Let me first give you a few facts about Brazil. With an estimated population of 180 million, Brazil ranks as the sixth largest country in the world. The majority of Brazilians live along the coastal region, with 81% of the total population dwelling in urban areas. These include the capital, Brasilia (pop. 2 million), São Paulo (11 million), Rio de Janeiro (6 million), Salvador (2.5 million), Fortaleza (2 million), and Recife (1.5 million). Portuguese is the national language, although the population includes a number of ethnic groups such as Italian, German, Japanese, and African minorities. About 80% of all Brazilians belong to the Roman Catholic Church.
The Reformation reached South America around 1557, when a group of Huguenots sought to establish a new Geneva in Rio de Janeiro in 1557, but were martyred in 1558. In the early seventeenth century, Holland sought to colonize northeastern Brazil, an effort that included significant missionary activity. But after several decades, they were driven out by the Portuguese and the seeds of Reformed teaching and life were scattered among the native Indians.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, several American Presbyterian missionaries came to Brazil, including Rockwell Smith, a cousin of B. B. Warfield. The Presbyterian Church of Brazil (IPB) was founded in 1859, and today has some 3,700 congregations and missionary groups, eight seminaries, and Mackenzie University, one of the largest schools in Latin America. Unfortunately, throughout the twentieth century, the IPB has come under the influence of various religious movements such as Pentecostalism, Dispensationalism, liberation theology, and theological liberalism. Infected with the toxins of lodge membership and doctrinal pluralism, the denomination has developed a strong hierarchy whose politics exerts a corrosive influence throughout the church.
The 24th Annual Puritan Symposium for the Puritan Project in Brazil took place this year in Belem (June 26–29) and Recife (July 1–4). The attendees in Belem numbered close to 500; in Maragogi, about 400.
The trip to Brazil was a long but good one. In Detroit, I met up with Dr. Mark Jones, coauthor of our book, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, now to be co-traveler and co-speaker in Brazil. (He took Dr. David Murray’s place, as my dear brother has been suffering physically from blood clots in his lungs—please pray for his complete and speedy restoration of health.) A gracious donor allowed Dr. Jones to bring his six-year-old son Joshua with him. For all three of us, the ten-hour overnight flight from Detroit to Sao Paulo went well, as did the three hour flight back up north to Belem.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by Dr. Manoel Canuto, Breno Macedo (a former student of PRTS), a brother named Julius (a pastor working on behalf of the Canadian Reformed churches in networking on various ministries in Brazil), the local senior pastor, Americo, and one of his elders named Kleos (who is also the principal of the local Christian school).
Dr. Manoel Canuto, a native pediatric surgeon, is a godly brother whose heart, in his words, “burns within me when I read the Puritans.” After reading some of the Puritans translated into Portuguese in the early 1990s, Dr. Canuto’s eyes were opened to understand and experience the doctrines of grace. He came to love the Puritan theology represented by his Brazilian Presbyterian Church’s official doctrinal statement, the Westminster Standards. Those standards long ago became quite neglected in the life of the Brazilian church. Understandably, he became burdened to pass on the Puritan heritage, particularly to the office-bearers and seminarians in his own denomination.
Dr. Canuto shared his vision of the recovery of Puritan theology with Olin Coleman, a former career missionary in northeast Brazil; out of their mutual concern, the Puritan Project was born. Since Olin passed away several years ago, his now 48-year-old son Michael (who has 1200 employees under his supervision as vice-president of a major communications company) has taken over his father’s role as the Puritan Project’s North American General Director. I got to spend treasured time with Michael later on in the second conference, and found him to have a huge heart for the cause of Reformed, Puritan, confessional truth—in fact, my visit with him was one of the highlights of this trip.
Most of the efforts of the Puritan Project are devoted to three areas in particular. First, a bimonthly theological journal, Jornal Os Puritanos (Journal of the Puritans), is edited and published by Dr. Canuto. Second, Puritan and Reformed works are translated into Portuguese. There are now several hundred sound Reformed books in Portuguese, though many major works remain untranslated. Third, annual symposiums are held throughout Brazil, featuring speakers from England and North America as well as Brazilians. These conferences have drawn an increasing number of participants during the past several years. This year they were held in Belem and Maragogi under the theme: “Pure Doctrine, Pure Life: Learning and Growing with the Puritans.”
Belem is warm and muggy, but happily, air conditioning is everywhere. And much more importantly, the people are spiritually hungry. Their hunger is nearly tangible; their questions, sincere; their worship, earnest. Over the course of three days, Dr. Mark Jones gave several addresses on Christ, from His incarnation to His beautiful heart in heaven for His people on earth. His talk on Jesus’ own religious and emotional life was superb. The addresses were packed with profound, beautiful thoughts about our glorious Savior which stirred up love for Him in the hearts of many. After an introductory message on the only way to live and die, I spoke on the Puritan view of various doctrines, including divine providence, the indwelling Spirit, and God’s love in heaven. Our translator, Breno Macedo, was superb—translating not only rapidly and accurately, but also with as much emotion and passion as we spoke with—perhaps sometimes even more!
Between the services I spent some time visiting with about fifteen members of the Davis families, who had driven many hours from the Amazon jungle to be present for this week’s Symposium. The Davis families are pioneer ranchers deep in Brazil’s jungle near the Amazon River. They donate to the Puritan Project and are avid promoters of the orthodox Reformed faith in both doctrine and lifestyle. They originated from Alabama some three decades ago, at which time their father went to the Belgian Congo as a missionary for six years with his family, then moved the family to these jungles as a missionary rancher. After he and two sons were murdered by the natives, the children decided to stay on the home ranch in Brazil and carry on their Christian witness in the jungle. They have established a chapel on their ranch and homeschool their children. Some of the husbands deliver their wives’ babies; the children learn to do everything that needs to be done on a large ranch. They have been receiving our literature and listening to our sermons for many years. Many of you will know them as the relatives of Rev. Johnny Serafini’s wife, Barry. I spoke at length to one of Barry’s cousins, a 35-year-old single woman, who lives far from civilization in the heart of the Amazon jungle, well beyond where the rest of her family is residing. There, all alone, among the wild animals and a few people in the area, she manages her entire farm by herself, ministers to river people, and perseveres in praying God to send a minister to come and serve these people! It was a joy to speak with these godly and interesting people once again.
Other stimulating visits transpired, too. Two young men spoke to me about their sense of calling to the ministry and their desire to train at PRTS. And then, ten young men from a pentecostal church, who seemed eager to learn, peppered me with a variety of doctrinal and experiential questions.
On Sunday, Dr. Jones and I preached for the Presbyterian church that housed the conference. Because many of the visitors stayed, the church which holds about five hundred people was overflowing.