“Success is a ladder, you can’t climb with your hands in your pockets.” Anon
With the upcoming Olympics, many things are going on in Brazil. But this blog is mostly about our time there and about the Christian church though I narrow it down to the evangelicals. What is happening is explosive growth. In 1970 evangelicals were 5% of the population and now number 26.3%. That is spectacular when I remember the lower numbers back in 1955 when Doris and I with our baby Monica arrived there. Many years later when travelling in the city of São Paulo a friend pointed to the huge sanctuary of the Universal Church and said that it held the largest congregation in the world. I have no stats to disprove that but this I have read that evangelicals have grown so they have been able to buy 600 TV and radio stations and the pastor of the Universal Church owns Rede Record, the 2nd largest TV company in the land.
Just days ago I was reading the sermon Pope Francis delivered to the leaders of the Brazilian Catholic Church. He insinuated in his blistering speech that they were not meeting the needs of the people. Over the years they have done well to build hospitals, churches and schools but recently it is the evangelicals that have caught the enthusiasm and emotions of this Latin culture. At the same time we need to remember there is room for all of us; we work for the betterment of the Brazilian people.
Now here’s a wow: Pedro Strazenberg from the Rio Institute of Religious Studies states “Evangelicals are increasingly shaping the national debate…” They are putting tremendous pressure on governments to clean up corruption and they speak to the issues of abortion and gay rights; they claim they represent not only their churches but mainstream opinion. Representatives of the Universal Church state, “We are on course to gain an evangelical majority in the next 25 years.” Already the evangelicals play a key role in national, state and city politics. They affirm that their vote will be crucial in the next presidential election. Already president Dilma Roussef is appealing to the “crentes” by quoting scriptures they would recognize.
Those with antipathy to religion are saying that evangelicals want to make Brazil into a theocracy. Their response is, “We want to help and build a better Brazil…” As for me, I buy into that answer for where I have seen the Gospel enter, it brings not only faith in Jesus as Saviour but encourage converts to leave their vices and build a better life for themselves and their families.
One problem that crops up again and again in politics is the endemic corruption and cronyism. Dilma Roussef may find it difficult to be re-elected for multiplied millions of Reais have been siphoned off from the state oil empire, Petrobras. The need is to establish justice and economic opportunity especially for the poor who live in shanty towns. Those “favelas” may lack water, sewage mains and electricity. Admirable reforms have been achieved though in many cities still ¼ of the people live in squalor with crime all around. I have written a story set in one of those “favelas,” picking for a title a saying common there—“A Stray Bullet Has No Address.” Why such a title? The answer? There are many gun battles by gangs and drug dealers with police at times part of the problem–the result is stray bullets kill people.
The evangelical church is growing in part because it has been addressing the needs of people, especially the poor. I mention a school started in Monte Santo in the poor interior of the State of Bahia. This school began with 40 children, many of whom could not afford the fees, uniforms or books. I recall stories of problem children rejected by other schools but accepted in ours with the result that love and care turned their lives around. Add to that, a lunch is provided. No wonder this school has grown to almost 600 students with funding coming from our Brazilian church and donations through International Child Care.
The varied branches of the evangelicals offer an appeal to the Brazilian mindset for it allows place to their ecstatic experiences, flexible practices and emotional mysticism. I must admit I do not fit in with the Prosperity Gospel of the Universal Church but I still rejoice at the power of the message of Jesus to better lives in Brazil.