Coffee shop meeting led to Norfolk church start
A coffee shop encounter in Dereham Baptist Church, almost ten years, ago literally helped start a church within a church. Kevin Gotts reports.
Former missionary to Brazil, Don Threadgold and his wife had seen notices on the board in the library in Dereham, alerting them to people in the town speaking Portuguese who had emigrated to the UK - some from Brazil and some from Portugal.
Later a Brazilian lady called Maria came into the Dereham Baptist Church (DBC) office asking 'Posso dar meu dizimo'? and since no one could understand her, Don was called from the coffee shop, to interpret what she was asking. In fact she wanted to give her tithe to the church! Her offering was joyfully accepted.
A friendship started and they decided to start a cell group at Maria's flat, specifically for the Portuguese speaking people and on the very first night two ladies were won to Christ.
Within a few months, with visits from Portuguese speaking believers from King's Lynn where a similar cell group had started, a fast growing need was identified and DBC sought a pastor to lead the group.
Pastor Jorge Damasceno, who had served God for some 15 years in Albania came over to England, supported by the Brazilian and American Baptist Associations, to help meet the growing spiritual needs of the Portuguese-speaking people.
Soon after their arrival in 2006, DBC found a house for Jorge, his wife Mel and their two children and the little house group moved into the main church building and a Saturday 6pm service for the Portuguese-speaking community was established.
Soon they were welcoming visitors from King's Lynn, Thetford and Lowestoft with their numbers increasing to 50-60 people.
As families attended, provision was made for classes for children and teenagers. Leadership classes for their elders were started together with a worship group and activities for the ladies. Bi-lingual services also began to feature in the programme of DBC and friendships were formed.
Jorge and Mel were invaluable in helping their congregation as a greater command of English was needed in dealing with education for children, health care issues, contact with social services, housing issues and completing documentation.
The reputation of the Portuguese-speaking church, under the leadership of Jorge, was recognised and the opportunity given to meet the Archbishop of Canterbury to explain his role and the establishment of the church in an interview featured on BBC1's Look East programme.
Jorge, who had added so much to the fellowship of DBC, was inducted into the English Baptist ministry, eventually being appointed as full-time assistant minister.
The Portuguese Speaking Church continues to grow under the leadership of Pastor Marcos Hernandez and his wife Marianne, supported by ministers Chris Densham, Jorge Damasceno and Pastor Marcos. Whenever possible they integrate the English and the Portuguese-speaking churches into one body in Christ.
The Saturday evening services, although in Portuguese, are welcoming to English-speaking Christians and likewise the Sunday services welcome the Portuguese speakers. Don has the advantage of feeling 'at home' whichever language is spoken!
Pictured above is the Portuguese-speaking congregation at Dereham Baptist Church.