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Cartoon tract fills void to reach Brazilian children

VITORIA, Brazil (BP)–Missionary Scott Pittman opens the gate and walks into the dusty front yard. Maria Luzia dos Santos and her daughter, Rafaela, 7, greet him in Portuguese.
They’ve been expecting Pittman, who works with New Palestine Baptist Mission near their home in a Vitoria, Brazil, “favela” (slum). He’s here to talk with Rafaela about her decision to accept Christ, made during a neighborhood showing of the “Jesus” film.
Pittman, a missionary of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, sits outdoors beside Rafaela. He shows her a four-color tract called “Do you know the way to heaven?”
He points to cartoon figures of children walking down a path, their “guide” a book-shaped character. Rafaela reads along as the children learn they’re lost without Jesus. Rafaela says she’s sure she wants to follow Jesus, a commitment her mother made earlier.
Children’s ministry isn’t a big part of Pittman’s assignment in Vitoria, a port city of about 1.3 million people where he works in a ministry to international seafarers who dock there. But when he and his wife, Joyce, both from Memphis, Tenn., moved there as new missionaries in 1992, God called him to help reach Brazilian kids for Christ.
Pittman then was coordinator of an evangelism plan for Brazil’s Espirito Santo state. He discovered Brazilian Baptists had no evangelistic tract for children.
“The Lord began to speak to me about this,” recalls Pittman. He started with a children’s tract he’d used while a pastor in Kentucky.
While fellow missionaries liked the idea, they said the translated American tract “was too long and wordy for Brazilian children,” he says.
Refining the concept, Pittman secured a commitment for production funds from the organization of IMB missionaries in Brazil. Then he tried to turn over the project to others who had more experience in children’s work, but no one picked up on it. “I was ready to forget it,” he admits. “But the Lord kept reminding me that this was something he wanted done.”
So he kept at it. He got the idea of using a talking Bible and sketched some rough drafts. He turned over the sketches to a desktop publishing expert who worked with an artist to design the tract. The artist created the cartoon children, and Pittman — with help from Brazilian Baptist Pastor Antonio Marques — wrote new text.
“When I saw the children, I just fell in love with them,” says Pittman’s wife, Joyce. “They have such a personality, and so does the Bible (character). You can see how it would really appeal to children.”
Students from Baptist Theological Seminary of Espirito Santo — where Pittman teaches — tried out the tract during a mission trip to neighboring Minas Gerais state. They gave it to children during evangelistic visitation and led a Vacation Bible School using the publication’s title — “The Way to Heaven” — as a theme. Pittman saw several children there receive Christ.
In Rio de Janeiro, the tract went over especially well with some women students who had taken a Christian clowning class. After IMB missionary Margaret Johnson recruited them to help with a children’s outreach program at her church, she showed them Pittman’s tract.
“In the providence of the Lord, the (clowning) students the year before had written a play called, ‘How do you get to heaven?'” Johnson recalls.
The clowns now perform that skit monthly during “Afternoon of Happiness,” a children’s outreach in an upscale high-rise area of Rio. After the show, they give Pittman’s tracts to the children. “We have contact with people who would never come near an evangelical church,” says Johnson.
Like Pittman, she says children’s work isn’t her expertise. But she knows a good thing when she sees it. “The tract is so beautifully done,” she says. “It really catches people’s attention.”
And children in Brazil are coming to know the Lord because an IMB missionary was faithful to God’s leading.

    About the Author

  • Mary E. Speidel