By Doug Gray, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – Providing an insight into Christianity for all-comers, be they the most ardent atheist or most uncertain agnostic, ALPHA has set up in Brazil with an aim to explain faith, and discuss belief in all its forms to the inquisitive. Blossoming under the guiding hand of Nicky Gumbel since 1990, ALPHA, a registered charity, now runs courses in more than 160 countries worldwide, in Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox churches.

Nicky Gumbel (right), the man largely behind ALPHA's success, photo by Holy Trinity Brompton.

A former stockbroker in London and New York now living in Rio, Englishman Jeremy Lovelace, was brought on board to help maximize the growth of the course in Brazil. Despite his hard-sell finance background, Lovelace prefers organic methods for expanding ALPHA, which is how it began here in the 1990s.

“The Lutheran church in the south of Brazil and a church in Recife were the first to use the course,” says Lovelace, “translating from the English themselves. Now we are more established here and working with many different traditions and denominations.”

A useful element of the course also lies in helping people at an uncertain time of their life to ask questions about the world and, ultimately, discover faith as a way to help deal with their problems.

The concept behind the course is, in the words of David Weller, reverend at Christ Church in Botafogo who run the ten-week courses in Portuguese and English, to promote fellowship through Christianity. They aim to appeal to people in difficult positions, “We embraced the course some ten years ago, and it is particularly good for newcomers to the city who may feel isolated and lonely to come along and talk about that, to meet people, and to think about the big questions.”

Christ Church, Botafogo, run one of two ALPHA courses in Rio, photo by Christ Church.

Lovelace is keen to stress that there is no ‘pressuring’ of people into Christianity, and that typically only around 20 percent of people who take a course then become part of that church. The idea is to spread faith as much as possible, and the handful of major donors that support the charity would expect nothing less.

In the UK where some 2,000,000 people have attended an ALPHA course, they have even begun advertising at cinemas and on the sides of buses, truly bringing a taste of modern marketing campaigns to Christianity. As a result some eyebrows have been raised in the press where a few remain suspicious of their growth in what has become an increasingly secular society.

There are no such plans for advertising campaigns at this stage in Brazil, where Lovelace prefers a more organic approach. “Seventy churches operate ALPHA courses now in Brazil, and we encourage them to grow and expand, and to hold training events to help reach new churches”, he says.

Worldwide, around 13,000,000 people have attended an ALPHA course, whether to find, refresh, or even discount altogether their faith in God. Whatever way you look at it, that makes them one of the most important forces in the spread of Christianity today.

For more information on ALPHA Brazil contact Jeremy Lovelace:  jeremy.lovelace@alpha.org

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