December 4, 2006
I just received Iain Murray’s latest letter and he tells of his time in Brazil. He says: "Brazil is a great country, with a population distinguished by friendliness and warmth (eminently so among the Christians, as we again experienced everywhere). The growth of its cities, and the potential for the future is hard to describe. In Manaus we stayed in a splendid building not built on our last visit in 2001. Our room overlooked part of the mighty Amazon and when there we were often at the window! How many of us have heard of Goiania, yet it is a fine state capital, with a population a good deal larger than Edinburgh. The second conference was held there, with a crowded attendance (over 400), mainly pastors. It was held in one of the Presbyterian churches (there are five presbyteries in Goiania alone!) where the normal attendance on Sunday evenings is over 600. We are not used to such numbers here in Scotland. Often the listening was intense, and the uplifting singing was worth going a long way to hear. The Presbyterian Church in Brazil has seen a marked recovery of historic Christianity in recent decades: as well as several theological seminaries, it owns three large Christian schools, and MacKenzie University in Sao Paulo, with 30,000 students. We spent a number of days with our hosts, Solano and Betty Portela, in Sao Paulo (in its metropolitan area containing more people than the whole of Australia!). On our last day in that city we were taken to see the ‘Protestant Cemetery’ where many of the first missionaries, who arrived in the 1850s, are buried. They were noble men and women, whose lives ought to be better known. [The story that follows is about] the first Brazilian convert to become a Presbyterian minister; it will give you a miniature view of the calibre of these early evangelicals. What a harvest was to follow their early sacrificial labours!"
"On Christmas Eve, 1873, a man in tattered clothes and bare feet fell by the road side, as he attempted the long walk to Rio de Janeiro. Unknown to those who found him, José Manoel da Conceição, died early the next day in an infirmary, age 52. His last words had been to thank his helpers and to request he be left alone with God. For most of his years since he left the Roman priesthood in 1864, this Christian had been traveling in his native Brazil. An able scholar and linguist, itinerant evangelism became the great concern of his life. He grieved over his years spent in the priesthood, and spoke and preached to all who would listen to him. Thousands did, and many were led to Christ through his words, his love and his humility. Even amid all his labours in the interior of Brazil, Conceição began a translation of Merle D’Aubigne’s History of the Reformation into Portuguese. Excommunication, persecution and poverty left him undeterred. Buried by strangers in ‘consecrated ground’, the Roman Church demanded the removal of his body; and it was finally laid to rest in São Paulo in 1877. In that city, today, the Theological Seminary of the Presbyterian Church is named after him. One of the first evangelists of his native land, Conceição was a shining light whose example showed the way to many others."