Report from Brazil
November 11th, 1979 @ 10:50 AM
REPORT FROM BRAZIL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-11-79 10:50 a.m.
And it is a joy unspeakable to welcome the uncounted thousands of you who are listening on radio and are watching on television, especially you that are on cable that are so far scattered in New Mexico and Oklahoma and Louisiana, and all across the broad state of Texas. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Report From Brazil.
As many of you know, the last two weeks, I have been on a mission in Brazil—speaking in the day time to national conferences of pastors, and in evenings conducting a crusade: one in São Paulo, and the other in Salvador.
The report is broken into four parts. And each part has a text. The first regards a guardian angel: our Lord said in Matthew 18:10, regarding these little ones—it can refer to those who are very young; it most certainly refers to all of us who have found hope in the Lord. He says that in heaven our angels do always behold the face of My Father which is in heaven” [Matthew 18:10]. That is they have the preeminent place of honor. As Gabriel stands before God to do His bidding, our Lord says our guardian angels are close to the throne. And in Hebrews 1:14, the author writes that the angels are “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation.” So we have a guardian angel watching over us.
When I go to a foreign country, and especially to one that is filled with streets of pickpockets and thieves, I try to put everything that I have in a flight bag. I empty my pockets, and everything is in that flight bag: my passport, my visa, all of the money that I am able to collect together and carry along, credit cards, because I have learned in abroad journey the most evident usefulness of a credit card; and in this instance, all of the material that I was to use as I lectured to the preachers of Brazil for two weeks; and of course, things to help me in those crusades. I was afraid to put it in the suitcase that I checked through. You have heard this story: “It is a marvelous age in which we live. You can eat breakfast in London, you can eat lunch in New York City, you can eat dinner in Hong Kong, and your luggage is in Mexico City.” So I was afraid to trust anything into that suitcase, because I desperately needed it in my ministry in Brazil. So I put it all in that flight bag, and I keep it with me. I sleep with it at night. I get up with it in the morning. I go to bed with it in the evening. I carry it. I never let it out of my sight.
To my great surprise and delight, when finally I landed in São Paulo I was met there by a car that took me off of the plane and through the terminal. They had arranged for all of the amenities and formalities of entrance into the country just like that. And when I walked into the airport, there was the choir of the Villa Mariana Baptist Church just singing to the top of their voices, and a great group gathered round, and such a cordial welcome as you have never thought for in your life. And dignitaries making addresses to me, speaking in such wonderful open-heartedness; made me feel like I was somebody come. So there were photographers in all directions, and especially an official photographer.
Well, there I am, supposedly to be a great representative of the United States of America, and being pictured and photographed in all of my glory and dignity, and that flight bag in my hand. I wanted it just close to me. One of the missionaries, seeing me with that flight bag and all of those photographers taking pictures said, “Let me keep the flight bag for you, so when you take your picture that won’t be the thing they see how close to your heart.”
So I gave the flight bag to the missionary. And after all of the things that went on, why, the missionary who was to take me to the hotel had recovered my suitcase out of customs, and making our way to the car, why, I said to him before we left, “Now you have my flight bag also?”
And he said, “No, I do not know of any flight bag.”
So I said, “Well, where is the missionary that has it?”
So we found the missionary who had taken it from me, and the missionary had left it in the airport. And when the airport was scoured for the flight bag, of course it had immediately disappeared—just like that.
I had a dear pastor who at the airport put his attaché case down on the sidewalk, turned to the driver of the taxicab, and in the split second that he set that attaché case down to speak to the taxicab driver, it had disappeared. When he went to the police, they said there are professionals who work all the time. We cannot identify them. We could not find anything about such a thing as who stole it. All you can do is forget it.
Well, when I went to the hotel with the missionary, I was simply paralyzed in disappointment and frustration. Everything that I had was in that bag, and I just could not imagine what I would do. That passport is all-important; that visa for getting out of the country, coming into America, beside all of the other things; everything I had in it. He delayed going to the hotel, driving by his home. And so, when finally we arrived and I walked into the hotel, there standing by one of those marble columns was a Portuguese woman with that flight bag in her hand. I walked over to her with greatest, deepest thanksgiving and appreciation. Had I known her, I would have kissed her and hugged her. Ah!
