In 2006, Pastor Paulo Lima was working at the Renewed Presbyterian Church (Pentecostal) in Brazil when Maria Helena came to him. He hadn’t seen her in a long time.
“She told me, ‘As I was praying for you, the Holy Spirit told me to bring you a message.’ I said, ‘What? You couldn’t have picked up a phone and called?’”
“‘Some things have to be said face-to-face,’ she said. ‘Prepare your bags for a long trip; God is going to change your language, your nationality, and your flag.’”
Uncertain about what do with this message from a former church member, Lima began praying.
Fifteen days later Pastor Tito Rivera called. Having read about Lima's ministry on the internet, Rivera wanted Lima to help him reach the growing Spanish and Portuguese population in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Lima came to the United States on a worker visa. He preached with Rivera for 45 days, then went to work for pastor friend in Marlborough, Massachusetts.
His immigration status was updated to a religious visa, so that wife, Zilda, and daughters, Deborah and Gabriella could join him in America.
Two years later, as his visa was about to expire, leaders at the church in Marlborough told him to go help a Baptist pastor in Nashua, New Hampshire.
Near the end of his first year In Nashua, a woman from Lowell, Massachusetts, heard him preach. “You’re Presbyterian,” said Lucia Costa. “Why don’t you start a service in my home for all the Brazilian Presbyterians in my neighborhood?”
Four people showed up for the first worship in November 2009; within a month, so many people were coming Lima had to rent space in a storefront.
Lima started attending Nashua Presbyterian Church. After a long conversation with its pastor Eric Markman, Lima told him about a vision he'd had of a keychain with 15 keys all together. Markman told the session about Lima. They decided to share building space with Lima so that he could start a worship service for the Brazilians in Nashua.
“When Pastor Eric gave me a church key, I instantly knew what my dream meant,” says Lima. “God wanted me to plant 15 Presbyterian churches.’”
As the Nashua Brazilian congregation grew, a familiar pattern emerged. Unexpected visitors from nearby Manchester came to a service, saying “Pastor, we don’t have a Brazilian Presbyterian church in our city. Please start one in our home.”
Lima updated his immigrations status to student visa, so that he could stay in the country longer. He started his third worshiping community in Manchester in January 2011.
“The worshiping communities could support him, but not with any monetary income, ” says Cindy Kohlmann.
“As resource presbyter for the Presbytery of Northern New England, I was trying to get his ordination with his home denomination recognized by our presbytery. As long as he was on a student visa, he couldn’t earn any money.”
But the Presbytery had a previous difficulty with one of their new-immigrant fellowships, and was being extra cautious.
Meanwhile, Lima started a fourth service at a couple’s home in Brockton, Massachusetts. It quickly outgrew itself, so Lima found space to rent in a Methodist church. “I knew no one there,” says Lima, “except this couple that came to Manchester service asking me to start a Presbyterian church.”
Lima was incredibly busy. “I opened a Bible college for members of our church in Lowell, to train them so they could help me,” he says.
The agonizingly slow process of getting Lima officially accepted into the Presbytery was creating tension in Lima’s family.
Now 18, Deborah, the couple’s eldest daughter, had been accepted at two state universities to study engineering. With her father now on student visa status--and unable to earn money--she had no idea how they would come up with $25,000 a year for college. “Daddy, what do we have to do? I’m going to call the committee on ministry now,” she exclaimed.
Steve Quinlan, committee chair at the time, remembers that phone call. “I felt a sense of urgency,” he says. “It was no longer appropriate to wait. Lima had done everything we asked “
Stated Clerk Cliff Creel agreed. “We finally found the permission-giving balance we were looking for when he (Lima) agreed to renounce his vows in the Brazilian church.
In June 2012, Paulo Lima was accepted into the Presbytery of Northern New England as a teaching elder, evangelist, and organizing pastor.
His daughter Deborah now attends Nashua Community College in New Hampshire. She is on a limited scholarship while Lima’s immigration status is worked out.
Lima is working to bring a pastor and his wife from Brazil to help him run the Brockton church, so that he can start additional worshiping communities. He’s looking at three cities in Massachusetts—Natick, Clinton, and Somerville—as potential sites.
For now, there is a celebration to plan. Lowell’s third anniversary is coming up the weekend of December 15–16. That Saturday, all four of the congregations he started will worship together. And on Sunday pastors from the presbyteries of Northern New England and Boston have been invited to worship.
“Lowell is where I saw we would be one church,” says Lima, “worshiping in fifteen different places. We only need eleven more. It’s going to happen. God showed me.”