Portugal may not seem like a country where the gospel is seldom heard, but Mike and Ruth Davis know differently.
The Davises, who have a home in Hollidaysburg, say that less than 1 percent of the population in the Southwestern European country are considered evangelical Christians. Few people attend church, so the Davises have looked to unconventional ways to share God's love, such as teaching about handling money in a public school or coaching football.
As international workers for the Christian and Missionary Alliance church, they will talk about their experiences during the 8 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. services Sunday at Altoona Alliance Church, 3220 Pleasant Valley Blvd.
(Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich) Mike and Ruth Davis, who are home based in Hollidaysburg, are building relationships with the people of Portugal where they are international workers for the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church. Having served in Brazil for 24 years, they will speak about their life in Portugal at 8 and 10:45 a.m. Sunday at Altoona Alliance Church, 3220 Pleasant Valley Blvd.
The Davises, who previously shared the gospel in Brazil over a 24-year period, joined Altoona Alliance about seven years ago, making it is their home church when they are on furlough.
They have lived in Portugal for almost two years where they have been absorbing the culture, readjusting their Portuguese language skills and getting to know the people.
Ruth and Mike are part of a team that includes a single American woman who worked in Brazil for 20 years and a Brazilian couple. They were invited to be part of Project Portugal by the National Church of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Brazil. While Project Portugal is under the national church in Brazil, the Davises receive their financial support from the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in America.
Although Portuguese is the language of Brazil and the couple speaks it fluently, they had to readjust their speaking skills when they moved abroad. Mike compared it to knowing American English and having to learn British English, only with even more changes.
Once they got past the linguistic challenges, the Davises and the team began looking for ways to connect with the people.
Their endeavors include starting a church service in their home, Ruth teaching a religion class in the public school last year and Mike becaming a football coach.
The church service is attended by the team and a few Portuguese. Mike, an ordained minister and team leader, sometimes gives the message, but it is rotated among other team members.
Once a month, the Davises hold dinner after the service as a way to create fellowship.
The people don't invite you into their homes, Ruth said. Instead, socialization takes place in coffee shops where the setting is casual, and patrons are welcome to relax and enjoy their drinks. The team has adopted this Portuguese way of life for its biweekly meetings, because it allows the team to be among the people, Mike said.
While coffee shops are usually where friends gather, Ruth has been able to meet with a woman in her home. Trained as a counselor by the Portuguese Evangelical Association for a Billy Graham organization outreach, Ruth was connected online with a woman who was suicidal.
Ruth met with her and gave her a Bible and will continue the relationship when they return to Portugal.
She said many people are depressed in the country that is struggling financially. Portugal has accepted a couple of bailouts from the European Union and its unemployment is 17 percent, she said.
The economic conditions were behind Ruth's idea to teach a class on financial principles from God's perspective in the public schools. Although only one 13-year-old boy took the approved class, Ruth said is she not deterred.
"A good investment in one person can multiply," she said. She plans to try again this coming school year, hoping to branch out to other schools.
With fall comes football and Mike, who has played the sport, is gearing up for the season by studying its technical side. He will coach the Lumberjacks, a team of men in their 20s, who are part of an American football league consisting of 10 teams.
Although soccer is the country's No. 1 pastime, young men are interested in playing the American sport. Before Mike came along, the Lumberjacks were coached by two players who are now the offensive and defensive coordinators.
He became involved after a Baptist friend asked him to help. Mike met the teams requirements for a coach: He had to be older so the players would respect his leadership and he had to be an America.
"From the first practice, they were already calling me coach," he said.
Practice begins in earnest in September with games to be played from January through April. Because the players attend college or have jobs, practice is held from 9 to 11 p.m. three days a week. Often the players, who have game-day uniforms, show up in little more than knee pads, because they cannot afford practice gear.
As members of an independent league, the teams pay their own way. To help them out, Altoona Area and Purchase Line school districts have donated used equipment.
Mike looks at the coaching position as a way to instill values in the men.
"It was not on my radar [to be a coach], but it's a cool opportunity to build biblical principles in the lives of these guys," he said.
"Football is a good venue to teach life principles, such as commitment, discipline, teamwork and respect for others," Mike said. He said he wants to be a good example to them and a good example of someone who is a Jesus follower.
"They know we are church planters, people of faith and they are OK with that," Ruth said.
The Davises said most Portuguese are either medieval (traditional) or post-modern (agnostics or atheists)?in their spiritual thinking.
Although other denominations have a presence in Portugal, the team is the first to represent the Christian and Missionary Alliance churches.
"There are no tracks to run on or anything established," Ruth said. "We are making the tracks."
But new beginnings are not foreign to the Davises who started four churches in Brazil while raising their two sons and daughter. The children are adults now and on their own, but the work continues.
"We are building relationships right now," Mike said. "Our ultimate goal is to see churches started. We want to get to know the people and if the opportunity arises, to talk about the good news of the gospel."