The Brazilian church is growing fast. Three hundred new local churches open their doors every week. Forty-five million people here profess evangelical faith, making today’s Brazilian Church larger than the Church in all of Europe. More than 90 Christian organizations are training Brazilians for work among Brazil’s own indigenous people groups and with people groups around the world.
“Europeans and North Americans came to Brazil and invested a lot in evangelism,” says Horizontes America Latina (HAL) founder David Botelho. “Today, the main challenge is…to train Brazilians to go abroad and to do the same thing.”
A collection of Coca Cola cans from around the world is displayed at the training centre for Horizons Latin America in Monte Verde, Brazil. This “museum” of Coca Cola cans is the 3rd largest in Brazil and is used to challenge Brazilian Christians who spend more on Coca Cola than on missions.
But the vision for cross-cultural ministry has yet to ignite the whole Brazilian church. The average annual contribution of each Christian to missions is less than US$1. More than 99% of local churches have not sent a single cross-cultural missionary. The passionate team behind Horizontes wants to change that—and they have some revolutionary ideas about how to make it happen.
“An untapped force”
About 95km (59 miles) outside of Sao Paulo, winding highland roads lead to the Horizontes Center for the Nations, in Monte Verde. Here, a committed team of leaders are training the next generation of Latin American missionaries in a learning community born of years of dreaming, planning and prayer.
“We receive people from the U.S., several Latin countries, Venezuela, Mozambique, Europe, to be trained here,” says David Botelho. He and his wife Cleonice founded HAL in 1991.
He continues: “One-third of all the Brazilian missionary force working within the 10/40 window has passed through one of the training programs offered by Horizontes.” Horizontes-trained workers have gone to many other parts of the world as well.
Horizontes has trained more than 1,000 workers for cross-cultural ministry. But their vision extends beyond traditional classroom learning and conferences. Horizontes is known for innovative training programs that make a long-term, go-the-distance commitment, spending up to nine years helping a student prepare for ministry. They’re also known for believing in the potential of young people—very young people.
In 2003, Horizontes, building on years of experience developing missionary training programs for adults, launched Revolution Teen. The Horizontes team knew about the global need for Bible translation. They believed that Vision 2025, the vision for a Bible translation project to be started for every people group that needs it by the year 2025, called for a radical new approach to engaging the next generation.
“Horizontes is recruiting and capacitating an as-yet untapped force in the global evangelical church: teenagers,” says David Botelho. “Today, a 15-year-old has more information at his disposal than William Carey had in his era. But this potential has been untapped by the church…. This is a new generation of missionaries who will revolutionize the world.”
Horizontes’ training programs are a dramatic departure from the two-week-youth-group-trip approach. Accepting teens as young as 14 and training them in tight-knit, closely-supervised teams, Horizontes invests years preparing young men and women for long-term missions—and for life.
By the time students complete the course, they are trained in theology, missiology, linguistics and other academic specialties, and have gained fluency in three different languages.
“[We believe] they’re just at the right age receiving the right opportunity,” says Horizontes Executive Director Margareth Spencer. “It’s just really maturing at a different pace, a faster pace than they would if they were still back home.” The younger the students are when they come for training, she adds, the more successful they have been in the program and on the field.
Margareth, David and Cleonice Botelho’s daughter, is a pioneer of youth involvement in missions. More than ten years ago she was the first teenager to try linguistics training with Wycliffe Global Alliance organization Associação Linguistica Evangélica Missionária (ALEM). Her father asked ALEM to grant Margareth, who had already lived in several countries and spoke three languages, permission to take an advanced course at just 16 years of age. She thrived, and the Botelhos were strengthened in their conviction that young people could get to the mission field earlier and better-trained than ever.
“Teenagers have five times more capacity for language acquisition than adults,” says David, who holds a master’s degree in youth education. “Why not take advantage of this? The best time for someone to become a missionary is when they are young, before they are distracted by other things.”
In 2008, Revolution Teen’s success inspired Horizontes to launch UniAsia, a training project focused on university-age young people interested in Bible translation and in other areas of God’s mission in Asia. Together, the two programs have graduated more than 50 young people, most of whom have remained deeply involved in cross-cultural ministry.
Preparation on a proven path
Today, Margareth Spencer and her husband Mark, the director of Revolution Teen, live in Monte Verde at the Center for the Nations with their three young children.
“We don’t just root for these young people; we live with them,” Margareth says.
The Spencers and the rest of the Horizontes team disciple hundreds of young men and women following a path designed to help them grow spiritually, relationally and academically through intensive discipleship, work and study. Students may visit home several times a year, and their parents may visit the Center for the Nations as often as they like. The teens are also encouraged to visit and share in their home churches whenever possible. Some churches even schedule group visits and events at the Center, helping students keep their ties with home strong.
