When an individual immigrates to a new country they face the daunting task of adapting to life in their new home while trying to preserve the culture and language of their native land.
As our nation of immigrants continues to grow due to a steady stream of immigrants from all over the world, many of America's newest residents make these tough decisions every day. Most immigrants pursue their American Dream by learning English, getting work, learning our customs and living productive, healthy lives.
However, as the years go on, and their homelands seem further and further away, even the most assimilated among them long for the comforts and familiarity that can only come with one's homeland. Sometimes, all it takes is a brief chat in one's native language to bring an individual back to the days of their youth, in the land of their birth. For others, it takes more than that, such as their mutual belief in the Almighty and all the hope and joy he can bring.
Right here in Tewksbury, such a community exists and practices their religion at the First Baptist Church of Tewksbury on Andover Street. The residents of the Greater Lowell Assemblies of God Brazilian and Hispanic communities come to worship in their native tongue (mostly Portuguese) on Wednesday and Sunday nights from a 7pm – 9pm. The group had been worshiping together in the rented space of another church in Lowell until they decided to expand into Tewksbury at the First Baptist Church about four or five months ago.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to witness their service and meet some of the Pastors and Parishioners. Assistant Pastor Sidnei Miranda, who moved to the United States from Brazil ten years ago and has since become a citizen, started the service.
When I first met him, I found Pastor Sidnei Miranda to be an humble and shy man who spoke fluent English and loved to ask questions about my life. But, in front of his congregation, and in his native Portuguese, his passion for God was evident during his opening sermon. His excitement reached levels only matched by Brazil's most fanatical soccer fans.
Occasionally he would turn on a video of a Brazilian singer, singing the word of God at a stadium in their homeland. Then Pastor Sidnei would take it among himself to sing while two other gentlemen played the keyboard and drums.
After Pastor Sidnei's brilliant and fiery warm-up act, it was time for Pastor Hugo Dasilva to present the main event. Pastor Hugo Silva is middle-aged Brazilian man, who was wearing a slick leather jacket and a black shirt and tie on the night of the service. He started his sermon by reading from the bible in a low and mellow tone. As the service wore on, his voice slowly raised and passion for the Holy Book became more evident as he spoke with fervor about "Dios" and "Jesus."
His voice, finally peaking at the end of the sermon, invited all to worship in the name of God.
During the course of the evening, roughly 20-25 men and women listened to the Pastor's words, sang when asked and stood when necessary while the children fidgeted and giggled among themselves. It was scene that could have been played out in any house of worship of any religion in any language around the world. What made this scene different was that it was their own. It was THEIR language, it was THEIR people and it was THEIR momentary escape back to the lives they left in a land far away.
After the service, the parishioners gathered outside the main sanctuary for some refreshments and conversation with their friends. A mixture of Portuguese, English and Spanish were being spoken by the adults while the children goofed around with each other.
Like any good hosts, they offered me some of their pizza, Brazilian soft drinks, and a short lesson in Portuguese. A few of the parishioners talked to me about their lives and what the congregation meant to them. For most of the people I spoke to, they had the same story. They loved coming to the church; they loved their adopted homeland but they also loved the chance to be back in "Brazil" for a little while.
When I spoke to the two pastors privately, they told me that the main goal of the church was to spread the word of God. However, it seems that the church had become more than that. As a member of the Brazilian Consulate, individuals needing help finding services in the Lowell area, such as English lessons, visa information and legal council could go to the Pastors for information. Pastor Sidnei added that they try to help them as much as they can but when they can't "we normally direct them…to a person who can."
From what I experienced with the Brazilian Assemblies of God Congregation, I don't believe that most of the members needed much in the way of help. What they needed was each other, God and a chance to feel 'at home' for a few hours a week.