VI Bahia "AWAY WITH THE HERETICS"A DISCOMFITED PRIEST"THE AFRICA OF BRAZIL"A CHARACTERISTIC CITYHENRY MARTYNBURNING BIBLES.
WE had started out to make the journey to Bahia overland, but it now became necessary to turn aside from the most direct route and make our way over 400 miles to the seacoast in order to get a fresh supply of Scriptures. Almost the entire distance lay through a region that had never been visited by colporteur or Protestant missionary. As we descended the Serra, we travelled for a time through a section where diamond mining had once been a lucrative pursuit; but now the inhabitants were for the most part poor, and many of them ignorant and superstitious. When we had reached the lower lands and valleys nearer to the seacoast, the soil was fertile and the people far more prosperous.
After four days' travel from Diamantina, we came to the town of St. John the Baptist, located in a narrow valley near the head waters of an eastern tributary of the Jequitinhonha river. The town and suburbs has a population of about 6,000 souls. We reached the place early in the afternoon, and began at once a canvass of the town. In a very few minutes the whole place seemed wild with excitement, and there was every indication that the people intended doing some violence to us. A great crowd gathered in the public square, and had we been disposed to try to get away, escape would have been impossible. The two colporteurs stood firm and showed wonderful courage in the midst of so many threats. Presently the priest came out and began to speak: all quieted down for a moment. He then read a letter from the Bishop of Diamantina, in which he warned the people against us and our false Bibles, and said we ought not to be allowed to stop in the place. This added fuel to the fire, and the people began to cry, "Away with these heretics, kill them, kill them." Many armed themselves with sticks and stones and guns. One man standing in a doorway, raised his gun as though to fire the first shot. Just then one of the colporteurs asked for a word more before they proceeded to put us to death. He said we had come to them on a mission of love and mercy, to bring them the book telling of Jesus's love for them, and how he died to save men, that we had done them no harm, and moreover, if they were determined to kill us, we were ready to die for Christ who gave his life for us. He furthermore said that he wished to show them that our Bible was not false, and he challenged the priest, who ought to have a true Bible, to bring his out and compare it with ours. It appeared that the priest did not have a Bible. The colporteur then took from my saddle-bags a small Coimbra Testament, approved by the Roman Church, and offered to prove by that that our Bible was the same. The priest cried out, "that also is a work of the devil, and of the Protestants." One or two men who could read were standing near: they took the Testament and read the introduction, showing it to be approved by the bishops and Pope. Brazilians are always easily convinced by reading a thing, readily believing whatever they see in print. In an argument, if you can show one the chapter and paragraph justifying your statement, he succumbs at once. This element of Brazilian character is one thing that gives the written Word such an influence in Brazil. These men at once began to say "the priest is rejecting a book authorized by his own Church;" others drew near and read the same words, and very soon one man said, "I want one of your Bibles, and I will see for myself if it is true." In a few minutes they cried out against the priest, who was compelled to turn his back and retire from the field of battle. Then one after another said, "I want one of your books," and in perhaps less than ten minutes, the thirty-two copies of the Scriptures that we had in hand and in our saddle-bags were sold to the crowd, who just a few minutes before were ready to beat, stone and shoot us. The change was wonderful: it seemed a miracle: surely the hand of God was in it. We then retired to the little stream over a hill just outside the town where our packmules were resting. One of the men went to buy provisions before we moved on, as we learned that we had now to traverse a long uninhabited region. While we were waiting for him, there suddenly fell upon us a mob of about thirty or forty persons, armed with sticks, swords and pistols. They surrounded us so quickly that it seemed as if they had dropped down out of the skies. They were raging wild with excitement, and we thought surely this time we would be murdered. I breathed a silent prayer to God for help and deliverance, and then received the courage, inspired by God's Spirit, to ask them to be quiet for a moment and give me an opportunity, (before they killed us), to say a word to them of Jesus and His love. I took the Testament approved by the Catholic Church, and read, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life." Then for about twenty or thirty minutes, standing with uncovered head, in the burning hot sun, I talked to them of God's great love. The mob at once began to quiet down, some dropped their stones and sticks, others put up their swords and pistols, and all listened attentively; many seemed deeply moved, and some with tears in their eyes, came up, and throwing their arms around us, said, "How is this? We have never heard such things before." There could be no doubt that God had sent His Spirit to deliver us and to deliver them. We had a glorious time. A few, however, were not satisfied, and the priest of the town was raging mad. We knew that efforts were being made to organize another and stronger mob to attack us in the night. We sold to those around us more copies of the Scriptures, and having secured provisions for the journey, we decided it was prudent to move on, and leave them to the guidance of God's Spirit in reading the Word. Several persons plead with us to remain and explain to them more of the truths of that wonderful book, but we felt persuaded that it was best to leave them. As we bade them good-bye and ascended the hill, looking back over the town, we wept, and we also shouted glory to God, who had given His Word entrance into that community, and who had so marvellously delivered us from the wrath and violence of our enemies.
