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From Poverty to Wealth—GC Session

Dorval Fagundes
September 13, 2019
Beginning as the poorest and most forgotten place in the country, São Paulo is today not only the city, but the state, that never sleeps. It is also the state that is hosting the General Conference's 23rd Delegation Session and Public Meetings.

São Paulo city, the capital of the state bearing the same name, was so obscure that it was even born in seclusion. The location where it was founded was not just invisible to the eyes of those who came from the ocean, but it was also protected by a massive natural wall, which is known as the Serra do Mar [Mountain Range of the Sea]. Viewed from below, this impressive ridge seems to cover the horizon, as if hiding another world.


Today, overcoming this mountain range is as simple as climbing stairs to reach an upper floor, but at that time it was not easy at all. According to the descriptions of Father Anchieta, the most famous Jesuit of the state, the road was “very rough and, I believe, the worst in the world. [...] Barely can the animals scale it; men must climb with effort—and sometimes only by crawling.”


Here was a beautiful section of Atlantic forest, dense, varied, carved by streams of water that plunge into waterfalls. When the weather was clear—without the frequent fog—several scenic spots revealed the sea below.


What was São Paulo like in the 16th century?

When it first appeared, São Paulo was the first village in the interior of Brazil. Throughout its first three centuries, it suffered from isolation and loneliness. A visitor would have difficulty finding an address. First, because the streets had no name. Later, because he would not even be able to understand the Paulistas: almost all were Natives or Mamelucos (mestizos) and spoke the “popular language” or “nheengatu”, a Tupi dialect. In fact, the full name of the village was Piratininga, which means “River of dry fish.” According to the Brazilian historian Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, more than 80% of the population of São Paulo in the 17th century was indigenous. Bilingualism would only end in 1759 when the popular language was banned by a decree of the Marquis of Pombal, the Portuguese Prime Minister.


The primitive villagers had an insane lifestyle: they lived after the “red gold”—indigenous labor captured and abducted from their native villages to work in slavery on the plantations around the village core. It was thus, by force, that the first Paulistas—now known as Bandeirantes [or “pioneers”]—conquered Brazil. In their wanderings, these professional hunters of people discovered Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Goiás, Minas Gerais and Tocantins [various states in Brazil]. They toured and attacked Spanish settlements in Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Paraguay. They spread terror among the peoples of the interior of the continent, creating fame of brutality. They possessed a disposition that frightened their enemies. The Spanish Jesuit priest, Antonio Ruiz de Montoya (1585–1652), for example, wrote that Paulistas walked more than 2,000 km (1,243 miles) on foot and barefoot, through valleys and over hills, “as if strolling through the streets of Madrid.”


With the end of Indian exploitation, the Bandeirantes daring had cooled. At the end of the 18th century, the interior crops stagnated. The Bandeirantes, who had launched like grasshoppers over the wilderness for 200 years, expanding the country, ended up as poor as before.


New Areas in Sight

In the last decade of the 19th century (1893), the population of the city of São Paulo was 130,775 inhabitants. The census recorded a staggering population increase compared to the number of 64,934 people surveyed three years earlier. The population had doubled in three years! São Paulo experienced a dramatic population increase in the 1890s. Based on the national censuses, it jumped from 65,000 inhabitants from 1890 to 239,820 in 1900—an increase of 370% in ten years, and it did not stop growing! Currently, São Paulo is the main economic and industrial hub of South America, currently the largest consumer market in Brazil.


São Paulo and the SDA Reform Movement

The state of São Paulo is closely linked to the progress of God’s work in the country. The first Reformers to set foot on Brazilian soil arrived in the city of São Paulo and began their work here, founding the first group of brethren in Brazil. The first Brazilian church was erected in Lapa, inaugurated in 1931. Of the first four churches in the country, three were established in the state of São Paulo: Lapa, Cedro [in the countryside], and Belenzinho. The headquarters of the country’s first organized nucleus was established in the city of São Paulo in 1930, christened the Brazilian Field, which was promoted to a Union in 1942. Our church’s first institution was also inaugurated in the metropolis of São Paulo in the 1950s—the sanitarium in Belenzinho.


In the same way, the publication work was also born in this state and continues here to this day. Our first printed publication in Portuguese was a Bible booklet, published in 1928, followed by a pamphlet in 1929. Brother A. Cecan was the first Brazilian colporteur. The first colporteurs sold Bibles, which were delivered with the pamphlets and leaflets. The first copy of the Sabbath School lesson was printed in 1930. In the same year, the first Brazilian periodical also began to circulate and was called The Watchtower of Truth, a title that was changed twice until it reached its present title—Observador da verdade [The Observer of Truth]—chosen in 1942.


