Rio de Janeiro

THERE is perhaps no spot on the earth where the grandeur, beauty and harmonies of surrounding nature stand out in such bold contrast to the littleness, loathsomeness, and incongruity of the religious character and ideas of the people as in the city of Rio de Janeiro.

The former has been described in glowing terms by many well known writers. The harbour is one of the largest, safest, most beautiful in the world: "a miniature summer sea, sleeping within the embrace of granitic mountain chains, upon whose bosom rest a hundred fairy isles, and around whose shores, dimple a hundred tiny bays." The coast is mountainous and picturesque in the extreme, its rough outline giving rise to the name "The Sleeping Giant," while one peculiarly prominent cliff was a half century ago popularly known as "Lord Hood's Nose."

The city itself spreads in a kind of crescent shape around the western side of the bay, its environs extending along the beaches, and running up on the hills. The effect of this scattered disposition of the houses, especially at night when the clusters of lights appear on the hillsides, Mrs. Agassiz found "exceedingly pretty." Add to this the wonderful flora of the tropics, with its marvellous light and shade, the curious spires of the churches, the variegated colours of the houses, set in the background of brown and grey peaks, lighted up by the shiny water of the bay, and the whole scene forms a most entrancing picture.

In 1897 during a visit from Bishop Galloway of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, a party of us held a sunrise prayer meeting on the summit of Mount Corcovado. He describes it as follows: "But the episode which will have the longest and most vivid remembrance was the sunrise prayer meeting Saturday morning on the summit of Corcovado. Arrangements had been made for a special train on 'the Cog road,' and never did a happier company climb that or any other mountain on earth. We left our homes shortly after four o'clock, and at five were in the car ready to make the glorious ascent. A marvellous piece of engineering is that road, climbing to the summit, 2,300 feet above, in about forty minutes. It is impossible to conceive a more beautiful picture than that presented as we ascended the mountain, except the one which called forth rapturous exclamations as we stood upon the heights. Around every curve we had a new view of the gas-lighted city below us, with the waters of the bay, dotted with islands and ocean steamers, shimmering under the flashes from electric dynamos. Above us the skies were cloudless and the stars shone with a brilliancy only seen in the southern heavens. The morning was perfect, and the joyous company of forty-four stood on Corcovado before the sun began to peep through the distant hills. But we had not long to wait before the crimson streaks appeared, announcing the royal 'bridegroom coming out of his chamber.' Below us the city was yet in darkness, except as the shadows were relieved by the lamps of the streets, and off to the right the billows were breaking on the surf-beaten shore. A hymn was sung, some appropriate Scripture passages were read, and while prayer was being offered the sun swept through the gates of the morning and flooded mountain peaks and distant hills with flames of gold. He rose between two mountain peaks, and as the bright beams flashed upward and then down upon the shimmering sea at our feet, it looked like a massive cathedral window through which the light streamed in splendour. Off to the left were the Organ Mountains—happily named—and as the sun's rays fell on each peak they had the exact appearance of the gilded pipes of a grand organ, which seemed to play the musical accompaniment, while the whole company joined in joyous song. Oh, it was a moment of rapture! The stars had never seemed so bright. Venus appeared twice her ordinary size, and shone like a sun. And it was not until the king was well up above the mountain that the queen of the morning withdrew from view. All through the night she had waited for her lord's coming.

"An hour was given to song, prayer, and testimony. Some of the native brethren spoke with deep emotion and genuine eloquence. With streaming eyes one brother looked out on the bay, which was a very sea of gold, and referred to the fact that from those waters he was once almost miraculously rescued; 'but,' said he, 'I have been more wonderfully delivered from the depths of iniquity, and to-day my feet are planted upon a rock—yea upon a mountain summit.' Another learned a lesson from the powerful engine which pushed our car up the steep mountain side, and said, so God's grace had been pushing him onward and upward, until he had reached a mount of vision. At length we all knelt in silent prayer for a moment, and solemnly received the benediction. Down the mountain we came, singing hymns that waked the distant echoes and called the cottagers to their doors and windows. We sang the 'Sweet Bye and Bye' in two languages at the same time, but to the same tune. As I listened to the familiar notes, I said in my heart: 'So the praises of God may be sung in every tongue, and yet in perfect harmony.' As we saw the darkness which shrouded the city below us lift and float away before the light of the morning, every heart prayed that so may the shadows be driven from this beautiful land by the bright shining of the Sun of righteousness."

