SANTA BÁRBARA D’OESTE, Brazil (BP) – Baptist work in Brazil has grown from a small group of people 150 years ago to 15,000 congregations and 3.5 million people today.
Last week, Southern Baptists in Brazil reflected on that history and celebrated the 150th anniversary of the first known Baptist church planted in the country.
A variety of speakers and guests participated in a three-hour celebration Friday, Sept. 10, commemorating the first Baptist church which is believed to have been planted there on that date in 1871.
International Mission Board missionaries Scott and Joyce Pittman have served in Brazil for nearly 25 of those 150 years.
The Pittmans were appointed as missionaries to Brazil in 1991 and served until 2007, when they returned to the states where Scott worked on staff at the Kentucky Baptist Convention. They returned to Brazil as missionaries in 2013.
The couple attended the celebration as representatives of the International Mission Board and the American settlers who planted the original church in 1871. They presented a brief greeting from IMB president Paul Chitwood, which was translated to the crowd in Portuguese.
The Pittmans now serve as the leaders of 13 IMB missionaries in the city of São Paulo, Brazil. Scott Pittman said is it amazing to see the work God has done in the country over hundreds of years through a small group of people.
“It’s a source of inspiration to think not just about what they did but they were just a handful of people and now there are over 3 million Baptists here,” he said.
The Brazilian Baptist Convention was founded in 1907, and there are currently 33 regional Baptist conventions in the country.
Pittman said the history of Baptist work in Brazil began when a group of American settlers came to live there a few years after the Civil War. The first Baptist Church was planted a few years later in 1871, and the congregation sent letters to the Foreign Mission Board (now IMB) asking them to send missionaries to the country.
The first Baptist missionaries sent to Brazil, William and Anne Bagby, would arrive in 1881.
The church where the Pittmans attend, which recently celebrated its 87th anniversary, was planted by the son of William and Anne.
Pittman said this is one of many examples of the generational impact of Baptists in Brazil. He then offered a word of encouragement to missionaries who feel as though they are not seeing tangible fruit in their ministry.
“Sometimes we think what we do is nothing or nothing is ever going to come of it, but who knows about 100 years from what we’re doing,” Pittman said. “It’s also a sense of pride knowing that you’re part of the continued story of Baptists here in Brazil and that you had a part in that story.
“You may not see it (fruit from ministry) in your lifetime, and there were many people in the Bible who never got to see what God had promised them.”
Pittman emphasized these Baptists were just ordinary Christians who prioritized their faith by starting a church in a new place, and the Gospel effects are still be felt hundreds of years later.
“They (the American settlers) didn’t have to do that; they could have just kept to themselves. … Among the other things they brought with them, they also brought their faith in God and took it upon themselves to call upon the IMB (Foreign Mission Board) to send missionaries,” Pittman said.
“They weren’t missionaries, they just continued their faith where they were.”