Christian Togetherness in Brazil
By “Awake!” correspondent in Brazil
BRAZIL recently had powerful evidence of Christian togetherness amid a world that is increasingly fragmented. This was the recent series of eighteen “Men of Goodwill” Assemblies of Jehovah’s Witnesses in that vast land. The news media took notice of this outstanding Christian togetherness, some of the news items being headlined as follows:
“Jehovah’s Witnesses Are Unitedly Proclaiming: God Is Not Dead.” (Última Hora, December 17, 1970) “Jehovah’s Witnesses Back Up a Practical Christianity.” (Diário de Notícias, December 18, 1970) “To Learn What God Thinks About the Modern World Turn to Jehovah’s Witnesses.”—Tribuna da Imprensa, November 30, 1970.
So impressed with this example of Christian togetherness was the director of one TV station in Belém, Pará, that his interview regarding the assembly was extended from fifteen minutes to almost one hour.
If you had the opportunity to attend such assemblies for about fifty years, you would certainly appreciate their help in cultivating Christian togetherness. One such Witness, who attended the first assembly in Brazil in 1922, at Rio de Janeiro, was truly delighted to see the number of conventioners increase from dozens back then to 120,950 this year, the total number of those who heard the public talk at these eighteen assemblies. With the peak number of Witnesses in Brazil at 64,199, this meant practically one newly interested person for every Witness present.
Togetherness Despite Vast Distances
Brazil’s immense distances, diversified latitudes and longitudes only served to enhance the togetherness of these Christian witnesses. Thus while two of the assemblies were held close to the equator, at Belém, Pará and at Manaus, Amazonas, another five convened near the tropic of Capricorn, at São Paulo, São Caetano do Sul, Rio de Janeiro, Niterói and Londrina. Farther south, the convention at Pôrto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, met at about 30° of latitude south.
As far as longitudes were concerned, the Recife, Pernambuco, assembly was held at about 34° west of Greenwich, while the assembly at Rio Branco, Acre, deep in the Amazon jungle, met at twice this longitude, some 67° west of Greenwich. But regardless of the distances, messages and telegrams received at these conventions from far and near indicated that others were thinking of them and praying in their behalf.
Jehovah’s witnesses are interested in helping people of all kinds to come together in united worship as God’s “men of goodwill.” Thus, while the Rio Branco assembly was held at this small city of 80,000, others convened in cities with about a million persons, such as Fortaleza, Salvador, Belo Horizonte and Pôrto Alegre. The exploding population of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, having more than 6 and 4.5 million inhabitants respectively, with all the accompanying problems of the “urban civilization,” did serve to stress the close Christian fellowship of the Witnesses at their assemblies.
Efforts to Meet Together
For the majority of Witnesses, attending one of these assemblies required much advance planning. One Witness from the Cariacica congregation in Espírito Santo State, ingeniously bought two piglets several months before the Niterói assembly, fed them well and sold them just before traveling time. The proceeds helped to defray her expenses. Another Witness eighty-five years of age, from Carpina, Pernambuco, and almost blind, had enough spiritual vision to travel over sixty miles to the assembly in Recife. She did not hesitate for a moment to sell fruits from her orchard in the public streets. When her unbelieving relatives saw her determination to attend the assembly, they helped her financially.
Another Witness present at the Recife assembly made it through “cigarette money.” No, he did not start selling cigarettes. He just quit buying them. When he decided to get baptized, he gave up the habit. His savings—$88 in less than one year—provided more than enough to pay for his fare and meals.
In order to attend the Blumenau assembly, a couple with six children sold their means of living—a popcorn cart. They were sure that Jehovah would provide them with another means of living, since they were trying to seek his kingdom first.—Matt. 6:31-33.
Three full-time ministers in the second northernmost assignment in Brazil, at Macapá, Amapá territory, were short of cash and did not want to miss the Belém assembly. So they went to the governor of the territory himself and applied for a free ticket as evangelizers. This was granted them. It meant traveling two full days and nights in the hold of a cargo ship. It was hard, but the joys of the assembly more than surpassed all difficulties.
Problems to Overcome
Because the work of Jehovah’s witnesses has grown so much in Brazil in such a short time, there was sometimes a lack of equipment. But the happy Witnesses have learned to be thankful for anything they may get and inventively apply the famous Brazilian jeitinho (way to do things) to make things move forward. To prepare the 100,000 meals, served at about thirty cents each, at the eighteen assemblies, the Witnesses used equipment ranging from huge gas stoves, made by the Witnesses themselves, to charcoal and kerosine burners. But the meals were generally excellent. One could eat chicken stew, mashed potatoes, spaghetti, turkey, beef, tomato and other salads, meat balls, and of course, the much-appreciated beans and rice. Entire families enjoyed Christian togetherness at these meals.
Sometimes problems were solved by the cooperation of local authorities. For example, at the Salvador assembly, some eighty buses changed their route each night so as to take the conventioners back home.