It was the 4th of July, 1886, when I landed in Rio de Janeiro. For fourteen months I served as pastor of an English speaking congregation at the Cattete Methodist Episcopal Church South, also conducting a boy's school. On September 7th, 1887, the anniversary of Brazil's independence, corresponding to the other date in my own country's history, I entered the service of the American Bible Society, and since then my special mission has been to give to the Brazilians the written Word of God, for so many centuries a sealed book.

On that September morning, I went into the building at No. 79 Rua Sete de Setembro (Seventh of September Street) in the centre of the city, climbed two flights of stairs, and entered a large room with three windows opening into the street, the office and depository of the Brazil Agency of the American Bible Society. I found a desk, a few chairs, a row of bookshelves against one wall, and a number of boxes of books from New York. A colporteur, Sr. Manoel Joaquim T. Paulo, had been looking after affairs for a few months since my predecessor the Rev. Wm. Brown sailed for New York. The second floor of the building was occupied by "The Rio News," whose editor, Mr. A. J. Lamoureux, showed me many kind attentions, and has during these years rendered me much valuable help in the efforts to organize and carry forward the work of Bible distribution.

For seven years that upper room was the office and general depository of the Agency; all the boxes of books handled were carried up and down those two flights of stairs on a man's head, the usual method of carrying heavy loads in Brazil. It is a curious sight, for instance, to see four men going through the streets with an immense piano on their heads. Rents were high and we were not prepared to open a store on the street, so there we remained. But, as our work enlarged and circumstances changed, we found it necessary to seek a ground floor and have an open store with the Bible on the counter and in the show-window. This publicity of our work has been the occasion of many interesting conversations and the sale of hundreds of copies of the precious Words of Life. In a country where the Bible has been for centuries a forbidden book, it is a matter of no small import to have open day by day a store for the sole purpose of selling it. Rents, license, and other expenses may seem a very considerable outlay, but experience has proven that it is a wise investment. Hundreds of passers-by have stood at the show window and read the open book; some of all classes have come in to buy; others have returned to read what might be on the next page when the leaf was turned; and many have gone away to meditate on what they have read.

Another advantage of the open store is the aspect of permanency and prominence it gives to the Bible cause. It has become a kind of centre or headquarters for Christian workers in the city and for those passing through.

The commercial feature of the work of the Agency has been of great value in bringing the Bible Society before the people. The very fact that the books have to enter through the custom house and pay a small duty; pass through the hands of steamship companies, over railroads, and through commercial agencies; be picked up by pack-mules and transported for hundreds of miles through the interior, all this has been a most effective form of advertising. Again the handling of from 50,000 to 75,000 copies of the Scriptures annually becomes a matter of some commercial importance. Hundreds of letters pass through the mails annually, the envelopes bearing the stamp, "Agencia da Sociedade Biblica Americana." One result has been to arouse inquiry as to what it means; another to break down prejudices and awaken serious thought. If men will give their money and time to carry on such a business in a legitimate way, surely the Bible must be considered of great importance in the United States and England, even if it has been despised in Brazil. As I have watched the whole movement in all of its bearings, especially for the last seven years, I have been more and more impressed with the importance and significance of the open Bible store. It would be a blessing to have one in every large city of the Republic.