It has been about ten years since this took place, and my heart has longed many times to return and know something more of the results, but the opportunity has not come; no missionary or preacher has yet reached that section.
We there were told that the Bishop of Diamantina, having learned the route we proposed taking, had written letters to all the priests along the way, and sent a special messenger on horseback to go ahead of us and deliver them. This explained how it was that in every place, the people were already advised of our coming and were warned against us and our Bibles. I then recalled a visit I had had in Diamantina from a man who showed himself very friendly and greatly interested in the route we should decide to take from that place; he proffered much useful information about the roads, etc. I ascertained later that he had been sent to us by the Bishop for the express purpose of knowing our route so that he might send his letters of warning to the priests. Of course, at the time of the visit I did not suspect anything wrong.
Before we left the bounds of that Bishopric, we passed through one of the most fanatical villages we had yet visited; about the only man who dared to speak with us, or rather, allowed us to speak to him, refused to even look at or handle a Bible. He said that he was afraid to touch it, that really he had just as soon take hold of the most poisonous snake as to touch that book; he believed if he were to take it in his hand, he would fall dead on the spot; and, trembling with fear, he asked us to move on.
When we reached the lower lands and larger valleys, the soil was more fertile, the trees larger and the whole aspect of the country changed. In the town of Philadelphia, or Theophilo Ottoni, is a German colony, which has made its impress most distinctly on the whole country. The Lutheran pastor showed a truly evangelical spirit, and I learned that he frequently preached in Portuguese. One of our correspondents in Bahia occasionally consigned to him small quantities of Scriptures for sale and distribution among the Brazilians. I afterwards shipped Scriptures to him from Rio.
From that town we still journeyed on muleback to reach the little railroad that would take us to the seacoast. We took the shorter and more direct route through a section inhabited by wild Indians who had recently been enraged against the Government for cutting a road through their territory. Just two weeks before they had killed a white man. We were advised to pass their villages at night, and to do this we had to travel over long, uninhabited sections of wild forests in the daytime. For three days and nights we scarcely slept, and when we reached the railway, both men and animals were well tired out. During this latter part of the journey, we had but few Scriptures for distribution. About the last we sold were a few copies at a small village; when about two miles away, I heard some one shouting behind us, and looking back, saw a negro man running toward us in great haste. He came up with the perspiration streaming from his face, and said his master was asleep when we passed through the village; but awoke soon after we left, and hearing of the books we were selling, greatly desired one, and that he had sent him in great haste to overtake us and buy one. Fortunately we yet had a few left and were able to supply him.
During this journey of six weeks we had travelled about 560 miles; visited twenty-eight towns and villages with many intervening settlements, scarcely any of which had ever before been visited by colporteur or missionary, and sold nearly 700 copies of the Scriptures, many of them to persons who had never before seen or scarcely heard of a Bible, and preached to hundreds for the first time. The return journey I was obliged to leave to the colporteurs. Bahia and its vicinity call for a separate account.
Mrs. Agassiz has very well said that on arriving in Brazil "one should land first in Bahia, for in its aspect it is the most national and characteristic of the cities." She speaks of its quaint and picturesque character, and then says, " On first disembarking, you find yourself at the foot of an almost perpendicular hill, and negro bearers appear at your side to carry you up the steep ascent in a curtained chair." Since 1865, these "cadeiras," borne by negro slaves, have given way to an elevator, and electric cable cars.
