Taught by the Christian Witness of the Marginalized in Brazil

  by Koinuma Makiko, Kyodan missionary
Recently, Brazil is attracting the world’s attention as a country that is developing economically. Its shadowy areas, however, cannot be easily seen from the outside.
The history of Brazil began in 500 AD when it was “discovered” by the Portuguese. The intrusion of the Europeans resulted in a sharp decrease of the native population and the importation of millions of slaves from Africa. With the collapse of the slave system that had lasted for 300 years, immigrants from approximately 100 countries were introduced, and consequently, a variously mix-blooded, multi-racial, and multi-cultural nation has been formed. Merry, cheerful, and energetic Brazilians are good at living joyfully even with difficulties.
But the negative historical heritage can be seen in the survival of the power structure from the days of colonial control, which is still persistently the basis of society; the existence of a wealthy and powerful class of people who are corrupt and arbitrary; a tremendous gap between the rich and the poor; and the loss of family culture among the innumerable people of poverty. The area of Alto da Bondade in Olinda City in the state of Estado de Pernambuco in the northeastern Brazil, where I have been working since 2009, is one of the places with extremely bad conditions, far removed from the economic development of recent Brazil. In 1987 Pastor Davi Blackburn, a U.S. missionary, built a Methodist church here. Neighboring it is a nursery school, part of a social service to provide free care for the children of poor families. Unfortunately, however, Davi was electrocuted in an unexpected accident in 1992.
I first met Jane Blackburn, the leader of the members of this church, at the meeting of the World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women in Rio de Janeiro in 1996, and we have been good friends since then. My husband and I worked with the Japanese Church in San Paulo during 1996-2006 as missionaries sent by the Kyodan, using the Japanese language to serve the first generation of Japanese immigrants. In ten years, unexpectedly, we were forced to come back to Japan as my husband was suffering from an incurable disease. He passed away in August of that year. He told me, “You need to accomplish your mission as you want,” and left enough inheritance to support my missionary work.
Being left alone, I made up my mind to work with the Brazilian church using no Japanese language since the church has no Japanese members. Moved also by my friend Jane’s earnest request, I formally set off for my new missionary post in Metodista em Alto da Bondade in March 2009. The scenery of Olinda is so beautiful that UNESCO designated it as a historical city. I have heard that the name “Olinda” is derived from the first colonist’s exclamation and means “How beautiful it is!” But the area of Alto da Bondade, where our church stands, is a place extremely far from “beauty.” Along the bumpy roads littered with garbage, in an unsanitary environment without even a sewer, live poor people who are somehow managing their everyday lives on scant income. Youth, having no hope for the future, easily become slaves to drugs, with its consequences of frequent violence and murders.
In this area overflowing with illness, drugs, alcoholism, violence, maltreatment, and domestic troubles, numerous churches of various denominations and sizes stand side by side, crying for miracles and the help of Jesus Christ. In fact, most of such churches bind the poor people with sundry rules, get them infatuated with church gatherings, and siphon off a great amount of money from them. Their understanding of Christian belief is that of a super-individualistic desire for miracles that never aims for the formation of a community in order to revive human dignity. Instead, these churches seem to enslave people in the name of Christian belief.
In such an environment, we want our church, which consists of some 25 members, to be the one that testifies about the love of God to the people of the area by loving God, ourselves, and our neighbors and by practicing Christian belief. The minister is compelled to be responsible for another church in a neighboring area, and few church members can take leadership responsibility. There are no material, economic, or intellectual resources at all for the church. The church does have one thing, however, which is the simple and strong belief that “God certainly helps us,” and that “Jesus is always with us and gives us strength.” We associate with each other with a humane, affectionate heart and walk together, helping each other, honoring God wholeheartedly, enjoying small things, and thanking God. I marvel at the witness of the members, who never fail to donate literally ten percent of their income to the church, however small the amount may be.
I am a missionary, but I always feel that the Brazilian people are teaching me how to believe in God. How happy I am to believe in Jesus Christ! As hard as I can, I am praying and preaching. More than 180 children, youth, and adults gather together for the winter Bible class, held once a year. Usually the fund to support it is somehow endowed from outside of the church. Still insufficient in understanding the Portuguese language, I accomplish very little in the service by the way of words. Every time I preach a sermon in Portuguese, which is once a month, I endure birth pangs as if I were dying, but as soon as it is finished I am filled with gratitude and pleasure, and revive.
I pray and hope that my presence here may result in a religiously, materially, and economically useful relationship of mutual help between the church in Alto da Bondade and the church in Japan. (Tr. AY)
日本キリスト教団宣教師 小井沼眞樹子