Of course, much depends upon the man at the counter. The man who has been in charge most of the time, is Sr. João de Silva Pereira. Before his conversion a common labourer with very limited education, he has proved, both during service as a colporteur and in charge of the salesroom, a most faithful and efficient worker. In the year 1892, I had an interesting visit from a man who had come a five days' journey on muleback, and then nearly two hundred and fifty miles by railroad, to hear the preaching of the Gospel, receive Christian baptism, and make profession of his faith in Christ. He was a brother of João. The latter had been on a journey and was taken sick while working in an interior town in the State of Minas Geraes. He received much attention from a young man, who, on learning his name, remarked that he knew a person of the same name who lived a long distance from there. The colporteur recognized the name as that of his brother, whom he had not seen for thirty years. He at once opened communication with him and sent him a Bible and some religious papers from the depository. The man, then perhaps seventy years of age, came all this distance to learn more of the way of truth. He was baptized and received into full membership in one of the churches of this city. He told me that he had been at work among his neighbours, many of whom were anxious to know more of the Gospel.

This may be said to be the fruit of one Bible sent by mail five days' journey beyond the railroad. No colporteur or preacher of the Gospel had ever visited that community.

On another occasion he addressed a letter to the keeper of the jail in an interior town, whose name he did not know, and sent him a copy of one of the Gospels. He received a kind reply with an expression of desire to know more about this interesting book, and sent a Bible with some tracts and Gospels to be distributed among the prisoners. The following is one of the letters he received:


"Together with your letter I received the hymn book and the New Testament to be delivered to the prisoner, Carlos Antonio Vieira, which I did immediately and for which he is very grateful. I also distributed the papers among the prisoners; they were not sufficient for all but I distributed so that all could read them. For lack of time I have read but little in the Bible, the treasure of which you made a present to me. From the little that I have read of the passages marked I have been much benefited. When I read, I call together all the family to hear, and sometimes people from outside have heard. As I have many nephews and relatives here, some of them are accustomed to come at night to hear the words of our Redeemer. I hope to relate to you ere long the effect that this may produce.

"Accept the good wishes of your brother,


Later I had the pleasure of baptizing this man and receiving him into the Church. About the same time there came a letter from a lieutenant in the same place, expressing his great pleasure in the reading of the Scriptures. These are but illustrations of the many ways besides selling over the counter that Sr. João has employed to circulate the Scriptures and to lead men to Christ.

While we have sought to circulate the Bible from the counter, we have at the same time had colporteurs constantly at work in the city, going into the markets and through the streets, and all round about the suburbs, seeking in every palace and hamlet to offer the inhabitants the written message of salvation.

I have observed, however, that the native colporteurs were inclined to confine their efforts in this and other large cities principally to the markets and sections inhabited by the middle and lower classes, while the chief merchants, bankers, doctors, lawyers and others were being neglected. Accordingly one of our best qualified men, Mr. F. C. Glass, to whose work reference will be made elsewhere, undertook a canvass of the larger establishments and offices in the centre of the city. The results have been most gratifying, and the sales far beyond what we had expected. His experiences and the conversations had about the Bible would make a thrilling little volume.

In this connection I may refer to the courteous acknowledgment of a copy of the Bible presented to President Prudente Moraes on the occasion of his inauguration, expressing his thanks for the favour conferred.

Not long since I was talking with a photographer about the Bible; he said he had once been in the United States, and what impressed him most on his arrival in New York in 1851, after a long voyage, was that a man from the Bible House came on board and offered to supply all on the vessel with the Scriptures in their own languages. He says that he remained in the country but a short time, but that he has ever since been a reader of the Bible, which has had an influence over his life for nearly fifty years. Though he had not formally left the Roman Catholic Church, he had long since abandoned its unscriptural practices. As our interview was about to end, I handed him my card showing that I was agent for the Bible Society in Brazil. He was delighted to recognize me, and was so grateful for the Bible which was placed in his hands so long ago that tears of joy ran down his cheeks. His locks are frosty with age, and he may not long remain on earth, but I trust that that Bible may yet be of greater comfort to him.

