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Brazil’s 2010 Census revealed that evangelicals in Brazil had reached nearly a quarter (22.2%) of the total population. Most expect this number to be even larger in the next census. In the most optimistic estimates, by 2040, Brazil’s evangelical population will surpass that of Catholics (who made up 64.4% of the population in the 2010 data).
As the number of evangelicals continues to rise, the community has the opportunity to grapple with the legacy it will leave on Brazil. What concrete impact should its presence have on the country? Perhaps more important, how will the lives of those who suffer the most change as a result of the expanding influence of evangelicals?
As the number of evangelicals grows, I expect the impact of our Christian witness on the country to also grow. But what will be the focus of our testimony: increasing our numbers in the halls of power or proclaiming the kingdom and caring for those who suffer?
Hunger in Brazil and in the Bible
Last July, Brazil returned to the United Nations’ Hunger Map eight years after it had first left. Today, at least 61 million Brazilians face some form of food insecurity, and 4 percent of the population suffers from chronic hunger. The data is alarming, especially since Brazil is a major global food producer. There is plenty of food; it just doesn’t make it to everyone’s table.
Hunger is a global problem, a part of human history since time immemorial. Famine and starvation show up numerous times in the Bible—along with God’s provision. In Genesis 46, God’s hand is evident in spurring Jacob and his sons to go to Egypt. The country was governed by the thought-to-be-dead Joseph, who, in a strategic move, had turned Egypt into the great granary of the world.
This theme recurs in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32). In this parable, Jesus mentions an extreme famine that befell the region where the wayward son had fled after spending the entire share of his inheritance. We see the father’s mercy on that young man who was suffering the effects of hunger both physically (from the scarcity of food) and spiritually (from the separation from his father).
In Deuteronomy 15, God teaches his people about the year of remission, when creditors were to forgive their debtors. Here we see God’s concern and care that his people maintain a decent standard of living for all, in which no one suffers for want of essential needs. Verse 11 gives very clear instruction in this regard: “Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.”
Economic, social, energy, and hunger insecurity and crises are the fruit of the Fall. But this does not mean that God has lost control of history or that he has abandoned humanity to its own suffering. So, if God does not abandon us in pain, what should be the role of the Christian in the face of suffering?
The growing influence of evangelicals (as a result of their numerical growth) has led many in the church to be seduced by dreams of power and control and, with this, to forget the main focus of their testimony: love. However, the church in Brazil must not nurture a triumphal vision of growth and influence.
Christians were not called, rescued, saved, and set apart by the Lord to implement a system of power. Paul makes it very clear in Philippians 3:20 that “our citizenship is in heaven.” Our responsibility is to proclaim the kingdom not only by preaching the Word but also by shifting the reality of sin’s curse to display the beauty and grandeur of the Lord.
Hunger is one example of the devastating effects of sin. Until that perfect time when we will live in the future kingdom of God, we will struggle with sin and suffering. Beyond fulfilling our roles as citizens, we need to understand our roles as servants of God. To do this, we must understand what God, through his servants, has done in the world in harmony with his perfect purpose. There are certainly good examples of Christian witness.
Christian witness in the midst of those who suffer
Ten years ago, Georg Emmerich, a Methodist pastor, opened the Igreja nas Ruas (Church in the Streets) in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, a state in the country’s impoverished northeast. Emmerich believed that too often the church was limited to its four walls when its ministry really began outside them.
When the number of homeless people began to increase in Natal, Emmerich and other believers decided to start a project aimed at serving daily meals and offering a mobile bath service to the community. Since 2013, they have provided 40,000 meals and 10,400 baths.
In mid-2020, he and other volunteers installed washbasins at various locations around greater Natal so that homeless people could wash their hands and have more protection in the fight against COVID-19. In addition to these actions, the church engages in evangelization and discipleship ministries and helps those struggling with addiction enter rehab.
Sinvaldo Queiroz founded Casa da Vida (House of Life), a ministry in Vitória da Conquista, Bahia, also in the northeast, that provides accommodations for impoverished patients traveling far distances to receive treatment from the city’s hospital. He and his Baptist congregation have also organized efforts like Juntos pela Bahia (United for Bahia) in response to the flooding caused by heavy rains in late 2021 and early 2022. In partnership with the Brazilian Evangelical Alliance, they received volunteers from churches throughout Brazil who helped distribute food and water, showing compassion and solidarity. To Queiroz, the power of an engaging witness from gospel-centered faith communities that understand the integrality of the mission, while not always measurable, makes an important difference.
Many Christian organizations are also involved in compassion efforts. Last year, the Brazilian Baptist Convention’s National Mission Board distributed more than 600 basic food baskets, as well as bottles of mineral water and milk, to low-income families affected by three natural disasters. World Vision partnered with 500 churches and more than 1,200 religious leaders to better serve Brazil’s most impoverished. “We have to reinforce Christ’s message of caring for the poor in our churches,” says Thiago Crucciti, the national director of Visão Mundial Brasil. “We Christians must go out and serve the vulnerable where they are.”
The Cristolândia project, a ministry helping those addicted to drugs, is another great example. (The name—“Christland” in English—is a play on words comparing the project to the Portuguese pejorative Cracolândia or “Crackland,” commonly used to describe large concentrations of drug users.) Created by the Brazilian Baptist Convention’s National Mission Board in 2009, the organization now has more than 40 units in nine states.
Like hunger, drugs are another example of the devastation of sin. Initiatives such as Cristolândia that offer support and evangelization should be replicated by churches everywhere in Brazil. What should unite Christians is Christ and the proclamation of his gospel and his presence in the midst of suffering. After all, he is “God with us,” Immanuel.
More evangelicals, more love, more impact
Hunger, addiction, violence, and other such problems are all symptoms of sin—signs of a society that is sick and estranged from God. Although these evils are not exclusive to Brazil, with such a large evangelical population, we should play a more active role. This includes not only praying, campaigning for public policies, and overseeing the correct use of public resources but also implementing, within our own local communities and organizations, projects that announce the kingdom and alleviate suffering.
One place to start is to evaluate every area of our lives from a Christian worldview and understand that we cannot ignore the impact of sin that surrounds us. To this end, Gerson Pacheco, the former director of ChildFund Brasil, argues that gospel proclamation and social transformation need to go hand in hand but are two distinct interventions.
According to Pacheco, evangelicals fulfill the mandate to proclaim the gospel, but they do not pay as much attention to issues such as hunger and poverty. He claims that the Brazilian evangelical church, in general, is unaware of and does not work with poverty data in Brazil. Because the church fails to implement this data, adopt a methodology, and plan, most of its projects are limited to mere assistencialism. Therefore, its efforts do not generate lasting transformation or social impact.
Social transformation involves not only welfare-type programs but also care and sustainability—which require knowledge, time, and dedication. It is not enough to plant. We must also water, prune, and fertilize if we want to reap fruit and produce sustainability in our initiatives and effectiveness in our testimony.
Evangelical Brazil has much to learn in terms of witness. And it starts by meeting the basic needs of the people around us.
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matt. 25:35–36).
Lucas Meloni is a journalist at Rádio Trans Mundial (RTM) and a communications coordinator for First Baptist Church of São Caetano do Sul. He studies at the São Paulo Baptist College of Theology (FTBSP) and is the author of Escritos de um Suburbano(Writings of a Suburbanite).
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