Portuguese North American
The east-central edge of Rhode Island and parts of adjacent Massachusetts saw a tremendous influx of Portuguese-speaking immigrants in the 1970s. The majority of these were from the Azores, and the rest from Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, and some from Portugal itself. In 1982, one in seven of Rhode Island’s population, and about 40% of Pawtucket’s 80,000 people, were Portuguese. About 800,000 Portuguese-speaking people lived then in southeastern New England.
In January 1976, Carlos and Margarida Cerqueira came from Angola by way of Portugal to evangelize these people and if possible to plant a Christian testimony in their midst. Cravo Branco was another who came about then. These people had been leaders in Gospel work in Luanda and Benguela in Angola. At the changeover of government in Angola they were obliged to leave, and went to Portugal for a short time. They came to Rhode Island at the suggestion of T. Ernest Wilson, a former missionary to Angola, and with the invitation of John Farrell and the Buttonwoods Gospel Chapel in Warwick, RI.
As soon as Mr. Cerqueira was settled, he began knocking on doors. He poured himself into Gospel meetings, home Bible studies, and door-to-door evangelism, all the while supporting his wife and three sons with a full-time factory job. Others came along to help as well. Mr. Cerqueira worked in secular jobs prior to the 1980s, at which time he went into full-time ministry.
At that time, the English-speaking Pawtucket Gospel Hall at 400 Lonsdale Avenue, Pawtucket, RI had dwindled down to just a few. These believers graciously allowed Mr. Cerqueira to use their building for the work among the Portuguese-speaking people.
In 1977, the Portuguese assemblies in New England and New Jersey held a joint conference for ministry and the preaching of the Gospel, with all meetings in the Portuguese language. Albert Horton and T. Ernest Wilson, both former missionaries in Angola, preached at that conference, held in Pawtucket. The English-speaking assemblies at Buttonwoods, Pawtucket, and Groton, CT helped in practical ways.
In 1980, after a few had been saved and a baptism held, a Portuguese-speaking assembly was started in Pawtucket with two converts plus the Cerqueira family of five. It is now known as the Christian Brethren of Pawtucket, or in the Portuguese-speaking community as Igreja Evangelica de Pawtucket.
Within a year the growing assembly was in desperate need of a building of its own. Many Christians had a concern for the Igreja Evangelica de Pawtucket Christians, including John Farrell of Buttonwoods, John McCallum of Stewards Foundation, and Robert and Barbara Campbell of the Groton Bible Chapel in Connecticut. The brethren of several English-speaking assemblies met with the Portuguese Christians to see if a building could be obtained in Pawtucket.
Meetings were being held on Sunday afternoons at the Pawtucket Gospel Hall, but that building was about to be sold. The remaining Christians from the Pawtucket Gospel Hall intended to disburse the proceeds of the sale in various aspects of missionary work. The Hall was 65 years old and needed some remodeling, but it was well constructed, and located in the area where Portuguese immigrants were concentrated.
Recognizing the opportunity for assisting this ethnic group, the Gospel Hall Christians made a major reduction in the asking price and made a large contribution toward the purchase. Three assemblies donated funds toward the purchase. In this way, the Portuguese believers were able to purchase the building, which they occupy presently. Other assemblies helped with the remodeling costs. In 1994, an English-speaking ministry was initiated in the assembly, in addition to meetings in the Portugese language.
For a time, the work among Portugese-speaking people extended also to the town of Bristol, RI as an inner-city type of ministry with preaching to the down-and-outs and supplying clothing. This work was carried on by Francisco Pontes, Antonio Costa, and Wesley Gardner, as well as Mr. Cerqueira. Mr. Gardner later started another assembly on the east side of Narragansett Bay, which lasted only a few years, although they had built a chapel.
Another Portuguese-language assembly functioned for a time in Harrison, NJ with Candido de Sousa devoting much of his time and energy to building up this testimony. Mr. de Sousa had been a full-time evangelist in Portugal, and was commended to the New Jersey ministry by Bethany Chapel in Yonkers, NY.
- Questionnaire Responses
- Letters of Interest, March 1978, p. 10; February 1982, p. 6