The Fall of Prejudice
I found the answers to all my questions in the Bible. I found Jesus, my best friend.”
This is what Rita, a Roman Catholic woman, told me when I met her. She lives in a little town of 900 inhabitants, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. But how did she learn to study the Bible in her village? Who told her about the wonderful love of Jesus? This is the story of how Rita, along with many of her townspeople, had an encounter with Christ.
Porto Velho do Cunha, Rita’s village, is located by the Paraiba River. The region was once an important center for coffee growing during the days of slavery. Today it is a humble town made up of the descendants of both Portuguese merchants and farmers and African slaves.
There is a small Seventh-day Adventist Church in Porto Velho do Cunha where a handful of people worship. One of the church members asked if two graduates of Taquara Institute of Health and Education would be willing to do Bible work in their village for a year.
Two young women, Cheine and Désiré, answered the call and in March of 2009 moved to Porto Velho. They came filled with zeal and enthusiasm, but soon found the work harder than they had expected. The main religion of the town is Catholicism, though many are also spiritualists. The girls met much opposition and prejudice in the beginning. No one wanted anything to do with their religion.
After much prayer and consideration, Cheine and Désiré decided to use the health message as an opening wedge. Instead of offering Bible studies, they went door-to-door offering massage, blood pressure checks and basic health counseling. They organized a stop-smoking seminar that resulted in more than ten people overcoming tobacco. They also invited some friends from the city of Rio de Janeiro to help them run a health fair. The town hall provided a venue for them, and many people attended the event.
One of the people they ministered to with the health message was Valdirene. Valdirene suffered from severe depression and could not live without anti-depressant drugs. They began helping her to make changes in her lifestyle and find natural ways to fight depression. They were also able to begin telling Valdirene about God and how He wanted to help her to be whole again. Today Valdirene no longer takes any anti-depressant drugs and says she is the happiest she has ever been.
After a few months of being in Porto Velho, another Taquara Institute graduate, Luciana, came to help the two other Bible workers. Luciana is a gifted musician and began offering free guitar lessons to the young people. Valdirene’s son, João, is one of those who studied with her, and he proved to be a gifted musician also. He now says that he must dedicate his gift of music to God.
Slowly but surely the Bible workers began gaining the confidence of the people in the village. By healing their bodies, they were able to reach their souls. After about nine months of work, they were studying with over 25 people.
There are two small Assembly of God churches in the town. One of the pastors warned his members not to have anything to do with the Bible workers. He also spoke directly to the Bible workers and told them not to study with his members. The girls, of course, could not comply with this. Alina, a 17-year-old, attended this Assembly of God church with her parents. The pastor threatened to discipline her and warned her to stop all contact with the Bible workers. Alina refused to comply with her pastor because she saw that the Bible workers were from God.
Dany, one of the Bible students, began studying because her neighbor invited her. She fell in love with what she learned and now attends church faithfully every Sabbath. She has to walk with her two small children from her home on the outskirts of the village to the church. But she is happy to do so in order to worship God on the Sabbath among fellow believers.
Rita, who I mentioned earlier, also began studying the Bible. She quickly became strong in God and began attending church. After seeing his mom’s enthusiasm, her 26-year-old son began studying. He is one of the most influential young people in the village.
Since the Bible workers had committed to working one year in the village, they made plans to finish the year with a mini evangelistic series. It would be a three-night event. Everyone in the town was invited, and they said that it would be their farewell meeting. They invited my husband to speak for the event.
Although the girls had made huge progress in reaching the hearts of the people in Porto Velho, we were not sure how many would show up for the Bible meetings. I must admit that I lacked faith. I worried that the girls might be disappointed by a small turnout. But I was pleasantly surprised when over 100 people came each night. In a town of only 900 habitants that represents more than 10% of the population!
While we were there for the weekend, many of the town’s people approached us and said, “Please ask the girls to stay longer. We don’t want them to leave! We are just beginning to study the Bible and want to continue. Please ask them to stay!” A woman called Delma came to me in tears, saying that she was heartbroken that they were leaving. Another woman went up front during the meetings and said: “We hate to see you go, but as you have taught us, we must find comfort in the Bible.”
During the meetings my husband spoke about the great controversy, the law of God and the state of the dead. The people listened very attentively, and many who had not been studying the Bible asked to begin studies.
I am happy to tell you that two of the three Bible workers agreed to remain in Porto Velho do Cunha in order to continue the work that was begun. This time they will stay for an undetermined time period. They will strengthen in the faith those who have been studying, and continue to break down superstition and prejudice in the village.
Unfortunately, the prejudice is not only coming from the villagers. The pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist church has refused to baptize any of the contacts that are studying with the Bible workers because the girls studied at Taquara Institute.
Brazil has long been a strong Catholic country and Catholic thinking pervades the culture. The idea is that if a person or institute is not directly related to the organized Seventh-day Adventist church, then it is not acceptable.
Please pray for Cheine and Luciana as they continue to work in Porto Velho do Cunha. They need wisdom for grounding their Bible study contacts in the truth in such a way that the problems in God’s remnant church will not discourage them.
Melissa Silva and her husband Diego work at Taquara Institute of Health and Education.
For more information on the work they are doing please write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Taquara Institute also has a web site in Portuguese: www.iest.com.br.