Story 19 - Cross-Cultural Church Planting
Written by Suzie Abramian in conversation with Paulo and Cláudia Mussi - July 2020
‘Porque Deus amou o mundo de tal maneira que deu o seu Filho unigênito, para que todo aquele que nele crê não pereça, mas tenha a vida eterna.’
Chances are that you might be struggling to understand this opening sentence, unless of course you have a good understanding of Portuguese (it’s John 3:16 in case you’re wondering!). Many who have English as a second language will understand this kind of struggle all too well and whilst as Christians we know the God who can unite His Church, regardless of language, there is something undeniably powerful when fellowship and worship happens in our mother tongues.
Paulo and Cláudia Mussi, originally from Brazil, moved to Norwich in 2018 with a specific calling to plant a Portuguese speaking congregation in the city which, despite its estimated 1,000 Portuguese speakers, had no specific Portuguese speaking church. Prior to coming to the UK, Paulo and Cláudia had spent 10 years serving in ministry in Portugal in partnership with the Portuguese Bible Institute and also with ‘JAMI’ - the Junta Administrativa de Missões( Joint Mission Administrative) of the Convenção Batista Nacional (National Baptist Convention).
Now connected with Norwich Central Baptist and very much a part of the wider church there, Paulo and Cláudia explain how what began with the aim to reach those outside of a church community didn’t start with putting on church services but instead by forging relationships in their everyday lives.
Paulo’s role at Norwich Central as Church and Community Minister came with a dual remit of planting a Portuguese speaking congregation and to help with the start of a new community project from NCBC in the North of the city around Mousehold Heath. This latter venture, started in 2018, began by taking on a building formerly occupied by Silver Road Baptist Church now called the Mousehold Hub. The wider vision for the building has been to facilitate and run a variety of community services such as the Norwich
Community Gospel Choir, a previously established Messy church, Housing Charity ‘Hope into Action’ and English Plus language courses. The top floor of the building is home to local Christian charity Norwich Youth for Christ and most recently in November 2019 the Hub opened a café, running three days a week.
Whilst the Hub’s vision was not to be a church but rather to serve the local community in outreach, the calling to plant a Portuguese speaking congregation in the city has taken a very different approach. Initially started by mid-week gatherings in Paulo and Cláudia’s home this new church soon needed to find a larger venue and now
meets at the Mousehold Hub every Saturday in order to accommodate its growing numbers.
As Paulo and Cláudia explain the kinds of places where they have connected with people outside of church it becomes evident that the emphasis on relationships has been key in the strategy behind this church plant. These places have included the Portuguese market in Norwich, the football club Paulo plays for, Cláudia’s English language classes and social gatherings in their home, all with the openness to making genuine friendships and notice when God brings people of peace into their lives. Paulo states that they want people to know them, and hopefully in turn Christ, by the way they live which has transcended many different nationalities and not only Portuguese speaking ones.
Without ever hiding who they are and what they believe, Paulo says, ‘when we talk with people within 5 or 10 minutes Jesus will come up in the conversation… but we know how society lives now and how people are so afraid about talking about religion or faith… so we want to be respectful with people but at the same time they need to see some difference in us.’
Looking ahead, as the church hopes to restart many things which were suspended during the coronavirus pandemic, Paulo and Cláudia are clear that it is not based on them alone and highlight the importance of discipleship and training up of leaders in such a young church. Paulo states, "it’s not my church… as soon as possible I try to disciple and prepare people for leadership."
When asked what advice or specific encouragement they would give to any individual or church considering the same venture as themselves Paulo simply says that from the approach they have taken, "don’t be afraid!… don’t be afraid to show Jesus, to talk about Jesus and to show Jesus in your day to day life. We are free to speak…so we need to take advantage of this time when we can do this in all the ways we can do this…. God could do it by himself, but he chose us and called us, so don’t be afraid!"