There are a number of Roman Catholic churches, convents and charitable institutions of note in and around the city. Our Bible distribution is carried on under the shadows of their many towers and about their great walls. Many of the multitude of priests about the city are active in their opposition to and denunciations of our work. One day a colporteur, Sr. André Cayret, while crossing the bay on the ferry, went among the passengers, offering his Bibles; a priest among them was greatly aroused, and came up asking the price of the books. The colporteur had not observed that he was opposing their sale. When told the amount he took the money from his pocket, handed it to the colporteur and took charge of the Bibles and Testaments. He then warned all the passengers that they were evil and dangerous books, and said that in evidence of his desire to destroy them, he had paid his own money for them, and that he was going to throw them into the water, which he did without giving the colporteur even a chance to try to get them back.

I was preaching once in the theatre of a small town in the north of Brazil, and had among my auditors a girl who had recently bought a New Testament from one of our colporteurs. Later her father moved to Rio de Janeiro. She became a teacher in one of the Mission Schools, was converted and joined one of the Protestant churches. She never goes to church without her Bible in her hand. A few months ago, as she was passing along the principal street of this city, she chanced to meet a priest who had been a great friend of the family, and still manifests much interest in them. As she stopped to shake hands with him, she passed the Bible from her right to her left hand. He said, "What book is that you have?" She replied by turning the back to him with the word " Biblia" on it in gold letters. He exclaimed, "Oh, my child, you must not read that book; throw it away." Of course, she did no such thing, but tried to make him realize its priceless value. He is said to be one of the most enlightened Brazilian priests, and this incident took place in broad daylight in the most frequented street of the city of Rio de Janeiro.

But let us turn now to another item in the work about Rio. Some time ago application was made to the American Bible Society for a grant from the fund for printing the Scriptures for the blind, sufficient to print the Gospel of John in Portuguese. A contract was made to have the work done in the Institute Benjamin Constant, at Rio de Janeiro. On the completion of the book I at once announced it in our Protestant mission papers and sent out a little circular asking for the addresses of the blind who could read. There appeared immediately in one of the Roman Catholic papers of the city the following notice: "It is with deep regret that we here relate a grievous fact that occurred in the Institute Benjamin Constant for the blind. This establishment, in charge of Dr. Brazil Silvado, to whom we owe much, not only as regards public order and safety (he having recently been the Chief of Police for the city), but also for the founding of the model school 'Fifteenth of November,' was visited a number of times by a Protestant pastor, who, after much palaver, ordered printed some five hundred copies of the Gospel of John (mutilated and savouring of the reformers) according to the point system for the blind. We do not know whether the said pastor paid, or is going to pay for the work, but we may take it for granted that he will pay for it, because the name of Dr. Brazil Silvado is a guarantee; however, let the unfortunates who have lost their sight be upon their guard, for it is designed to make them a present of a book condemned by the Holy Church.

"We do not think this act of the Protestants very generous or courteous; they wish to take advantage of the fact that there does not exist a variety and an abundance of literature in the point system for the blind, and also to take advantage of these our brothers. Since they have not accomplished anything among those who can see, they now endeavour to extend their propaganda in an establishment for the blind.

"It is with great sorrow that we mention these facts, especially since they occurred in an establishment directed by Dr. Brazil Silvado the founder of the school 'Fifteenth of November,' but the exceptional gravity of the notice justifies our fear. It behooves the Catholic associations, and more particularly the well deserving Society of St. Vincente de Paulo, to visit and interest themselves in the blind, deaf and dumb, etc., and in general all those who suffer and have need of comfort and consolation. We are here ready to receive of all charitable persons, offerings, be they ever so small, for the purpose of printing and distributing gratuitously for the blind a true copy of the Gospel of John."

Two weeks after this appeal had been made the same paper announced that four dollars had been subscribed for this purpose, and half of that was promised by the editor.

Before taking from the printing office of this establishment the last hundred copies of the Gospel, I sought to know how many of the blind desired to read it. There were in the school some eight or ten professors and some seventy odd pupils. I was greatly delighted to have about half of the teachers and pupils come up and ask for copies; many of them seemed very grateful, and expressed most hearty delight at the thought of now being able to read some part of the Word of God for themselves. Since then I have had several applications for copies from students in the school, and we are getting applications from all sections of the country from those who have been taught to read in this institution.

