Featured Ethnodoxologist: Elsen Portugal
Name: Elsen Portugal
Organizations/Affiliations: GEN Board member; Wycliffe Global Alliance; Gospel Light Baptist Church, Hot Springs, AR; SIL Brazil; Junta de Missões Nacionais (Brazilian National Mission Board) – JMN; Horizontes Latin America; Ph.D. Candidate at B. H. Carroll Theological Institute.
How did you get started in ethnodoxology?
I had been involved in missions and in music in sort of a parallel fashion. It had always been a puzzle to me that God had given me abilities and training in both music and missions, but that they were expected to be in their own categories most of the time. It "just so happened" that in early 2011 that I attended a Wycliffe Total It Up meeting in Dallas and discovered the application of arts in missions through Brian and Robin's presentation on ethnoarts. It truly changed my perspective of the interaction of artistic expression and mission, and it opened my eyes to the holistic and purposeful character of God's gifting for accomplishing His mission. Since then, I have had training at GIAL (now Dallas International University) to become more involved in the field, particularly in Brazil, and have seen that God is opening wonderful doors to expand His Kingdom through communicative local arts.
What has been one of your favorite moments in ethnodoxology?
One of my favorite moments in ethnodoxology was an interaction in July 2017 with an indigenous people group in Central Brazil. Together with another colleague, I held a “Music in the Bible” Seminar for their musicians, and led a “Music Creation” Workshop for about a week. The joy of observing and hearing these Christian musicians’ delight as they understood the dimension of the arts and music in the Bible, and what that meant for their culture, is almost beyond description. This is an experience that I have had before, and will hopefully have many times over. They will, together, become a grand collection of favorite moments.
What do you hope will be different in 25 years through ethnodoxology?
As the field of ethnodoxology expands and takes its rightful place in missions studies, it is my hope that the importance of the expressive arts of the multiple cultures around the world—for the communication of the Gospel message, for discipleship of new believers, and much more—will be understood by all agencies and institutions of higher learning that prepare those who go out to minister. One of the key elements which reaffirms my calling to be involved in ethnodoxological studies is the very presence of the arts in acts of revelation in the Scriptures. God revealed Himself often, not only with the spoken prosaic language of the people, but also through artistic forms. This form of communication models to us the particular importance of artistic expressions of worship and Gospel proclamation which can and should exist in our ministries. This vision, I hope, will be shared by the church at large in the near future.