By Alice M. Smith*
Gordon and Teca Greathouse have served as United Methodist missionaries to Brazil for 32 years and have seen great changes in the country as it moved from dictatorship to democracy. But what hasn’t changed is the overwhelming need among most of the people in a country where only a tiny percentage of the population, about five percent, owns almost all the wealth.
“Among developing countries, Brazil is in the top echelon, but in terms of distribution [of wealth], it is in the bottom echelon,” Gordon said.
The Methodist Church in Brazil is small – about 160,000 official members among Brazil’s 185 million people. But its influence is far greater, Teca points out, because of its social programs, primarily its schools. That includes six colleges in addition to elementary and high schools.
Indeed, work with children is the church’s number one priority, say Gordon and Teca, who just returned to Brazil after a three-month itineration in the United States visiting with supporting churches. The couple has wide-ranging support in South Georgia from more than two dozen churches, from four churches in the North Georgia Conference, and from other states as well, including Virginia – which has a covenant relationship with Brazil – Florida, Mississippi, Oregon and Alabama.
Gordon, who is from Oregon, and Teca, a Brazilian, met at a youth hostel in Mexico and since then have been partners in their life work as missionaries for the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Global Ministries. They are stationed in Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s third largest city, in a huge country that is larger than the continental U.S.
Teca has a background in education and is the national coordinator for the Shade and Fresh Water Project for children and teenagers sponsored by the Methodist Church in Brazil. Gordon served as director of the church’s foundation, which raises money for projects and helps implement them, but took on a new role as head of the Volunteers in Mission program upon their return home May 27.
Shade and Fresh Water has programs in 60 locations for children aged 6 to 14. The programs offer holistic support to children, including physical, intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual emphases.
The needs among children are great in a country that not so long ago had death squads that targeted street children, killing thousands each year in an effort to clean up the streets. After a new constitution was adopted in 1988, laws were enacted in the early 1990s to protect children. But still the kids are plagued by other problems which infect many urban areas across the world – crime, drugs, gangs, prostitution.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that huge numbers of children are left at home to take care of themselves while parents are away trying to eke out a living. Not all children are able to attend school, and for those who do, school only lasts four hours a day. The result is many hours a day spent without adult guidance.
“The churches just saw so many of them, and the people, particularly the women [began asking], ‘Is there any way we can help?’ Usually the poorer churches see the problem more because kids are there [in the neighborhoods],” said Gordon.
Shade and Fresh Water has national guidelines, and those who lead programs must undergo training. Materials were produced with the help of the St. Marys United Methodist Church Foundation, Inc. The curriculum emphasizes character and values, “and makes clear how these values are grounded in the gospel,” said Gordon. “They [the materials] take life problems kids face in the slums and relate them in a way you can respond from a biblical perspective.”
The Greathouses welcome volunteer teams – Tuckston United Methodist Church in Athens sends one every year – not only because they provide needed services but also – and most importantly – because they build relationships between United Methodists in the United States and Brazil and encourage respect and understanding among cultures.
In their more than three decades of service, Teca says the most rewarding part has been seeing the emerging church leadership in Brazil as they have taken over programs the Greathouses helped initiate. Brazilian nationals are now pastors and missionaries, and “dozens of institutions have been created and inspired” by their missionary work, she said.
The Greathouses seek support for their work through prayers, volunteer teams, and contributions. Churches can enter a formal covenant missionary relationship or contribute directly to the Shade and Fresh Water Advance Special, #11580A. For more information, e-mail email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Alice M. Smith is a member of McDonough First United Methodist Church and a former editor of the Wesleyan Christian Advocate.