Fresh hope for Portugal
Peter and Anna Crawford, from Northern Ireland, have recently celebrated 10 years of ministry in Portugal. Peter has been ECM’s team leader for most of that time. He reflects on what God is doing in Portugal.
The challenge to us was very specific. ECM Portugal’s former team leader approached us about playing a key role in an exciting new start-up church right in the heart of the new Lisbon residential development, Park of the Nations, where thousands of Portugal’s young and upcoming professionals were moving.
Portugal is becoming increasingly secular and far less Roman Catholic. The number of Bible believers and Bible believing churches has always been small but even these are largely in decline (now estimated to be a tiny 0.4%). We saw a God-given opportunity to shine the light of the gospel where it would be most noticed by those shaping contemporary Portugal.
We were challenged to raise sufficient support to rent a large apartment right here to serve as the basis for a new church plant. God got many people excited about this prospect and the support came in. And so we began our journey of faith and ministry in Portugal. We can now celebrate the establishment of ‘A Ponte’ (Portuguese for “The Bridge”), the new evangelical church in Park of the Nations.
God had a broader plan for us than locally-based church planting. With encouragement from the ECM team we took on the mantle of leadership of ECM-Portugal, and then later, senior leadership of field ministries across Europe.
It has been a fascinating journey! What we thought was a vision for planting one church has spawned into many, another one in Lisbon (Alta de Lisboa), then in Oporto (Portugal’s second largest city), where ECMers were able to start work in association with the Presbyterian Church of Portugal.
Portugal may sometimes be considered something of a backwater in western Europe. But after a rocky passage through the recent Europe-wide financial crisis, the economy is growing once again and the mood is more bouyant. Emigration has negatively impacted church growth figures. In fact, a recent study showed that more churches were closing their doors on aggregate, than new churches being planted, primarily on account of the departure of key people to other countries in search of better life. Our own neighbours and good friends, Sandra and Rodrigo, who became key leaders in the church plant we started with, now live and work in Guildford, England, and their loss is keenly felt.
Nonetheless, there’s a new sense of encouragement, especially among the new generation of young pastors and Christian leaders who have a great burden for their country. Carlos and Ana, like many others, left Portugal to seek employment elsewhere, but while living and working in Scotland, sensed God calling them to return to their home city of Coimbra, so that ‘people might be able to discover Jesus and experience the quality of church life they had found abroad’. Now they are with ECM, helping to openup yet another frontier for church-planting ministry in Coimbra, one of Portugal’s biggest cities and the home of its most prestigious university and hospital. Carlos and Ana dream of a church that effectively reaches the largely student population of that city, building on the university student ministry of Matt and Louise George and now Joe and Rachel Clark.
Please pray for us as an ECM team in Portugal, as we continue in church planting and student ministry in Coimbra, church planting and discipleship along with theological education in Lisbon, as well as rural ministry in a number of locations (in the Alentejo Province of southern Portugal).
God has been good and we are thankful to Him for the input of our Australian colleagues who, through church planting, student ministry with GBU, and involvement in theological education, have laid a strong foundation for the development of such leaders for the Portuguese Evangelical Church.
Thank God for Peter & Anna’s 10 years of ministry in Portugal, and give thanks that two churches have been planted in Lisbon (Park of the Nations & Alta de Lisboa)
Pray for church planting and evangelism in Oporto and Coimbra.
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