9th of July: A city celebrates, a nation mourns

Original team members of the group that arrived to evangelize the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil

Original team members of the group that arrived in 1961 to evangelize the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

When my broadcast career took an unexpected detour in 2003, I was fortunate to catch on for a time with Great Cities Missions (formerly Continent of Great Cities), a non-profit organization dedicated to planting churches throughout the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world. GCM was inspired and founded by a team of Abilene Christian University graduates who in 1961 sailed from the Port of Houston to Santos, Brazil, en route to Sao Paulo with plans to plant a church.

Their mission strategy was (and still is to some) revolutionary: go as a team; work with and raise up local, long-term leaders; and find a location in the heart of an urban metropolis. So maybe it is fitting that the site of the first permanent congregation they established was on a busy avenue named for the day – the 9th of July (Nove de Julho) – on which the people of Sao Paulo in 1932 revolted against a corrupt government. That regime has long since passed, but the church – not just the building, but the people – remains standing and for decades has been under its own leadership.

The church in Sao Paulo, Brazil

The entrance to the Church of Christ building on Avenida Nove de Julho in Sao Paulo.

But the 1961 team didn’t stop there. Those 16 families fanned out across the massive Brazilian landscape (the entire continental United States can fit inside Brazil’s borders) and established congregations in virtually every sizable city, most of which are on the eastern coastline. In 1980, those families founded GCM to recruit, train and send teams to many of those same cities to strengthen the church already there, and to plant new ones.

How forward-thinking was this previously untested strategy? Consider that a half century later, every single city where World Cup matches have been contested has a congregation created either by that 1961 team or one sent by GCM. Some of those churches are huge, some are small; but almost all of them are organizationally and financially self-sustained.

When the rolls of 1961 Sao Paulo team members and GCM missionaries are called down yonder, you hear a who’s who of ACU. The original group included noted multilingual evangelist and Herald of Truth contributor Glenn Owen (’58) and his wife, Marlene (Mueller ’58); and former Students’ Association president and Christian Chronicle editor Howard Norton (’57) and his wife, Jane (Pearce ’58).

After Brazil’s stunning 7-1 defeat by Germany in Tuesday’s World Cup semifinal match (the country’s worst loss in its 85 years competing in the quadrennial competition), today was a national day of grief for Brasileros, as well as my friends at GCM, most of whom root as passionately or more so for their adoptive homeland as the one from which they came.

But in the midst of their mourning, Sao Paulo’s citizens (Paulistas) will still observe Nove de Julho and remember those who fought for a free republic. And as they do, I’ll be thinking about another kind of uprising, one engineered more than 50 years ago by a band of American college kids who went halfway to the end of the earth to share God’s love and wound up falling in love with a nation and its people.


6 Comments

  1. Carol Vinzant
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Yes, speaking for my family and the Sao Paulo Brazil Team of 1961, who met at ACC and formed our group on campus, this was the major decision of our lives, and the results are far-reaching in this country that we adopted and came to love like we love the U.S.A. We suffer the loss of the World Cup in Soccer, but we praise the Lord for the winning of all those souls and the blessing of planting churches to the Glory of God in Brazil and the support of ACU and all our loved ones and churches in the U.S. I count 13 of those in the picture who must be part of the ” great cloud of witnesses!” With love, Carol Vinzant

  2. Posted July 10, 2014 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    My husband, Monty Huffman, lived in Belo Horizonte as a teen in the days of Pele. We moved to Salvador in 1989. 1990 was my real first World Cup experience. For this brief time of World Cup years, I bleed, blue, green and yellow. My heart ached for my adopted homeland and family in Christ as I watched July 8. But my heart aches daily for the lost in Brazil and I pray for those we taught and others to seek and save the lost. Brazil will still turn the world upside down.

  3. Posted July 10, 2014 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    Grant, thanks for an upbeat and encouraging piece of reporting. May God be praised for the way he used ACU students and their colleagues from other sister schools who worked together to plant churches in the nation of Brazil. – Gary J. Sorrells

  4. Laurie Diles
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Grant – well-spoken!! I hadn’t thought about the Lord’s people being in every city where the Cup was played. Thanks for your good article. BTW, Amy was a student of mine when I was still Laurie Norton, I believe.

  5. Posted July 15, 2014 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Grant, You deserve a standing applause for brevity, accuracy and ability to touch our souls again. Yes, we grieve for the loss so unnecessary after the crushing loss of two key players. We dream with our precious “irmaos brasileiros” of better days four years from now. Thank Him that the Lord’s people are “making goals” of a heavenly sort.

  6. Posted August 27, 2014 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    Making history, God’s history!

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