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Brazilian Church Embraces Dual Language Community

by Nia Phillips, Brazilian Beat Reporter —

Walk through the doors of the First Brazilian Baptist Church in Astoria, Queens any Sunday afternoon and everything said, heard, and read in its sanctuary will be in Portuguese.

On Friday nights, however, it feels like a different place. Most of the words spoken are in English.

The Brazilian church, housed in a large white building on 18th Street, began offering English language services late in the summer as part of an effort to attract young second-generation Portuguese as well as other English speakers in the area. The English language program is known as JAMP, Jovenes e Adolescentes Ministrando com Propositos—Young Adults and Adolescents Ministering with a Purpose.

On Sundays, English speakers can hear a translation of the Portuguese service and sermon using headphones.

But Friday services are typically conducted in English. About once a month, they are dual language with simultaneous translation. On this particular evening, the music and announcements are in English and the main discussion is in Portuguese.

Twenty-nine year old Marianna de Souza leads the talk. She speaks in Portuguese about many things most teenagers and 20-somethings care about: college, work, making friends, Facebook, texting, boyfriends, and the Internet. She mentions all of these topics to lead an interactive discussion about fitting God into your schedule.

For every phrase she says, Bruno Borges, 26, repeats it in English.

Borges is a certified translator and often interprets services for English speakers at the church. Sometimes the youth have to help him with some of de Souza’s Brazilian slang. They call out the English word he’s looking for, causing him to smile and shrug his shoulders. The youth respond to de Souza’s questions in a combination of English and Portuguese.

This is normal because the people attending the service live this reality: living between their own American culture and the Brazilian culture of their parents.

Embracing a dual language congregation is becoming part of the church’s identity. Diogo Izidoro, 22, is one of JAMP’s leaders as well as very active in many of the church’s other ministries. Even though he’s the pastor’s son, he says he represents the audience the Friday night services were created for. He moved to the United States from Brazil with his family at the age of five, and appears and sounds to be American in every sense.

He says that incorporating English is not just convenient, but a necessity for Brazilian congregations. “Brazilian churches are changing the way they are based in their reality. English speaking services are crucial because they retain the youth.”

Without adding an English-centered service, Izidoro said many youth like him are likely to attend American churches or not go to church at all.

Borges said another aspect of this move was because many young people were becoming lost in the Portuguese-only service. “Although their parents are Portuguese speakers, their reality is completely different. Their language is different.”

The reality has helped create the mostly English Friday service that has elements of both American and Brazilian culture. For instance, the service’s music reflects that heard in non-language specific youth services including those of the very popular Hillsong United and Jesus Culture by a couple of the church’s youth bands.

One of the guitarists in the band is Eric Maciel, 18. Maciel, a Columbia College freshman, said one factor that influenced his college decision was its proximity to the church. Maciel’s parents are Brazilian, and he grew up in Long Island.

Maciel doesn’t think incorporating English within the church is causing it to lose its Brazilian identity. “Even though the majority of us are all Brazilian we were born here,” He said. “I know that I am more comfortable speaking English than Portuguese, and I am not the only one so this change happened a couple of month ago and we have all embraced it.”

In a sense, this serves as a space for Brazilian-Americans to feel more comfortable within the language and culture they experience most of the time.

On Sunday afternoons, more than the sounds of Portuguese can make churchgoers feel at home. After service they can enjoy a large plate of Brazilian food, choosing from an assortment of meats, rice, and black beans. They can even finish it off with a can of guaraná, a popular Brazilian soda, if they please.

A delicious meal can appeal to everyone regardless of language skills. Adding more English is now seen as an important means to help keep the church open. First Brazilian is completing its 30th year in the community. It’s been on its 18th street location since 2002 and has a congregation of about 200 people. Friday service is part of the church’s transitional phase with adapting to the reality of its congregation—more English dominant members.

Borges said that becoming more of a dual language church is logistically difficult. It’s not just about Friday and Sunday services, but adding English within the church’s other ministries too. “We are not fully prepared to have only English speaking members,” he said. “Although we are in America, our whole church structure was designed for Portuguese speakers and English guests, but that reality is changing and we are in the phase of adjusting.”

Adjusting does not have to mean Americanization and eliminating the Portuguese language mission of the church. “Since the youth are mostly second generation Brazilians the church is becoming more and more Americanized, but that is something to be accepted and not feared,” Maciel said. “Then again, I don’t think that our church will ever get rid of the Brazilian roots in it; that is what makes us different and something that I personally will hold on to.”

The church’s preservation of its Brazilian roots is evident on Sunday afternoon. Preschoolers stand in front of the congregation reciting and singing bible verses during service. They go one by one, speaking into the microphone and receiving a bag of candy from their teacher when they finish.

A little girl sings what she’s learned in Sunday School. “Deus é bom pra mim,” she sang. “God is good to me”—in Portuguese.

5 Responses to “Brazilian Church Embraces Dual Language Community”

  1. Kimberly Motley says:

    I really enjoyed this article. It was very informative and well written. I think that passing culture and tradition on to our children is very important, including the church. I will share this with some of my friends.

  2. Keila Brito says:

    Nia, Thank you for telling the world about us. You just forgot to mention one thing that makes the difference in my church. First of all, we look forward to serve and worship GOD. And until the day that Our LORD comes, we’ll use the language we learn to teach the new generation what HE has done for us.

  3. We are curently looking for portuguese interpreters for our client the department of education.Please contact me as soon as possible.

    646 770 8096

  4. Alan Freitas says:

    I’d love to come! What are the hours Sunday?

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