111 years of pentecost in the Amazon: Assembly of God Church takes actions to improve Marajó's HDI

A centennial faith to change the heart of the Amazon had about a thousand people in Marajó

Rosivaldo Almeida, for O Liberal / Translated by Silvia Benchimol and Ewerton Branco (ETMULTI/UFPA)

I’ve learned how to read by thumbing through the Bible pages. I had just converted to  Assembly of God and I dreamed about being able to talk about God, in an afternoon of praise, at home. One day, I was finally able to understand the words [of the holy book]. I am eternally grateful”, says Joana Albuquerque, 75 years old. The retired woman’s narrative is filled with colors by the movement of another small boat, taking entire families to worship in the modest church installed in Furo do Quaquajó – a stretch of water by which a community in the interior of Melgaço lives. Melgaço is a municipality in the Marajó archipelago with­­­ a population of 28,000 inhabitants located at 13 hours (250 kilometers) distance by boat from Belém do Pará.

It wouldn't even take that much to frame her euphoria. Dona Joana remembers everything with delight. For her, the particular initiation into a more spiritual world, at a certain point in her life, was like having been offered an unforgettable gift. And her experience is intertwined with those of several people from thousands of communities in the Amazon, who this year, once again, celebrate the arrival of missionaries Daniel Berg and Gunnar Vingren in Pará, in the early years of the 20th century. The foreigners abandoned an entire life in Sweden, Europe to answer a 'call'. They traveled long distances, crossed the Atlantic, and went on sailing until they founded the first Assembly of God Church in Belém. This story turned 111 this Saturday, June 18, 2022.

(Igor Mota / O Liberal)

Their act was a proof of faith, which continues to be replicated and propagated for over a century. In the most remote corners, the 'love of God' is present – it lives even in places where the Internet is not efficient yet, electricity is not a reality, and distances are surpassed only by means of outboard motorboats or by the force of the arms and oars used in small boats. For many, it represented outreaching those who were further away – thus, an unquestionable legacy. A true heritage left by the two Swedish missionaries to the region.

Precisely to honor this heritage, and to mark the Assembly of God anniversary’s agenda in the Amazon, more than a thousand volunteers were mobilized in a social action aimed at Melgaço. On June 14th and 15th, the so-called 'Humanitarian Impact' brought together doctors, dentists, psychologists, nutritionists, teachers, social workers, bricklayers, seamstresses, bakers and other professionals. The goal was to act towards the reduction of extreme poverty in the region, offering consultations, issuing documents, donating food, medicines, water, clothes, hygiene items and even furniture and houses, built for the neediest people in the municipality.

Samuel Câmara (Igor Mota / O Liberal)

The initiative was not punctual. The organization intends to extend the action for a decade, aiming at improving the quality of life and local social and economic development. Melgaço has the worst performance in Brazil regarding the parameters of the human development index (HDI). The municipality has a score of 0.418 – on a scale of 0 to 1 – according to data from Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE, 2010) [Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics. “We will leave our humanitarian base there and it will remain until the municipality no longer has the worst HDI in Brazil”, plans the president of the Assembly of God Church in Belém, Pastor Samuel Câmara.

The assistance model proposed for the Marajó Archipelago has been attempted successfully elsewhere before. Pastor Orivaldo Frota, who has been working in the Assembly of God for 23 years and coordinates the churches in the Terra Firme neighborhood, one of the poorest in Belém has witnessed these benefits. For him, one of the most remarkable moments of his ministerial life occurred when the church celebrated its 90th anniversary. Touched by the Holy Spirit, according to Frota, church members planned actions to change the reality of the residents of the area “After the invigorating campaign in Tucunduba, the place was never the same. The area became the “Dock” for the communities of Terra Firme. Anyone who visited Tucunduba before and sees it today, understands how impressive the transformation was”, says the pastor.

“The Assembly of God aims at loving and caring for people. It has always been a church of the people, of the community, of humble groups. It is a heritage of the city of Belem. It resembles Pará. It exudes the smell of our land”, summarizes Samuel Câmara. He also emphasizes it was precisely in a welcoming, inclusive and very simple way that the Pentecostalism of the Assembly of God became a world reference, with the first evangelical church proposing to explore the immensity of the Amazon.

