FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–“Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.”
With a simple philosophy drawn from Matthew 9:35, Nilson do Amaral Fanini ministers among the squalid and drug-infested slums of Brazil. The former president of the Baptist World Alliance said Jesus preached “the total gospel to the total man … soul, mind and body.” So he does the same.
Fanini, a 1958 graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, is the pastor of the 8,000-member First Baptist Church of Neteroi, Brazil.
In an interview during Feb. 15 visit at Southwestern, Fanini credited the size and success of the church to strict obedience to the example set by Jesus in the first gospel: He preached, he taught and he healed.
A missionary from Texas planted the church in Neteroi, but quite a lot has changed since the church’s inception there.
The church now sponsors national television and radio programs and crusades and also operates a seminary in addition to its Sunday School.
Such efforts touch on the first two elements of Jesus’ example in Matthew 9, Fanini noted. The third element in the example — meeting the needs of the body–is extremely important in a Third World country, Fanini said.
“Every time Jesus met somebody, first he touched the body,” he said.
His church in Neteroi is seeking to follow Jesus’ lead. The church currently works with 1,200 children from the slums of Neteroi who would be forced into drug trafficking if not for their assistance, Fanini said.
“We have a bakery, so we give bread to the children to sell it, not drugs.”
The church also sponsors a school where the poor can learn professional skills. Approximately 5,000 people attend the school, while others in prison receive instruction in carpentry and computer science. Fanini hopes the trades will promote lives free of crime as the inmates return to society.
The church distributes 52 tons of food per year, he said, and also offers clinics with more than 118 doctors. The pattern has achieved enough success to garner the attention of ministries in dozens of other Third World countries.
Fanini has been pastor of the church for 38 years, but the church is far from the only thing that keeps his schedule full. Believing that God gave him the gift of evangelism, he has used that gift in preaching in 109 countries around the world.
He preaches fluently in Portuguese, Spanish and English but has also preached in German and Italian, leading more than 1,000 crusades in Brazil, Latin America and all over the world.
The largest crusade where he preached was in Nagaland, India, where in one service, approximately 750,000 people heard the gospel message. Fanini said approximately 40,000 people made decisions to follow Christ that day.
Fanini also recalled another crusade in Cuba. He preached to thousands but no one came forward. “The secret police were down front, so the people knew that anyone who converted to Christianity would face losing their job,” Fanini said.
He also was given the opportunity of sharing the gospel personally with Fidel Castro. Castro, he said, had read much of the Bible but still refused the message. The Cuban people, however, were more open to the gospel.
“The Cubans don’t believe anymore in the revolution,” Fanini said. “They know today that the revolution is not the solution for them. Jesus Christ is the solution.”
While traveling around the world and meeting with numerous presidents and dignitaries, evangelism has remained his focus, Fanini said, including his presidency of the Baptist World Alliance from 1995-2000 and his recent election for the 11th time to the presidency of the Brazilian Baptist Convention.
“The church must do evangelism and missions,” he declared.
Behind his efforts at evangelism and his commitment to leadership in Baptist life is his seminary education.
“Right here [at Southwestern] is where I got my vision for the world,” Fanini said. “I didn’t know that God would use it in such a way, praise the Lord.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: EVER-EVANGELISTIC.