative language needs, according to records compiled by Florida Conference Knowledge and Information Services.

According to the Department of State of Brazil, 250,000 Brazilians live in Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. The Wall Street Journal cited Miami sources who believe as many as 300,000 Brazilians have settled in Florida, with Miami listed as a top destination.

Gomes fundo.jpgThe Rev. Marcelo Gomes addresses a Brazilian faith community in Miami at Christmastime. PHOTO: COURTESY MARCELO GOMES

Before I was tapped for the Miami challenge through a partnership of the Florida Conference and Global Ministries, I had applied to become a Global Ministries missionary through its National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry. Both arms of the church are providing funds toward the missionary position in Miami.

Violence and unstable economic conditions in Brazil lead many to leave their homeland. The Miami climate is almost identical to Rio, which is why Brazilians head to Miami.

The population of Brazilians in Miami and those settling in other parts of the United States are far from the same. The differences have guided me in designing ministry plans. As a missionary and a church planter, you need to understand what the needs and the problems are in the community. You need to understand the context and the scope of ministry development.

Gomes Foto Projeto em Miami.jpgPhotos show various activities of the Brazilian Methodist church community in Miami, a young and growing movement in the Florida Conference. PHOTOS: COURTESY MARCELO GOMES

The people I worked with in Boston were people who dreamed about having a better life for themselves and their children, often seeking educational opportunities they couldn’t get in Brazil or working for low wages that they would share with loved ones back home. They also tended to come and work in the United States but always planned to return to their native country.

In contrast, those in Miami tend to be more affluent and academically educated. In general, they come to the United States seeking a better quality of life. Information from some organizations indicates more than 67 percent of Brazilians in Florida have American citizenship or permanent residency status, and more than half own homes in South Florida, according to the missionary’s ministry plan submitted to New Church Development.

In this light, I have been working with a social media missionary strategy to reach out to the community. This population responds to small group meetings in different formats, such as shared interests in sports or music. In addition to reflecting on Bible themes of salvation, grace, and faith, group discussions will tackle timely social issues, such as immigration, abortion, and sexuality.

*The Rev. Marcelo Gomes is a provisional member of the New England Conference of The United Methodist Church serving as National Plan missionary in Miami, Florida. He is a member of the New England UMC Board of Global Ministries and of the National Committee of the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministries representing the Brazilian Ministry in the US. Currently, Gomes is studying for a Doctor of Ministry at Boston University School of Theology. He is the author of four books on philosophy and theology, psychoanalysis, and education.

This article first appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of New World Outlook magazine, General Board of Global Ministries. Used by permission.

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