We just got home yesterday from a trip across Brazil! Monday the 21st we boarded a plane and flew up to Juazeiro do Norte, the birthplace of Baptist Mid-Missions in Brazil. The first missionary in Brazil began his ministry in this city back in 1935-1936. We were hosted in that region by Jim and Julie Leonard (not the first missionaries), veteran missionaries who serve with a seminary in that city. Over the few days we were in that area we got to take a trip around the city to learn the history of that area. We also sat in on a home Bible study being done in a small village nearby. Brandon preached in chapel at the seminary and taught the evangelism class one day. It was a very interesting few days. We learned much about the history of Catholicism in that area, and were confronted with a religious situation which we had heard much about coming into Brazil, but had not confronted firsthand in the big city since arriving in Brazil. Big city life in São Paulo is very different than life in these smaller cities in the “interior.”
The city of Juazeiro Do Norte, and the surrounding area, is very Catholic. Not long before the first BMM missionary arrived in Juazeiro, a well-known priest had passed away. This priest was extremely controversial among the Brazilians. He had a great concern for the poor, and did much in his ministry to help increase the standard of living and provide for the people in that area who were barely surviving. Because of this he was very popular. It seems, however, that he was also something of a con-man, passing off news as “prophecy” in a time when the common people knew nothing of radios or telegraph. Additionally, he claimed to be performing miracles which, when examined by officials from the Catholic Church in Rome, were found to be fraudulent. He was excommunicated because of this. Recently though he was un-excommunicated and reinstated into heaven. Isn’t it nice how the Catholic Church can do that?
The Catholicism in that area is a very supersticious Catholicism, and we heard some very strange stories about things which have happened in that area. The Gospel, however, is growing in that area. There are many churches, largely because of efforts through the seminary. And each church has multiple daughter churches. In fact, they understand a church to be unhealthy if she is not planting more churches! The evangelistic attitude in the face of this kind of a culture was very impressive.
On Thursday we drove from Juazeiro to Petrolina. Petrolina was about 4 or 5 hours south of Juazeiro through a desert. Petrolina is the home of another missionary family, the Reiners. We had heard much about the Reiner family since their home church is not far from our area in New York. In fact, probably many of you are familiar with their ministry. It was Doug Reiner who teamed up with Jim Leonard to bring us up to the Northeast to get to know the area up there. So we spent the rest of our time in Petrolina.
The first few days in Petrolina were actually spent with the Reiners and Leonards at a camp. A group of area churches were hosting a missions conference at this camp. This conference exists to enable these local churches to take missions trips to other countries and be personally involved in short-term missions trips. This group has taken trips to Venezuala – a place currently off-limits to Americans – and to Mozambique. They are returning this year to Mozambique. The speaker for the conference was a Brazilian missionary to the indiginous tribes of the Amazon – another area off-limits to Americans. It was very encouraging to see this group of churches and their commitment to missions.
The camp ended on Sunday afternoon, and we traveled back into town for church services on Sunday night. By this time both Emily and Chloe had gotten sick, probably from the water at the camp. So Sunday night the Reiners dropped Brandon off at a daughter church to preach, and they went off to a different daughter church to preach. The services went well. Brandon had a good time getting to know the Pastor of that daughter church, and his vision for that neighborhood.
We spent the next few days trying to recover from illnesses and visiting the region. One thing we haven’t mentioned yet is how consistently hot it is up in the Northeast. Every day was between 97 and 100. Nights got down to about 75…at best. But it was a dry heat. And that really does make all the difference. Wednesday was a little bit rainy, and the temperature only got up into the mid-80s, but with the high humidity the climate felt much more uncomfortable.
There is a Bible Institute in Petrolina – technically it’s across the river from Petrolina, in the twin city of Juazeiro da Bahia. Not the same as Juazeiro do Norte. This trip into Bahia made the third state we visited on this trip to the Northeast. Juazeiro do Norte is in the State of Ceará, Petrolina is in the State of Pernambuco, and Juazeiro is in the State of Bahia. Anyway, back to the Bible Institute. This Institute exists to equip folks from the churches in this area for ministry. Brandon had the opportunity to teach class at this institute on Tuesday night.
We bid the folks up North goodbye on Thursday morning and flew back to São Paulo. We arrived safely in our home on Thursday afternoon.