The bay, whose real name is Bahia de Todos os Santos, All Saints' Bay, so called by the Portuguese navigator who first discovered it, most probably on All Saints' Day, is said by many to be one of the finest in the world. The city was founded about the year 1550, with the name of San Salvador. The King of Portugal sent out the first Governor-General Brazil ever had, with instructions to build a city in the Bay of All Saints, to be called San Salvador. It was to be "strong enough not only to keep the natives in awe, but also to resist the attack of any more formidable enemy." Six Jesuits accompanied this expedition, the first to set foot in the New World. Xavier had already gone to the East, and now the souls of the Brazilians concerned João III. Bahia remained the seat of government until 1763, when the viceroy was instructed to move it to Rio de Janeiro, and was the centre of Brazil's political, social and religious history in colonial times. The story of the first settlers, the struggles between the Portuguese and the French, and against the Spaniards, the Dutch invasion, are all interesting chapters in the history of this really quaint and wonderful old city, if indeed a city of 350 years can be called old. From external appearances it might be a thousand years old. Its religious history is a most remarkable and painful one; the coming of the first Jesuits, the first nunnery, Bishopric, and Arch-Bishopric in Brazil, all indicate that it has from the beginning been a stronghold and principal centre for Roman Catholicism. But the intellectual and moral condition of the inhabitants in the city and throughout this great State is a sad commentary on this Church.
This was for a long time the great centre of the importation of African slaves, and the negro element is so large as to occasion the denomination of Bahia as the "Africa of Brazil." Thousands of these blacks are worshipping to-day the fetishes and wearing the charms which they and their ancestors brought over from Africa. The population of the city of St. Salvador is about 175,000, and it is the second city in size in the Republic. Notwithstanding its quaint and ancient appearance, there are many modern improvements in the way of manufacturing establishments, street railways, electric cars, railroad station, and other buildings. The city is well lighted with gas and has a good supply of water. The railroad extends from the city to Joazeiro on the banks of the San Francisco river, a distance of about 370 miles. There is also a system of river and seacoast navigation from this point; all of which are advantageous to efforts for circulating the Scriptures throughout the country. The State claims to have about 755 public schools, 332 for boys, 265 for girls, and 158 for both boys and girls; there are also a number of private schools. The city has a number of technical schools, such as a Lyceum, Academy of Fine Arts, a Normal School for young men, and a Normal School for young women, a Law School, Medical College, a Roman Catholic Theological Seminary, etc. There are a number of daily papers and other periodicals, and several libraries.
However great may be the need of the Bible to the inhabitants of this immense State, it must appear from the statements above, that the illiteracy and superstition so largely prevailing, together with the hostile influence of the Church, with the masses of the people, are by no means favourable conditions for the circulation of the written Word. It is not to be wondered that Henry Martin, who on his eventful voyage to India nearly a century ago, touched at this point, after viewing with his spiritual sight the condition of the people and conversing in Latin with priests and friars, should have sighed and said, "Crosses there are in abundance; but when shall the doctrines of the cross be held up?" a very pertinent inquiry, which only began to have its real answer about fourscore years later.
From the first attempts of evangelical Christianity to teach the truth in that city, a few Bibles found acceptance. On my first arrival the Baptist and Presbyterian mission stations were already well established and had reached out to a few neighbouring towns and villages.
The first words of testimony I heard from these missionaries were to the effect that the extension of their work in the city, but more particularly outside, was due to the work of the Bible colporteurs; and they offered every encouragement and promised cooperation in our efforts to carry the Bible to the far interior. Thousands of copies of the Word of God have been sold within the city limits during the period of which we write.
Our first journey in the year 1888 was from the city of Bahia across the bay and up the river by boat about forty-eight miles to the city of Cachoeira. Thence we travelled by the Brazil Central Railway along the valley of the Paraguassú river for a distance of more than 150 miles.
