The Last Fifty Years (1950-2000) in Perspective
A book such as The Bible in Brazil is important because of the data it presents. But it is also important as background material for the introduction of Protestants into Brazil. It was Bible distribution that opened the door for Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Baptists to get a foothold in a country in which one could not exist if s/he were not Roman Catholic.
To set the parameters: the use and influence of Bible distribution begins in mid-19th century. The colporteurs who spread across Brazil selling Bibles opened the doors for the planting of Protestant churches. Growth was slow and the number of churches planted were few until after World War II. At this point the number of Bibles distributed exploded due to the increased number of missionaries and the widespread distribution of the Bible through the publishing work of the Brazilian Bible Society and the Imprensa Biblica Brasileira.
Ever since the Bible began to be distributed in Brazil, the people accepted it as their birthright (we're Christians). The opposition came from the hierarchy which, from the rise of Catholicism in the West, had objected to the people "interpreting" the Bible for themselves. And this is of course what happens when people read God's Word and the Holy Spirit activates them.
Thus the critical date for change in Brazil is not when the Bible began to be distributed, but in the mid-1960's when Vatican II encouraged Roman Catholics to read it. This openness received a great thrust forward when Roman Catholics, as a result of Vatican II, began to publish inexpensive Bibles in Brazil. Before that the Mato Soares Roman Catholic translation of the Bible sold for 3 or 4 times what the Brazilian Bible Society Bible sold for. And the latter in the Nordeste (Northeast) in 1950 cost almost a month's wages!
Yet, as late as 1990 the CEB's (Church Base Communities) which were led by priests and encouraged to do Bible study were not permitted to "interpret" the Bible text. Only to study it and find applications for their own realidade (contextual situation).
At least one of our Baptist churches in northeast Brazil got its start by people reading a Bible that had been rescued from the Parnaiba River where it had been thrown by the local priest. Some dear colporteur (only God knows his name) went through the area selling Bibles. When the local priest discovered that some of his people had bought them, he gathered the people of Uruçui together and demanded that they bring him the Bibles. He took them and promised to get Catholic Bibles for them. He never did, however. What he did was have a great "baptismal" service in which he threw all the Protestant Bibles in the river.
Downstream some men were swimming. They saw something kind of floating in and on the water. One of them rescued the Bible. He took it home and dried it out. Neither he nor any of the other adults in the poor bairro (neighborhood) could read. But a small girl, about 12 to 13, could read some. And so the crowd gathered at night and she read, starting in Genesis.
Some time later Pastor Jonas B. Macedo, founder of the work with which we Conservative Baptists later began to cooperate, went through the area and preached in the main praça (square) of Uruçui. When he got done, someone told him that in such and such bairro there was a group of people that believed just as he did. Jonas went and talked to them. The upshot: he baptized the whole group and founded the First Baptist Church of Uruçui!
Let me add another experience from Rio de Janeiro. In the first half of the 1960's I was working with a group on developing a primer for alphabetizing (teaching literacy to) adults in Brazil. Our primer was later adopted and, with a few changes, used by the Brazilian Departmento de Educação e Cultura which printed and distributed millions of copies in their attempt to reduce adult illiteracy in Brazil.
The Minister at one point told us why our Protestant program had much more success than the government one. As a matter of fact, the government had spent millions of dollars in a nationwide thrust to alphabetize Brazilian adults with very little positive results. He affirmed that the reason adults learned with us was that those who took our classes did so because they wanted to read the Bible! He was right, of course, but it was refreshing to see a very highly placed politician recognize the fact.
- Richard J. Sturz
- Aurora, Colorado
- October, 2000