Since those days in the early 1950s when the gospel first entered the most southern Brazilian state, Rio Grande do Sul, certain towns and cities have almost become household names on the lips of many believers, e.g. Porto Alegre, Novo Hamburgo, Osorio, Capivari, Santa Cruz do Sul, Candelaria and Sao Gabriel. Although the work is truly a united effort on the part of a small group of workers from Northern Ireland, many know the names of the brethren who have been closely identified with the above named places. Thankfully, the work is ongoing with the result that there have been significant developments in recent years in new areas. This article seeks to highlight the lesser known towns where the work has recently commenced or where it continues on a small scale.
The region known as “Greater Porto Alegre” has almost a 1/3 of the states population which is now almost 10 million and has been a fruitful seed bed over the years. Many who migrated from the interior in search of work in this highly industrialized area heard the gospel and some were saved who, consequently, took the message back to their relatives, thus opening up new territory to the truth. The assemblies in Itati and Sao Gabriel, for example, are the results of this form of expansion. However, vast areas even within the metropolis remain unreached by the gospel as yet. With the manpower available, efforts are being made to penetrate these parts, but withal, many towns are still in the dark.
In the year 1975, a sincere thinking man, Pedrinho, was gloriously saved in Porto Alegre and liberated from the deception of Pentecostalism. He is presently one of the “pillars” in the Alvorada assembly. Soon after conversion, a deep desire was begotten in his heart to take the gospel to his relatives in the Guaiba/Camaqua area of Greater Porto Alegre. His efforts were not in vain because an aunt and uncle (Assis and Julia) were saved in Guaiba and later baptized and received into their nearest assembly, Porto Alegre. Their home in Guaiba has been used much for the preaching of the Word, resulting in the salvation of 1 or 2 others. Even though Sr. Assis was taken home to glory in 1996, his widow, who does not enjoy good health, is keen that the gospel testimony should be maintained in her home. The Port Alegre brethren, ably assisted by our brother Harry Wilson, take on the responsibility of the gospel meeting there. While the work hasnt prospered much, the potential is great.
The city of Gravatai has benefitted from industrial development through the establishment of the General Motors factory complex which is already producing 30 cars per hour. Situated adjacent to Cachoeirinha where there are two active assemblies, Gravatai presents a challenge to these brethren, some of whom actually live in this sprawling city. A brother named Joao Caetano opened his home for the preaching of the gospel every Tuesday night, when there are usually a number of his unsaved relatives, including his wife, present in each meeting. From time to time, a series of gospel meetings takes place in the locality. Again, the work is slow, but with patience and persistence, we feel it will grow.
The large city of Canoas is proving to be difficult although, while there have been various efforts made in series of meetings, there has been no consistent, vigorous work done. There are a small number of believers living there who are in the Porto Alegre assembly.
Sapucaia do Sul attracted attention in 1993 when two young men professed to be saved without attending any of “our” meetings. It was through persistent reading of the Scriptures at home coupled with the influence of saved colleagues that they came to know Christ as their Savior. One of these men is named Itor. Since then, his wife and daughter have professed salvation, as well as some others in the city. The writer with his wife and family, who live there, have suitable accommodations for the regular weekly meetings. The small number of believers in Sapucaia do Sul along with the sister town of Esteio are either in the Novo Hamburgo or Porto Alegre assemblies.
Tom and Dorothy Matthews have their home in Novo Hamburgo, where there is an assembly. This German city (which is also considered to be in the greater Porto Alegre area) has also been the “starting point” for several other workers who have made a significant input to the work in the region. Attempts have been made to open up Sao Leopoldo and Estancia Velha, but without much success, especially in the last named place. In the year 1992, Ivoti enjoyed days of visitation in salvation when a number were saved. Gregg Buchanan, with his wife Elizabeth, took on the responsibility of orientating the work in that town and had the pleasure of seeing an assembly planted in 1995. The work continues there without any significant developments. In the year 1989, the gospel entered Sapiranga. Over the subsequent years, a small number have professed to be saved and are presently in the Novo Hamburgo assembly. In 1996, Gregg, helped by others, erected a simple wooden hall where the brethren there have their weekly Sunday School and gospel meeting. Just beyond Sapiranga is the small town of Ararica where James Armstrong has an interest in very recent times. A short series was tried in 2000 for the first time.
The little band of Ulster missionaries in Rio Grande do Sul work in harmony with three Brazilian evangelists and their wives. One of these co-workers is our brother Matos who was born in the Torres region in the extreme north-east of the state but was saved by the grace of God and delivered from the clutches of the so-called JWs while living in Cachoeirinha in the year 1966. Being recommended to the grace of God in the year 1980, he labored much in various parts of the state, God blessing in salvation. However, his chief desire was to go back to his native territory around Torres, which he eventually did in 1995. His efforts there have not been in vain because in 1998 a little assembly was planted which meets in a neat little hall in Passo de Torres, just across the border from Torres in the State of Santa Catarina. Bro. Jose concentrates on this area to the present day having series of meetings from place to place.
