Rio Grande do Sul


THE incidents and observations in Bible work to be recorded under the head of this journey are confined to the Province of Rio Grande do Sul, the extreme southernmost State of the Republic, and formerly belonged to the La Plata Agency. I have visited this section twice, first in the year 1895 and again in 1899.

The distance from Rio de Janeiro to the bar at the entrance to the Rio Grande do Sul harbour is 780 miles. I first made the voyage on a small Italian steamer, and we had a rough and uncomfortable time for three days and a half until we cast anchor off the city of Rio Grande do Sul. Our passengers were few and the crew was small, so that little could be done in the way of Bible work. The captain, however, proved to be a Methodist and a member of the Church in Montevideo, a novel surprise in this part of the world, and we had most delightful conversations together.

The state of Rio Grande do Sul has a milder and finer climate than any other section of the country, partly due to the general altitude, which is about 2,000 feet. It embraces about 142,000 square miles—almost as large as the States of Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri, or nearly three times the size of England. The soil for the most part is very fertile and easily cultivated. The vast plains are adapted to cattle raising, and the fertile valleys and hills to a variety of agriculture. Fruits and cereals of tropical as well as of colder climates thrive. There are extensive forests of large trees, easily accessible for lumber, and medicinal plants are numerous. In different parts such minerals as gold, silver, iron, copper, coal, ets., are found.

Quite a number of navigable rivers empty into the great lake which extends from the city of Rio Grande do Sul, on the seacoast, about one hundred and sixty-five miles to the capital, Porto Alegre. Railroad construction is comparatively easy, and perhaps no other State of the Republic is better provided with means of transportation; and certainly, if present projects are carried into effect, it will soon be far ahead of any other State in this respect. The general prosperity is indicated by the marked increase during the later years of exports over imports, and a notable improvement in the finances of the State.

This is one of the most recently settled States of the Republic. The first Portuguese settlers landed in the year 1715. In 1740 large numbers of young married people came from the Azores, and the Rio Grandenses are proud to-day to say that they sprang from the Azorians. This may. readily be believed when their sturdy, industrious habits and other excellent qualities are observed.

These first families were soon followed by 4,000 more, who found a fertile soil and a congenial climate for their development. The census taken in 1814 showed a population of 70,656; that of 1862, 392,725, of whom more than 50,000 were slaves; that of 1890, 897,455, and it is believed now by many that the population is about 1,200,000. Since 1824 German immigrants have come in in large numbers, and it is estimated that there are now 200,000 or 250,000 Germans in the colonies, not to mention the thousands who have been born in Brazil, and who have become Brazilian citizens. There are perhaps 150,000 Italians colonized in the State. The colonists have settled on what seems a very wise plan; they all have titles to their lands, are there to stay for the most part, and seem prosperous and happy. What is so well known as to the religious, moral, and intellectual condition of the Brazilian in other parts may in a general way be applied to the inhabitants of this State, though there are conditions and influences which have altered the situation in these respects. The Azorian origin of the first settlers; the agricultural and cattle-raising occupations, scattering the people in rural life instead of congregating them in towns and large cities; the large influx of Germans, especially of the Protestant Lutheran faith; the superiority of climate, and other influences have had a liberalizing and stimulating effect upon the intellectual and moral life of the people. The French naturalist, Augusto de Saint Hilario, in 1821, observed that decadence and unbelief in Roman Catholicism was very marked and Sr. Alfredo Verelo, a native of that State, in a very important work has recently said that they had made rapid strides and that even before the great revolution the Roman Church no longer exercised that spiritual government over the people which in other times was so strong and intense, and adds that the Rio Grandenses are the most emancipated of all the Brazilians. They are doubtless turning rapidly away from the corrupted Roman Church, but a more important question just now for us is, Unto what are they turning? Positivism and many forms of unbelief are finding rich fields for their growth, and great numbers are perfectly indifferent as to any form of religious belief.