So in her broken English, the best she could talk to me, she said, “This morning, early in the morning, I was suddenly awakened with a deep conviction that I ought to go to the airport to meet the pastor coming from America. I awakened my husband and I said, ‘We must go to the airport to meet the pastor.’”
And he said, “That is unthinkable. Why should you go to the airport?”
She said, “I do not know. But I have been awakened, starkly, suddenly awakened and I have this conviction, I must go to the airport.”
So they dressed and in the early morning hour went down to the airport and was there through all of those amenities. And when it all was over, she said, “And I was standing there alone, wondering why it was that I was suddenly awakened with a conviction I ought to go to the airport and meet the pastor from America.” She said, “After all of the welcoming services were over and the people had left, I was standing there wondering why. And while I was standing there, a stranger walked up to me and said, ‘This flight bag belongs to that man that was welcomed here in the airport and just left in that car. Would you kindly return it to him?’ So,” she said, “I made my way to the hotel where they told me you were to stay. And I have been standing here awaiting your arrival.”
What do you think of that? Do you believe the Book says there are guardian angels watching over us? An angel of the Lord awakened her, placed in her heart the conviction to go to the airport, and standing there, wondering why, the stranger places that flight bag in her hand. I feel this: we thank God for the great things He does for us. Jesus died for us [1 Corinthians 15:3], and He is in heaven preparing for us [John 14:1-3], and we thank God for the great, big, mighty things He does for us. I have come to a conclusion: we ought to thank Him also for the little remembrances that bless our lives. He also is the God of the little as well as the mighty, the microcosm as the macrocosm, the infinitesimal as the infinite. He made the tiny atom as well as the vast galaxies that shine in the night. And He is interested in us. Isn’t that great? He cares for us. That is marvelous, and we thank Him for the guardian angel that watches over us.
Number two: the vast city of São Paulo. “Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before Me” [Jonah 1:1, 2]. I had been to São Paulo fifteen years ago, but I was not prepared for what I saw this time. Some of the missionaries took me to dinner in a restaurant on top of the tallest building. And up there on the top of that building there is a walkway where you can go all the way around, looking at the city. And I walked around that walkway, looking at São Paulo. And from horizon to horizon, it was solid skyscrapers. New York looked little to me compared to it. From the rim of the earth to the other rim of the earth, one vast city. When I remarked upon it, one of the missionaries said to me, “There are seven hundred skyscrapers going up in São Paulo at any one time,” seven hundred of them. It was that way yesterday, it is that way now—seven hundred of them, it is that way tomorrow. A vast, interminable outlay of streets and buildings, approaching twelve million population now, and soon to have twenty-five million people.
There is a boy of one of the missionaries right here. His father and mother were so preciously kind and good to me. This boy Richard, Richard Ellis, was with his parents here in Dallas when he was a little fellow, and he looked at the skyline of Dallas right down here, right around here. Now to me Dallas is a big town, but this boy, being brought up and reared in São Paulo, when he was brought here to Dallas, he turned to his daddy and said, “Daddy, what is that little bunch of buildings down there on the one side of town?” We think we have a tremendous construction program. There are two or three skyscrapers going up around us. There are seven hundred any day that are rising in São Paulo. It is unthinkable!
There are more people in it already now than there are in the whole state of Texas. And will be twice as many people in it, pretty soon, as there are in the whole state of Texas; one city. And the depths of the wickedness of the city is unthinkable. There are more than two hundred thousand registered prostitutes. And how many beside, nobody knows. There are thirty thousand professional thieves that work on the streets day and night. Why? You couldn’t help but ask why. This is why.
The father and mother of those two Baylor kids: one is named Richard, and one is named Autumn; their father and mother are Mr. and Mrs. Perry Ellis. He is an evangelist down there in the state of Brazil. They have a beautiful mother named Robin, and their father is six feet nine inches tall. When he walks among those little Brazilians, it looks like Goliath among the group. Three men came to their home, broke into the house with guns, bound them, gagged them, and robbed them. They stole their car: evidently couldn’t drive very well, and about two blocks down ran the car into a telephone pole, destroyed it. The man driving was seriously hurt. The other two fled away. But they apprehended them, took them down to the police station, booked them, indicted them, accused them, and let them go. So I asked Perry Ellis, “Why let them go?”