Persevering in Faith

The so-called Pentecostalism is a Christian movement sustained by three basic principles: Jesus saves, heals and baptizes. And this understanding of the rite of baptism shows an original character when compared to other baptism practices, such as the one practiced by the Catholic Church. It involves respect towards what is conceived as 'gifts' and what is called 'baptism in the Holy Spirit' – which can only really take place when it involves 'speaking in the tongue of angels' during this special religious moment. That's why the Assemblies people support the Assembly of God is also the 'cradle of Pentecost in the Amazon. It is because this church was the pioneer in the region regarding this culture, and in this original experience of spiritual 'search'.

(Igor Mota / O Liberal)

This journey is certainly unsuccessful when it is not illuminated and warmed by the experience of true love for others. While walking towards the water source that quenches the thirst of our souls, it is also important and urgent to take care of what soothes the ailments, pains and the most poignant material needs of all our brothers. The Humanitarian Aid taken this week to Melgaço has inaugurated a permanent tent that will serve as a basis for assistance and medical consultations over the next ten years. The plan is that the aid will remain until 2032, until a new classification of the Brazilian municipalities by the HDI indicators bring the evidences of this impact.

“I am truly happy and fulfilled. It's a dream come true. Now my children will not be ashamed to reveal where they live”, cried Dona Etelvina, during the quick ceremony involving the donation of houses to needy families in Melgaço. The 47-year-old, self-employed woman is mother of nine children. The family was one of five benefitted with houses 100% built for this purpose by the Assembly of God Church in the municipality. Within a lighthearted atmosphere and the presence of dozens of people, the historic moment was marked by the prayers of Pastors Samuel and Philipe Câmara. There was a plenty of emotion at the time of handing over the keys. Three temples were also inaugurated, with pastors consecrated to lead the missions in Marajó.

In Melgaço, the last days were uncommon. The streets were taken over by several “caravans” of volunteers who experienced the local economy heat up with the movement of cars, motorcycles and people on foot. It was something unexpected and unusual in the lives of those people who are used to a peaceful city. Crowded stores, overfilled restaurants – “I’ve lived to see progress come. I thought I would die without having to say to customers, ‘sorry, but we ran out of food because of the demand’. Yeah, that’s happened. I was happy. Now I know I can dream of being a great entrepreneur”, cheered up Márcia Lobato, owner of a modest restaurant located next to the coast board of the city.

(Igor Mota / O Liberal)

The delivery of basic food items and hygiene kits also agitated the city. Volunteer teams visited houses, bringing the Word of God and prayers to many families, but most of them only received the kit after waiting for hours in a line, under the harsh sun. When the sacrifice was over, a feeling of gratitude remained on the tip of their tongues. “I wish this could happen every week. It would be essential for us not to be hungry and to have at least rice and beans to eat”, said Arcângela da Silva, 51 years old, rural worker who is currently unemployed.

The humanitarian action was also like a dream coming true in the life of Pastor Elvis Ribeiro. He remembers that he “met Jesus” when he was still a little child, during an action like this one. Since then, he pleaded God for wisdom, so one day he could help needy people like himself. “Today at 48 years old, this is a childhood dream coming true. Enabling teenagers and young people to escape from extreme poverty means everything to us”.

For Mrs. Suely Barros, one of those people assisted by the humanitarian aid in Marajó, it is impossible to talk about religion without touching the emotional aspect of the 68-year-old retired woman. After years of sadness and agony, one day she rendered herself to God, asking him to give her a new story. “When I was 17 years old, I was kidnapped by a man and held me in confinement. He forced me to be his spouse. I lived years of fear and rage”, says Mrs. Suely.

(Marx Vasconcelos)

“During the prayer of deliverance, the Lord made me see. When my spouse got home, I told him smiling that God had set me free, that I didn’t need a spouse anymore. Christ had entirely filled me up and I was sure He would take care of me”, remembers the retired woman. “I was in peace and surrounded by friends in the church. I made the most correct decision in my life”.