They are making fair progress in education. It is affirmed that they will soon have throughout the State about 1,800 public schools, though this seems hardly possible, since they have at present only 746. On my recent visit I witnessed the conferring of diplomas on a class of about twenty young women who had just finished the course in the normal school in Port Alegre. In travel through the State, I always found the people liberal and very frank in their conversation on matters of religion and education. I met with nothing in the way of persecution, or specially of scorning at the circulating of Holy Scriptures and at the Christian religion. I was impressed that the people generally are very accessible and ready to hear. I need not emphasize their needs, since the needs of Brazil are so well known to the Church. There are a million of people practically without the Gospel and the means of grace. In that mild climate and on that fertile soil the population is rapidly increasing, and the wise administration of the State government is inducing large European immigration. Now is the time for the evangelization of a section that is destined to be the home of millions.

The city of Porto Alegre, the capital of the State, is located on an elevation at the head of Lagoa dos Patos (Duck's Lake) or rather on the Guayiba estuary which is formed by the waters of four rivers emptying into this inland sea. The view from the deck of the vessel as one approaches the city is picturesque and delightful, with the ranges of wooded hills, the banks covered with farms and country houses nestling in luxuriant foliage, and the distant view of Porto Alegre crowning the hill. The lake is an important body of water about 150 miles long and thirty miles at its greatest width. It varies in depth from thirty to 140 feet, and would permit ocean steamers to go up to the city of Porto Alegre but for the very shallow water on the extensive bar or wide channel in front of the city of Rio Grande do Sul extending toward the ocean over a distance of some miles. This may be improved by dredging but as yet little has been really accomplished in this way.

I was impressed on my first arrival that the community furnished a rich field for Bible distribution, and while I was awaiting the arrival of a delayed colporteur I improved the opportunity of making an effort in that direction. My custom was to go, early in the morning, into the streets with as many Bibles, Testaments and Gospels as I could carry. I usually sold out by nine or ten o'clock: then returned for breakfast, a rest and some reading. In the afternoon I would go again loaded down with Scriptures, which I generally disposed of by five o'clock in the afternoon, when I returned for dinner. Occasionally a second supply had to be sought, and some times I made large sales in the market. I was much encouraged by the wide-open door for the entrance of the truth and found the people ready to listen to words of explanation and commendation of the Bible. In passing a house one day I saw a number of army officials at the window. When I offered them the Bible they began to make fun of religion. I made no reply till they had said their say, and then entered into conversation with them, which resulted in the sale of sixteen copies before I moved from the window. Incidents of like character occurred almost daily while I was in the city.

The entries in my note book show each time I went into the streets for work such as the following: sold twelve copies of the Scriptures, sold twenty-six copies, sold eight copies, sold twenty-two copies; one day the sales reached forty-six copies. I left the colporteur to carry on the work, which he did very successfully for a time. From this central point thousands of copies have gone out into all directions through the State, and the reading of them has stirred up much interest. Both the Methodist and Episcopal Missionaries and their helpers are following up the colporteurs, establishing regular services in many places and gathering in the fruits. On my second visit to the State I made a trip on horseback one hundred and twenty miles to get an insight into the needs of the Italian and German colonists north from the city of Porto Alegre and was gratified to find that the work done by our colporteur in these colonies some years ago had developed into regularly organized churches.

With some aid from abroad the people have built comfortable churches, and in the lack of well prepared and ordained ministers one of the Italian colporteurs of the Bible Society, Rev. Matteo Donatti, is now serving in the pastoral office. The people generally seem to be industrious and prosperous, and I had hoped to secure from among them an Italian colporteur who would be able to visit all the colonists and extend the circulation of the Scriptures among them more generally.

