Report from Brazil
November 11th, 1979 @ 8:15 AM
REPORT FROM BRAZIL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-11-79 8:15 a.m.
We also welcome the thousands and the thousands who are listening to this hour on the two radio stations that carry it. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, bringing in the message entitled Report from Brazil. As you know, for the last two weeks, I have been on a preaching mission in that burgeoning, growing, expanding nation. And the message this morning is a report from the work down there in that country that is larger than the continental United States.
And I have four sections in the report, and each one will be introduced with a text. The first regards a guardian angel. Our Lord said, concerning these little ones – that could mean children, it could mean all of us who look to the Lord for help and encouragement – "I say unto you," Jesus avows, "that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of My Father which is in heaven" [Matthew 18:10]. That is, they stand in the very presence of God Himself.
Then the author of Hebrews avows of these angels, "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" [Hebrews 1:14]. The Bible teaches guardian angels, watching over us. They are ministering spirits to help us in the pilgrimage through this earth.
When I go to a country like Brazil, and almost any other nation today and city today, I am very much aware of the vast, multiplied numbers of pickpockets and thieves that crowd down every street. And especially is that true in a South American city.
So for that reason and for other reasons, when I make a journey I take an airline flight bag – those flight bags that you see people carry who are making journeys, mostly abroad – and I put everything in it: my passport, my visa, all the money that I have, all the cards that I carry, for I have learned, when you go abroad, if you have an international air travel card, a Master charge, a VISA card, telephone card, driver’s license – all those things – that it helps you. And then I place them in the bag because I didn’t trust the airline for keeping my one piece of luggage that I checked.
Marvelous thing about modern air travel; you can eat breakfast in London and lunch in New York City and dinner in Hong Kong, and your luggage [will] be in Old Mexico. So I put in the bag all the material that I was going to use for two weeks; because I was not only preaching every night in an evangelistic crusade, but all through the day I was lecturing to pastors. They prepared their first national Bible conference in my coming down in the week to SÃ£o Paulo.
So I put everything in that flight bag, everything. And then I live with it. I sleep with it. I carry it. I don’t ever let it get out of my sight. When the plane landed in SÃ£o Paulo – unknown to me, they said nothing of it – they had a private car there to meet me, to take me off the big airliner. And they whisked me through all of the national formalities, by which you enter a nation – your immigration, your customs – everything. They just went right through and escorted me into the airport. And there to my amazement was the choir, robed, of the Vila Mariana Baptist Church. And they had a ceremony, singing [by] the choir, greeting the pastors by the officials. And I was overwhelmed by the reception.
So there were not only an official photographer, but there were many others taking pictures. One of the missionaries, seeing me clutching that flight bag to my heart and soul, thought it was not quite apropos that I be seen in all of those pictures with a flight bag, holding in my hand. So the missionary said, "Now you let me hold the flight bag while they take all of these pictures."
Well, I said, "That’s fine." So I gave the flight bag to the missionary. Well, they loaded me up into a car, finally, to take me to a beautiful hotel downtown. And when I got in the car, why, I said to the missionary who was taking me to the hotel, I said, "I see you have my luggage, my one big package, suitcase, checked-through. Now where is my flight bag?"
He said, "Well, I – I’m not aware of your having one."
Well, I said, "I gave it to a missionary to keep."
And he said, "Well, I – I have no idea." So there was a frantic search for that flight bag that had everything in it. And the missionary had forgotten it and left it in the airport. And, of course, immediately, it had disappeared.
You cannot imagine the stark, paralyzing terror I felt: my passport in that bag, my VISA in it. And how to get out of the country without it and into America? Everything that I had [was] in that bag. And the missionary had forgotten it. And it had disappeared, immediately. It was awful.
Well, the missionary who was taking me downtown to the hotel stopped at his house. He had an errand to run. So we were delayed in getting there. When finally we arrived, and I walked into the hotel – as down, as discouraged – I can’t describe how I felt, with everything that I had in that bag, and left in the airport, and disappeared.
When I walked into the hotel, by one of the columns in the hotel stood a Portuguese woman with that flight bag in her hand. I could not describe again how I felt in overflowing rejoicing and thanksgiving, when I saw that woman standing by that column with that flight bag in her hand. I immediately walked up to her, and in broken English, this is what she said: she said, "Early this morning – for the flight came in in the morning – early this morning, I was suddenly awakened. And I was awakened with a deep conviction that I must go to the airport to meet the pastor coming to visit the Vila Mariana Church from America.
