Brazil has a strong Roman Catholic tradition, so during Lent people give up meat and other enjoyable things for 40 days before Easter. But for six days preceding Lent, the whole country has a holiday called ‘Carnaval’, in which many people party day and night.
The major cities attract millions of Brazilians and foreigners and many millions of dollars are spent on parades and costumes. It has become an utterly wicked celebration in every way imaginable. Twenty years ago, a 30-year-old man named Euder Faber, a cab-driver turned pastor, began a Christian conference to be held during Carnaval, to give Brazilians a better way to spend their time.
Today, this conference has grown to be the biggest evangelical conference in Brazil and claims to have nearly 100,000 attendees during the space of a week. The conference takes place in Campina Grande, 200 miles south of the equator, in the state of Paraiba.
Campina Grande (pop. 400,000) is the main industrial, technological, and educational centre in northeast Brazil. The theme of this year’s ‘Christian Consciousness’ conference was ‘Built on the Rock’. This was the largest conference we have ever spoken at.
Joel spoke six times: three plenary sermons on ‘Union with Christ and our holiness’ (to 10,000 people), ‘Union with Christ and our struggle against worldliness’ and ‘Union with Christ and our assurance of faith’ (to 6,000 people).
He also gave three lectures on the theme of ‘Puritanism and its influences’ at a local church. His topics were ‘Puritan evangelism and Richard Baxter’, ‘Puritans and their spirituality’ and ‘Puritans and their love for theology’. Joel was really happy with his translator, Eros. I took a picture of Joel and Eros praying together in the midst of a busy room, just before my husband went to speak to 10,000 souls.
I spoke three times at a different local church to about 400 women on ‘A gospel-driven marriage’, ‘The kindness of Jesus Christ’ and ‘Casting our anxieties on Christ’, under the theme of ‘Pious women’. My translator, Ariesley, was very good as well.
The groups of lectures by various speakers were called ‘courses’ and attendees received a certificate for being present at all of them. Attendance at the conference was free, although people had to sign up in advance.
Throughout the conference, free-will offerings were taken, and Pastor Euder explained with diagrams how much more they needed to raise to meet their financial needs. He was the m.c. for all the plenary sessions, and the bond of affection between him and the audience was very apparent.
What a worthwhile trip this was, in spite of both of us feeling sick for a few days (which made us feel small before God and all the more dependent on him) — possibly because of the dramatic change from a substantial Michigan snowstorm (we were barely able to get airborne in Grand Rapids) to the Brazilian tropics, and/or because of the different food and water.
Tiago Santos, a dear Brazilian friend who works for FIEL and for the Martin Bucer Seminary in Brazil, was a great help to us in our days of need. His English was impeccable, which was a great help. Language is often a barrier, but motions, hugs and tears can convey the intended message at times.
People are the same the world over; we are all just a bunch of sinners in need of a Saviour to help with our problems. What a privilege to be able to point people to the gospel through its lifeline promises, and to be encouraged ourselves at the same time!
Mary Beeke is the wife of Dr Joel Beeke, who is minister of the Heritage Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and president of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, where he is also professor of systematic theology and homiletics.