Chapter 2: Itinerating in Brazil

 •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 8
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SOME of the readers of these pages might like to take a mental ride with the writer, visiting some of the places of interest in the “roca” (cultivated country parts) of Brazil. For the purpose of this journey, the writer will be hereinafter known as the Preacher.
The Preacher is mounted on a horse, carrying leather saddle-bags containing his kit for the journey. He is accompanied by a native brother (not burdened with any luggage) who serves as guide or servant, and may possibly be from the last stopping-place. He starts out after breakfast, and journeys on until late in the afternoon, traveling for twenty to forty miles in the tropical sun, over hills, down dales, passing coffee farms, through forests, crossing streams and rivers, negotiating mud holes until at about 4 p.m. he arrives at the next stopping place. The arrival is announced by four or five dogs which rush out as though to devour horses and men, barking furiously, until a small boy comes and orders them hark at which they retire with their tails between their legs, and forthwith recognize the newcomers as friends. This house, let us say, is that of a farmworker. It is made of a rough framework of wood, with clay walls and clay floor. The furniture consists of seats made of blocks of wood; and trestles with planks laid on top, serve as the best beds. Other beds are made of straw mats which will be laid on the ground when the proper hour arrives for the weary to rest. If the owner of the house is accustomed to hold meetings there, he will probably have also a couple of backless forms, and possess a box on legs to act as a table. The seating accommodation is amplified by resting planks on blocks of wood or on boxes.
Having dismounted from the horses (which are unharnessed, groomed, given a feed of maize, and led to the pasture by a son of the house) we (the Preacher and company) enter the house, and the father, mother, and possibly a dozen children advance to shake hands, including the eighteen months old child, whilst the baby, a year younger, carried by an older sister, is made to extend his arm and shake hands.
After a time, we are each given a small cup of black coffee. The evening meal or dinner will take about two hours to prepare, the family having already dined. This meal consists of three items, black beans, rice and a tasteless porridge made from flour of maize, and named “angu.” The first two are mixed with pig fat and the latter lacks salt. The same menu serves for the two daily meals. When all is ready, we are invited to enter the kitchen, which is usually the largest apartment. The fireplace has no chimney and some of the smoke goes out through a hole in the wall made for the purpose, the rest wanders over the house or rises to the roof and lazily disappears. The result is that the rafters have festoons of blackened cobwebs, and soot adheres to the wooden tiles. The head of the house gives thanks for the food, and then the guests are invited to step up to the fireplace and help themselves to the good things directly from the pots. The fireplace is a long tunnel with a plate on top with holes for each of the pots. Wood is the fuel and burns under the plate, and if freshly put on, the guests’ eyes have to smart for it. Each ladles out the three essentials on to an enameled plate, and armed with a very soft fork, retires to a wooden block, and sitting thereon with plate on the knees, proceeds to enjoy his dinner. The dogs (now close friends), perhaps some cats, certainly a number of hens, and at times some pigs “lie at the catch,” and when aught overflows, there is a scramble. The competition is keener if there should happen to be a little black pork added to the menu.
Before the meal is over, the folk are gathering in for the meeting. The ladies all make for the kitchen, and join the family in watching the guests eat their dinner. The greasy repast being over, coffee is handed round in little cups, which makes the guests truly thankful.
One or two tiny lamps are lighted which give much smoke and a dim light. The forms and planks are arranged for the meeting. The room and every part of the house is filled with folk, many of whom have come several miles. The first part of the meeting is taken up with singing hymns or teaching a new chorus until all are present. All who arrive shake hands with all who arrived before them, not omitting the smallest child, and often repeat the process on going away. If there are fifty folk, each of the newcomers, including the preacher, will have to shake hands fifty times. After a prayer, for which all stand up, the preaching begins. The lamp gives a poor light, and the smoke of it torments the preacher at times. The atmosphere is warm and more suited to perspiration than respiration, but these disadvantages are often forgotten as the preacher warms to his subject. The people listen attentively but the preacher realizes their ignorance, and inability to take in much. The preaching has to be of a very simple homely sort. What is the result? Can such a simple talk have any effect? Humanly speaking, to expect that a meeting will have much effect, would seem foolish. One has to remember that the Gospel is the Power of God, and the changed lives of such as our host and others, are the proofs of the power. As this is realized, one feels that it is worthwhile to go on sowing the seed, carrying the message over vale, and hill, rejoicing to be a bearer of “Glad tidings of good things.”
The meeting closes with a hymn and prayer, and then there is a very long pause. It will probably take over half an hour before the last one leaves the house, after shaking hands. Then the Preacher is shown to his bedroom. He is fortunate if it possesses a door. He sleeps on a straw mattress placed upon boards, all too short. If he has only to endure the hardship of the bed, he will be fortunate, for there are often a host of underlying annoyances, over which we must draw the bed cover. Morning comes, and the preacher rises at dawn, and unless he has brought a washbasin, he must perform his ablutions at a trough behind the house, and shave before an admiring crowd. Coffee, and then ample time before the first meal. This is a repetition of last night’s. After this the family have “culto domestico” (family worship). For this they take down the text calendar, which also gives the reference for the Scripture Union portions. This is read, all the family standing round, and the passage is commented on, and then the head of the house prays.
The horses have been harnessed and are ready, so the preacher, after a brief prayer, says goodbye to the family, mounts and rides away.
After a long journey, the next stop, let us say, is at a large farmhouse of a well-to-do farmer. If luxury is expected, it is not realized. We enter the front “sala,” a large room with two huge backless forms, bare wooden floors, bare whitewashed walls, that need rewashing. The one ornament is the calendar, or perhaps there may be one or two advertisements on the walls, all placed crookedly. The dining room has a long table and a backless form at each side. Here in due course we dine, that is the men folk and guests, and the ladies wait for the leavings, of which they partake in the kitchen. We have the same dishes as yesterday, but probably a fatted fowl has been added. We then have coffee, after wiping our mouths on the tablecloth.
We then go back to the front sala where they are preparing for the meeting. The room may hold over seventy people, and will be packed in every available corner. The farmer may produce a better lamp with a broken glass chimney, and the room is more airy than last night’s. At times we call where there is a Casa de Oracão (Meeting Hall) and in that case the meeting will be held there, which is still more commodious. So the work proceeds, though the visits of the Preacher cannot be very frequent. The Gospel spreads more through native preaching, which though not usually very gifted, is more constant. Everywhere there is an “open door.”
On visiting places where there are established Meetings, the Preacher is often consulted about local difficulties. Whilst his advice is by no means binding, it is treated with respect. It is best for the local brethren to act on their own faith and responsibility, but they require helping with advice. They have the Holy Spirit to guide them, but by means of the Word, of which they are often very ignorant. The Preacher has more knowledge of the Scriptures, and more experience, and can often restrain the believers by his advice from some foolish or unscriptural step. It is always best to point them to the Word as their guide, explaining what the Scriptures say, and they are usually willing to follow its guidance.