MISSIONARIES from South America and Africa are heading to Britain to save our souls in a reversal of traditional roles, writes Maurice Chittenden.
They have been inspired by Glauco Soares de Lima, the Anglican Archbishop of Brazil, who says London has become so secular that he wants to send people to work for its salvation.
Among the first are 12 Brazilians who have gone to spread the gospel to such places as Bognor Regis in West Sussex, Edinburgh and Orpington in Kent. In Harrogate, North Yorkshire, people taking the waters today will be greeted by the gentle samba of Viva Vida, a Brazilian dance troupe gyrating to the music of Christian songs.
Missionaries who have travelled 5,000 miles from the Sal da Terra (Salt of the Earth) church in Uberlandia will ask onlookers whether they are ready to commit themselves to Jesus.
Marcos Barros, head of the Sal de Terra mission, will give holy communion today in a restaurant in Bolton, Lancashire. "Britain is ungodly," he said. "We always thought of it as the land of the good until a Baptist minister visited us and told us about the decay. We came to spy the land and found open doors asking for help.
"The British gave us our inheritance when they went to Brazil as missionaries. Now we are like the grandchildren, coming home to help the grandparents."
A new edition of Operation World, an 832-page manual for missionaries to be published in Britain in September, says foreign churches have sent at least 60 missionaries to Britain.
Jason Mandrake, its coauthor, said yesterday: "Priests in places like South America feel the tables have turned: that we have become the ungodly and they are the ones who have missionary fervour."
The Church of England has recognised the changing roles. Its Church Mission Society (CMS) still sends 150 missionaries abroad but has also brought 20 into Britain.
Missionaries face an uphill struggle. Stephen Tirwomwe, a Ugandan minister who survived Idi Amin's purge against the church in which his archbishop was murdered, goes into working men's clubs in Leeds in search of souls to save.
"We get a 10-minute slot before the bingo," he said. "People in Britain still believe in God but don't want to make the commitment to Christ. I tell them that if someone is drowning, it doesn't help to stand and not do anything. Human beings need to be converted to save them from drowning."
Some remain unconverted. Last month in Bradford missionaries from South Africa and India asked children about the cross. Natasha Thomas, of the CMS, said: "One comment was 'The cross is in all of us' - but one seven-year-old produced a collage of the McDonald's sign and a hamburger."