She said, "I awakened my husband, and I said, ‘Husband, I must go to the airport to welcome the pastor from America.’"
And he said, "Dear, that’s the strangest, most inexplicable thing I ever heard of. Why do you want to do that?"
She said, "I don’t know. But I have just been startlingly awakened, and I must go to the airport to meet the pastor."
So she said, "We dressed and we went to the airport, and we saw you come in and saw all of those formalities of the Vila Mariana Baptist Church. And then after they were over, we saw you get in a car with a missionary and drive away."
And she said, "I was standing there in the airport, wondering why it was that I was awakened this early morning hour with a conviction that I must go to the airport." She said, "While I was standing there wondering why, a stranger walked up to me and said, ‘This flight bag belongs to that man that you all welcomed just now and who left in that car. Would you return it to him?’"
I had her recount that three times, and once in the presence of the pastor of the church. Do you believe in guardian angels? God says so. Do you believe that they care for you in little things, as well as big things? God would say so. So while we thank the Lord for the big things that He does for us – Jesus dying for our sins, "Thank You, God, for Jesus," for preparing our way into heaven, to open a door for us into glory when we die – while we thank Him for the big things, the great things that He does for us, why would it not be appropriate that we thank Him for the little things that guide and bless and shepherd our lives every day? Why not? Why not?
So in deepest gratitude and thanksgiving, I received from the hands of that Portuguese woman that little bag that had everything for my journey in South America – thanking the guardian angel, watching over me.
Number two, in Jonah, our text:
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.
I had been down there in SÃ£o Paulo about fifteen years ago. But even my reading did not prepare me for that gigantic, expanding, exploding city. I stood on top of their tallest building. Some of the missionaries took me to dinner at a restaurant up there. I stood on top of their tallest building, and there’s a walkway around it for the visitor to look out over the vast horizon. And I walked around that tallest building, looking at SÃ£o Paulo, and from horizon to horizon, as far as I could see, were skyscrapers.
New York City looked little to me by the side of SÃ£o Paulo. And when I commented on its vast, extensive proportion, one of the men said, "Every day there are seven hundred skyscrapers going up in SÃ£o Paulo – seven hundred. Any day, there are that many. There were that many yesterday. There are that many this moment. There will be that many tomorrow – seven hundred of them.
One of the missionary’s sons, Richard Ellis, was here in Dallas. And he looked at Dallas. And he said, "Daddy, what is that little bunch of buildings doing down there on one side of town?" I think of Dallas as a big city. And I think of all these new buildings going up around us as being a tremendous effort.
Seven hundred going up all the time – a colossal city; it now is reaching toward twelve million. Soon they will have twenty-five million people in SÃ£o Paulo. You can’t conceive of it. "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for its wickedness is come up before Me" [Jonah 1:2].
Not only is the city vast in proportion, but it is unbelievably and indescribably lost, wicked. There are more than two hundred thousand registered prostitutes in SÃ£o Paulo. How many others there are, God only knows. They are that many who are registered. I dare not walk out of my hotel. The only thing I assay to do at the front door, I walk fifty feet one side, and fifty feet to the other.
By the side of that luxurious hotel, a year ago – less than a year ago – the president of the General Baptist Convention of Texas walked out there, and immediately was mugged, and beaten, and robbed. By the side of that hotel – which is on one of the most beautiful streets in the city of [SÃ£o Paulo] – every night, you can see the prostitutes line up. Each one has a car. They have an unusual way of servicing men in that city. All over the city, all over the city, in your finest and most fashionable neighborhoods are what they call "drive-ins." They use an American word for it: "drive-in." And for a little fee, the prostitute pays the owner of the drive-in. You go in there, they put a curtain around your car; and after the service, go out and pick up another one. It is a way of life.
There are thirty thousand professional thieves that work on the streets of SÃ£o Paulo, day and night. One of the missionary families, in whose home I was, where I ate dinner, Mr. And Mrs. Perry Ellis – he’s an evangelist – three men came, bound them, gagged them, robbed them, took their car, drove it away. But the man who drove it apparently was unaccustomed to a car, ran into a telephone pole about two blocks down. They apprehended him because he’d hurt himself. The other two fled away. But they apprehended them and brought them before the police. They were booked. They were checked. They were let go.
