On Sunday evenings, dozens of worshippers gather for mass at St Andrew’s Church, but it’s not a service in English they’ve come for. Brazilian-born minister Clay Peterson de Oliveira talks to LUISA GIRAO about his life in Queenstown and the bilingual services he conducts for the resort’s Brazilian and South American community
In recent decades, Queenstown’s become home to a Brazilian community estimated at more than 2000.
Prominent among them is Clay Peterson de Oliveira, who for six years has been conducting a mass in his mother tongue of Portuguese.
Born in Belo Horizonte, the sixth-largest city in Brazil with a population of about 2.5 million, he grew up in a religious family.
He took up the guitar at the age of 10, and since then has merged his two greatest passions in life – music and God.
After completing a bachelor’s degree in theology, he served in church leadership, where he met his wife Graziela Santos de Oliveira.
They married and had two children, Clarice, 12, and Vinicius, 10.
The couple were part of the Brazilian contemporary worship band Diante do Trono, travelling to a host of countries to perform, including the United States, Japan and Israel.
At that stage of his life, he never imagined he would one day live overseas, but that all changed in 2011 when he visited his wife’s family in New Zealand.
The visit left him feeling he “had a mission” in the country.
He met Brazilian pastor and missionary Joao Petreceli, who was living in the resort at the time and leading the Portuguese service at the church.
“The service did not have a musician; they used to play the worship songs from YouTube, so Petreceli liked that I had this experience with music.”
He also met Wakatipu Community Presbyterian Church’s Reverend Ian Guy, whom he describes as “visionary.”
“He was the one who understood that Queenstown is an international place, so he opened the church for different cultures.”
But actually making the move to NZ took a few more years, as the church he served did not want to let him go.
With his closeness to his wider family, Oliveira knew moving to another country would be a huge personal challenge.
“In the beginning it was hard; I’m the first son to leave Brazil.
“I had lunch with my family every Sunday, and we have a tight relationship.
“It was a difficult scenario for everyone.”
In 2014, he finally convinced his Brazilian church to sent him to NZ as a missionary.
He and his family have become active members of the resort’s Brazilian community, he says.
“We felt very welcomed by everyone here, and people are very kind to me and my family.
“I remember that we moved in the middle of winter and were not prepared for it.
“People brought blankets to get us warm.”
Their children have adapted well, and now speak English fluently.
“They correct my English now.”
After serving its Wakatipu leadership for five years, Oliveira was inducted as a minister of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa NZ last year.
He feels blessed to be able to bring God’s word to the Latin community, but also for anyone else who needs it.
During each Sunday mass, translators are dotted throughout the rows to ensure any English-speaking people in the congregation don’t miss the message.
Most songs are sung in Portuguese, but a few are sung in English as well.
“We want to bring the Christian values of honesty, respect and solidarity to everyone.
“It’s about learning to worship together across the nations.”