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Mission: Madeira


Jason and Andrea Murfitt returned to the UK last summer after twelve years’ service in Brazil. Here Jason reports on a visit to Madeira, to investigate the possibility of serving there and planting a new church.


I was twenty-five years old when I met Ban Forsyth (then in his late 90s; he lived to be over 100). He first arrived in Brazil as a missionary in 1928 and served there for forty-six years - retiring a year before I was born. He introduced me to a book he had written called The Wolf from Scotland, a must-read for anyone who is interested in Christ’s church on the island of Madeira. In it he explains how a Scotsman called Robert Reid Kalley arrived on the island in 1838, where, as the gospel was preached and God poured out his Spirit, there was an awakening of some 2000+ souls. Some were killed and most driven from the island in 1846, although wherever the pilgrims went churches, hospitals and schools sprang up. Dr. Kalley went to São Paulo, Brazil, and it was there and then that Brazil was first introduced to the biblical Jesus and salvation in his name alone.


At the time I met Ban Forsyth, our sights were on the Amazon, where we would arrive within five years, unaware that twenty years after my conversation with Mr Forsyth, my family and I would continue in Kalley’s gospel-shoes and sow the same eternal truths together on the island of Madeira.


During those years in Brazil, God equipped us to support local struggling churches by being involved in training leaders, working extensively with young people and broadcasting the gospel, not only on the tributaries of the Amazon and deep into the jungle, but far and wide across the whole north of Brazil via radio and TV. Yet little by little, the Lord brought Madeira onto the horizon, confirming his call in 2016 that he was sending us to that mission-field - much to the surprise of many, not least ourselves. But if God calls, who are we to be like Jonah and refuse?


Having arrived in Brazil 160 years after Dr. Kalley, we now find ourselves exploring a new ministry of church-planting on the island of Madeira, 180 years after he arrived there. ‘Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!’ (Rom. 11:33).


It was agreed by our sending church (Haven Church, Gorran) and GBM that two years would be well spent in the UK to strengthen ties with those who have been so faithful in supporting us. Lucy will study her GCSEs in a Christian school, and I will make bi-monthly visits to the island to discern where Christ wishes us to establish a new church and with whom.


A mission team is already shaping up. Rolland Brown (pastor in Loughton) spends six months a year on the island. He is experienced and gracious with a calming spirit and well connected on the Island, having visited there for some 30 years. Two Madeiran brothers (Claudio and Sandro) are receiving their theological training in a reformed church in Rugby, where they were saved and met their English brides. They are also hoping to move to the Island in 2020. There is a young man called Philip, saved from a criminal background and presently living on Madeira, a young Christian, but zealous to live and serve for the glory of God. There are other Christians scattered on the Island who have shown great interest, recognising the need for a Christ-exalting, mission-minded church where the Scriptures are regularly and faithfully expounded. Some attend a little Baptist church in Funchal, while others feel that there is nowhere that they can worship in spirit and in truth.


We are in contact with that Baptist church; it’s complicated, but in a nutshell they do hold to the gospel essentials, but at present lack the vision to reach outside of the building to seek the lost with the intention of making disciples. They agree that a new church-plant is what is needed on the Island. But where? Please pray with us that we might know and be faithful in getting to work – a work which comes with no ‘fast-track’ promise of ease and ‘VIP treatment.’ In Dr. Kalley’s day it was illegal to proselytise. That was the catalyst for many problems that he encountered as he sought to take the Great Commission seriously and honour God over men (Matt 28:18-20 also read Acts 4:18-20). Today, thankfully, it is legal on Madeira to teach the Bible. However, the Island is still under a shroud of spiritual darkness that cloaks the 255,000 population who look to human religion to save instead of Christ. It’s going to be tough. We will have a new culture and Portuguese dialect to learn (it sounds Russian to us); despite it being a pleasant holiday destination for some, ironically it is the holy days that can be stumbling-blocks to the gospel.


To give you an indication of the spiritual climate on the island of Madeira, I spoke with Maria-José a few days ago, as she served me from her fruit-juice van. She delighted in telling me that her name reflects her heavenly mother and her earthly father. She didn’t mention her father again, but did spin off into a monologue of adoration aimed towards her ‘Mother in Heaven, the Mother of God, my Comforter to whom I pray.’ I introduced to her the notion that ‘there is but one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus’ (1 Tim. 2:5). She listened politely but was not convinced.


Some, on the other hand, are looking for spiritual light elsewhere. After visiting a Roman Catholic Cathedral and sensing the oppressive sadness and hopelessness that pervades there, a lady called Sandra told me of the ‘pretence of dead religion’ but feared that she had nowhere else to go. She has slipped into an existential new-age mind-set and adopted pantheism to pacify herself. We spoke for two hours and considered many biblical texts together which seemed to enthuse her.


Another day, due to car problems, I spoke with a mechanic and his father, on two separate journeys, about the fact that Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross to pay the penalty of sin for all who believe. With head cocked to one side the mechanic asked me to repeat the event three times, not because of my accent, but because he was truly amazed at never having heard the cross of Christ and his sufficiency as Saviour explained before.


There is no doubt that Christ’s church shall be built on the island of Madeira once more. But when God gets busy, so does Satan. It might be slow-going and fraught with trials, but praise the Lord, Christ always wins! Why not join us on the winning side? Could God be moving you to come and live on Madeira? However the Lord prompts you, we hope to see you one day soon on the island of Madeira, to join us in worshipping Jesus alone, in a new church.

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