So when the missionary asked the police, "Why do you let these men go? With guns, they come into our house, break into our home, bind us, gag us, rob us, steal my car, wreck it, and you let them go." And the police answered, "We have in the city a jail made for four thousand inmates. There are twelve thousand in it – twelve thousand in it – in a jail made for four thousand. And we have no place for a thief, an armed robber, because all twelve thousand of these are incarcerated for murder. So all we can do is to take the thief, book him, write it down, and let him go – thirty thousand professional thieves, working every day on the streets of the city.
So they said to me, "We notice that you’re hot." And I tried not to wear my coat except when I was preaching. And so I carried things in my little pocket there. They said, "Don’t you do that. They’d go by and take that out in a twinkling of an eye." Well, I said, "I’ll put it in this pocket here. I’ll just take it and put it in this pocket here." And they said, "Don’t you put it in that pocket there because there are droves of little children under eight years of age, swarms of them, that comb through the streets of the city, and they are adept and deft in reaching in your pocket and pulling out what you had in it, and running away and dissolving. Well, I said, "What shall I do with it?" They said, "The only thing we know is to swallow it."
The great daily newspaper of SÃ£o Paulo took a survey of what the people do on Sunday. And this was the published report: "Five percent of the people on Sunday are in a Roman Catholic Church." When I asked about that, the small percentage, they said, "Sixty percent of the members of the Roman Catholic Church have left it. Only five percent of the people will be in a Catholic Church on any Sunday."
Thirty percent of the people are in some kind of spiritists worship. That is unthinkable! Thirty percent of them are spiritists. They’re in black magic, or white magic, or voodoo, or witchcraft, or in sÃ©ances, or standing before mediums, or in some kind of African type of worship.
And I asked, "Where could such a thing be?"
And they said, "When the Portuguese, who colonized Brazil, brought the slaves from Africa, they brought all of that spiritist worship with them, and it is spreading over the nation like wildfire. Isn’t that a remarkable thing? When people turn from the true God, what they turn to is devastatingly ruinous.
How many people are in the Protestant churches? So the survey was made, and the number is so small they could not figure out how little it was – one thousandth of one percent, practically nil. Ah! – the vast, illimitable need of a great, burgeoning nation like Brazil and a fast-growing city like SÃ£o Paulo. "Go to Nineveh, that great city . . .its wickedness has come up before Me" [Jonah 1:2].
Third: the revival in Salvador – the crusade in Salvador – about a thousand miles up the coast from Rio is the birthplace of Brazil and the birthplace of our Baptist work. In 1982, in that city of Salvador, Bahia, they will celebrate the one hundredth year of our Baptist work. That’s where the Bagbys and the Taylors landed and organized and began our first work.
So they asked me to hold a crusade in Salvador, Brazil. And the second week, I preached in a large athletic arena in Salvador. My text:
There were certain Greeks that came up to worship at the feast:
They came to Philip, saying, We would see Jesus.
And the Lord replied, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me.
[John 12:20-21, 32]
I am not a revivalist. I am not an evangelist. I am a pastor. I have never sought to be aught else. But they insisted on my holding a crusade in Salvador – a city of about two and a half million people – in that athletic arena. It’s the place where the international basketball tournament was held last July. The only time – it seats about eight thousand people in a great arena and the basketball court below – the only time the international basketball tournament even approached filling the arena was on the last night of the tournament, when the international championship was played for between the United States and Brazil. And the United States, as you remember, won it.
Every night in that crusade, that vast arena was practically filled. And the last night – the last service, which was last Sunday afternoon – the last service, you couldn’t get in it. There were at least ten-thousand people, jamming that arena.
Every night there would be something like two hundred to two hundred fifty who were saved. I had to leave at the conclusion of the invitation in order to go a thousand miles down to Rio to catch a plane to try to get to Louisville, Kentucky – Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday of this last week – in order to preach through the Bible Conference there. But as I watched those people come forward Sunday afternoon, there were at least a thousand people down there, in that – on that court. It was an astonishing thing to me!
The open-heartedness of those dear people, listening to the gospel and responding to its appeal – Oh! what could be done in Brazil! And in keeping with that, they are planning a vast nationwide evangelistic crusade all through the cities of that great nation. I have to preach, of course, through an interpreter. My interpreter was named Arture Gonsalves. And as I told you, in the daytime I lectured to the preachers, and then at night would hold a crusade in SÃ£o Paulo in the church, in Salvador in the big arena.
