Like floating carpets, they suddenly appeared, “in abundance,” swaying in the transparent waters of a sea that reflected the colors of dusk. The sailors recognized them as soon as they saw them before they disappeared on the horizon: they were the famous botelhos—the great clumps of seaweed that danced together in the rippling waves produced by the advance of the proud fleet. For seasoned sailors of that time, it was a clear sign that land was near.
At dawn the next day, the quacking of seabirds broke the silence of the seas. They were known at the time as “buggers.” After almost a hundred years of navigation through the Atlantic Ocean, the appearance of this seagull was taken as a clear indication that within a few hours a sailor would shout: “Land in sight!”
On February 15, 1500, Pedro Álvares Cabral, a Portuguese nobleman of 32–33 years of age, was appointed chief captain of an expedition to India. The fleet under his command departed from Lisbon on March 9, 1500, at noon.
They crossed the Equator on April 9 and sailed westward, moving as far as possible from the African continent, using a navigation technique known as the return of the sea1. On Wednesday afternoon, April 22, 1500, the fleet anchored near the mountain that Pedro Álvares christened “Pascoal” (since that was Easter week). The hill is in what is now the northeastern coast of Brazil, in the state of Bahia, about 60 km from Porto Seguro.
What was the impact of the discovery?
For the next 30 or 50 years after the “discovery” of the new land, its discovery would represent nothing more than a refreshing break in the midst of a long and tiresome oceanic voyage to the much-dreamed-of Indies.
If Brazil’s location was not known, its existence was at least predictable. Decades before Cabral’s famous voyage, the Portuguese were certain that there were islands or lands to the west of the Azores and Madeira, where the winds occasionally brought up trunks with mysterious carvings. A strong indication that the Portuguese knew much more than they divulged is in their protest against the papal bull Inter Caetera [or Coetera] (Latin expression whose meaning is “Among other things”), issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1493.
According to the document, an imaginary line (meridian) was traced to one hundred leagues (about 480 km or 298 miles) west of the Cape Verde Islands. The lands found east of the line would remain with Portugal. This configuration infuriated the Portuguese kingdom. In 1494, the Treaty of Tordesillas was published, that extended the Portuguese dominion to the west up to 370 leagues (1,770 km or 1,100 miles) beyond the islands of Cape Verde. If the waters west of the islands were unknown, why did they feel enraged and ask for a considerable extension of their rule in that direction?
But how could we imagine that the process that was about to begin the following morning would be the beginning of Brazil’s integration into the Atlantic world, the mercantile circuit, and European civilization? On April 22, 1500, it was impossible to even imagine it.
From Cabral to the 21st Century
Since the Cabral's epic, Brazil has gone through many historical phases, beginning with the three centuries in which it was a Portuguese colony until 1822 when it declared itself independent of the Portuguese crown. At the end of the 19th century it became a republic, and over the course of the 20th century and into the 21st century faced serious internal problems: a civil war (1932, São Paulo), the Vargas dictatorship (1932–1954), another extreme rightist dictatorship (1964–1985) and eight democratic presidential elections (1989, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2018). The map of Brazil changed a lot after the Proclamation of the Republic (1889). Besides the State of Amazonas, admitted in 1889, the novelty is the Acre territory (ceded by Bolivia in 1903). After 1960, the last changes that were made left Brazil with the face it has today—with 26 states plus the Federal District.
How do foreigners see Brazil?
According to a survey released in November 2015 by the Ministry of Tourism, the main highlight in the evaluations of international tourists visiting this country is hospitality. The survey was conducted in partnership with the Institute of Economic Research Foundation (FIPE) and involved over 44,000 people, of whom about 10,000 were interviewed during the World Cup (2014) in 15 Brazilian airports and ten borders. According to the study,
(1) Leisure remains the main motivation of tourists, registering the highest number at the historical soccer series in 2014;
(2) Tourists from Europe and the United States come twice as often as visitors from South America;
(3) Rio de Janeiro remains the top Brazilian destination;
(4) Brazilian hospitality is recognized in many parts of the world. The welcoming mannerism and the kind warmth of the Brazilian people is also one of the reasons that generate a high rate of return: 95.1%.
