Southern Baptists Abroad: Sharing the Faith in Nineteenth-Century Brazil

Article excerpt

North-American Protestants came to Brazil in the nineteenth century, during one of the country's most stable times.

Methodist work started in 1836, only fourteen years after Brazil had become independent from Portugal and five years from the abdication of its first emperor, D. Pedro I. Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Congregationalists arrived around 1860, at the height of the reign of D. Pedro's son (Leonard, 1963; Wedeman, 1977). Southern Baptists arrived in 1881, a few years before the country became a Republic (Crabtree and Mesquita 1937-40). Brazil is one of the Southern Baptists' oldest mission fields and to this day the largest by any measure.

At the time when the first Southern Baptist missionary arrived in the country, Brazil was experiencing a surge in modernization. With the expansion of the world market, the sugar-based economy of colonial days gave way to the modern coffee-export system. Power shifted from the Northeast of the country to the South, and slavery gave way to European and North American immigration and free labor (Burns, 1980). The rise of the coffee industry, along with the Paraguayan War (1865-70), boosted Brazil's push for modernization (Bello, 1966; Poppino, 1968).

Demand for faster transportation, reliable communication, and industrial production transformed the country during the second half of the nineteenth century. The foundations for change were laid in the 1840s and '50s, with probusiness legislation, new financial institutions (the commercial code in 1850, and the creation of the Bank of Brazil in 1851), and higher import taxes (Burns, 1980; Poppino, 1968; Viotti da Costa, 1989). Reorganization of credit, faster capital accumulation, and higher import taxes were the right incentive. The results were quite remarkable.

   By 1874, there were approximately 800 miles of tracks.... After 1875,
   construction increased rapidly: in 1875-1879, 1,023 miles of track
   were laid; in 1880-1884, 2,200; in 1885-1889, 2,500. In 1889, then,
   trackage totaled approximately 6,000 miles. Fourteen of the twenty
   provinces had at least some rail service, although most of the
   trackage was concentrated in the Southeast (Burns, 1980:201).

The boost in communications was equally impressive. In 1880, the post office handled 50 million letters; by 1890, it was handling more than 200 million (Bello, 1966). Six months after the arrival of the telegraph, all southern provinces were linked by telegraph lines. In 1874, Brazil was connected to Europe by transoceanic cable. By 1896, telegraph lines had reached as far in the interior as the Amazon in the North and Mato Grosso in the West. From 10 stations with 40 miles of lines transmitting 233 messages in 1861, Brazil jumped to 171 stations with 6,560 miles of lines processing over 600,000 messages in 1896 (Burns, 1980:199). In the 1880s, phone services were available in at least four major cities-Sao Paulo, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, and Campinas. Finally, industrial production grew exponentially. Between 1875 and 1890, factories grew from 175 to more than 600. By 1890, there were more than 50,000 registered industrial workers in the country (Viotti da Costa, 1989:166-67).

The timing of the Southern Baptist arrival in the country could not have been more propitious. Even the growing urban centers were an important factor in allowing the missionaries to spread their message quickly and to reach a relative large segment of the population. Along with that, the United States provided Brazil with a new model for nation-making.

   The Brazilian elites attributed the success of the United States to
   two factors: the preponderance of Europeans in the racial composition
   and the adoption of European ideology, political as well as economic.
   In short, the United States represented in their eyes the triumph of
   progress in the New World and further demonstrated the means of
   achieving it (Burns, 1980:209). …