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“Arranged marriage”: The story of a Brazilian missionary in England

“It was the early morning of June 6th, 2006. It was cold. Our flight arrived very late and our lift would come only in the morning. After sometime, the kids got tired and we had no choice other than to camp there in the airport. We had no idea of how the future would look like”. So started the story of how the missionary Damares Carvalho arrived in her “new home” in England 14 years ago. Brazilian, married and, at the time, with two small children, Mateus and Amanda, she carried in her luggage the certainty of the unknown and, deep down, the desire to return to her country of origin.

To begin with, the decision to move to the Queen’s land came from her husband, not from her. “I think of my relationship with England like a marriage, an arranged marriage. I didn’t choose to come and live here”, she confesses. At any rate, she was willing to obey God’s guidance through her husband Paulo, leaving everything behind and closing the door so that they would not be tempted to return at the first difficulty. 

And the difficulties came, even before they left Brazil. Not even her 15 long years of mission experience spared Damares and her family from the challenges that came with the decision to move to Harpenden, a small town in the south-east of England. “We lost 90% of our financial supporters when we communicated to our churches and friends we were coming to England. For them the UK was not a mission field”, she recalls.

Beyond the financial barrier, Damares felt that her knowledge of the new language was not sufficient. Along with the insecurity of not being able to communicate well, there was the cultural shock that challenged the way the energetic missionary coming from South America saw the world.

 

 

“Here, in Africa, in Brazil or wherever I am, it is important to understand that my calling is not to a country, but to a cause.”

 

“In the beginning was not a relationship of passion and attraction. Everything was strange and I felt so lonely. Love was not natural and emotional like I was used to in my own culture”, she describes. Still, the mishaps of the relationship were not able to prevent Damares from moving forward and, step by step, fighting for her “marriage” to England. The Brazilian missionary says that loving the “land of the Anglos” was a choice she had to make several times, even when her heart invited her to return to her native land. “It was a love that was built gradually. The knowledge of the culture was teaching me to admire and to love without haste and without pressure”.

Damares shares that one of the secrets to making the relationship work was studying and learning about the place. History, kings and queens, Industrial Revolution and even the culture of drinking tea. “I learned so much and started to love what I was learning. Knowledge brings understanding and value to the relationship”, she emphasizes. But it was the arrival of Damares’ third son that symbolized – as she herself defines – the “wedding ring” that sealed the marriage, connecting her forever to this land. However, the unexpected gift brought a sense of confusion with it. This was because the pregnancy had not been planned and the missionary’s wish was for all of her children to be born in Brazil.

“But our plans are not the Lord’s plans. Lucas was conceived and born here and it was him who helped me love and let this nation be a part of my life, eventually becoming my nation”.

DOES ENGLAND NEED MISSIONARIES?

Over the years, Damares was even more certain of why God brought her and her family to a place that some believe is not a country that needs to be reached. According to her, England may not need missionaries with the role of “social worker” as much as other missionary fields. However, she stresses the importance of taking into account the need to provide for spiritual poverty.

“When I speak of England, I look at spiritual poverty, where churches close every week and the depression rate among pastors is very high”. This deficiency pointed out by Damares is supported by a survey conducted by the institution Brierley Consultancy and published by the website Faith Survey between 2005 and 2010. According to the data, the number of members of Protestant churches in the UK fell from 30% to 11.2% of the population in less than a century. In 2013, this percentage dropped to 10.3% of the population.

The survey also points out that, if the trend continues, the forecast is that the number of members may be reduced to 8.4% of the population by 2025. In England alone, the forecast is that in five years only 4.3% of the population will be attending a Protestant church.

“The churches that close most in England are those formed only by English people. And this is not an experience that I just saw in research, but that I witnessed. I was part of three churches that closed here in just seven years. In this respect, if we compare with Brazil, for example, who needs missionaries more?”, Damares questions.

For the missionary, the answer is to understand that God’s calling is not only geographical, but personal, and can be applied anywhere. “Here, in Africa, in Brazil or wherever I am, it is important to understand that my calling is not to a country, but to a cause. The place is not as important as the reason I was called and the life mission I have”.

Written by Esaú Moraes.

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