Brazilians and the Gospel
Brazil is a typically religious country. The main religion since the 16th century has been Roman Catholicism, which was introduced by Jesuit missionaries who accompanied the Portuguese explorers and settlers on the newly discovered lands. Brazil is considered to have the largest representation of nominal Catholics in the world, with 64.6% of the Brazilian population declaring themselves Catholic, according to the 2010 census by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics.
Protestantism is the second largest religious segment in Brazil, represented mainly by evangelical churches, with about 59.8 million adherents. Among the largest traditional Protestant denominations in Brazil in the number of adherents are Baptists (3.7 million), Presbyterians (1.5 million), Seventh-day Adventists (1.5 million), Lutherans (one million) and Methodists (340,000). Among the Pentecostal and Neo-Pentecostal Protestants, the most prominent groups are the Assembly of God (12.3 million), the Christian Congregation in Brazil (2.3 million), the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (1.8 million) and Church of the Foursquare Gospel (1.8 million).
The SDA Reform Movement in Brazil
Besides the various denominations mentioned above, our country also houses the world’s largest concentration of SDA Reformers. According to the report of the Secretariat of the SDA Reform Movement in Brazil (consulted on 3/31/19), there are 10,543 members of the Reform Movement in Brazil, distributed among the North and South Unions (5,506 and 5,037 respectively).
The first Reform Bible worker to arrive in Brazil was André Lavrik. Shortly after his arrival in December 1924, he began to work as a volunteer for God. Before the end of 1927, a group was organized in Nova Europa (“New Europe”), in the state of São Paulo. In November of the same year, a small meeting of Reformers was held in Vila Anastácio, a suburb of São Paulo city. This was the first SDARM conference in Brazil. Around 20 people were present. It was November 5, 1927. Carlos Kozel, a minister from San Nicolás, Argentina, celebrated the baptism of the first two Reformers: André Cecan and his father. A small group of nine members was organized in São Paulo.
Brother Cecan informed us:
“In those days, we had no minister in Brazil. Lay people led our meetings. But there was the serious language barrier. Some spoke Romanian and Hungarian. Others, only Hungarian. Some spoke Russian and Romanian. Others, only Russian. Some, just German. When a brother was invited to present a study, the most he could do was announce the biblical texts one after the other. Even so, the message was not always understood by everyone. Sometimes it was necessary to write the verses on the chalkboard. And in the meeting, everyone examined the passages in the Bible itself. When the hymn was announced, everyone sang, each in his own language.
“In our first congress, in São Paulo, November 1927, Brother Kozel spoke in German. We had no interpreter. A Hungarian, Catholic lady was invited to translate from German to Hungarian. Then translation to Romanian and from Romanian to Russian.
“Though we could not easily understand each other, we felt that we were united by the unbreakable power of Christ’s love in our hearts. No one was bothered by the barriers of communication. No one was in a hurry to go home.”
The work continued to expand at great strides, largely thanks to the work of publications—the canvassing ministry. Let us allow the testimony of professor and pastor Alfons Balbach give us a more precise idea:
“Here are a few figures to give . . . an idea of how the colporteur work in Brazil grew slowly but steadily: In the late thirties, during a period of a little over two years (September 1938 through November 1940) our colporteurs (there were about 25 at that time) sold over 10,000 books. In 1986, 700 colporteurs sold over 600,000 books.”2
By 1995, we had 169 churches, 47 church-owned houses of prayer, and 43 rented meeting halls in Brazil.
Overview of the work in Brazil
Until 1986 there was only one Union in Brazil. In November of that year, the Brazilian Union was divided in two. The North Union was established in Brasília (DF) and the South Union in São Paulo. Nine years later, the headquarters of the South Union was transferred to Chácara Ebenézer, in Itú (SP), about 80 km (50 miles) from the capital, where it has remained.
The North Union — With its headquarters in Brasília, Federal District, the North Union is currently the largest in the world, with more than 5,000 members. Under its jurisdiction, there are seven Fields and two Missions.
At present, this Union has 188 churches, 33 rented halls, and 14 other meeting places where there are worship services held along with regular church events. The wide network of this Union consists of 14,519 interested persons and 5,506 members.