Much effort was devoted to canvassing, which in the early days was a real challenge. Brother A. Lavrik translated a book from German entitled The Road to Health, published in 1933. Two missionary brochures—What Will the Future Bring Us? (based on the book The Great Controversy, published in 1932) and Why is the Earth Shaken Everywhere?


A group of four colporteurs was organized in São Paulo in 1933: André Cecan, Desidério Devai, José Devai and Estêvão Portik. With the publication of the book Health Begins in the Kitchen, in 1942, the colporteurs were able to offer a set of three volumes, but the material was printed through third parties. In 1947, our brethren began, with much sacrifice, to assemble a rudimentary bookbinding shop that operated near the church in Belenzinho, which was completed in 1950. At that time, it was a great advance. The core of the new book—Bebe para curar-te [Drink to Heal]was printed by third-party equipment and then cut and bound in our workshop.


A key tool for the development of our publication work in São Paulo was the arrival of Alfons Balbach to the church. In a short time, he began translating the Sabbath School Lessons and the Week of Prayer Magazine into the Portuguese language. Still in the 1950s, this young brother devoted himself entirely to writing and preparing health books (among many other subjects) that became iconic in the country,  creating great success among the reading public:


  1. As frutas na medicina doméstica [Fruits in Home Medicine];
  2. As hortaliças na medicina doméstica [Vegetables in Domestic Medicine];
  3. As plantas curam [Plants Heal];
  4. A flora nacional na medicina doméstica [National Flora in Domestic Medicine], volumes 1 and 2;
  5. As curas maravilhosas do limão e da laranja [The Wonderful Cures of the Lemon and Orange].


These are only five examples of books produced by the fruitful mind of that servant of God who faithfully carried out the Lord’s work. In his autobiography, Professor Balbach comments:


“I am happy because, by the grace of God, I was able to extend a helping hand also in the publication of new books, which began to appear little by little, between the years of 1955 and 1970. . . . Often I had to say to myself, ‘Thank You, Lord; our work is not in vain’.”

With the increase in demand for books, it was necessary to expand the publication work. For this, the east side of the city was fundamental. Since 1948, church meetings were held at a brother’s house there. The following year, there was an old glass factory that was on sale in Vila Matilde. In 1951 there were two inaugurations: the church and the new printing workshop. In the new building, it was already possible to carry out the entire production process, which allowed the brethren to avoid spending on third-party publishing houses.


The printing workshop was held there until June 1985, when the new “A Verdade Presente” [The Present Truth] Missionary Publishing House was inaugurated in Itaquaquecetuba, (a metropolitan region about an hour outside of São Paulo city) where it operates until today. From that year on, new books, launched by new authors such as Luiz Carlos Costa and Daniel Boarim, both trained health professionals, were published.


In addition to the publishing house and the headquarters of the South Brazilian Union, the state of São Paulo also houses other important institutions:


  1. Part of the Isaac Newton school network;
  2. A nursing home for the elderly in the rural town of Louveira which is a branch of the RSAC (Reform Social Assistance Center, “The Good Samaritan”);
  3. The headquarters of the Associação Paulista [São Paulo Field] (in Vila Matilde), which has 2,292 members (verified in August 2018). This unit is still the world’s largest Reform Movement Field;
  4. The branch of the RSAC (Reform Social Assistance Center, “The Good Samaritan”) in Vila Matilde, where the brethren offer vocational courses and free dental care, as well as other philanthropic activities;
  5. In Araraquara (in the countryside), where there is another branch of the same NGO, where a project involving children, adolescents, and the general public works, as well as a bakery that works to serve the interests of The Good Samaritan;
  6. Media Studio (in the same property as the South Brazilian Union headquarters), a joint venture between the General Conference and the Brazilian Unions, aimed at the dissemination of audio and video recordings and images to spread the three angels' messages worldwide.


General Meetings 2019 General Conference

This is not the first time that the General Conference delegation is meeting in Brazil. Besides this 2019 event, there have been nine world meetings in Brazil, seven of which have taken place in São Paulo:

1) The first occurred in 1955, in Vila Matilde;

2) In 1959, the second occurred;

3) In 1967, the third, likewise;

4) In 1987, there was the fourth meeting, in Sítio Cataventos [Site of the Windmills], near Bragança Paulista. The public conferences took place at the Estádio da Portuguesa [Portuguese Sports Association Stadium], near Marginal Tietê [a major city avenue, which borders the Tietê River];

5) The fifth meeting took place in Cesareia de Filipe (Itú), in 1999, with public conferences being held for the first time at Estância Árvore da Vida in Sumaré;

6) In 2003, at the sixth meeting, the 1999 configuration was repeated;

7) And now we are in the seventh meeting, with the difference that the delegation meetings are taking place, for the first time, at the South Brazilian Union headquarters in Chácara Ebenézer, Itú. The public conferences are being held at Estância Árvore da Vida.