And he said, “I went to the police chief and I asked him, ‘Why do you let these men go?’ And the police chief replied, ‘Sir, we have a jail in São Paulo built for four thousand prisoners. We have twelve thousand prisoners in it. And those twelve thousands are murderers. And there is no room for a mere thief.’” So the armed robber and the mugger and the rapist live on the streets, thousands and thousands and thousands of them. I heard one of the pastors at the national conference stand up and say, “Last month, around my church here in São Paulo, there were one thousand six hundred assaults—just around my church.”
I could not get out of the hotel. The utmost I ever did was to walk maybe fifty feet in front of the front door. To the side, the prostitutes were lined up day and night. And they have cars. That’s the most unusual thing. The prostitute stands by the side of her car, and all over São Paulo. The Ellises live in a beautiful section of the city. Right down there from their home, all over São Paulo, they use an American word for it—”drive-ins,” drive-in. All over São Paulo are drive-ins. The prostitute picks the men up all over the city, goes to a drive-in, pays a little fee; they put a curtain around the car; and she services him; away, and get the next man. That is the way of life in the city.
“Go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up unto Me” [Jonah 1:1-2]. I cannot imagine it. The great newspaper of São Paulo took a survey of what the people do on Sunday. Five percent of them are in a Catholic church. So I asked about that. I thought the country was Catholic. Sixty percent of all of the Catholics in Brazil have left the church. And on any Sunday, five percent of them will be in a Catholic church. The same newspaper survey published the report, thirty percent of them are spiritualists. They worship voodoo and witch doctors, and give themselves to séances and mediums and all of the other things of white and black magic. When you go to a market, there will be stores there in which you buy all kinds of esoteric herbs and all kinds of ugly, awesome-looking idols. Thirty percent—thirty percent are in some kind of convocation of spiritism, and it is growing furiously; brought to Brazil by the Portuguese when they flooded the nation with African slaves. “How many Protestants?” I said. And the survey reported there are so few Protestants that we cannot figure out the decimals, decimals, decimals to expression it in a mathematical report. Ah, the nation and the cities of Brazil!
Third: our crusade in Salvador. “There were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: and they came to Philip . . . saying, Sir, we would see Jesus” [John 12:20, 21]. And when those pagans came, the Lord said: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me” [John 12:32]. I went down there for the fortieth anniversary of Rubin Salapez, the pastor of the Villa Mariana Church in São Paulo. Then they asked me to conduct this national Bible conference in São Paulo. Then they said, “Please conduct this crusade in Salvador Bahia,” a city of about two and half million people about a thousand miles up the eastern coast from Rio. So being already there, and the Foreign Mission Board asking me to lead in the crusade, I couldn’t say no. So last week, until last Sunday, I was in that crusade. I am not an evangelist. I am not a man who speaks in crusades. There are evangelist like James Robinson and Billy Graham who do that; they are called to do that. My assignment is always a pastoral ministry, nothing beside, nor have I ever been interested in anything beside. I am a pastor, a shepherd.
But I was surprised when I went to Salvador. That is the birthplace of Brazil. That’s where the Portuguese landed. That’s where they started the nation. That’s where the Bagbees and Taylors, our Southern Baptist missionaries, landed and began their work. And in 1982, they are preparing the celebration of the centennial and the founding of the Baptist work in Brazil.
The meeting was held in an arena; in the middle, the basketball court. It has a plastic floor like the Wicker gymnasium, and then around it, in a great circle, seating about toward eight thousand people. Last July, the International Basketball Tournament was held in that arena. And the only time they began to fill it was the last contest, which, eliminating all of the nations, was between the United States and Brazil. And as you remember, the United States won it, the International Basketball Championship. It was there that we held the crusade. And to my amazement, as I stood there and looked, the great arena was practically filled every night. And on Sunday afternoon, the last session of the crusade, you could not get in it. There were more than ten thousand people there. And every night when I would give the appeal, there would be something like two hundred or two hundred fifty people down there on that court. And the last Sunday afternoon, last Sunday, it looked to me there were a thousand down there. Ah, the responsiveness of those dear people! My interpreter was a brilliant man from São Paulo named Arthur Gonzalez, married to a Jewess; a beautiful couple. He looks more Italian than Italians, and she looks more Jewish than the Sabras in Jerusalem.
