Even the clouds appeared to be drawing their energy from the land — or so it seemed from my perspective from the passenger seat traveling the Brazilian countryside. Mile after mile revealed expansive fields of sugarcane, a source of ethanol, which is consumed in nearly the same quantities as gasoline in Brazil. Later wind farms came into view, and if we had ventured far enough, a glimpse of one of the many hydropower plants in the country would have given visual confirmation: Brazil’s energy mix, which is made up of 42 percent renewal sources, is three times the global average.
My time spent in the church in Brazil revealed palpable levels of energy present there as well. Driving to worship we passed multiple settings where worshipers were gathered, some with music and voices amplified, some with the heads of women covered, some with worshipers spilling out onto the streets.
Upon arrival at the churches that make up the Aliança de Batistas do Brasil, the sense of community and shared commitment of the worshipers aligned to spark an energy often missing in many of the churches in the United States. Fueling their commitment to and involvement in their local churches and in the larger Aliança is the power of the cross and resurrection. These churches are energized as they minister to the needy and care for the oppressed. As they proclaim the God they know as holy, just and infinite in mercy, they find more energy to be God’s people in the world.
Scientifically, energy found in the universe is categorized two ways: as potential energy and as kinetic energy. Kinetic energy is the movement energy an object possesses, such as the energy that is used when coasting downhill on a bicycle.
Much of the energy I find in the U.S. church is kinetic energy, where the church is living off the gifts shared by faithful members in days past — also known as “endowment.” How much longer the church in North America will continue to be propelled forward before running out of energy is a question pundits research and predict.
The recent USA Today article in reference to the corporate sector may also be true of the church: “Pain in the energy sector is one reason why the corporate default rate is forecast to leap 30% in next year.” Will the closure of our churches parallel the rate of corporate default?
The word “energy” appears in the NRSV translation of the Bible only once: “For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that [Christ] powerfully inspires within me” (Colossians 1:29). With that inspiration, Paul became a formidable force for the expansion of the kin-dom of God.
With the potential “energy that [Christ] powerfully inspires” available to all followers of Jesus, we have the power to speak up for love, to improve the life of another, to take a stand against injustice and thereby create ripples of hope. Ripples of hope, when gathered together, become fountains of justice and ever-flowing streams of mercy that together can sweep through mighty walls of resistance as proclaimed by the prophet Amos (5:24).
Brazil stands to become a leading exporter of energy with its abundance of energy resources both potential and kinetic — natural and ecclesial. What hinders the fulfillment of this potential with natural resources is internal political corruption, struggles over power and policy and disagreement over who profits. The witness of the church in Brazil also stands to become a leading exporter of energy unless it, likewise, becomes crippled by similar internal struggles.
Since returning home from my visit to Brazil, I’ve confessed to being tired from my journey. The red-eye flights were hard on my well-into-mid-life body. However, my spirit is energized and inspired for the work of the church in our world today. With the companionship of our Brazilian Baptist partners, along with the strength that comes through Christ, we have what we need to do God’s work in the world today. Thanks be to God for power that is greater than the sum of its parts when we journey together on the kin-dom way!