Robert and Delarni Fife
When I reflect upon the way God has revealed divine love, compassion, mercy and grace over my life span as well as over the life of my parents and siblings, I am led to believe that God’s guidance and protection could only be the result of devoted prayer. Not so much of our own, but of my grandparents, uncles and aunts, and supporters of our family, who faithfully prayed for us while we were far away on the mission field. So I dedicate this work to them, both to the ones I was privileged to get acquainted with later in life and to those whom I never met. Evidently, it is also dedicated to God and, inspired by those who came before me; I wish that, with God’s help, all who come behind us will find us faithful.
Robert Edward Lee Fife
DATE OF BIRTH: August 12, 1957
PLACE OF BIRTH: New Orleans, Louisiana
M.Div., Emmanuel School of Religion, Johnson City, Tennessee, May 2006. Concentration: Christian Ministries. Thesis under Dr. Charles Taber (1928-2007): "From Missionary Recipient to Missionary Propeller - A case study featuring a church in Goiânia, Brazil, that became mission-minded in the mid-eighties and has since seen thirteen members and counting become cross-cultural missionaries."
TEE courses (tutored by missionary Tom Fife), Centro de Cultura Cristã, 1973-1983.
In 1981-1982, Tom and Libby Fife spent a one-year-long furlough in the United States for the first time. Their three older children stayed in Brazil. By then, Robert and Elena were married to Brazilians and had Brazilian children. Elena lived with her family in Belo Horizonte, in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais, and Robert and his wife Derlani were active leaders at ICNG. Besides that, Robert, Derlani, and second son Fife “Fifo” MacDuff were all attending the UFG in Goiânia.
During that year, Robert Fife and Gerson Sousa, who were elders in the church, carried out the pastoral responsibilities without Tom's help for the first time. Their first experience of the kind, however, had been with Tom’s close oversight in 1977, the year before Robert married Derlani Tolentino (February) and Gerson married Iolanda Cabral(December). Having been TEE students since 1973 and being joined by their wives in these courses was obviously very helpful at this point.
In August 1985, Robert and Derlani were called to work with Portugal Christian Mission at the southern end of Europe. What was at first surprisingly unexpected became a motivating factor for all the activities described above. After all, world mission deserves the best we have to answer God’s call, and Robert and Derlani were among the main leaders at ICNG at that time. In 1987, Robert quit his job, well-paid by Brazilian standards. At the time, Colégio Objetivo was a large private school (over 7,000 students from pre-K to 12th grade) where Robert had taught high school seniors for almost eleven years. Besides teaching, he was head of the foreign languages department for most of those years and ended up doing a lot of student and parent counseling. He also served as school principal for several years.
It is interesting to note how the Holy Spirit had prepared Robert’s and Derlani’s hearts to make such a decision. In 1985, Gerson and Robert were doing most of the shepherding at ICNG while they held full time jobs. The church was growing and they were praying for a full time minister. After searching for some time to no avail, Robert and Derlani had decided they were willing to become an answer to those prayers, which meant living on only ten percent of Robert’s salary at Colégio Objetivo. While the church board prayed about it, missionaries Richard and Sarah Robison wrote inviting the couple to join the team and help with the new work in Portugal. By this time, their hearts were ready for that kind of a challenge and both were absolutely sure the Lord was calling them to full time cross-cultural ministry. Of course, God began to provide in different and often unexpected ways. For example, the Restoration Movement missionaries were gathered in Cuibá, in the state of Mato Grosso, for a missionary conference in January 1987. Former missionary in Brazil, Stan Wohlenhaus, currently on the faculty of Ozark Christian College, was the keynote speaker and challenged all to adopt the Fife mission to Portugal as a joint project. This was carried out by each family giving increments of $25 every month. Wohlenhaus’s time with the Brazilian leaders was also very affirming to the Fifes and he helped to supply a need at a very crucial time when Robert had already decided to teach only part time at Colégio Objetivo. Those contributions were continued by some for several years thereafter and by a few until now. Robert and Derlani understood it was part of their call to raise support first and foremost among Brazilian churches. In fact, during the first few years in Portugal, as much as two-thirds of their support came from Brazil. Their main goal was world mission awakening so, with this in mind, the family visited many churches to share their vision and raise prayer warriors for the mission. Some of those congregations were small and poor at the time but, to this day, there are still faithful intercessors who are excited to report that they continue to pray for the Fifes in Portugal every single day, according to the verse imprinted on the very first prayer card which was used to promote the mission:
Due to the instability of the Brazilian economy in the nineties this support gradually decreased. Nevertheless, contributions from Brazil still account for some fifteen per cent of the Fifes’ income.
The first missionaries formally sent out by the Restoration Movement churches in Brazil, Robert, Derlani, and their four children between ages four and nine arrived in Portugal early on Sunday, March 20, 1988. Dick Robison met them at the port of Santos in Lisbon and drove them to Carcavelos where they were able to meet the church gathered to worship that morning. As the children grew, every member of the family would have ample opportunities to serve in almost every way imaginable in this small but growing community of faith. This joint effort of Brazilian and American churches and individuals has lasted eighteen years.
As of this writing, Anna (26) has received her Master’s degree from JBC in Marriage and Family Therapy in 2005 and lives with her husband Jeff Offshack and their son Joshua in Knoxville, Tennessee. Chris (25) and her husband Pedro Figueira live in Spartanburg, South Carolina, with their son Daniel. They both received their Doctorate of Chiropractic from Sherman College in 2006. Finally, Deborah (23) and Jon (22) live in Portugal and are active in the church in Carcavelos.
In an attempt to alleviate the crisis in leadership at ICNG which had lingered on since 1993, the family was asked to return to Brazil for some time and aid the church with their gifts and capabilities. The entire year of 1995 was thus spent in Brazil, during which time Kléber and Juracema made their decision to go to Mozambique as missionaries. And then João Márcio joined Gerson Sousa on the pastoral team as a full-time staff member.
Although those were troubling times, Robert and Derlani participated in an excellent discipleship program at ICNG during that year. So the dream of implementing a similar program not only in the Brazilian congregations but among churches belonging to different fellowships in Portugal was born. After a lot of prayer and ground work, the Cooperation of Evangelical Churches of the Estoril Coast ( CIECE) started a Support Ministry for Pastors and Churches ( MAPI) in 2001, connected to Evangelization Service for Latin-America ( SEPAL). Cell groups, discipleship groups among the leadership, and a restoration ministry for hurt people are just three of the areas in which this Support Ministry offers training seminars and practical experience for pastors, their spouses, and churches across the nation. Robert had been involved in the leadership of CIECE ever since a handful of ministers started getting together just to pray for each other, other preachers and churches, the surrounding community and the nation.
Robert and Derlani have for their God-given ministry to promote unity in the body of Christ and to encourage missionaries among the Portuguese-speaking peoples. Besides in 2003, in an attempt to more faithfully express the dynamics of the group, the participants voted to change the name from Cooperação (Cooperation) to Comunhão (Communion/Fellowship) das Igrejas Evangélicas da Costa do Estoril. The acronym CIECE was thus obviously maintained.