But not everything went easy. A few days before the Salvador assembly was due to begin, a notice was received that the permit to use a large gymnasium was canceled. Two other places were offered, both unsuitable for the convention. The Witnesses tried to appeal, going as far as the governor of the State. His busy schedule would not allow him to see the Witnesses. Deciding they must speak to him, they sent back a message that they would be waiting to see him whenever convenient. When the message got to him, it was something like this: ‘The Witnesses are in a strike mood outside your office!’ Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth, but finally an interview was arranged and the Cattle Exposition Grounds was granted.
Having less than forty-eight hours, hundreds of Witnesses went to work like ants. This prompted the administrator of the grounds to say: “Just look! . . . We are delivering this place dirty and full of trash; you shall see how clean it will be when we get it back. I feel sorry for these nice people.” But, right on time, the assembly started, and the Witnesses thanked Jehovah for that assembly place, decorating it with flowering trees to give it a real tropical touch.
Helping Others Toward Togetherness
As elsewhere, the Witnesses in Brazil make efforts to teach interested persons, not only God’s Word, but also, when necessary, how to read and write. Thus they can benefit more directly from God’s Word and learn God’s way to Christian togetherness. It was in November 1956 that the Witnesses began a reading and writing program that has resulted in almost 5,900 persons’ learning how to read and write. In just the last two years, some 1,000 were helped. The Watch Tower Society established a well-prepared program, using reading aids provided by the government. However, the time came for the Witnesses to have their own reading aid, and the conventioners rejoiced when the publication Learn to Read and Write was released in Portuguese. Some 100,000 copies of it have been received in Brazil, and they are being put to good use.
The government of Brazil is undertaking a tremendous effort to teach millions to read and write. The hard work done by the Witnesses during all these years, and the willingness they show to teach thousands more in the near future are very much appreciated by the Secretaries of Education. For instance, when the Witnesses visited the Secretary of Education and Culture of the State of Rio Grande do Sul, he said: “Jehovah’s witnesses are the first ones to offer their help. We can say this is a pioneer attitude.” The Secretary of Education of the States of Rio de Janeiro, when located at Niterói, said that if all religions would follow “this beautiful campaign of Jehovah’s witnesses, soon there will be no illiteracy in our country.”
Religious illiteracy or illiteracy regarding God’s Word the Bible is a great problem in Brazil, as well as in other parts of the world. Thus through the assemblies and by over 1,160 congregations of Witnesses in Brazil, besides the 150 isolated groups, these Christian witnesses are helping others to learn God’s Word, which alone points the way to true unity.
Others Want Christian Togetherness
Telling the people of Brazil about God’s kingdom is a very enjoyable experience, and people are taking to the message of Bible truth in earnest, showing their desire for Christian togetherness. For example, in the 1970 service year 8,501 new Witnesses were baptized, averaging some twenty-three every day of the year. Now, at these eighteen assemblies alone, 3,036 new ministers symbolized their dedication to God through water baptism. It was not unusual to see from ten to fifteen persons from a single congregation getting baptized.
Sometimes the seed of Bible truth takes years to sprout. One man baptized at Juiz de Fora first heard about God’s truth in 1928. Then soon thereafter, he lost contact with the Witnesses, got separated from his legal wife and two children and started a consensual arrangement with another woman. Then in 1968, he again heard the Bible’s truths and began to adjust his life according to God’s commandments. When presented with the opportunity to return to his legal wife, he did so and she accepted him. Now, at seventy-two, he symbolized his dedication, and his legal wife, seventy years old, was right with him at the assembly.
In Goiânia, a girl eleven years old was among the seventy-seven baptized. She suffered much persecution at school from a Protestant teacher who believed in evolution. She even had to transfer to another school, where her merits were recognized by her being moved one school year ahead. This girl shows keen understanding for her age, and each week she helps an entire family by conducting a Bible study.
Among the fifty-seven baptized at the Curitiba assembly was a young man in his twenties, a professional soccer player. Besides playing soccer, he was also a promising engineering student. When he learned God’s truth, he turned down lucrative offers and said, in explaining his final decision: “Time is short, and I want to make the best possible use of it: to serve Jehovah, our Creator.” He was baptized at the assembly held at the stadium of the same club for which he played.
So the message of God’s kingdom is reaching people of all walks of life. At the São Caetano do Sul assembly, for example, among the 279 baptized were a former presbyter of a Pentecostal church; a man who, for the previous forty-four years, was a spirit medium; a former Baptist preacher; former Adventists, voodooists, and so forth.
Most certainly these “Men of Goodwill” Assemblies reflected the Christian togetherness of Jehovah’s witnesses. And, as never before, outsiders could notice this, with many of them also desiring to have the unity and love that come from serving the true God, Jehovah, as his “men of goodwill.”
[Picture on page 22]
Conventioners at Salvador assembly examine new reading aid in the Portuguese language