Assembly work in the Northern State of Pará, Brazil

The place

For many years, servants of the Lord in this region of Pará, Brazil, have proved the precious promise of Isaiah chapter 43 verse 2 in a very literal way, as they often have to ‘pass through the rivers’ to visit the local assemblies and preaching points. The town of Santarém (population 300,000) is situated on the southern bank of the River Tapajós at the point where it joins the River Amazon. There is a large island near Santarém with many villages which have proved to be ‘good ground’ for the gospel. There are many other towns along the banks of the River Amazon and over the past seventy years the Lord has blessed His word and established assemblies in some of these villages and towns.

The pioneers

The assembly work began in the town of Santarém, Pará in 1947 when a highly-esteemed Brazilian couple, José and Almerinda Penna moved there, travelling 400 kms down the River Amazon from Parantins in a large canoe. Through contacts which José’s brother had with an assembly in the USA where he lived for a time, José had come to understand the New Testament assembly pattern and left the denominations. Little is known about those early days, but they faced many difficulties and much opposition. Sometime later John and Louise McClelland, commended from an assembly in Canada, arrived in Santarém and helped José for a time, during which some more were saved and assembly principles taught and the assembly started in 1949. The Lord blessed His word and the work grew and a good-sized Hall was built in 1953, which was later enlarged and the assembly meetings are still held in it.

José felt the need to evangelize the villages on the large Island near Santarém and in 1960, with the help of assemblies in the USA, he got a motorboat, which he called ‘Nissiel’ (God is my banner). Work commenced at the village of Costa do Aritapera and the assembly began there in the early 1960s. Shortly afterwards, annual conferences were started at Costa do Aritapera at Christmas time and have continued for over fifty years, usually with speakers coming from other parts of Brazil. Due to the big annual floods, some of these believers moved to the nearby town of Alenquer and meetings commenced in their homes and later the assembly commenced in the late 1960s. Through the tireless efforts of José, and in spite of strong Catholic opposition, the work continued to spread to other villages and, during the 1970s, the Lord blessed in salvation and assemblies were formed at Campos, Surubim-Açu, and Correio and have grown steadily over the years. José, with other faithful Brazilian helpers, continued to visit these assemblies on a regular basis in ‘Nissiel’ until advanced age, failing eyesight and other health problems made this impossible. He was called home in 1992 at ninety-three years of age. He left an excellent example in his faithful and courageous service for the Lord.

The progress

In 1976 a Brazilian couple, Eurico and Marileia Kohls, moved north to Alenquer to help the young assembly. They presently work at the town of Santana in the neighbouring state of Amapá. In 1979 Harry and Jean Reid from Northern Ireland, moved to Santarém to help José who was then over eighty and widowed. A little later, gospel work started at the village of Igarapé do Costa on the island and Harry, with some others from Santarém, started meetings in homes there. In spite of strong Catholic opposition, souls were saved and, later, the assembly was established. Due to heavy flooding in the village, some families of believers moved away to higher ground and some settled at the Diamantino district of Santarém. Meetings were held regularly in these homes and, with the Lord’s help and blessing, the Diamantino assembly commenced in the early 1980s. Because of Jean’s health, the Reids had to return to Northern Ireland, but have visited regularly and helped the assemblies significantly.

In 1983, Ann and I arrived in Santarém to help in the work and soon felt the need for more boat work to other villages on the island. A small motorboat, ‘Boas Novas 1’ (Good News) was obtained and, helped by brethren from Santarém, visits commenced to other villages. It was a memorable day at Piracãoera village in December 1984 when a family of four was saved and they became the start of the work there. Through time others believed and the assembly was established and, by God’s grace, has grown very well.

A highly esteemed Brazilian couple, Adilio and Irene, arrived in Santarém in 1983. Formerly, he was very involved in the Catholic church in Rondônia and had never heard the gospel preached, but, reading the Bible, they discovered God’s way of salvation, trusted Christ and later found an assembly. They are excellent personal workers and were very useful in the Santarém assembly, but, after about a year, decided to move out to the Transamazon Highway at Km 85 where they had acquired land and knew some people who also had moved to that area. They soon started meetings in their home and many attended, most hearing the gospel for the first time. Some from the Santarém assembly visited each month to help and the Lord blessed in salvation and in 1985 the assembly at Km 85 was established and has continued very well.