The students in Revolution Teen and UniAsia follow a similar trajectory for the first four years of their training, then divide to focus on university studies and diverse apprenticeships. Revolution Teen participants are still in high school when they come to Horizontes; UniAsia participants are mostly in their twenties, but Horizontes doesn’t impose an upper age limit.
Year 1: Students arrive to spend their first year at the Center for the Nations. They learn to live together. They take challenging courses in anthropology, missiology, English and linguistics. They take turns tackling different practical chores, and rotate leadership in key areas of responsibility—like leading room devotions and monitoring team finances. This kind of hands-on, servanthood-oriented learning continues throughout Horizontes’ training programs.
Year 2: Students travel with a team leader to a Latin American country for six months of language acquisition and cultural experience, working in outreach and evangelism with local churches. They spend the next six months back in Brazil, synthesizing what they’ve learned and working together to raise prayer and financial support for the next phases of their training. Some UniAsia teams have gotten more linguistic training through ALEM at this point, and have earned their Bachelor’s degrees before leaving for Asia.
Years 3-4: Students spend at least six months learning English in an English-speaking country. Revolution Teen students complete their high school studies.
Years 4-5: Cultural adaptation and local language learning in an Asian country. Up to this point, teams have stayed together. From here on, students begin to seriously engage with a proposed field of work or study, and may split up depending on local needs and capacity.
Years 5-9: UniAsia participants finish their training in seven years; Revolution Teen participants in nine. All work toward university graduation while in Asia, whether at the Bachelor’s or Master’s degree level. Students work under the supervision of experienced local believers and missionaries from all over the world.
“It’s really rewarding working with the teens,” says Margareth. “We want to see them succeed…The better preparation they have, the more tools and more opportunities they will have in hard-to-reach areas.”
“We are going to learn with the people already working there.”
So far, Horizontes has sent more than 30 students to Indonesia through UniAsia. Seven are already involved in Bible translation work through Wycliffe Global Alliance organizations. Four Revolution Teen students, now in their early twenties, are working with Alliance organizations in Asia. One Horizontes trainee is working as a linguistic consultant for seven languages—at 25 years of age. And 10 graduates of Revolution Teen and UniAsia are now working with ALEM in Brazil.
Horizontes works with Wycliffe Global Alliance organizations to determine where each trainee should be placed. Anywhere from one to ten students may be sent to a given area or a particular project, depending on the local need and the students’ areas of focus.
“We’re not going there to [implement] our vision,” says Margareth. “We’re not going there to run our project. We are going to learn with the people that are already working there.”
Moises is from Brazil’s Amazon region. He started training with Revolution Teen at 16 and worked with Kartidaya, a Wycliffe Global Alliance organization, as he earned his Master’s degree. Moises speaks Indonesian, Javanese and Ambonese, three languages used in Indonesia. When he volunteered to help with a JESUS Film project on Indonesia’s Ambon Island, local police often assumed he was the team’s Indonesian guide.
“Are you responsible for all those foreigners over there?” they would ask Moises. As he handed over the team’s passports for registration, his accent would sometimes give him away. “What? You’re a foreigner too?” the police would exclaim.
Moises’ sister followed him into Revolution Teen and now serves in Asia with her husband. Others from their home area, in the state of Amapá in northern Brazil, wanted to join Horizontes as well, but financial shortfalls sent them home again.
“We had a large team from that state and the problem was support,” says Margareth. “The churches there are still very open to send more [students], but they don’t really want to invest yet, and parents can’t afford much.”
Students work packing book orders at the training centre for Horizons Latin America. More than 70 titles of cross-cultural missions books have been translated and published in Portuguese for the Brazilian Church’s awareness.
Raising financial support is a major challenge for Brazilian missionaries. Horizontes tries to help young people overcome this hurdle by making fundraising a team effort. They accept candidates with a third of their support raised, then help them raise the rest. Last year, Horizontes teams visited nearly 2,000 Brazilian churches for fundraising and to raise awareness about Bible translation and unreached people groups around the world.
“To support everyone is not easy,” David Botelho says, smiling. “Teenagers eat a lot!”
Staying the course
Horizontes sees their long-term training programs as community-changing endeavors. They are in it for the long haul wanting to see not only the trainees but also their parents, friends, family and home churches transformed through their involvement in God’s mission.
“Parents have the chance to be [deeply] involved in their child’s future, as it becomes the effort of the entire family and church to see a young person advance,” says Margareth.
The prayer of Horizontes staff is for the Brazilian church to catch the vision for Bible translation and participating in God’s global mission.
“The vision—not just Vision 2025, but the vision for Bible translation and reaching the unreached peoples—is engraved on our hearts,” says Margareth. “As Brazilians say, ‘We’ll give our blood over that.’ It’s that intense.”
They also pray for believers worldwide to partner with Brazil to mobilize a new generation for God’s glory among the nations.
“We have the people!” adds David. “Give us the tools and we will go.”