On the same occasion I travelled westward by river steamer and by rail, more than two hundred miles inland to the town of Santa Maria da Bocco do Monte, where I established one of our colporteurs who has carried on a most successful work through that region. The mayor of the town was very kind and granted us permission to sell the Scriptures without paying for a license. The first day's work showed fourteen Bibles and sixteen Testaments sold. A few years ago a man across the border in the Argentine Republic secured a Bible from a colporteur, was converted through the reading of it, and when he came over and settled in the State of Rio Grande do Sul he heard of a Presbyterian Missionary in the State of Paraná. He made the long journey of several days crossing the State of Santa Catharina, finally reaching the Missionary in Paraná. I believe he made the trip the second time, and after being more fully instructed in the way he was baptized and received into the communion. He has, at different times) secured small supplies of Bibles and scattered them in the region round about Cruz Alta. Our colporteurs have made two visits to that section and have sold a number of Scriptures. At the time of my second visit to the city of Rio Grande do Sul the Convocation of the Episcopal Church was in session, and I was invited to a seat and given a special hour to speak on the Bible cause. Our work has the cordial support of all the members of the Convocation, some of whom have rendered valuable aid to our colporteur in that field, and have done me many favours as the agent of the Bible Society. I had most pleasant interviews with the preachers privately and enjoyed their Christian fellowship. They are an aggressive body of men, and are happy under the efficient presidency of their new Bishop, Rev. L. L. Kinsolving. I had the pleasure during my short stay in the city of witnessing the interesting ceremony of laying the cornerstone of the church which they proposed to build for their growing congregation, and by invitation I spoke a few words on the occasion. I also received many kindnesses from the Rev. A. W. Greeman, P. E. of the Methodist Episcopal Church, under whose supervision the Methodist work was at that time.

In the German colonies and in a few towns there are twenty-seven German Lutheran pastors, most of whom are engaged during the week in teaching German schools, many of which are subsidized by the German Emperor. A number of them serve several churches, and rarely minister to any one congregation more than once a month. Much of their strength is consumed in these day schools. They are formed into a synod, and are now connected with the State Church of Prussia, a union which I am persuaded has very great political significance. The work of the pastors is confined to the Germans, but few of them have learned Portuguese and perhaps none have a sufficient command of the language to preach with facility to the Brazilians, had they the time and the disposition. They are not even following up that German element which is constantly passing out of the colonies and becoming absorbed in the Brazilian population. Their very presence exerts an enlightening and liberalizing influence in the State, but they are by no means a direct, aggressive force among the natives. A few years ago their Synod in session resolved to buy the Scriptures needed for their work from the American Bible Society and they have purchased from us considerable quantities of German Scriptures during the last two or three years.

There can be no doubt that the large and increasing German population in the States of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catharina, and Paraná is becoming a predominant element in the agricultural, commercial, political, social and religious life of that important section of Brazil. My observation is that they are pretty generally contented with their surroundings, and that there is no thought among them of creating any political disturbance or rebelling against the Brazilian Government. They are law-abiding, prosperous, and happy and seem quite willing that civil affairs should continue as they are. Of course I cannot say what Germany's designs may be with reference to these colonists and the desirable territory over which they are spread. It is a well known fact, however, that all the native born Germans among them, and a large majority, if not all, of the Brazilian born Germans are thoroughly loyal to Germany, and should the issue ever arise the German Emperor may depend upon their sympathy and support. It is of the highest importance that the Bible Society should see that they are kept well supplied with the Holy Scriptures. The agent endeavours to keep at work among them at most one German colporteur. Protestant Mission enterprise should do everything possible to encourage their thorough evangelization. The younger generations spreading out and mingling with the native Brazilians form an important element to be looked after and utilised in building up an evangelical Protestant Church.

