from the Christian Research Newsletter, Volume 2, Number 6 (1989), page 8.
The Editor of the Christian Research Newsletter is Ron Rhodes.
To the newcomer arriving after sunset, the beach has a nightmarish quality. Christians immediately sense the spiritual oppression of the place. There is rhythm everywhere: the dull rush of the waves, the incessant beating of drums, the chanting and rhythmic singing. The filthy sand is strewn with idols and candles. Every few feet there are mediums, their faces grotesquely contorted, falling into violent trances as their "spirit guides" impersonate lurching Indians, African demigods, drooling children, aged slaves, lustful Gypsy wenches, and other entities.
The ghastly scene stretches as far as the eye can see, and towering above the haze is a 15-foot statue of the sea goddess Iemanja, mounted on a large cement pedestal smeared with wax and blackened by the flames of countless candles. In Africa, Iemanja had earlier been portrayed as rotund, black, and adorned with fish. This Brazilian rendition of the goddess, however, is slender, Caucasian, her gaze cold and empty, dressed in a flowing blue dress, pearls falling from her outstretched palms.
Thousands of worshippers dressed in white wade in and out of the diseased waters bearing petitions as well as gifts -- champagne, perfume, flowers, cosmetics, and mirrors -- for this goddess is vain. In centuries past, Iemanja was pleased to receive not only trinkets, but squealing children as well. Tradition says that the offerings that sink to the bottom, she accepts; but those that are tossed back to the beach by the waves, she rejects.
Moving slowly through the crowds by twos are Christians, discreetly carrying Bibles and tracts entitled "How to Receive Divine Light." They stop and converse with spiritists and bystanders, asking questions and offering alternatives. Usually, as one believer talks, the other prays silently; sometimes the exchanges last only moments, but often they continue until a hand reaches for a tract. Many are led away from the sand to a quieter place where they can sort things out with a counselor, have their questions answered, pray, and even receive deliverance. Dozens find new life and freedom in Jesus Christ.
The spiritists at the beach are the spiritual heirs of the 3.5 million African slaves imported to Brazil by their Portuguese captors over four centuries ago. Most practice the blend of African, European, and Amerindian spiritism known as Umbanda, which many acknowledge to be the nation's unofficial religion.
Although Brazil is widely known as the world's largest Roman Catholic nation, in truth most of its people are spiritist in orientation -- the greater part of these being involved in Afro-Brazilian religions. An estimated 70 million Brazilians are active spiritists, occasional participants, or sympathizers, making Brazil the world's largest spiritist nation.
Perhaps the greatest challenge we faced in establishing the Christian Research Institute in Brazil was the overwhelming, ubiquitous fact of spiritism in its many forms, as well as the Evangelical churches' general indifference to it.
Why is outreach to spiritists a neglected field of evangelism in Brazil? One of the chief problems is the Evangelicals themselves, who are either too ignorant or afraid of the spiritists and their sinister practices to share the gospel, and who generally consider it best to simply avoid them, as one would a garbage dump or a graveyard. CRI has had an uphill battle in trying to persuade Brazilian Christians to venture into the surreal landscape described above. But God is faithful, and each year upwards of two hundred believers of all denominations make the journey to take part in the evangelistic campaign.
CRI led its first campaign in 1984. Although a similar outreach had been tried the year before in Rio, nothing of this sort (and especially on this scale) had ever been attempted in Sao Paulo. In 1984, as Christians fanned out across the sand to witness, a series of Christian speakers and musicians ministered from a platform directly across from the statue of Iemanja -- a disruptive strategy that drew plenty of attention, and more than enough hostile confrontations as well. From 1985 onward, we've emphasized personal evangelism exclusively, which yields a better harvest.
The Outreach Today
Because we (at CRI) believe no one should enter such a potentially dangerous situation unprepared, and because fear tends to diminish as understanding increases, a series of regional training sessions is held during the six weeks prior to the event each year. Christians learn what spiritism is and where it came from, what the Bible has to say about demons and spiritual warfare, and how the evangelistic work will be carried out on the beach. At the end of the day, they choose whether they will serve as evangelists, counselors, or intercessors.
This year's event will take place December 9 and 10. It will be a spiritually-punishing, 24-hour marathon for both organizers and participants. Please make a special effort to stand with them in prayer as they go where all too few believers have gone before. And remember not only those who carry the Good News, but also those who hear it.
End of document, CRN0014A.TXT (original CRI file name),
release A, March 21, 1994
R. Poll, CRI
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