You all out there; I just, I love a man that can interpret good. You say, “Well, how do you preach through an interpreter?” Well, he helps me. If he has a spirit like mine, man, it isn’t long until we are just building up a fire up there. So I loved that fellow. And he went with me to Salvador in order to be my interpreter in Salvador, even though they had scheduled somebody else there. They decided he was so good and so fine that they just took him with us. So we all went up to Salvador, and that interpreter was somebody.
In São Paulo, when I was speaking at the National Bible Conference, one of the lectures concerned the minister counseling, some of the pitfalls he can fall into, and some of the other things that concerned the minister as an effective counselor. Now I have got an idea about the screwball, nutty, crazy things that people get into in their heads, and it is this: I think that one of the problems that people have is that they think about themselves. They turn inward. They get introverted. And when you look at yourself, you get discouraged. I tell you, it is no good. But if you will just look at Jesus: I may not be all right, but He is all right. Don’t look at the preacher. Don’t look at the church. Don’t look at the people. Most of all, don’t look at yourself. Look to Jesus! And I was saying in counseling, if you can get people to get out of themselves and to look at the Lord Jesus, and to serve the Lord Jesus, to be objective, out of themselves, and then do work in the name of the Lord Jesus, help and give and pray and come and minister, you will be healed. And of course, that led me to expatiate on the people who go to these psychiatrists and these psychologists, and pay them fifty dollars an hour in order to get rid of all of the bumps and screwball, crazy things that they have in their heads, when all they needed to do was just to look to Jesus, and save paying that psychologist and that psychoanalyst and that psychiatrist. Save lots of money.
Well, when I started talking about that, the preachers began to respond in an unusual way. They began to listen. They began to laugh. They finally got uproarious. Well, any time I am speaking to a group, and they began to respond to me—you know, like “Amen” here, and “Glory to God” there, and “Right on, preacher,” over there—any time anything like that happens, it is just like saying “sic ‘em” to a dog to me. And so man, I just took off. We were having a great time as I was talking about saving money; not going to that psychologist and psychoanalyst, and all of them out there having the best time in the world listening to me.
Well, after it was over, one of the missionaries came to me and said, “Preacher, what they were laughing at, and what they were hilarious about, is your interpreter Arthur Gonzalez is a Ph.D. in psychology and psychiatry.” I tell you. Who can get into things like that except me? It is unbelievable! So I went to the beloved doctor, and I said to him, “Doctor, I did not mean anything bad. I was just trying to—.” He said, “Everything is all right if you will pay me for the patients that I have lost.”
They took—they made a televised picture of the meeting, the crusade in Salvador on Saturday night. The thing is jammed. They had a choir of a thousand people, and everybody sings to the top of his voice. You just never heard such a sound. And as soon as the televised program is completed, they are going to send it to us. And we are going to take an hour of this time here on Sunday morning, and we are going to play that videotape of the entire service down there in Salvador. And of course, we will have it here in the auditorium where everyone can see it and be blessed by it. It will be something for you to look at and listen to, the service down there in Salvador.
Now last, the text in Matthew 25: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant . . . enter thou into the joy of thy lord” [Matthew 25:21, 23]. The reason, the purpose of my going down there to Brazil was this: because of my unbounded love, admiration, and esteem for Rubin Salapez, pastor of the Villa Mariana Baptist Church in São Paulo. I came to know him in the great Crusade of the Americas, where we tried to move the continents of North and South America to God. And down there when I was visiting before, I was with him, preached in his church, and came greatly to love and admire that brilliant man, I suppose as brilliant a minister as we have ever had in our Southern Baptist ministry. He speaks poetry. I would to sit down with an interpreter, and he would tell me what Rubin Salapez is saying. And he would take the most ordinary things, and they would be beautiful, the way he would phrase it; the poetic imagery by which he would describe or commend. A great, godly, gifted man, they always referred to him as a genius. The influence of that man has been unbelievable. For example, in his church was a general. The general in the Brazilian army, the general had his office in Rio, but he lived in São Paulo, and attended church at the Villa Mariana Baptist Church.
