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Changed lives in Brazil

February 2007 | by Richard Denham

Over the past 54 years it has been our privilege as missionaries to be involved in the growth of the evangelical church in Brazil.
In the early days of our ministry in the Amazon interior it was impressed on us that we had no power to bring life to a spiritually dead person. A miracle of God’s grace was necessary.

When persecution came we saw our initial converts — those who had befriended us and responded to our message — fall away. To our amazement at that dark hour God chose to save two of the most unlikely persons in the village and cause them to stand with us.

The police chief, who at first refused to hear the gospel, was transformed through reading the Catholic Bible we gave him. By sovereign grace, an enemy had been made a brother. 

The other person was the most devout Catholic lady in town — leader of the Daughters of Mary and owner of the building we had rented upon our arrival. On being accused of renting to the Protestant heretics, she decided to see for herself what was going on in her building.

After hearing the message she invited us to her home. We thought she would try to remove us from her property. Instead we found a repentant sinner ready and anxious to receive Christ as her Saviour. A short time later she was baptised, against the counsel of friends and the priests she had served for many years.

The book that changed lives

In 1953 my travelling companion and I had just arrived by river boat in Manicore, the small town where we hoped to return later to establish a gospel witness. We had found a room and were hanging our hammocks when a prostitute named Maria appeared at our door.

Our turning her away that day was used by God to sharpen the sword of the Lord for the battles that lay ahead. Years later when visiting a church several hundred miles down river, I was amazed to see Maria. After the meeting she introduced me to her husband and little girl. Then she told me her story.

When we had returned to Manicore with our families and began to encourage obedience to God’s Word, she had wanted to hear more about the book that changed lives — but was too ashamed to come near.

Seeking peace, she had taken a river boat down river determined to find a people that followed God’s book. She had travelled several hundred miles before the Lord led her to this little church in Parintins. God had used a sharp sword to give her a new life in Christ.

Banner articles

Several years later God used articles in the early issues of the Banner of Truth magazine (given us by Irish missionary Bill Barkley) to help us understand more clearly the need of a sovereign work of God’s grace in the salvation of a soul.

Having witnessed first-hand the miraculous saving power of God to transform lives — and having experienced our own weakness — we felt a pressing burden to share these truths with Brazilian believers.

We sold our boat and opened a gospel bookstore in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas. While we rejoiced in the sale of thousands of Bibles published by the Brazilian Bible Society, we felt the lack of solid reformed literature. 

A notable exception was Joseph Alleine’s Alarm to the unconverted which had been published in Portugal by the Conservative Baptist Publishing house through the co-operation of the Banner of Truth.

Reformed publishing

By 1966 it was clear that God would have us begin publishing reformed literature in the Portuguese language. As none of our contacts were reformed, we turned to Iain Murray of the Banner of Truth for encouragement.

In January 1967 he wrote to welcome our fellowship and say that funds were being sent for the publication of The gospel in Genesis by Henry Law. He added, ‘We are happy to contribute this service to the cause of Christ in Brazil and pray that you will be encouraged in all your work’. Though more than 150 titles have since been published, that personal word and contribution continue to encourage us.

In 1977 Bill Barkley made a further valuable contribution to the reformed cause by setting up PES (Selected Evangelical Publications) — which has published most of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ works as well as many others.
Leadership conferences

In 1985, through the encouragement and participation of Bill Clark and Edgar Andrews of Evangelical Press, FIEL began holding an annual leadership conference with a focus on the great truths of the Reformation.

Speakers such as Iain Murray, Geoffrey Thomas, Erroll Hulse, Brian Edwards, John Piper, Ted Tripp and John MacArthur have shared their faith over the years with increasingly receptive audiences. In more recent years annual conferences have also been held in Portugal, Mozambique and Angola. For the past four years also, FIEL has held annual youth conferences in Brazil.

A quarterly magazine Faith for today, begun seven years ago, is currently sent free to more than 20,000 leaders. Hundreds of letters have been received from pastors whose hearts have been moved to gratitude for the gift of salvation by grace alone.

Other reformed work

Encouraged by FIEL conferences and publications, a Presbyterian pastor has been holding a reformed conference for the past few years in Manaus, the city where our vision to spread the reformed faith began.

Some fourteen years ago we were invited to visit a Presbyterian group in Recife who sought encouragement in promoting the faith of the Puritans. Since that time the Puritan Movement has published many good books and a magazine, and has held regional Puritan conferences in Brazil. One of their leaders has spoken at FIEL conferences in Brazil, Portugal, Mozambique and Angola.

For the past few years a Reformed Baptist conference has been held in the State of Rio de Janeiro — which has also ministered to a number of Assembly of God pastors who see the need of sound doctrine.

Reformed Baptists have been encouraged by the formation of the Brazilian Baptist Reformed Fellowship led by Gilson Santos, the pastor of our local church here in Sao José dos Campos. For the past two years an annual conference has been held.

Book of the month

Over the past twelve years, through a project sponsored by FIEL, more than 400 pastors have received a book each month and been helped to attend the yearly leadership conferences.

One of the pastors in the project wrote, ‘The latest book received, Fool’s gold? by John MacArthur, has been a source of enrichment and awakening in relation to the subtleties of Satan in trying to introduce (with a certain amount of success) another gospel into the Lord’s church. We need to be alert and reject any other type of message that does not bring all the glory and praise to the Lord Jesus Christ’. Letters such as this offer hope for the future.

Though we rejoice at having witnessed a revival of the reformed faith in Brazil and around the world during the past forty years, we are concerned by the tendency of some to proclaim reformed doctrine while at the same time allowing the world to invade their personal lives in the name of Christian liberty.

If we would see the Holy Spirit transforming lives through reformed preaching we must pray that our lives may in no way dull the effectiveness of the Spirit’s sword. We all need to read and heed J. C. Ryle’s counsel in his book Holiness, for without holiness no man will see the Lord.

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