What’s a good way to learn a language? Converse with a native speaker. What’s a good way to advance the gospel? Invest in a missionary. What can catalyze both objectives? A global pandemic, apparently.
When COVID-19 grounded International Mission Board missionary Caron Johnson from travel (which had included an intensive English class in another city), she contacted Fernando Brandão, director of the South Brazil Seminary and executive director of the Brazilian Baptist Convention’s National Mission Board, and offered to launch virtual English classes. Her idea was to connect volunteers in the U.S. with Brazilians to meet online for English conversations.
Brandão is a leader in the advance of the gospel. “It is my goal to have top leaders on my team,” he said, “so I need to invest in my team.” Connecting his team to Johnson’s English classes helps Brazilian Baptists minister locally and globally.
English is a world language, used by people of various mother-tongues to collaborate internationally.
“We connect in English,” said Brandão, who is also vice president of a global network of churches. He said Brazilian Baptists mentor gospel partners from other nations through the shared second language.
English attracts people outside the church too. Johnson’s curriculum, based on the Book of Mark, prepares students to use English classes as a ministry platform.
Samuel Moutta, Brazil’s National Mission Board vice president, said, “I need to reach my people with the gospel … to train leaders … plant churches.” Johnson’s classes provide a useful tool for Moutta’s work.
“This program … is wonderful,” Moutta said. “We are … talking about the Bible, talking with our friends and at the same time developing our English.”
Brazilian Baptists cherish their partnership with Southern Baptists. They share a 139-year gospel-centered relationship. English skills facilitate international dialogue and cooperation among churches, Baptist entities and theological seminaries.
“It is very important for us to connect. We have partnerships with churches, state conventions, IMB,” Brandão said. Brazilian leaders value “Baptistic knowledge” and leadership formation gleaned through these ties.
Johnson, who serves with her husband, Wendal Mark, in Brazil, wanted to mobilize Southern Baptists to join missions efforts in 2020, although closed borders meant canceled trips for scores of U.S. churches. Southern Baptists could not connect to Brazil by plane, but they could, Johnson realized, connect by phone.
“I suggested the idea of conversation helpers to some of my social media friends,” Johnson said. “I was blown away by the response.”
Missions — praying, funding, serving — is the Southern Baptist heartbeat. Neither travel restrictions nor the financial strain of a global pandemic causes Southern Baptists to forget who they are: churches united to fulfill the Revelation 7:9 vision of a multitude from every language, people, tribe and nation knowing and worshipping our Lord.
Kelly Pyron is one of 18 U.S. volunteers equipping Brazilians with language skills to facilitate their role in the missions movement.
Additional volunteers await new students currently learning enough to converse.
Conversation partners discuss the week’s Bible lesson. As they review for an oral exam on the 3 Circles gospel presentation, they are further equipped to lead others to Christ.
“The ultimate goal,” Johnson said, “is for both Brazilian students and SBC volunteers to work together to share the gospel in a cross-cultural context, learning from one another.”
Pyron is paired with Lorena. Both lead children’s Bible classes in their respective communities. Their “conversation partners” role has segued into mentoring and mutual encouragement.
Similarly, volunteer Pat Bryant encourages the young Brazilian mother assigned to her, and Pastor Brandão inspires Pastor Steve Hussung to guard time alone with God.
Bill Rogers, having traveled to Brazil 17 times, now pours into Renato, the mission board’s ministry coordinator for people who are drug-addicted or displaced and for children orphaned or living on the streets.
Since launching the initial classes, Johnson has added classes at an additional seminary and at Krieger Language Center — a commercial institute on South Brazil Seminary’s campus.
Johnson reports, “I have done some initial training with several Krieger teachers, [who] hope to offer it to more students soon.”