With the dramatic expansion of Christianity in Brazil continuing, churches are increasingly looking for more diverse methods to evangelize and bring people from all circles of society and interests to Jesus. However, not all are what traditional churchgoers might expect.
One such new method that has raised eyebrows among Brazilian faithful is a new Jiu-Jitsu program, which has been set up by numerous churches in the Latin American country as the latest evangelistic tool.
The increasing popularity of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), and in particular the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), in the country has caught the attention of Christian leaders. Numerous Christian fighters, such as Vitor Belfort, have been gaining increasing popularity in the violent sport, and this has led to the unlikely new Jiu-Jitsu program being established in a number of churches.
The Biblical Revival Evangelical Church (IEAB) in São José dos Campos, eastern São Paulo state, is one such church that is offering the Jiu-Jitsu program. It has established the initiative with the purpose of promoting sport, as well as to form a platform for people to socialize and ultimately bring people to Jesus who are currently off the traditional church radar.
The project is being supported by the Jiu-Jitsu Brazilian League, and is being overseen by Pastors Samuel Martins and Robson.
On IEAB's Jiu-Jitsu program Facebook page it promotes a mixture of attributes from the sport as well as from faith: "God uses the foolish to shame the wise, uses the weak to shame the strong, muscles are nothing without technique, control and faith. Jiu-Jitsu for Christ."
The description continues: "IEAB wants to be a church for the city. We see a church that grows in quantity and in quality. A church made up of people who are spiritual, emotional, moral, physical and socially transformed. We want to be a church whose worship is marked by personal and collective devotional experience of the presence of God."
It concludes: "We want to be a church full in the relationship with God and other people. IEAB wants to be a church where all believers know their gifts and talents given by God and serve accordingly so that all the needs can be met and the purpose of God be reached on the earth."
Among the mission goals highlighted by the project are; to evangelize and to disciple people, heal them fully, help them grow in their communion with God and with brothers and equip them to serve God and others through their spiritual gifts.
Among the other Christian Jiu-Jitsu programs being offered by churches in Brazil include: Equipe Darcio Lira Traditional Jiu-Jitsu of Blessing Valley Church, in Fortaleza, Ceara state, northern Brazil; Jiu-Jitsu of Promised Land Christian Church; and Jiu-Jitsu of Porciúncula Baptist Church in Rio de Janeiro, among others.
However, the initiative has not gained the support across the board from Christian leaders. Even though the ministries claim to use the art for Kingdom purposes, many Christian leaders and pastors have stood against Christians practicing violence.
Pastor Ciro Sanchez Zibordi, from the Assemblies of God in Rio de Janeiro, is one of those speaking out against violent sports being used for evangelism.
"Although Christianity should not to be legalistic, we cannot ignore passages such as 1 Corinthians 6:12 and 1 Thessalonians 5:22, which teach us that even lawful and non-sinful things can be inconvenient for Christians, such as a type of sport that prioritizes violence, for example," he said in his blog post entitled "Do you know what I think about MMA?"
According to Zibordi, violence must not be ignored even if it operates under the label of sport.