Answering the Call Award Honors Half-Century of OC Missionaries in Brazil

Josh Watson

Oklahoma Christian is located 4,500 miles from the beautiful South American country of Brazil. 

But that distance hasn’t stopped dozens of alumni and faculty from serving as missionaries there.

More than 50 years ago, renowned families of faith such as Howard and Jane Norton, Don and Carol Vinzant, Glover and Margie Shipp, and John and Catherine Pennisi were among the first missionaries from churches of Christ to answer the Gospel call in Brazil via a 17-day boat ride.

Each of those men later became faculty members at OC, and they recruited new generations of missionaries to Brazil. 

Oklahoma Christian will honor that legacy at Homecoming this year by presenting the Missions Award to the collective group of Eagles who made a difference as Brazilian missionaries.

“What my parents and many other missionaries have done is heroic. They left their country, their families and friends to serve as missionaries in a distant land. But I think each of them would say they were the blessed ones,” Howard’s son Ted Norton (84) said. “It is emotional today to go to Brazil and visit a church on any given Sunday. The church is widespread and we have thousands of brothers and sisters. I am truly blessed to have witnessed this growth during my lifetime.”

A second wave of OC missionaries in Brazil included names such as Teston (70) and Jo Gilpatrick, Mel LeTorre, Sr. (66), and many OC students, such as Donna Buchanan (73) and Glenda (Pope 74) Blake, the first two HIM workers in Brazil. During her two years in Brazil, Donna met Bob Carpenter, now a professor of missions at OC. After marrying, they returned to Brazil as full-time missionaries from 1981 to 1991.

“I met Donna at the Nortons’ home,” Bob said. “That first group of missionaries laid a wonderful foundation that truly blessed those of us who followed. Of course, the people of Brazil made our experiences so positive. Brazilians are so warm, open and fun-loving, which makes them open to the Gospel.”

What they’ve done is heroic. But they’d say they’re the blessed ones. Ted Norton

In the 1980s, even more OC alumni moved to Brazil as missionaries, such as David (89) and Barbara (Dulohery 89) Duncan, Taylor (89) and Connie (Hanks 90) Cave, Terry (89) and Kelli (Bryan 89) Fischer, and Rick (90) and Monika (Harrison 89) Sandoval-Belt.

“We followed giants of the faith and were lucky to sit at their feet and learn from them before going to Brazil,” said David Duncan, now an OC trustee and minister at Memorial Church of Christ in Houston, Texas. “God used their examples to help us believe we really could make a difference.”

Missionaries from OC truly did make a difference. The first church established by the initial group, the 9th and July Church of Christ in Sao Paulo, remains one of the largest, self-sufficient churches in the country. 

From that small start, Christians have spread the Gospel throughout Brazil, which now has more than 250 congregations and 11,000 members.

“We were able to leave a strong, vibrant church in the city of Brazilia,” Duncan said. “Many of the leaders in the church are now second-generation Christians. The growth has been encouraging to see. Those seven years in Brazil literally changed my life.”

The church’s growth in Brazil continued through the work of subsequent OC missionaries, such as Kevin (94) and Deborah (Phipps 93) Reynolds, Gordon (91) and Ila (Lewis 95) Dabbs, Dan (00) and Kristi Baird, Carlos (99) and Elaine (Amaral Tabone 99) Castilho, Russ (01) 

and Valerie (Turner 00) Quirey, and Wes (01) and Carrie (Seat 03) Gotcher. 

The Reynolds family just returned this summer, while the Dabbs served from 1998 to 2008 in Rio de Janeiro with the Victory Church of Christ.

“In our time with the Victory church, we built friendships that continue today,” said Gordon Dabbs, now the pulpit minister at Prestoncrest Church of Christ in Dallas, Texas. “When we went back this summer, it was great to see how strong the church was in size and Brazilian leadership.”

Today, others continue the university’s tradition of mission work in Brazil – OC graduates like Allen (92) and Robin (Tomes 92) Dutton, Brent (99) and Jill Nichols, and Kelly (09) and Kelci (Thomas 10) Tomasi.

“Working in Niteroi has yet again opened our eyes to just how far the Kingdom reaches,” Kelly Tomasi said. “We are so blessed now to be a part of it and add to the rich history of OC families serving here.”

Lyle Campbell (85), a network administrator at OC, spent the first seven years of his life in Brazil with his parents, Jerry (55) and Barbara, who were on that first missionary team.

“Brazil, my family, and OC have always been intertwined,” Lyle said. “My dad got his start there, and I returned for a month one summer as an OC student. I returned with my sons in 2012. Andrew (14) spent a summer there as a missionary intern, and Kaler (a current OC student) hopes to do the same next year. Brazil is just a wonderful country with open people who are receptive to the Gospel.”

Lyle’s dad Jerry was the first OC alumnus to serve in Brazil. He said Central Christian College, as it was known then, influenced his decision to become a missionary.

“About seven to 10 of us in my class all ended up in foreign mission fields,” Jerry said. “Barbara and I were invited to join the group going to Brazil, and from the very beginning, we realized the need to train Brazilian leaders. When I visited a few years ago, I was extremely impressed by how strong the Brazilian church leadership was. There has been a tremendous amount of work that has been done by others, but it has been wonderful to see how richly God has blessed our work that started so small.”


Fall 2014

View more stories from the Fall 2014 issue of Vision magazine.