Our Mission Heritage V—Brazil
As you read this post, these persons—Buddy and Emily Kirk, Cynthia Colvin, Billy Thomas, and Mac and Jeanne Fuqua, from our association are in Brazil on a mission trip. They are being led by Dr. Cecil Taylor, professor of Religion at the University of Mobile. Did you know that our mission heritage in Brazil dates back 126 years, very near the beginning of Baptist work there?
The story goes like this. Following the loss of the South in the Civil War several planters and their families moved to Brazil to continue their plantation lifestyle. Some were Baptists and wanted missionaries to come to Brazil and establish work. (Many of them located in the southern part of the country near San Paulo.)
At first, beginning in 1871, Southern Baptists worked with these immigrants by establishing English speaking congregations. Among the early preachers was a Jewish convert, Solomon Ginsberg. He evangelized in several of the South American countries. His biography is titled The Wandering Jew. Presbyterian and Methodist English speaking churches were formed during this time. And soon American Protestant missionaries were being sent to Brazil.
Brazil was a colony of Portugal and consequently Roman Catholicism was the dominant form of Christianity there. Protestantism was often persecuted. As in most of the world, religious freedom was not accepted by the government. The conflict began as missionaries began to seek to win converts from among the natives and from Portuguese speaking persons of European heritage. Since Vatican II in the early 1960s persecution has largely subsided. Since then Pentecostalism has experienced great success in Latin America. Our Baptist work has grown and the Brazil Baptist Convention is a strong one. Yet there is still much to be done. Truly, the fields there are proving to be “white unto harvest.”
Accounts of Baptist work in Brazil have focused on a Texas family, William and Anne Luther Bagby and their children and descendants. The first Bagbys sailed to Brazil in 1881. They were joined by another Texan Z.C. Taylor and his wife the following year. Initially, they started work in Rio de Janeiro. A stirring account of the story of the founding of Baptist work in Brazil can be found in The Bagbys of Brazil by Helen Bagby Harrison.
The PBA connection began in 1885 when the Puthuffs, Emma Fox and E. A., arrived. She had been born in Pickens County but was raised in Pontotoc, Mississippi. Due to health issues, a common problem for the early missionaries, they resigned from the mission in 1890. But the following year James J. Taylor, a native of Pickens, and his wife joined the mission. They were able to serve there for more than 30 years.
James Taylor grew up in the Benevola community. The letters exchanged by his parents, Grant and Melinda Slaughter Taylor, during the Civil War, have been beautifully published by the University of Alabama under the title of The Cruel War. It chronicles the hardships of wives and mothers who had to maintain the home while the husband was absent in the war.
It gives insight into the early life of the Forest Baptist Church. And it illustrates the growing disillusion with the war on the part of a struggling young family.
Taylor was educated at The Southern Baptist Seminary and taught religion at Ouachita Baptist College in Arkansas prior to his appointment as a Missionary. His wife was Ada Lumpkin, the daughter of a prominent pastor.
Initially, they served with the Bagbys in Rio, but in 1899 formed the FBC of Sao Paulo. As a former professor he was concerned with the theological training of the natives whom God was calling to ministry. And he was also concerned about the discipleship and spiritual formation of the members of the Baptist churches. He had a gift for languages which served him well as a teacher, a translator of basic texts such as Robertson’s Harmony of the Gospels, and Sunday School lessons in the Portuguese language. So while he pastored he also taught, translated and published. (He is one those heroes with whom we can visit during the ages of eternity, one of the many joys of heaven.
In 1923 James and Ada Taylor returned to the United States. He died the following year. Dr. Cecil Taylor, who is leading the current mission, which includes our associational mission team is a kinsman of James Taylor. (There were several Taylors who have served in the association and its churches. It would be interesting to see the various connections in this family which has contributed mightily to the Kingdom work here and elsewhere.)
A century after the Puthuff’s went to Brazil, and just over 60 after James Taylor retired from the Brazil mission, volunteers from our association began to go to Brazil to serve along side of our missionaries. In 25 of the 28 summers that have passed since 1985 someone from the PBA has served there. A total of 72 different persons have made 132 volunteer trips there, with some of the volunteers going year after year. Bonnie Windle from Carrollton has been the most frequent team member from the PBA churches.
And today Langdon Williams is in his second year as a full-time missionary in Brazil. He is serving under the ISC program of the International Mission Board of the SBC. Langdon served on the staff of Aliceville First Baptist. That church and Carrollton Baptist have furnished most of the volunteers.
Year after year our volunteers return with reports of great revivals and the working of God’s Holy Spirit among the persons to whom they witness and to whom they present the Gospel. The volunteers have provided a variety of ministries-medical, VBS, talks in schools and jails, door to door visitation, construction of chapels and schools, street evangelism, service ministries and others.
They have worked with many fine missionaries including Bill and Barbara Mosley, Ray and Sharon Fairchild, Mrs. Thelma Bagby (note that family continues to serve in Brazil), Eugene and Freda Troop, David Henderson, Pam Kitchens, and Tony and Karen Gray. Many of these missionaries have come to minister among us, most recently the Grays were here in February as part of our On Mission Celebration. In recent years the churches and the association have provided funds to build chapels in Brazil.
Our current team will be involved with a new church plant. During the week a chapel will be constructed. The team will be reaching out in the community doing a variety of events which aim to reach our unsaved. Then at the end of the week there will be a celebrative worship and dedication of the new chapel. If it goes as it has in past years, several hundred persons will pray to receive Christ as their Savior and Lord. Please pray for the team daily.
Today the Brazil Baptist Convention has well over one million members in 6,000 congregations. Certainly it has grown through the years. But here our Alabama Convention has about as many members in 3,400 congregations. Brazil has about 200 million citizens. Alabama has about 4 million. So there is work to do there. As there is here.
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