Interview with Joao Antonio de Almeida
Joao Antonio de Almeida is 46 years old and has been an Adventist for 20 years. He has been the first elder of the Central Church at Tatui since 1991. He is married to Professor Sonia. They have two daughters: Ellen, 15 years old, and Erica, 13. Jama, a name composed by himself with the letters of his own name, in his Professional life, is the owner of a financial counseling office in Tatui, a city in the state ofSao Paulo. In this interview, he speaks about his involvement in church activities, and evangelism in particular.
Question: What's the difference between the activities of the elder and those of the Pastor?
Jama: The pastor has a district as his field of labor. But, in the end, I notice that there is not much difference. Within the church itself, the pastor is the spiritual leader and the elder must try to adapt himself to the profile of the pastor. The difference would be in the administration of some rites such as marriage or baptism.
Question: What are the greatest needs of the elders?
Jama: In my opinion it's spiritual help. He must be in close communion with God. Secondly, he must know the membership. He must have empathy for the needs of the church. In order to do that he must get involved.
Question: When the elders meet with the other elders, what do they discuss?
Jama: The interests and needs of the church. Bearing in mind always that the church is not the property or the furniture, but the people who assemble there. We always take care in reaching a decision if it's in the best interest of the church.
Question: Please explain.
Jama: During the meeting we discuss among the elders the different departments of the church, such as Sabbath School, social welfare, junior department and administration. They oversee those departments, and solve the everyday problems. Those needing more thoughtful decisions are brought to the committee for discussion. That meeting is convened once a month. First, we try to solve the problems during elders' meetings and when the church or the church committee needs to be notified we proceed accordingly.
Question: Why does your church begin each New Year with a Week of Prayer?
Jama: To take advantage of the climate. At the beginning of the year everybody is ready to have a good start in life, they want to grow spiritually. The Week of Prayer helps us move ahead; besides, it's one way to prepare the church for future programs. At year's end there seems to be a slow down due to a transition of responsibilities, but in a different way. All are more willing to do the work with a Week of Prayer.
Question: How often have these Weeks of Prayer been conducted and what has been the secret of your success?
Jama: Attendance has been almost 100%. Everything helps: the willingness to start the New Year properly, school holidays, the climate, the summer schedule. Planning for the Week of Prayer is done one year in advance, with a lot of advertisement and fervent prayer.
Question: What other activities are promoted in your church?
Jama: Evangelism on Sunday night. Modern evangelism, projecting videos and songs—taking advantage of what this generation is used to seeing and always presenting current topics. The method that I have used is going from the known to the unknown. Last year, we engaged in evangelism of the Third Millennium. It had a double objective, which was to retain the church membership, mainly the young people, and to bring in the outsiders. I began with that approach. I would bring something known, for example: I would present a scene from Ghost-The Other Side of Life, a film of great success, enjoyed by everybody, but is it that way? Does the Bible teach that there is life after death? I would go from the known to the unknown. The attendance was very good. The church membership was also present. I kept that up from March to October of last year, but because of exhaustion I discontinued the program.
Question: How did you present the Spirit of Prophecy?
Jama: Something interesting took place during the first studies. I spoke on the Spirit of Prophecy. One Sunday I spoke on modern prophets and the next one on Ellen G. White as someone who fulfilled the characteristics of a modern prophet. I spoke on the prophecies fulfilled in the past and others that are to be fulfilled. At the end I did something that offended the church. I said that whoever didn't believe in the Spirit of Prophecy should not continue attending the meetings because I would be using her writings more frequently. It is true that the Bible would be the main book, but E. G. White writings would be of great help. And to our surprise, the following weekend the attendance of those who wanted to know more about the Spirit of Prophecy and what she had to say, doubled. Sometimes some people are afraid to use the Spirit of Prophecy during evangelistic campaigns. I find that the Bible is the main book, but if you know how to use the Spirit of Prophecy to enhance the Bible and clarify some things, mainly prophecies, that awakens the curiosity and the church becomes more interested in reading about it.
Question: What will be the topic this year?
Jama: This year we are going to begin a seminar on the New Age. I'm already preparing the seminar in the same style and promoting an interest, announcing it since last year. Also the personnel is getting ready.
Question: How do you work with the Pentecostals?
Jama: The best material on the Holy Spirit that we have had until today was a lesson in Sabbath School on spiritual gifts. I have made copies and distributed them to many people of other churches. That material should have been bound in books. It's didactic material, accessible, understandable, pleasing, calling the attention of outsiders. People awaken the interest of such individuals by using common beliefs, never disregarding or criticizing, always attracting through curiosity. We arrive at a common point and show that sometimes a person believes in a contradiction. Using the Bible, the individual begins to perceive that he believes a contradiction and naturally he desires to know more about it. Never try to proselytize. Don't make people cry. I prefer to make them think and as they think they begin to mature and thus choose their course.
Question: How does your church prepare candidates for baptism?
Jama: We prepare our candidates for baptism very carefully and assuming great responsibility. My church is a missionary one. We have elders and sisters who enjoy teaching the Bible, and the evangelism on Sunday night helps us to give Bible studies. When the interested is a female, we try to send a lady to give the study, and when it's a young man we send a man to do the teaching. The objective is to create a sound atmosphere within the church so that those who are coming feel at ease and accept the message. Things take place in a natural way. Our strategy is that we make the call without "pleading." We tell the truth such as it is. The Holy Spirit persuades the individual; then, the person comes to church and is baptized, becoming a blessing in the church.
Question: What is your church's strategy to open new fields?
Jama: We have our field of labor, and we try, before beginning our work to acquire a building lot. Normally, I try to do that when real estate is being subdivided into building lots because one has the opportunity to get a good piece of land, well located and at an affordable price. Then I let the lot be. When the moment arrives we see people converging on the place. It begins normally with a small group during a night meeting, at a brother's home. People work mainly for the children during Holy Week. If you convince the children, they will bring their parents, the number of baptisms increases and later a field Sabbath School is begun on Sabbath afternoon. Afterward we have a group. Since the lot has been purchased they get together to build the temple with the mother church. All catch the spirit of enthusiasm and the project moves on.
Question: How does the elder prepare the Holy Week program?
Jama: We use Christ-centered topics. Always showing that God places a high value on man. He is interested in us and that can make a difference on everybody's life.
Question: What is your membership and how many are baptized every year on an average?
Jama: We have approximately 350 members. Last year we baptized 64 new members.
Question: What is your secret to keep in the faith the recently baptized members?
Jama: Great emphasis is placed on sowing. In order to keep the members, more friendship and love must be shown. Sunday night evangelism contributes much toward this end. There is a repetition of certain things. The person heard, accepted and repetition helps to fix it in the mind. We are careful when choosing the preachers. To preach is something very serious. The church member spends a week taking care of his struggles, difficulties, problems, needs, and when he goes to worship he wishes to listen to a message from God's point of view. Positive messages, full of love; likewise when calling attention, do it with love.
Question: How do you reconcile your profession with your church work?
Jama: The ill-conceived idea is that to be involved with the church is detrimental to the profession and to the church. Quite the contrary. Getting involved with the church helps to better understanding between the family and the profession. During the week I give Bible studies every day. They are no longer than 45 minutes each. I absent myself from my job or my family for only 45 minutes, and that will not make much difference to my family or my job. It's all a matter of planning and discipline.
The Brazil Publishing House publishes Elder's Digest in Portuguese. More than 25,000 elders in this country are receiving the quarterly publication free of charge by the initiative of the local conferences.