In 1984, a small start was made with literature work in Santarém in the market place, where a brother called Silvério, who had a stall selling bananas and cheese, helped in the sale of Bibles and books. Later, this developed into a rented bookshop in the town with Brazilian helpers. For many years Ann has taken care of this work, helped by Germano, a faithful brother and my travelling companion for over thirty-five years. By God’s provision, this shop continues to meet a real need for Bibles, commentaries, books, hymnbooks, etc. which go out over a wide area.

In 1987, ‘Boas Novas 1’ was replaced by a bigger boat ‘Boas Novas 2’ to enable longer trips to the neighbouring town of Óbidos, where some brethren from Piracãoera had family contacts, and meetings started in some homes. Shortly afterwards, Adilio and Irene moved to Óbidos and, helped by a Brazilian worker, Salomão Gabriel, saw the commencement of the assembly there in 1992. Then visits in ‘Boas Novas 2’ to the town of Monte Alegre started with meetings in some homes. Sometime later, Laurivaldo and Rosilda and Salomão Gabriel moved there to help in the new work and the assembly commenced. Another full-time Brazilian couple, Jacy and Jenilda, came to Santarém in 1992 and were a great help in Diamantino assembly for many years, until, for family reasons, they moved back to their home town.

The gospel has continued to spread out along the rivers and lakes to other villages and towns. Space prohibits more detail of how the Lord has used His word and His servants in the salvation of souls and in the formation of more assemblies at the villages of Boa Vista, Tapará Grande, Belterra, Curicaca, Apolinário and at the towns of Prainha, and Curuá. In 1998, ‘Boas Novas 2’ was replaced by a small aluminum boat with outboard motor to enable faster transport on the river, permitting more visits to the village assemblies. Another Brazilian couple, Jerson and Valda, were commended to full-time work in 2009 and they have been much used of the Lord in the gospel and in helping the assemblies. They presently live in the town of Curuá.

The present situation

Presently there are nineteen assemblies in happy fellowship in the region, most of which have grown well. The Brazilian full-time workers, Germano and Jerson, are much involved in visitation work to the assemblies. Because of Irene’s failing health, Adilio and Irene have moved to Medicilândia on the Transamazon Highway, where their daughter and family live and where they continue to serve the Lord. There are many other faithful Brazilians who are very active in their assemblies and being used of the Lord. Two couples, Zenivaldo and Maisa, and Elielson and Marilene, moved from Santarém to help in small assemblies in other towns. We receive visits regularly from Brazilians from other parts of Brazil and conferences are held throughout the year at various assemblies when around 300-400 gather for the meetings and many unsaved hear the gospel.

Mention must be made of Jenair and Carla, and his parents Jair and Jerônima, who live and work about 800 kms up river at Manaus, the capital city of the neighboring state of Amazonas. They have been working faithfully for many years and have been much used of the Lord in the formation of the growing assembly in Manaus and in a growing gospel work at the interior village of Bom Jesus. Jenair is also heavily involved in visiting a number of schools near Bom Jesus each week and is greatly respected by the authorities there. Recently, another preaching point has started at the town of Castanha, about 100 kms south of Manaus.

The problems

Genuine conversions and the formation of new assemblies have slowed down greatly in recent years. One main reason for this is the ‘explosion’ of modern Pentecostal denominations, which appear in every corner in the villages and towns, using all types of attractions. It is unbelievable what goes on in the name of the gospel! Also, the former violent opposition which actually helped the growth in early days has been replaced by the ecumenical movement which destroys the gospel by its deadly mixture with the Catholic religion. Another serious problem is that the family situation has rapidly deteriorated to the point that even when some are saved, their complicated family circumstances often make it very difficult to see a new assembly started.

The prayer needs

No doubt the prayers of the Lord’s dear people in many places have had a great part in the development of the Lord’s work over the past seventy years and we are deeply grateful for those who pray for the work and workers here. Please continue to remember the many Brazilians involved in the Lord’s work which was started and has been continued mainly through the faithful labours of these dedicated servants of the Lord. Pray for the preservation of the assemblies, a few of which are still very weak, and especially for the many young believers. Frequently, the young people from the village assemblies have to come to the towns for further study and work and there are many temptations, attractions and ‘winds of doctrine’. Old age is creeping up on most of the full-time workers, so there is a great need for younger workers to carry on the visitation and to reach more places still without assembly testimony, such as the big town of Oriximiná where visits are being made for gospel work, Luke 10. 2. Please pray also for the new government and that the sad political and economic situation caused by corruption may improve and that the freedom which the assemblies have enjoyed will be continued for the preaching of the gospel in Brazil.