The work of the Bible Society in Southern Brazil meets with most cordial support among Brazilians, Germans and Italians; the Protestant Missionaries, native-workers and German pastors all delight to cooperate with us in the glorious work. Each visit of the agent to that section has seemed to awaken new interest. Shortly after my first visit there a young Brazilian, who seemed deeply impressed with our work and plans wrote the following to one of the evangelical papers: "Behold here comes breaking through the horizon of Brazil the Sun of Reformation, the Bible, and already the darkness of libertinism declines. 'The Bible,' which, in the language of the philosopher Robert Boyle, 'is among books what the diamond is among stones,' comes here seeking its place of honour in Brazilian literature. The Bible that has traversed eighteen centuries, reforming, regenerating, and civilizing societies, presents itself in the nineteenth century to the great Brazilian Republic, and offers its services in favour of regeneration. Brazil needs this divine code, whose laws are the only means of saving the country from the abysm of anarchy which seems to be approaching. Only the Bible will be able to deliver it, only the Bible will be able to regenerate the character of our citizens, and when those regenerated demonstrate in their lives the power of the Book of books, then inevitably the wave of reformation will increase more and more in volume until it spreads all over vast Brazil.

"There is no doubt that the Bible will encounter gigantic obstacles and elevated barriers, but notwithstanding she will conquer.

"As when the king of day rises slowly on the horizon, black night begins to fade away, so when the Bible shall arrive at its zenith; that is, when it shall be known by all Brazilians, the darkness of superstition and incredulity will fade away. Victory will not delay long. The Bible will soon be 'the rule of faith to the Brazilian family, and not only the rule of faith, but also the code from which parents will learn the sound morality of the Divine Saviour, and will teach their dear children that they may know how to love their Creator, their neighbour, and their country. Dear reader, do you wish to see peace in your home? Bring into it the Book of books, and dedicate some hours to the reading of the same, asking at the same time the blessings of the Omnipotent. If you will do this you will have peace in your home; and where there is peace there is prosperity. Read the Bible, for it is the written Word of God."

I have no doubt that these sentiments are finding an echo in thousands of Brazilian hearts.

The only remaining district from which we have to report is the great region embraced in the State of Matto Grosso, whose highlands are drained on the north by tributaries of the La Plata river. It is about 1,379,651 square kilometers in territorial extent and has a population of about 120,000. The city of Cuyabá, with a population of 15,000 is the capital; there are several other towns with from 3,000 to 6,000 inhabitants. A great part of the State is almost unexplored territory, and is inhabited by Indians yet in the savage state.

The means of communication from Rio de Janeiro is by a national line of ocean steamers, which go down the coast 1,101 miles to Montevideo, and thence up the La Plata and Paraguay rivers 1,650 miles to Corumba, from that point to Cuyabá, the distance of 441 miles is made by vessels of lighter draft; thus the entire distance from Rio de Janeiro to the Capital of Matto Grosso is 3,192. The reader may recall that on the journey up the Amazon we went to Manáos, 3,253 miles from Rio de Janeiro. The same Steamship Company navigates the two routes, the total of which is 6,445 miles or more than one-fourth of the distance around the globe. I suppose there is not another line of steamers in the world making such distances to reach two points in national territory. We may add to this sum another 700 miles of navigation from Manáos on the Amazon to the Santo Antonio falls on the Madeira river, making a total of 7,145 miles. To complete the circle over land, or rather by ascending a series of waterfalls and continuing navigation we make a distance of about 1,175 miles more on the Madeira and Guapore rivers, and then about fifty miles on horseback, which brings us to the terminus of navigation by the Paraguay river route. The entire distance of the circle we will have made is 8,370 miles, equal to one-third of the earth's circumference.

Until recently the State of Matto Grosso was included in the La Plata Agency; since it was transferred to the Brazil Agency we have made several consignments of books for distribution in that territory. No permanent mission work has yet been established there, though one of the men sent out by the Christian Alliance did work there for a while, and another, Rev. W. C. Cook, has just completed the journey across country from Goyaz to Cuyabá, where he remains for the present. The Scriptures distributed in that region are producing like results to what the reader has seen recorded in other parts of the country. Time and opportunity have not yet been favourable for me to visit that State, but the few scattered inhabitants are not being entirely neglected, and I trust that I may even be brought to them some day to do more in giving them the Word of Life.