Philippians 1:2 “Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Grace Baptist Church in Boa Vista, Brazil had its beginning through the directing of the Lord and through necessity upon our part. When Jane and I arrived in Brazil in 1986 we had been married for two years and we were looking forward to one day seeing our family grow. Time went by and we began to wonder if it was in the Lord’s plan for us to have children. Imagine our surprise after seven years of marriage when Jane discovered she was expecting! Well, our good heavenly father blessed us with Kelsey and then two years less nine days later Laura came into the world and then two years less nine days later along came Bethany! On our first term on the Brazil field we were free to travel to remote places, camp out and preach to our heart’s content. With the arrival of Kelsey and Laura we included two more hammocks and continued our interior ministries without hardly missing a beat. The girls loved to take their baths in the brooks and drink the strong sweet coffee offered to us when we visited in the homes. With the arrival of Bethany things began to change, not because of her, but now Jane was homeschooling Kelsey and Laura. I discovered that more and more I was traveling to the villages alone and leaving my family at home. Jane and I always felt that everyone in the family should be involved in the ministry and if that was the case then there would have to be a change in the near future. We began to pray that if it was the Lord’s will, we could start a church, right in the capital, Boa Vista.
Jane and I began to search throughout Boa Vista, a city of about 200,000 inhabitants back in 1997, to see if there was area needing a new church. There were already six Baptist churches and congregations in the city but there was plenty of areas for another. We found many places of opportunity and possible ministry, but to where was God directing us? One weekend we were invited to speak at a Macushi congregation called Guariba (Howler monkey) that was close to the Venezuelan border. After preaching to the brethren we took down our hammocks, packed the truck and headed back out the three-kilometer trail to the main highway. Walking along the trail was a young couple who asked if we could give them a ride to the city. Back in the 80’s and 90’s we often gave rides to interior folks in the back of our pickup. This was pretty much the only way for them to travel at the time. If it rained during the trip they just pulled a tarp over themselves and we continued on the way. When we arrived in Boa Vista we stopped at the entrance to the city and I asked the couple where they were wanting to go. They replied, “Bairro União.” I thought, “I wonder where that is? I’d like to see this part of town.” So I told them to stay in the truck and I would take them. We arrived in the new suburb which had one paved street and very few houses. Altemir and Silvana Pereira lived in a small board house on an unpaved dirt street. As we dropped them off I asked if they would be interested in having us come by and holding a Bible study. They responded that they would and we planned for the following Thursday evening.
Altemir and Silvana Pereira were Seventh Day Adventists and they opened up their home for us and invited their neighbors as well. In time they made decisions and the Bible study began to grow enough that we decided that it was time to find a property of our own. Nearby was a nice corner lot on the paved main street for sale. We were able to buy it and put up a barb wire fence to keep squatters out. At this time there were very few houses in the new suburb and the closest church was a kilometer away. One day we invited a fellow missionary to go with us and see the new area of the city and the property that we had bought. He looked around and then commented, “Well, if it doesn’t work out you can always sell the property!” The amazing thing was how fast the suburb filled up with new homes and then the hustle and bustle of activity filled the air.
Soon we built a small building, set a date to begin the work and in March of 1998 we held a three-day conference to launch the church plant. We had a lot of visitors on the Friday and Saturday from the other Baptist churches in town but on Sunday the attendance was more realistic, 20 visitors in the morning and 40 at night. We praise the Lord for souls that were saved and for spiritual growth in hearts and lives during the years in Boa Vista.
One of the most unusual church services’ we had was at Christmas time the first year. We were having our Christmas program and the little building was filled to capacity. Jane’s parents, Ray and Tena Dell had come to visit and we were excited to have Dr. Dell minister the word that evening. The day before, Jane’s mom had had a bad headache and she said, “I think that it must be going to rain.” Jane replied, “No mom, it’s dry season here, it doesn’t rain this time of the year.” Well, before the Christmas program ended it began to rain with thunder and lightning, a heavy downpour like nothing I had ever seen in Brazil. The rain was so loud on the roof that we couldn’t hear anything and we couldn’t even go home. We sang hymns for awhile to pass the time thinking surely this will soon be over. The whole suburb, being level ground, was under several inches of water. Finally, when it was almost midnight I started driving people home, carload after carload. About one-thirty in the morning the storm finally passed and we were able to drive home. The next day it was on the news that the storm was the heaviest rain fall in Boa Vistas’ recorded history. Two cars were washed away and the occupants were never found.
When we first started the congregation there was a bar directly across the street from us. They seemed to quiet down somewhat for our Sunday services but they had no respect for our Tuesday night prayer meetings. Huge speakers were set up in the street facing the church and the heavy beat came in with deafening force. Many times it was not possible to continue with the preaching because no one could hear me. When it became intolerable I would say, “Ok, lets all pray individually and then we will go home.” We had asked the bar owner to lower the volume different times to no avail so we prayed that the Lord would resolve the problem for us. A few weeks later it was perfectly quiet and we were able to have normal services again. After a couple of weeks, I asked a neighbor close to the church, why the bar had all of a sudden gone quiet and he replied, “Oh, you never heard, the bar owner died. Someone came in with a club and killed him.”
In 1999, Pastor Wellington, newly graduated from the Bible school in Manaus, and his wife Rosa and young son came to assist us in the ministry. They were a great blessing in the work, helping us establish the new ministry and Pr. Wellington became the first pastor. It was during their time with us that we built our new building and organized. Pr. Wellington always said, “I was saved by grace and now the Lord called me to pastor at Grace Baptist.”
Daily Vacation Bible Schools were amazing for us. We didn’t even have to do a lot of visitation, just put a sign up in front of the church saying when it would be. Sometimes we had over two hundred children and they would keep us hopping. Many families who came to church were the fruit of the DVBS.
One of the challenges of the work was the number of the families coming to church who were not legally married. Many had been living together for years and had large families. We began working with them, helping them get their documents in order and doing most of the footwork to make it happen. We would drive them to the courthouse for the ceremony on day the judge would be there, be their witnesses and then take them out for ice cream following! On the following Sunday at church they would be presented to the group as the newly married couple. It was all part of helping them grow spiritually and getting them involved in the ministry of the local church. We helped so many people get married that the courthouse gave us a reduced rate to help us with the costs. One day the judge took me aside and personally thanked me for all that we were doing in the lives of these families.
One Sunday evening in the middle of the church service a man dressed in a hospital gown walked in with an intravenous still attached to his arm. He walked almost to the front of the church and sat down on the bench that our girls, Laura and Bethany, were sitting on. The girls scooted right to the end of the bench keeping their distance. Pastor Wellington was preaching that night and I was sitting two rows back from the fugitive from the hospital. I wondered what I should do. If I get up it might make a scene and as long as he sat still maybe there wouldn’t be a problem. Well, that didn’t last long as he told the girls to get out of there and he laid down on the bench to sleep! I went up to him and said, “Sir, would you come with me?” He got right up and followed me outside and I asked him, “Would you like me to drive you to the hospital?” “I would”, he responded. I got him in the truck, buckled him up and drove the ten kilometers to the hospital. When we arrived I took him to the emergency and helped the gentleman out of the truck. A Military Policeman came up to us and asked me, “So where did you find him?” I gathered that that wasn’t the first time he had snuck out of the hospital. Today the work continues strong and the Lord continues to bless at Grace Baptist under the leadership of Pastor Aureliano Colaço. Grace Baptist truly was founded by God’s grace.