Ministering in Brazil
Following a 10-hour overnight flight from Chicago to Sao Paulo, Brazil, my husband (Joel Beeke) and I had a three-hour car ride, half of it through windy, hilly terrain to Lindoia. This was my husband’s third FIEL Conference.
Editora FIEL was begun in 1967 by missionary Richard Denham Jr. Its purpose is to promote the doctrines of grace among ministers in Portuguese-speaking countries, through the translation of Reformed, biblical literature and conferences.
Wonderful growth is evidenced by an ever-widening distribution of books, exponential growth on the web and increased attendance at conferences (1400 two years ago and 2400 this year, with up to 50,000 online).
Most of the attendees are pastors and their wives. Their Adopt-a-Pastor programme supplies over 500 pastors with a book a month and admission to the conference. It used to be funded primarily by US donors; now 60 per cent of the support comes from within Brazil. Many resources are available free online.
This year’s theme was ‘the biblical foundations of our faith’. Dr Steven Lawson spoke on the first four of the five points of Calvinism; Rev. Paul Washer spoke on the gospel; and my husband spoke on how to use the means of grace, assurance of faith, learning from the Puritans and (an extra meeting) persevering to the end. Two native Brazilians also preached in Portuguese.
All the speakers hit hard on our desperately sinful nature, and then lifted up the only way of salvation to be found in Christ, who chooses his people from all eternity. The Brazilians are expressive, and many are transitioning from being Pentecostal to being Reformed, so restless weeping could be heard, especially during the applications.
Pray with us that the fruits will last and that the pastors will bring these scriptural truths back to their people. Many will need to swim against the stream of liberalism.
Martha Peace spoke four times to the women on aspects of Titus 2, and I spoke once on common and uncommon kindness from Luke 6. It was a real privilege to rub shoulders with a well known author like her.
Richard Denham Snr, and his wife Pearl are 84 years old and quite feeble. They were not going to come to the conference, but, Monday evening, Mr Denham decided he wanted to go, so Marcio, a FIEL helper, went to pick them up along with a caregiver.
On Wednesday morning, they wheeled Mrs Denham in for the address. She later accompanied the singing on the piano, but then was so exhausted she went back to her room. The next day, they wheeled Mr Denham in.
He cannot communicate clearly at all, though he can understand everything. He is very stiff but weak, so his nurse needed to support his neck and the back of his head. We were able to speak to him and pray with and thank him for his life of service. Many people crowded around him.
As they wheeled him out, Mrs Denham came back. I asked her if she saw her husband and she replied, ‘No, and I miss him. I haven’t seen him for a day and a half. They put us in separate rooms and I don’t like that!’
We caught up with those transporting Mr Denham and they brought him back. It was so precious as their wheelchairs were side by side, facing each other, and she stroked his arm and they chatted. One of their five children, Rick III, is currently president of FIEL. He has a very engaging personality and lots of vision.
We had the joy of having lunch with Marta and Roberio Azevedo, who attended our seminary four years ago. The Lord has blessed this humble and kind, yet strong, man with a position of leadership in a flagship church that has already planted several daughter churches.
I am not sure if Brazilians or Koreans take more pictures, but the Brazilians must be the most affectionate people in the world. They are always arm-in-arm for numerous pictures with each other and the speakers; hugs and kisses for meeting, greeting and hello and goodbye; patting and touching as they converse; and smiling all the while.
The bookstore is open after all the talks, and the place is buzzing with activity until midnight. Thousands of books are sold. We stayed up also and signed hundreds of books (15 of my husband’s books have been translated into Portuguese, as has my book).
One interesting couple got married five months ago, and they are training to work with Muslims, first in New Zealand and then in Malaysia. A short, lean guy with a huge husky voice for talking and singing and laughing and crying — and so much energy, he was like a walking, joyful thunderstorm. His wife so sweetly sat beside him, just as eager and excited as he to minister to the Muslims. Youth is in their favour.
Rio de Janeiro
Friday morning, we flew to Rio de Janeiro. It was awesome flying in, seeing the mountains jutting up and a spectacular shoreline. We made a tight circle over the bay and landed in the city airport, which has a very short runway on a peninsula; only skilled pilots may land there.
It was quite an experience to come in so close over the water, then feel the pilot slam on the brakes, then see the water close as we taxied. After settling in our hotel, we took the cable car to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, along with Dr Lawson, his daughter Grace Ann and a local pastor, Philipe.
From this famous peak, we watched the sun set beyond the other landmark of Rio, the statue of Christ the Redeemer on Mt Corcovado, which overlooks this sprawling city of 6.3 million. We bought a few souvenirs at an evening market along the coast, then ate dinner overlooking a bay.
FIEL held their first-ever conference in Rio, and they were very happy with the overflow crowd of 600, including many ministers. The beautiful thing about ministering to ministers is that their souls are revived and refreshed and instructed from Scripture, but they also pass it on to their people and the impact of Scripture spreads to many souls.
Rev. Washer, Dr Lawson, and my husband spoke at this conference as well, followed by a round-table discussion. Joel had two good conversations with young men who are wrestling with a call to be a pastor.
I spoke with a young lady who for many years has just loved to read the Bible and pray. But she has suffered severe criticism from a family member for years, and lately she feels cold spiritually, and it makes her worried and sad.
I tried to encourage her that it is normal to have seasons of more or less love for the Lord, but to persevere in using the means, trusting that our triune God will revive her.
On Sunday morning, Joel preached in Igreja Crista Nora Vida Catedral. It is pastored by Rev. John MacAllister, whose father Walter oversees the churches of their denomination. Their church has an Episcopal form of government.
Over the years, they have discovered the doctrines of grace and have found them to be true to God’s Word. The denomination is becoming increasingly Reformed. Walter was incredibly moved under my husband’s address at the Rio conference, and could hardly pray when asked to close the meeting. He said, ‘I just realized this week that I have been a Puritan for years!’
He asked my husband to send him a number of titles by and about the Puritans, as he wants to publish them through his own publishing house. This is an exciting development.
The evening venue was the First Bible Baptist Church, whose pastor is Rev. Maurice. Joel preached on ‘How Christ matures our faith’, a very helpful sermon for those suffering trials. This little church was overflowing, as people came from neighbouring churches as well.
Monday morning, we joined Rick, Philipe, Paul Washer and his two young sons to see the coast. Blue sky and turquoise water were everywhere. From the rocks we were standing on, we could see the apartments of the wealthy along the shoreline, against the backdrop of the slums on the hills where common labourers live and drug lords rule.
Police are gradually taking back power in many of the slums, one at a time. When law and order is restored to an area, it is marked with signs saying ‘Pacified’. The dictionary defines ‘pacify’ as ‘to bring or restore to a state of peace’.
Whether we are rich, poor, or in between, whether we are Brazilian or American, or anything else, our sinful souls need to be pacified by the power and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. May we not rest until we are pacified. And when we are, may we seek to bring that peace to others.
That afternoon we said goodbye to our dear Brazilian friends and began our 17-hour journey home.
Please pray for Brazil. Thirty years ago, Brazil had 89 per cent Roman Catholics and 6.6 per cent evangelicals. Today there are 22.2 per cent evangelicals and 64.4 per cent Roman Catholic.
The good news is that, among the Protestants, is a growing movement that desires solid, Reformed, experiential truth. My husband will be coming back to Brazil several times in the next few years, as there are several conferences springing up around the country, all of which are yearning for solid Reformed preaching.
Please pray that this growing movement may be multiplied exponentially, by the Spirit’s super-abounding grace.