Would Anyone Notice if this Church Closed its Doors?
“God’s Love is a Forever Love”
João Pessoa, Brazil
Read this story in conjunction with our 2019 Lenten Prayer Guide.
Palm Sunday April 14
Medium Security Penitentiary Presidio Hitler Cantalice is unlike any prison you may have seen. For one thing, the prisoners are released each day to go to work. Each evening they return to the prison, passing through a screening that causes a backlog out to the street.
When we arrived on a Friday evening last October, there was a long line of male prisoners checking back in for the weekend. We had come for the Friday evening church service. The Anglican Church of João Pessoa, in Northeastern Brazil, has an open air chapel on the grounds of the prison. Many prisoners, after passing through the rigorous screening, joined us for worship.
The worship was one of the most incredibly dynamic services we’ve ever experienced. The chapel was packed! It had recently been expanded and was full of both prisoners and parishioners from the Anglican Communion Church (Anglicana Comunhão). Rodrigo Guimarães is the Minister in Charge and leads the weekly service. He is a veterinarian by day and his role with the church is voluntary.
On this Friday, Bishop Marcio Meira (Diocese of João Pessoa) gave the message. The words he spoke about forgiveness, reconciliation, and new life in Christ brought the grown men in the the crowd to tears. Many of us know the need for a Savior. But for these prisoners, the drastic change Christ has brought to their lives is especially poignant.
The Prison church is just one of ten Anglicana Comunhão’s ten church plants in the area. All of them have the same vision. According to Bishop Marcio, “the church in João Pessoa specializes in transforming lives.”
“In our context it’s so important not to work in separate things. We believe in the integrated mission, a full mission. For us it’s so important working together [combining] social programs and evangelism programs. We need to work together because the results – the fruits – are wonderful because we’re working together in the same mission in the same direction.”
Meeting both spiritual and physical needs is crucial to their mission. A church that promises that “Jesus will provide,” while doing nothing to improve current conditions will soon be soon lose credibility in the community. Bishop Marcio and his team are always asking, “if your church closes the door, what will happen in the community? Will the church be missed? If you have a special purpose in your community, wow, everybody one day will think, we need this church.”
Reaching out with the message of spiritual change while caring for the community in holistic ways is one reason the church is growing so quickly in João Pessoa. To be clear, this is no prosperity Gospel. These are concrete actions combined with the Word of God that brings transformation to individuals and the community.
After the service, the church had a party to celebrate its “birthday.” Everyone ate cake together and danced to praise music while socializing. That evening, the prisoners were given spiritual and physical Joy!
If this church closed its doors, it would definitely be missed!