It also maintains a fundamental education network called Renascença (Renaissance), with a growing number of students, based in Asa Norte (DF). In November 2014, a branch office was opened in the city of São Domingos do Araguaia, in the state of Pará, which also serves highschool students.
The North Union maintains a nursing home for the elderly in the municipality of Padre Bernardo, Goiás, with a structure of 1,920m², which houses a dining room, kitchen, laundry room, and the occupants’ rooms. There are 22 employees serving 43 senior citizens. In the same complex is the headquarters of the NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) CRAS—“The Good Samaritan” of the North Brazilian Union.
The South Union — Located in Chácara Ebenézer, in the city of Itu, São Paulo, the South Union is the second-largest in the world, formed by four Fields and three Missions. The headquarters have a good physical infrastructure, with accommodations, an auditorium and administrative offices. The project for the completion of new houses is expected to be completed and will accommodate all the Union officials still living outside the property.
Currently, the South Union has 136 churches, 32 rented halls, and 19 other meeting places where worship services and regular church events are held.
In addition, this Union maintains a network of schools that offer elementary to high school education—Isaac Newton—currently with six units: two in São Paulo, the capital, and four in the state of Paraná: Artur Alvim (SP), Vila Matilde (SP), Botiatuba (PR), Castro (PR), Cachoeira (PR), and a preschool (PR).3
Our work in Brazil has some other institutions that are not essentially linked either to one Union or the other:
- The Oásis Paranaense Clinic is a space with support for complementary medicine treatments, with a doctor, nutritionist, and other health professionals. Headquartered in Almirante Tamandaré, Paraná state, this clinic has treated many Brazilians and foreigners with complementary medicine since the early 1980s;
- CRAS (Reform Center for Social Assistance “The Good Samaritan”) — This is an NGO focused on meeting the needs of the population, with the supreme objective of disseminating the present truth. CRAS is divided into two CNPJs (Business Identification Numbers), which are administered separately in the jurisdictions of the North and South Unions. The entity has been standing out in recent years for the promotion of humanitarian missions in several states and in some South American countries;
- Media Studio — An integrated project between the General Conference and the Brazilian Unions, it comprises a large complex on the Ebenézer property, which contains audio and video recording studios, sets and other devices aimed at the production of audiovisual material containing the present truth;
- The Ebenézer Missionary School, an institution for the training and preparation of new evangelists, located near the Oásis Paranaense Clinic in Paraná, has been operating since the 1950s and has been graduating many groups of new workers and evangelists. The services began in São Paulo in the 1950s, then passed through Brasília (DF) and were transferred to Almirante Tamandaré (PR) in the 1980s. After returning to São Paulo for a brief period (1986–87), the school returned to the state of Paraná and remains there until today.
- A publishing and graphic art department, known as Edições Vida Plena, based in Itaquaquecetuba, São Paulo, since 1985, has a printshop which has been printing material on complementary medicine, religious books, leaflets, magazines, pamphlets, posters, and hymnals for several decades. Edições Vida Plena had a humble beginning in the church of Belenzinho (São Paulo city) in the late 1940s and later was established where the church of Vila Matilde is today, where it remained until 1985;
- The Connected with God portal is an online platform that provides dozens of Bible courses and secular knowledge through audio, video, and text, seeking to draw people to the Gospel. This online course bank covers a wide range of subjects, ranging from nutrition to gastronomy, personal finance, world history and culture, and Biblical doctrines and prophecies. Their extensive network of contacts covers more than 500,000 people today and has accumulated a powerful database to be used in the spreading of the threefold angels’ message.
We trust that this brief overview will enhance the experience of those from faraway countries who are attending the 23rd General Conference meetings in this blessed land of Brazil.
1The return of the sea is the name of a navigation maneuver used in long ocean voyages, improved during the 15th-century Portuguese discoveries. The technique consists in making a wide arc to avoid the central calm zones (areas without winds) and enjoy the favorable permanent winds and currents, which rotate clockwise in the northern hemisphere, and counterclockwise in the southern hemisphere, due to atmospheric circulation.
2BALBACH, A.: The History of the Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement, p. 438, copyright by Reformation Herald Publishing Association, 1999.
3Data from September 2018.
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