I presented copies of the work to six of the principal and most liberal daily papers of the city; and each of them made public acknowledgment and gave very complimentary notices of the book and of the American Bible Society. This served to bring the work to the attention of the public as could not have otherwise been done.

One day, just as I passed out of the door of our Bible store, my attention was attracted to a blind man on the opposite side of the street being led by a boy. I had gone but a few steps when the inquiry arose in my mind, whether or not he might be able to read according to the system for the blind, and I was led to turn and follow them. When I asked him if he knew how to read, he replied that he did, and that he had been taught in the Institute for the Blind in this city. I asked him if he had any books to read. He replied, "yes, two or three," and that if I desired one, he could get it for me from the Institute. To my inquiry whether he would like to have another book, one of which perhaps he had known nothing; he replied that he would, and led by the boy he followed me into the store. I handed him a copy of the Gospel of St. John. He at once began to read and expressed great surprise, it was so new and wonderful to him. As he read aloud, sitting near the door, the people passing in the street were soon attracted by the sight, and one after another stopped to listen, evidently never before having seen a blind person reading. By and by I asked him to read the ninth chapter, which gives the account of the opening of the eyes of the man born blind. About twenty-five persons had gathered around him. He was greatly delighted and interested in the story, and the hearers seemed as much interested now in what he was reading as they had been at first in seeing him read. After a time he went on his way rejoicing, carrying with him his treasure, and saying that he had several blind friends whom he would tell about this beautiful book. I have never had more grateful expressions from any persons than have come from the blind who have received copies of the Gospel of St. John.

The following story strikingly illustrates how God works through his written Word. Twenty years ago a negro slave living in a small village at the foot of the Organ mountains, which overlook the city of Rio de Janeiro, was sent to clean away the trash that had accumulated under a shed adjoining the house. There was a barrel filled with old papers which he was ordered to empty, and as he was throwing them out, he discovered an old book; opening it he saw the name of Jesus Christ, and concluded that it must be a good book. The title page reads: "O Novo Testamento, isto é o Novo Concerto de Nosso Fiel Senhor e Redemptor, Jesu Christo." He hid the book under his coat until the day's work was done. He was a devout Roman Catholic, and had learned to read for the purpose of reading the prayers of the church. At night he sat down by a dim light in his cabin, and there he remained the whole night reading that wonderful book. No sleep came to his eyes, but, as he told me, many times tears flowed down his cheeks, though he could not tell why. Night after night he would read, and many times the reading would make him weep. This was kept up for seventeen years. He kept the book with great care and reverence, and would never allow anything to be placed on top of the box where he kept it; he regarded it a thing so holy that he would never allow the dust to collect on the box. He had images and saints, but this book soon became to him more sacred and holy than they. For seventeen years he kept wondering day by day what was the real meaning of all the wonderful things he was reading from that book.

A few years ago he happened to be in a small village near the Bay of Rio, where he met a black woman who was a member of one of the Protestant churches of Rio. As soon as she knew that he had read the New Testament she began talking with him about it. He asked many questions, and she gave answers and explanations. He says that in this conversation, as with Saul of Tarsus, the scales fell from his eyes, the love of God filled his soul, and he then and there found a peace and joy for which he had been longing seventeen years.

Shortly thereafter he returned to his cabin in the mountains, and for two years saw no one of this faith. A year ago one of the colporteurs of the American Bible Society passing through that section for the first time, chanced to meet him; from the colporteur he received some instruction and bought a Bible.

While conducting a little service in the dining room of a hotel at a village in the mountains, my attention was attracted by the intelligent interest and hearty appreciation manifested by an old black man who sat near me. After the service I had a conversation with him, and he related to me the story I have told. I shall never forget the joy and brightness expressed by that black face. It was marvellous to hear him tell the story of that Testament and of his conversion. He had obtained a wonderful knowledge of the Word of God just from reading that book. The next morning, as I was leaving the hotel, he made me a present of his precious treasure, saying that since he bought the Bible with larger print, He did not need the Testament, and as it might be of service to me he would give it up for the good of the cause.

