Back to top

The Reformation Herald Online Edition

October-Novemeber, 2019

Header image is not available.
A Blessed Land
Dorval Fagundes

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 “bottles”—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 old, 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 sea. On the afternoon of Wednesday, April 22, 1500, the fleet anchored near the mountain that Pedro Álvares christened “Pascoal” (since that was the Easter week). The hill is located 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, this 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], issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1493. According to the document, an imaginary line (meridian) was traced to one hundred leagues (about 480 km) 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, extending the Portuguese dominion to the west up to 370 leagues (1,770 km) 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 Cabral’s epic, Brazil has gone through many historical phases, beginning with the three centuries in which it was a colony belonging Portugal until in 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 right dictatorship (1964) and eight direct elections for president (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 created in 1889, the novelty is the territory of Acre (bought from 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 given by 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 land 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 as the top Brazilian destination;

4. Brazilian hospitality is recognized in many parts of the world. The welcoming way and the kind warmth of the people is also one of the reasons that generates 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 Catholics, 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 faithful. 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 March 31, 2019), 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 the capital of São Paulo. This was the first SDARM conference in Brazil. Approximately 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 André 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 conference, in São Paulo in November 1927, Brother Kozel spoke in German. We had no interpreter. A Hungarian, Catholic lady was invited to translate from German to Hungarian. Then the translation was made for the Romanian, and the Romanian for the 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.”1

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 from the capital where it has remained until now.

The North Union

With its headquarters in Brasilia, 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 chapels, 33 rented facilities, 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 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 educates high school students.

The North Union maintains a nursing home for the elderly in the municipality of Padre Bernardo (GO), serving 43 senior citizens. In the same complex is the headquarters of the NGO CRAS - “The Good Samaritan” of the North Brazilian Union.

The South Union

In Chácara Ebenézer, in the city of Itú (SP), 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 housing is expected to be completed and will accommodate all the Union officers still living outside the Ebenézer property.

Currently, the South Union has 136 chapels, 32 hired halls, and 19 other meeting places where worship services and regular church events are held.

In addition, this Union maintains a network of six schools from nursery school to high school.

Institutions in Brazil:

The Oásis Paranaense Clinic is a health institution using alternative medicine treatments, with a doctor, nutritionist, and other health professionals. Headquartered in Almirante Tamandaré (PR), this clinic has treated many Brazilians and foreigners with alternative medicine since the early 1980s;

CRAS (Reform Center for Social Assistance “The Good Samaritan”) — Focuses on meeting the needs of the population, with the supreme objective of spreading the present truth. CRAS (reform centers for social assistance provided by non-governmental organization) carries out on effective humanitarian ministry.

Media Studio — This is an integrated project between the General Conference and the Brazilian Unions, located on the Ebenézer property. Here they have an audio and video recording studio for the production of audio-visual materials containing the present truth.

The Ebenézer Missionary School, an institution for the training and preparation of new evangelists, located near the Oásis Clinic in Paraná, has been operating since the 1950s and prepares new workers and evangelists. The school began in São Paulo in the 1950s, then it was moved to Brasília (DF); later on it was transferred to Almirante Tamandaré (PR) in the 1980s where it continues to operate until today.

A publishing house and editorial department, known as Edições Vida Plena,Edições Vida Plena currently based in Itaquaquecetuba (SP) since 1985, has a bookstore and has been printing religious books, leaflets, magazines, pamphlets, posters and hymnals for several decades. had a humble beginning in the church of Belenzinho in the late 1940s.

The Connected with God portal is an online platform that provides dozens of Bible courses and secular knowledge through audio, video, and text, always seeking to draw people to the gospel. This online course covers a wide range of subjects, ranging from nutrition to gastronomy, personal finances, world history, and culture, 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 spreading of the threefold angels’ messages.

We trust that this brief overview will enhance the experience of those from faraway countries to attend the 23rd General Conference meetings in this blessed land of Brazil.

References
1 The History of the Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement, by A. Balbach, p. 438.