Estância Árvore da Vida [Tree of Life Resort] in Sumaré, State of São Paulo

Sumaré is a Brazilian municipality of the State of São Paulo, at about 40 km (25 miles) from the city of Campinas. Estância Árvore da Vida, located 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from the city center, is a large property with several options of auditoriums, lodgings, restaurants, and leisure areas with computerized administrative services, and whose complex houses one of the largest auditoriums in Latin America. According to the resort’s website, it is able to hold events with a wide range of accommodation (between one hundred and ten thousand people). In 1999, when the first public meeting of the General Conference took place in this space, our church was one of the first institutions to use the facility. So, welcome to the third world meeting of our church in this location!



We hope that this informative text can help you understand the context of the great wonders of the Lord in this region. May the Lord be praised.



Before 1510 — João Ramalho (it is not known whether he was shipwrecked or exiled by the Portuguese Crown) arrives at the hill of Piratininga (present Sé Square). He marries Bartira, the daughter of Cacique Tibiriçá, of the Tupiniquim tribe. 

1532 — Martim Afonso, Portuguese nobleman, with the help of João Ramalho, founds the first town or city in Brazil—São Vicente, on the coast.

1554 — Year the city of São Paulo was founded, on January 25, supposedly the day of the conversion of the apostle Paul, in the Catholic tradition.

1601 — The minutes of the city council list only a few hundred inhabitants in the village.

1759 — On September 3, the Portuguese Prime Minister, Marquis de Pombal, forbids the use of the popular language (Nheengatu) in Brazil, and adopts Portuguese as a mandatory language.

1800 — Coffee arrives clandestinely to São Paulo, beginning the cycle that will take the state out of poverty.

1867 — The São Paulo Railway is inaugurated, the railway connecting Jundiaí, in the interior of the state, to the Port of Santos, to where the enormous coffee production of the countryside flows.

1890 — The first national census is carried out, registering 64,934 inhabitants in the city of São Paulo.

1893 — The second census is published, registering 130,775 inhabitants—a 100% increase in three years!

1900 — The third census is published, registering 239,820 inhabitants—an increase of 370% when compared to that of 1890!

1923–25 — The first European SDA Reformers arrives in São Paulo—the Devai family, who settled in Lapa. André Lavrik and André Cecan settles in Brás [a suburb of the city].

1927 — On November 5, the first baptism of the Reformation takes place on Brazilian soil, officiated by Pastor Carlos Kozel, who came from San Nicolás, Argentina, for the ceremony.

1931 — The first church of the Reform Movement in Brazil is organized in Lapa.

1936 — The third church in Brazil is inaugurated in Cedro, a district of Juquiá, in the Ribeira Valley, in the southern coast of the state.

1943 — The fourth church in Brazil is inaugurated in Belenzinho, where our first bookbinding workshop began to work in 1948.

1948 — Prof. A. Balbach becomes acquainted with the Reform Movement. By God’s grace, his arrival in the church will boost the literary capacity of the canvassing work.

1951 — Our first full printing shop is inaugurated, on the same site as the church of Vila Matilde stands today.

1955 — The church of Vila Matilde hosts the first delegation session of the General Conference in Brazil.

1959 — The second session of the General Conference takes place in São Paulo.

1967 — Another session of the General Conference takes place in São Paulo.

1985 — The new printing shop is inaugurated in Itaquaquecetuba, the missionary publishing house “A Verdade Presente” (The Present Truth) and (Edições Vida Plena) (Full Life Editions) with a modern printing facility, being the largest publishing house of the Reform Movement in the world.

1986 — With the division of the Brazilian Union into two, the South Union headquarters is established in Belenzinho, in the same place where the headquarters of the Brazilian Union operated before the division.

1987 — Another General Conference takes place in the state, at the Sítio Cataventos [Site of the Windmills], in Bragança Paulista. The public meetings are held at the Estádio da Portuguesa, near the Marginal Tietê.

1995 — The headquarters of the South Brazilian Union is transferred to Chácara Ebenézer, in Itu, where it remains until today.

1999 — Estância Árvore da Vida hosts the first public meetings of the General Conference in Sumaré, in the interior of the state. The delegation meets in Cesareia de Filipe, Itu.

2003 — The second public meeting takes place at Estância Árvore da Vida. As in 1999, the delegation meets in Cesareia de Filipe.

2019 — The third public meeting takes place at Estância Árvore da Vida. This year, the delegation met for the first time at the headquarters of the South Union, in Chácara Ebenézer, in Itú.




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