The story of the next week is one of hardship. We supplied ourselves with mules, buying them from a man who had brought to the coast a cargo of dried beans and coffee. As the public road to Lençoes was very circuitous, we took a shorter path through the forest. We crossed a river in a leaky old canoe that threatened every moment to swamp us, then got tangled in the midst of a great swamp surrounded by a dense forest. The mules fell with their loads in the mud and water, and we had to wade a considerable distance to firm land. The nights were full of discomfort. One evening we searched for hours for some water, until the words of David, "O that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem," acquired a new meaning. Sleep gave partial relief, and in the morning a cock's crow led us to where we could slake our thirst. One afternoon we were followed by three onças, or Brazilian jaguars, but were spared from any attack. There was naturally little opportunity for Bible work, but a few copies of the Scriptures were left at some huts.
We heard at two or three places that our coming had already been announced in the town of Lençoes, and that the priest was stirring up much opposition to us,not very inviting news after the long, toilsome and dangerous journey. A man coming from the town warned us of the danger awaiting us, and said the priest was organizing a mob for the purpose of driving us out of the town, and that most probably they would kill us. I felt assured in my heart that we had come thus far in the name of Christ and that our mission and work was for His glory.
About one o'clock P. M., October 19th, we came near the town. While still in the woods I called the men to a halt; we dismounted, knelt before God and made prayer unto Him. I felt in my heart surely He was present, and in the spirit we were ready to enter the town and undertake the work we had come to do. As we passed out from the woods we found ourselves on the brink of a hill, from which we looked out over the valley. On the opposite side from us and back of the town lay a great range of barren, rocky hills, or mountains. Just at their base nestled the town of one-story houses, there being just now and then one of a story and a half or two stories. It seemed as though every inch of soil along the banks of the little river, and extending some distance up the hillsides, had been upturned, sifted, and washed in search of diamonds. Very few are found now, though a number of persons keep at work.
The first thing we did was to rent a small house, there being no such thing as an inn or a hotel where we could stop. I had been told that the priest in the town was much opposed to the Protestants and their work, and that a number were ready to do any meanness in the way of persecution that he might suggest. I visited the justice of peace and the chief of police, the two principal authorities in the place, explained to them the nature and object of our visit, and obtained of them the privilege to sell books in the streets. They were both kind, and made no objection to our work. I asked the chief of police about a room for preaching, as it was contrary to Brazilian law to preach in the streets, and he kindly offered to procure a suitable room for the service. Very soon the news of our presence was noised through the town. It was now late; we had our dinner, and sat down for a little rest, intending to begin our work the next morning. Very soon they began to stone the house. The stoning continued for nearly an hour and was mingled with words of mockery and scorn. At last one of the colporteurs decided to go out and offer them some tracts. He said to them we had come on a mission of good-will, exhorted them to take these tracts, go home and read them, and come to see us on the morrow. The plan worked admirably. Not another stone was thrown or a word of mockery heard. Quietude reigned in town. We had sweet worship and went to sleep.
As soon as we opened the door of our house the next morning persons began to come in some to buy books, others to ask questions, and more to see what sort of looking creatures Protestants are. The entire day was occupied in talking to the people and selling the Scriptures. It was indeed a busy day. The chief of police came in the afternoon to tell me he had arranged a large room for the worship, and said he would send soldiers at night to keep order. At eight o'clock, when the door was opened, and we were ready to begin worship, the house was soon full, and many stood outside. We sung some hymns and prayed. I read passages of the Word, and preached to them on the subject of the sacred Scriptures the main doctrines and truths therein set forth, and their importance to all men. God certainly blessed us on that occasion. I announced preaching for Sunday at midday and at eight o'clock at night.
Sunday morning I awoke with this text in mind, "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve." In my slumber I had reviewed a sermon previously prepared on this subject in English, but never preached in Portuguese. The experience was a most glorious one; I saw so very clearly the adaptation of the thoughts to these people, who, bowed down to images and idols, are greedy after gain, and live only to satisfy every human passion and lust. At the midday service and at night we had large and attentive audiences. Quite a number showed some interest in the Gospel, and some came to talk with us after services. We had most excellent order and good attention. The soldiers kept under control those who were disposed to disturb and persecute. This act of the chief of police is a thing little known in Brazil. At night, when I was ready to sleep, I felt the day had been well spent.
