The community in which Igreja Batista Coqueiral (Coqueiral Baptist Church) is situated has a river running through it.
Once, the river used to be wide enough for boats to bring sugar cane down from the interior of Brazil to Recife’s port. Now it is narrow, with a bed of sludgy sand, lined with rubbish and fed by the drains from the community. Most of the time it is a slow, shallow river in the background of everyone’s lives.
Igreja Batista Coqueiral is about to celebrate its 90th birthday. It has been revitalised over the past 15 years, building a strong, servant-hearted, loving relationship with its local community. It hosts a range of projects, which start with the local children but reach out to include their families as well.
The congregation is also part of a network of local churches seeking the transformation of their community (CIPEL – Conselho Interdenominacional de Pastores Evangélicos e Líderes). On the last Sunday of each November, the pastors shut their own churches and have a community event in a public space. This year, the focus of the event is the river.
Last year, when the rains came, the river flooded. It was too full of sludge and rubbish to cope with the amount of water. The flood waters were almost a metre deep and damaged many of the local houses, destroying many people’s possessions.
The residents do not want this to happen again. My translator this week, Luiz, grew up in the community and has seen how it has changed. He says the only reason he would not stay there in the future is the flood risk.
They know things need to change.
In response, the local churches have launched a project called ‘Clean river, healthy community’. On Sunday 29 November 2015, church members will walk together through the community to a joint service. They want the local government to clean the river up.
This is not just a one-off event, however. CIPEL has been campaigning for the government to act for some time, and they hope that this event will add to that pressure.
They are also working on education projects that help the community to understand the effects of their own actions. For example, they are encouraging people to find better ways of getting rid of their rubbish than by throwing it in the river. This would help to keep the river clean.
As Pastor José Marcos says, ‘The kingdom of God is built by many hands – even beyond the church.’ It is going to take many hands to clean up the river and keep it clean so that the floods do not happen again. It will take the church, the community and the government to do it.
When the leaders met before the event, they opened by reading the following passage from John 17: