Baptists in Portugal: The Challenge of Many Nations
L i s b o n – „The example of Portuguese Baptists is very encouraging and challenging for the other Baptist Unions in Europe.” That is the impession of the European Baptist Federation’s (EBF) President, the Estonian Helari Puu (Tallinn). During his trip to Portugal he was impressed above all by the ethnic diversity among Portugal’s 4.500 members and 70 congregations. These congregrations reach out not only to Portuguese – they also include Ukrainians, Romanians, Moldovans and Chinese as well as Africans from Angola and Mozambique. Puu spoke in numerous churches including the 250-member one in Lisbon – the country’s largest Baptist congregation. Nearly half of the worshipers there were Africans. Another 100 persons stemmed from Ukraine, Brazil and China. These groups do not exist alongside each other in the congregation – they instead fellowship intensely with one another. Puu preached on God’s love for people. It challenges Christians also to love others.
According to Antonio Miguel Pires (Queluz), President of Portugal’s Baptist Union, the work among Ukrainians began in the year 2000 when the first immigrants arrived intending to find employment. The very first Ukrainian congregation began with 30 members. Ukrainian groups are now also active in 11 other locations. Ukrainians have evangelised strongly among their own nationality. Plans are now being made within the Portuguese Union to extend these missionary activities to Ukraine as soon as the first workers return home.
While East Europeans retain their own church services for cultural and evangelistic reasons, Africans and Brazilians visit Portuguese services in the forenoon and hold additional services in their own native tongues in the afternoon. Twenty of the Union’s 70 congregations are multi-ethnic. Pires reports that congregations grow primarily through personal contacts, to a much smaller extent through special evangelistic events. Concerts and retreats are particulary popular among the younger generation. On the average, Portuguese congregations annually baptise 100 persons.
EBF-General-Secretary Tony Peck (Prague) and EBF-Missions Coordinator Daniel Trusiewicz (Wroclaw) accompanied Puu on the visit to Portugal. Peck introduced the EBF and noted that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to influence the post-Christian societies of Europe. Though Moldova has Europe’s poorest economy, the country’s Baptists are very mission-minded and are constantly planting new congregations. That tiny country now has more than 400 congregations and 21.000 members. Baptists are also registering strong growth in Armenia. After the fall of the Iron Curtian in 1991, that country had only four Baptist congregations. Today there are over 100. Trusiewicz introduced IMP: a missions programme involving local, native missionaries. The IMP programme is presently supporting 60 church planters between the Arctic Circle and Black Sea as well as in the Middle East. The programme was launched in 2003 with four missionaries in Moldova and has grown steadily.