In the interior of Brazil it is customary in all the small towns and villages to have one day in the week as the Feira (market day), when the country people bring in their produce and marketing. Often this is Sunday, but fortunately for us it was Monday at this place, and we had the opportunity of selling the Scriptures to many who live in the country some distance away.
In the house of the justice of the peace I found a young negro Christian, who was born in Bahia, but went as a boy to Africa, where he joined the Wesleyan Church. He had been to England and New York, and hearing of his father's death had returned to Brazil to care for his mother. He was respected by all, and joined in our services most heartily. The colour distinction of the races is scarcely recognized in Brazil. The fact is, it is hardly recognizablethat is to say, it would be almost an impossibility to draw such a distinction, there is such a mixture of the races.
A few days later, I left the colporteurs to carry on the work and return to the city of Bahia by a more circuitous route in order to reach a larger number of towns and villages. From time to time other journeys have been made by colporteurs through the interior of that State, and the missionaries in the city of Bahia have had many calls to come and explain more fully to the readers the wonderful truths of the colporteur's book.
The work, however, has not been carried on without much opposition, as the following story from one of our colporteurs, José C. da Silva, well illustrates. He had been two days in a small town named Villa de Giboia, when the priest sent a member of his family with a well-armed force to attack him, which they did, compelling him to deliver up all his books to be burned in the public square. He was unable to obtain redress from the authorities, because the priest himself was considered the chief authority in the place. They took from him and burned, forty-seven Bibles, fifty New Testaments, and 100 Gospels. Among them was his own Bible, in which he had placed a sum of money, equal to about fifty dollars, for safe keeping. This also was burned. He had no recourse but to return to the capital and report to the chief of police. The chief told him that he had no power to force the priest to indemnify him, but he would see that he was secured against any new attack. The colporteur published a full report of the incident in one of the daily papers and returned to the work. Doubtless it will finally result in the furtherance of the Gospel in that part of the country. I was afterwards told that the priest was really the mayor of the town and a member of the State Legislature.
It will be remembered that two of our colporteurs in the year 1891 continued the overland journey from Rio into this section and reached the city of Bahia. At a town called Victoria they sold three Bibles. They left also a few tracts, and copies of an evangelical paper which had been given them for distribution. At least one of the purchasers became interested in the Bible, and afterward wrote to the editor and subscribed to the paper. In September, 1897, just six years later, a letter was received in Rio de Janeiro from that gentleman, stating that he had been reading the Bible together with other persons, and that twenty-four of them had banded themselves together to study the Scriptures, and were meeting regularly to worship God as best they knew how. He begged that a preacher be sent at once to preach Christ to them and instruct them more fully.
From all points of this great country such calls are frequent. The representatives of the Bible Society in past years have been sowing the seed, and now the call comes for the reapers to gather the harvest.
A recent number of an evangelical paper contained an open letter from a Brazilian, in which he directs special attention to the nameless heroes in the history of the evangelization of this country. He says: "Thou knowest, my friend, and all the missionaries and evangelists testify to it in the recollections of their travels, that in nearly every case where the preacher of the Gospel goes for the first time, in whatever community of our country, he meets already one or more persons who receive him with sympathy, and who for some time, in fervent prayers to God, have begged his visit. One owns and reads a Bible; another knows how to sing hymns; many have read evangelical tracts. Who did this work? No one knows. Along there some time ago passed a colporteur; a poor, fiercely persecuted believer from another community to that place, or at least took refuge there for a timea nameless one, indeed, prepared the way for the preacher. I know of cases, my friend, in which the congregation was already a reality, and already the house of prayer was erected when the missionary or evangelist arrived."
If the world does easily forget her nameless heroes, our church ought not to forget hers, of whom she has a great number in this land. And I do not believe it is asking too much that in the history of the conquerors or the heroes who have names to be recorded, a chapter dedicated to the nameless heroes, the humble colporteurs of the Bible Society would be one of the most interesting of the book.