Arrival of Missionaries: decision after divine revelation

“Guided by the Bible and the Holy Spirit” is the motto of the Assembly of God celebrations in 2022. For the second year in a row, members from 600 church temples participated in the elaboration of the handwritten copy of the Bible. In this new edition, there were approximately 31,104 pages, transcribed by hand, simultaneously and individually, in families and groups of youths, adults and children. At least 15,000 people participated directly in the project. The material will be put together and stored in the Assembly of God Museum.

Currently, the Assembly of God gathers more than 22 million members throughout Brazil. The church world history began on November 5, 1910. Baptized in the Holy Spirit in the previous year, in Chicago (USA), the Swedish Daniel Berg and Gunnar Vingren received an orientation from God: they should travel to accomplish a mission in Belém do Pará. And after some Brazilians boarded the steamer boat “Clement”, from Booth Line company, the Swedish missionaries heard the Portuguese language – the same language that would have been announced by the Holy Spirit, through a prophet. Aboard the Clement, Berg and Vingren distributed evangelical folders and books among the crew and passengers.

"Durante a oração de libertação, o Senhor me fez enxergar. (...) Cristo me preenchia por completo e eu tinha certeza de que cuidaria de mim" - Suely Barros, aposentada.

On November 19, 1910, the missionaries arrived in Belém under intense sun heat. They were immediately approached by people who carry luggage. As they didn't have much money, they took their own luggage and left following the population, that went up Presidente Vargas Avenue. They walked several blocks until they saw Praça da República [República square]. They sat on a bench and there they said their first prayer on Brazilian land. They pleaded that the 'new of God' could be lived by them.

On June 18, 1911, Berg and Vingren, with the support of friends, met at Celina Albuquerque's house, on Siqueira Mendes street, in Cidade Velha neighborhood - Belém, and founded the Assembly of God. The church founded there would become a reference in “Revival” and would make Belém the capital of Pentecost. The church became the largest representative in the world of the Pentecostal segment with the message that "Jesus saves, heals, baptizes with the Holy Spirit and will soon return".

(Igor Mota / O Liberal)

In the United States, Daniel Berg used to work as a ship smelter. Here in Belém, he got a job as a boilermaker at Companhia Docas do Pará. With his salary, he supported himself and his friend, Gunnar Vingren. The remaining balance was invested in Portuguese classes with a private teacher. When the two mastered the language, they went out to evangelize in villages, mainly along the Belém-Bragança railroad. They made this journey on foot. Then, they went to Marajó. Not long after that, the Assembly of God reached large urban centers in the South and Southeast regions of Brazil, such as Porto Alegre, São Paulo and Belo Horizonte. In 1922, it reached in Rio de Janeiro.

“For us, Daniel Berg and Gunnar Vingren are the men who, without hesitation, obeyed God's call. Long before the Assembly of God was founded, on the spiritual plane, God had already written this story”, summarizes Pastor Samuel Câmara.

Help for the most vulnerable people overcomes borders

A missionary church, with a vigorous presence in South America, Africa, Asia and other countries, where it holds international missions, the Assembly of God provides various services to needy communities in the Metropolitan Region of Belém and riverine municipalities. With the mission of “Building and Remodeling homes”, it supports people who live in social vulnerability, in precarious housing conditions, either by erecting or renovating houses – benefits that have already provided decent housing to 149 families.

(Marx Vasconcelos)

In the “Mission Against Hunger”, it helps families in extreme poverty, with the donation of 300 basic food baskets daily. Meanwhile, “Mission More Pure Milk” collaborates to save the lives of premature and vulnerable babies, with 70 breast milk collection places, installed in church temples around Belém, in partnership with the Fire Department and the Hospital Santa Casa de Misericórdia do Pará.  Another social assistance front is the aid to Venezuelan immigrants, providing shelter to approximately 80 people.

Supported by radio and television broadcasting by Rede Boas Novas channel, and projects on the internet, the Assembly of God has also spread the Bible words in different parts of the world.

Tex edition by Lázaro Magalhães and Camila Moreira

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