Inheriting the Cracked Earth

Material poverty and spiritual riches in Brazil's parched Northeast
2003This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

The earth is cracked in paraiba state. The sun burns everything in this remote part of Brazil's Northeast. Despite the many small farms, there is little food. Most people eat once a day, and one person in three is illiterate. The region is the poorest part of the world's most Roman Catholic nation.

But in the tiny town of Itaporanga, the Missionary Baptist Church is holding a fundraiser. A tithe, for most of the church's 25 members, is less than an American dime. Gildário Nevez, the 32-year-old pastor of Missionary Baptist, was born in the village and has never gone to school. "Jesus taught me how to read," Nevez says. "He is sovereign!"

Nevez hosts a radio broadcast on a local station that church members hope to keep on the air with the funds they raise. Radio is the only way church members can regularly hear Nevez preach. Otherwise, many members must walk 20 miles to church in town.

With no cash income, Maria de Lourdes has no tithe to give. Her husband is unemployed. The couple has two young children and rarely enough to eat. She decided to give her rooster, the only thing she owns, as her tithe. But she says, "God has given us so much more."

Training and gaining

In a geographical area four times larger than Texas, evangelicals are scattered among the Northeast's 45 million residents. The region has the fewest number of evangelicals among Brazil's 173 million people. Researchers report that 10 percent of the people in the Northeast are evangelical, compared to a national figure of 16 percent. Yet evangelicals are growing most quickly in the Northeast, at 8.67 percent per year in the last few decades. The Brazilian evangelical movement, largely charismatic, has grown sevenfold during the past 30 years.

Economically, though, ...

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