In 1964, the communists were ready to take over Brazil. The president was a communist, and the leadership of the nation was communist, and the whole world thought that Brazil was going communist. And they were preparing for it, and ready for it. This man, Rubin Salapez, called the Baptists—there were one hundred thousand of them at that time in the nation. He called them to prayer, making an earnest appeal that “If what happens in China, where the churches have been destroyed, is allowed to happen in Brazil, we shall lose our birthright and our heritage.” And he called the Baptists of Brazil to prayer. Then he announced, on the basis that God would answer prayer the next year, 1965, they would launch a great soul-winning campaign in Brazil. He did that.
That military general listened to that man of God, heard him pray and intercede before the Lord. The first day of April in 1964, the communists had everything prepared to take over the government, everything; sub machine guns in certain sections; everywhere the government, all of its national state, local, political life was to be seized by the communists. It was prepared. On the thirty-first day of March, one day before—led by that general who belonged to the church in Villa Mariana—the military seized the government in the name of God. And in terror, the communist president fled to Uruguay and the nation was spared. And the next year, there were three hundred thousand Baptists added to the churches of Brazil. That is the work of that man, Rubin Salapez. And as I said, the purpose of my going was to preach at the fortieth anniversary of the pastor Rubin Salapes. The only pastorate he ever had, that church, Villa Mariana. And of course, the week leading up to that Sunday of anniversary and acclaim, brought a climax, just deeply moving and spiritual, on the fortieth anniversary of Rubin Salapez. Then, as you know, I went to Salvador to begin the crusade there. On Saturday night, Mr. and Mrs. Perry Ellis took me to dinner after the service. And after we sat down they said, “Do you know why you came to Brazil?”
I said, “The initial reason was to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Rubin Salapez.”
And they said to me, “That is the reason that you came. All through these years, he has wanted you to be present and to preach at his fortieth anniversary, and last Sunday that is what you did.” And they said, “We did not want to tell you because we were afraid it would upset you before the service tonight. But at six clock this evening, in his study with an open Bible, he bent over and was translated to be with God.”
And on Sunday—that is last Sunday—they are burying him from the church. I am so glad that I went. And what a wonderful way to go, with a Bible in your hand. I brought one like this to him. There it is right now, that blessed Book. Because of the beauty of the language and poetic imagery of that great, wonderful preacher, when they told me of his translation, I could not but remember the glorious, moving poem of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the poet laureate of England, that closed his life and ushered him into heaven.
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
But may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound or foam,
When that withdrew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
But may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.
[“Crossing the Bar,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson]
Green be the turf above thee,
Friend of my better days!
None knew thee but to love thee,
Nor named thee but to praise.
[ “On the Death of Joseph Rodman Drake,” Fitz-Green Halleck]
Rubin Salapez, sixty five years of age, finished his course, kept the faith, died with the Book in his hands. It is just one more remembrance that our lives hang on such a brittle thread. It is He that speaks whether we live or die. He gave us breath. He can take it away. Our spirits came from Him. They return to the Lord God who made them [Ecclesiastes 12:7]. And to believe in God; to trust in the grace of our Lord Jesus [Ephesians 2:8], and to commend and to commit our lives and our souls unto Him is life everlasting here and in the world that is to come [Romans 10:8-13]. It is great to be a Christian. Now may we stand together?
Our Lord, in Thy holy and divine presence, we are so reminded of our mortality. Our lives are like a vapor. It is like a breath for a moment, then it is gone. Our lives are in Thy hands. If God wills, we live. When the task is finished, we die. Dear God, that we might live for Thee, and die in Thy love and grace. And give us that faith and commitment to entrust our souls, our homes, and hearts, and lives, and work, to entrust it all to Thy gracious hands. And may God bless us and save us, as only God is able to keep, to guard, and to save.
And with our heads bowed and our people in silent prayer, no one leaving now; you will have time to leave. In that balcony, down a stairway, into one of these aisles, down one of these aisles; somebody you, “Today, I give my heart and life to the Lord Jesus” [Romans 10:8-13]. Or, “Today, we are putting our lives in this dear church” [Hebrews 10:24-25]. Or, “Today, I am answering a call from God.” A family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, make the decision in your heart, and in a moment when we sing this hymn of appeal, down that stairway, down this aisle, “Here I am, pastor. We have decided for God.” And our Lord, bless them as they come, in Thy saving name, amen. While we sing, make it now.