Another of the Brazilian workers here in Rio Grande do Sul is our brother Roberto Ploia who was saved in the year 1981 in Porto Alegre. Manifesting the gift of evangelist and assuredly gathering that God had called him to the work, he left his employment in 1986 to labor for the Master. His efforts have focused mainly on the central parts of the state. In 1997, he married a suitable helpmeet and set up home in Santa Cruz do Sul, the town to which the name of Tommy Wright is linked. Since then, the need in the nearby town of Benancio Aires burdened our brother who eventually tried a few series of meetings with a little fruit. Regular meetings are held in rented premises at present and it is hoped that this work will develop.
Bro. Carlos de Silva, the third of the national workers, lives in Sao Jeronimo, where there is a small assembly. As well as laboring in his home town, he reaches out to other areas round about. The large town of Lajeado has appealed to him, but after a few attempts with the gospel, including a series this year, it is proving to be difficult. With the prayers of the Lords people, this situation could change quickly.
Santa Maria, a university and Air Force base city in the geographical center of the State, has been the home city of our brother John McCann Jr. and his wife Christine since 1990. The work has been uphill but all labor has been recompensed with the planting of a little assembly in 1995. A young university student named Lisandro professed salvation in 1994. He took the gospel to his home in Restinga Seca some 60 kms. distant. This resulted in the salvation of his father in 1995. Both are in the assembly in Santa Maria. Bro. John maintains contact with the people there through series of gospel meetings and their regular visits. The arrival of our brother Noel Fleck with his wife Heather and family promises additional help as efforts are made to reach out to towns round about. A few visits have been made to the town of Sao Borja on the Brazilian/Argentinean border some 300 kms west of Santa Maria. Relatives of several believers throughout the State live there, and there seems to be an ear for the gospel. Indeed, plans are being made presently to try a series of meetings there in early 2001. The town would need a resident worker.
Cacapava do Sul is a small limestone mining town 60 kms south of Santa Maria. It was repeatedly visited in the more active days of our brother John McCann Sr. and his wife Kathleen. Occasionally, there are series of meetings held both in the town as well as out in the country, but there is not much fruit. About 40 kms south of Cacapava do Sul is the small rural town of Lavras do Sul, where there seems to be an interest on the part of some of the inhabitants. Brother John Jr. tried a short series of meetings there this year and was pleased with the response. Brethren in the energetic assembly in Sao Gabriel help to maintain contact with the folks there. Another willing worker could find ample scope to labor in that region towards the Uruguayan border.
Interesting developments have recently taken place in the distant town of Tres Passos in the extreme north-west of the State. Actually, visits to this region were frequently made 30 years ago by several brethren, but particularly by brother Harry Wilson. For reasons beyond their control, these visits ceased. However, when the work opened up in Ivoti in the early 1990s, the new converts mentioned Tres Passos to our brother Gregg Buchanan repeatedly. Requests from Tres Passos for gospel tracts were frequently made, which indicated a measure of interest. Over a period of 6 to 8 years, these requests were always attended to, with thousands of tracts being sent up. Eventually, invitations began to reach Gregg for someone to go up and preach the gospel. The point had been reached when something had to be done. In March of 1998, our brethren Gregg and Harry visited the area and ended up erecting the tent in Tres Passos for a series of gospel meetings. The interest was good, and a young married couple professed to be saved who, because of employment, have since moved to Canoas. In May/June 1998, another series was held in a community center in another area of the town, with a number professing to be saved. One of those who professed was the man responsible for distributing so many tracts over the years! Reinoldo had been deceived by a false profession. Since then, other attempts have been made with a little more blessing in salvation. Convinced it was the will of the Lord, Gregg, with his wife and two girls, left Ivoti and went to live in Tres Passos in 1999, in which year there was a commendable wooden hall erected which serves well for the regular meetings. The day is longed-for when there will be an assembly planted to the glory of God.
A sister named Noraci in the Novo Hamburgo assembly has relatives living in the town of Ijui which is situated about 100 kms south of Tres Passos. Her ambition was that they would hear the message that had transformed her own life. The happy day at last arrived when Gregg and the writer had the privilege of taking the gospel to them in August of 1998. Reasonable numbers attended including some of Noracis relatives. Another series was attempted in September 1999. All labor was rewarded when we heard of Nelcis salvation early this year. She has very recently moved to live in Tres Passos and seems to be progressing well spiritually. Presently, there are no regular meetings in Ijui, but the door remains open.
This is a brief sketch of the work as it is today. One must stress that while it is exciting to see the work commence in new areas, there is the pressing need to maintain the work that has been long established. Not one of the 17 assemblies in this State can boast of being strong. One or two of them are presently extremely weak. These assemblies cry out for help. All the workers thank the saints in other lands for their interest in this State, and sincerely request: “Brethren, pray for us.”