This Testament was printed at Chelsea, England, 1817, by Tilling & —nes (the first part of the second name has been destroyed by some means). The name H. Hayne is the first on the flyleaf, then comes that of Manoel Florianno de Souza. The name of the old man who gave it me is Francisco Manoel Lago. I have seen it recorded somewhere that from 1820 to 1836 a few copies of the Scriptures in Portuguese were sent from England to English merchants residing in Rio, and by them were given to people coming in from the country. I have found an occasional copy of these early consignments still in existence; some of them have wrought wonderful results, and I think it quite probable that the Testament now in question may have found its way to Brazil at that early date, perhaps eighty years ago.

We might go on multiplying incidents and observations of the work in and about Rio sufficient to fill a volume. This chapter however would not be complete without a reference to other features of the evangelistic work in close sympathy with that of the American Bible Society. Missionaries of different Boards, pastors of various denominations have been most efficient colabourers, while not a few laymen have been loyal supporters of the work. I mention first my colleague in Bible distribution, the Rev. João M. dos Santos, agent of the British and Foreign Bible Society, also pastor of the Evangelical Fluminense Church, an independent movement started by a Scotchman, Dr. Robert R. Kalley in the year 1855, and with a membership of 587. Mr. Santos, a Brazilian who was educated for the ministry in England, has been agent for the Bible Society since 1879. During this period he reports 46,234 Bibles, 96,411 New Testaments and 229,137 separate Gospels and portions of Scripture put into circulation. For the fourteen years of my connection with the American Bible Society Agency, he has kept an open store in an important street in the centre of the city. We have all the time been near neighbours, and our relations have been most cordial. On account of his pastorate he has not been able to travel extensively with his colporteurs.

The churches and missionaries connected with the various missions have at all times entered heartily into the work. Independent Christian workers about the city have done much for Bible distribution and not a few foreign merchants, business and professional men have given substantial support in many ways, while government officials have shown their good will in various ways. The United States diplomatic and consular representatives have been most courteous and attentive.

The Young Men's Christian Association, under the direction of Mr. Myron A. Clark, who was sent out by the International Committee, was organized in the office of the American Bible Society Agency in this city in the year 1893. This movement has prospered and the Association has a magnificent building in the centre of the city. The relations between our work and theirs have all the time been most cordial and helpful.

The Bible Society owes a debt of gratitude to all the Evangelical papers published in this city and throughout the country; they now number about a dozen.

On the inner circle of office work there have been at times vexations and hardships. To an American, many of the Brazilian ways of dispatching business in the Custom-House, Post Office and other Public Departments, in railroad and steamship offices, banks and commercial houses are indeed a mystery. Often one cannot help having the conviction that Public Departments exist principally for giving employment to the largest number of employees. The delays and the time required to get through with the red tape ceremony and the tedious route of a multitude of secretaries in dispatching the simplest paper are enough to try the patience of the most forbearing; then after spending many days, buying a number of revenue stamps and paying so many fees, to be told, when you ask for your paper, "só amanhã," (only to-morrow) will they be ready, is trying in the extreme.

South American Republics are famous for revolutions, and Brazil, the youngest of them all, is not without a small share in the fame. The most notable in her short history of ten years is the naval revolt which lasted from September, 1893, to March, 1894. We in Rio were in the very midst of the fight and witnessed almost daily attempts or pretences at bombardments and engagements. The roar of cannon and rifle were familiar sounds every day for six months. All transportation and travel was largely impeded, and of course, our Bible work suffered somewhat. The war vessels frequently took their anchorage at a certain point in the bay to fire at a cannon planted on Castle Hill. Our Bible store and office was in the direct line of fire just behind the hill, and several times the shot tore up the roof and walls of our building; once a six inch shell bored through the wall, exploded, and the pieces made holes through the inside dividing walls. At another time a ball piercing the roof struck a bookstand and damaged a number of books; fortunately no one in the place was hurt.