So my interpreter, Arture Gonsalves, was a princely fellow – married to a Jewess, a Christian Jewess, a beautiful woman. And he was – ah! So fine, and he went with me to Salvador in order to interpret there.
Well, as I lectured to those preachers, one of the lectures concerned counseling – how you counsel with people, and some of the pitfalls in it, and some of the things that are attendant upon it. So, in my lectures – talking to all those preachers – I began speaking about a conviction I have regarding people – that what people need who have all kinds of problems in their heads and everywhere else – what they need is to forget about themselves and to think about the Lord.
If you could just forget about yourself – get out of yourself, and think about Jesus, and the worldwide need of the gospel of Christ, and the need of other people – you’d get healed. You wouldn’t need anybody thumping on you. And least of all, would you need to pay fifty dollars an hour to a psychologist, or a psychoanalyst, or a psychiatrist, in order to get your head straight, or your head screwed on right. If you’d just get out of yourself and quit thinking about yourself, and start thinking about Jesus and start working for Jesus, you’d get healed. And you wouldn’t have to go to all of these psychologists and psychiatrists.
Well, when I started talking like that, all those preachers just – man, they picked it up. And they responded. And they laughed. And they were just hilarious! Well, you know how you are when you’re getting in a weaving way, preaching the gospel, and they’re saying, "Amen," over there; and "Glory to God," over there; and, "That’s right, preacher"; and "Right on" – just like saying "Sic ’em’ to a dog." Well, that’s just like it is when you respond to a preacher like that. Well, that was the way I was in that lecture. They were so hilarious, and so uproarious, and they were just enjoying it – world without end. So, you just know, I just carried on to the nth degree!
Well, after it was over, one of the missionaries came to me, and said, "Did you know why those preachers were all so hilarious about what you were saying: ‘In order to get your head screwed on right, save that fifty dollars going to these psychiatrists and psychologists, and go to Jesus, instead’? Do you know why they were . . . .?"
Oh! I said, "Man, they were listening, weren’t they? They were great." Well, he said, "What they were uproarious about is, your interpreter is a doctor of psychiatry and psychology. That’s the way he makes his living. That’s his profession!"
I’ll tell you, nobody in the world can do things like that – like me. I just get into the worst things. So I went to the good doctor, and I apologized to him. He said, "Everything’s all right. I just want you to pay me for the patients that I’ve lost." But he is a princely man and one of the finest, finest psychologists in this world.
Last of all, my purpose of going down originally: the Lord, in Matthew 25: "The Lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord" [Matthew 25:21, 23]. That’s my text in the last part of the report.
Originally, I accepted the invitation to go down there to stay one day. I was going down on a Saturday – stay one day on Sunday, and come back the next day. I was doing that out of love and admiration for a great, noble, minister of the gospel, Ruben Lapiz," pastor of the Vila Mariana Baptist Church in SÃ£o Paulo. That’s why I went – out of love and admiration for that tremendous gospel pastor and preacher.
It was after I had accepted that invitation that they insisted upon having a national Bible conference in SÃ£o Paulo, and that I preach every night in an evangelistic crusade. And then, having gone down there for that one Sunday, they asked me to hold this crusade in Salvador through a Friday. And then the pastors there said, "It’d be tragic not to stay until Sunday." So that’s why. It just grew.
But originally I went down there to deliver the message on the fortieth anniversary of the pastorate of Ruben Lapiz, God’s great servant. Well, why would you do that? Who is Ruben Lapiz? I became acquainted with him, especially, in the Crusade of the Americas. And we’re having great evangelistic thrusts in all of the continents of North and South America. But I also went because of the tremendous stature and pristine gifts of that marvelous man.
Let me give you an example. Do you remember when the whole world thought that Brazil was going communist? Do you remember that? It was all set. And every one had acquiesced in the communist takeover in Brazil. It was certain. Their leaders were communists, and they were brilliantly leading the nation down that socialist, tragic road. This man, Ruben Lapiz, cried before the people of Brazil, and especially the Baptists, that if this happens – if this happens – we shall have in Brazil what we have seen in China; namely, the death and destruction of the churches.
So, Ruben Lapiz called the Baptists of Brazil to prayer. And in a great faith that God would answer prayer, he also announced that "Next year, let us follow our intercession to God by a nationwide revival." Now in the church of Ruben Lapiz was the great military general of Brazil. His office was in Rio, but he lived in SÃ£o Paulo and belonged to the Vila Mariana Baptist Church.
One of the things that you will run into down there is the awesome reverence and respect the people have for the military – it’s amazing! Typical of that would be this story: there’s a fellow in a crowded bus. And he turns to the guy pressed against him, and he says, "Are you a general in the military?" The guy says, "No." He says, "Are you an officer in the military?" The guy says, "No." The fellow says, "Is any member of your family in the military?" The fellow says, "No." "Well, do you have any friend in the military?" The guy says, "No." Then the fellow says, "Then would mind taking your foot off of my shoe?"
The military runs the nations of South America. So, in that church in SÃ£o Paulo, was this leading general in the military. And the first day of May in 1964, May 1, 1964, the communists had everything prepared to take over the government and to take over the nation: key men everywhere; key men everywhere: key men everywhere; militia, here; submachine guns there – everywhere. On the first day of [April] in 1964, they had prepared to take over the government and the nation.
On the thirty-first day of March – one day before, led by that Christian Baptist general of the Villa Mariano Baptist Church – the military rose up against the communists. And the next day, the president of Brazil in terror fled for his life to Uruguay. And the nation was saved.
Do you believe God answers prayer like that? And the next year, 1965, under the leadership of this Ruben Lapiz, the Baptist people had their nationwide revival. At that time, they numbered one hundred thousand. At the end of the year, they numbered four hundred thousand. There were three hundred thousand added to the Baptists of Brazil, all of that led by this marvelous pastor, Ruben Lapiz.
So I was blessed and encouraged in the full week that I worked with him, getting ready for his fortieth anniversary: in the daytime, the conference; in the night-time, the revival meeting; the city-wide revival meeting, meeting in his church – a beautiful and precious week.
So I went to Salvador. And on Saturday night after the service was over, Mr. and Mrs. Perry Ellis took me to dinner. And while they were seated there at the dinner table, they said to me, "Do you know why God sent you here?" I said, "Originally, it was to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the pastorate of Ruben Lapiz.
"Well," they said, "we didn’t want to tell you before the service. We were afraid it would upset you. But at 6:00 o’clock this evening, Ruben Lapiz, over his Bible – studying his Bible – went home to be with Jesus. And his memorial service will be held in the church tomorrow." That was last Sunday.
It deeply affected me. He was sixty-five years of age, God’s great servant. I had given him, brought to him, one of those Bibles. And there it was at his right hand. The man was a poet in his soul. As I’d sit and the interpreter would tell me the words he was saying, they were like literature. They were like beautiful poetry, even in translation.
And as I thought of his home-going, I could not but think of the beautiful, immortal poem of Alfred, Lord Tennyson that closed his own life and ministry of word and song.
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 is moving seems asleep.
Too full for sound or foam,
When that which drew 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 this 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,
None named thee but to praise.
["On the Death of Joseph Rodman Drake," Fitz-Greene Halleck]
How brief and how brittle the thread of life that ties us to this earth; how strong the cable of steel that binds us to heaven and eternity. And what a glorious way to die – with a Bible in your hand. Why anyone would hesitate to love God, to be a Christian, I could not enter into.
The depth of the riches of the blessing of Christ, in His precious and saving name, is holy, beyond compare – for you, for your children, for your family, for your life, for your work, for the destiny that lies before us – that Christ be to us all in all.
Now may we stand together? Lord of life, Lord of earth and heaven, grant to us a lean on Thy kind arm that shall sustain us here and open the door into heaven in the hereafter. And without loss of one, precious Jesus, may we come to know Thee as Friend and Savior?
And with our heads bowed, and no one leaving, in this sacred and holy moment of appeal – a family you; a couple you; or just one somebody you; to give your heart to Jesus, or to put your life with us in the church, or to answer a call of the Holy Spirit of God, down one of those stairways, down one of those aisles, would you come and stand by me? God bless you, as you make your way here to the front, to the altar, presided over by the blood of the covenant, and by the sacrifice that speaketh better things than those even of Abel [Hebrews 12:24]. God bless you, as you come, while we pray, while we wait, and while we sing.