His epitaph could have been, ´his deeds follow him´ (Rev 14:13). Fifty-five years later Alexander Simpson’s deeds do follow him, ´embodied´ in the older Brazilian believers converted through him and the younger ones converted through them.
Alec was forty when he died 1950 in Uberaba in the interior of Brazil having come there as a missionary from Scotland with his wife Janet in the late thirties. Janet, her children Anita and David were forced to return to Scotland two years later and from there shortly afterward they migrated to Australia. Janet never returned to Brazil but Anita with husband Paul was able to visit Uberaba in late June 2005.
So what would we find when we came? We knew of the children of missionaries from Alec’s era who were still there and that there was a functioning (Brethren) assembly. But would there be people who remembered the ten-year old Anita and her missionary parents?
Janet sometimes told us how hard things had been. Some locals were very wealthy; most were poor, as were the (faith) missionaries who had come. Brazil was intensely Roman Catholic and far less tolerant in those pre-Vatican 2 times. It was not uncommon for the people to throw rotten eggs at the preachers. Priests would sprinkle holy water where they had preached. The town was noted as a centre of spiritism and mediums. When the missionaries approached the local police to assure them of their bona fides the superintendent welcomed them because, as he said, this was ´an evil town´.
It was and remains a ´religious´ town. It is a Roman Catholic healing centre; and only recently it witnessed the passing of a famous local medium, Chico Xavier. Subsequently his followers declared that Jesus was the ´way´ but that Alan Kardet (another spiritist leader) was ´the truth´ and Chico Xavier (the local medium) was ´the life´. Many people came there for Chico Xavier´s ´services´. Part of the spiritists´ outreach strategy was to provide bread and soup to locals. A spiritist once challenged the believers, ´where are the ´Christians´ queues for bread and soup´? One of the elders replied that when people are born again they don´t need food queues anymore.
Alec and Janet were not the first Brethren missionaries there, but they properly belong to those whom the locals call the ´pioneers´. Janet often spoke to us of the believers in the assembly at Uberaba. But would there be any left from all those years ago? Perhaps they had drifted away in the many and turbulent years since 1950?
Alec and Janet and the other twenty ´somethings´ from the assemblies of southern Scotland went to Brazil for life. They mastered Portuguese and built houses and became part of life in Brazil. Return visits to Scotland were the exception. The now ageing children of the ´pioneers´ are mostly still there, fluent in Portuguese and strangely still speaking the Scottish way. They, and their children and their grandchildren are irrevocably Brazilian. (I would be interested to know of other missionaries like these who actually became indigenous émigrés like these have become).
When we arrived in Uberaba the truly exciting news was that many remembered Alec and Janet and spoke movingly of the huge impact on them personally and upon the church in Brazil. One of the elders, Julio, told me his grandfather was ´born again´ through Alec. Another man, Wilson, reflected his huge affection for Alec and the assistance he gave him in his many months of illness and progressive loss of sight. A man converted through Alec at his deathbed has gone on to become a great evangelist. A lady named Glaucia taught Anita at school and was very close to Janet. It was moving for Anita to meet and be hugged by these people, to visit the home where she was born and to go to Alec´s tomb. Above all, though, it was encouraging to attend the gathering of several hundred for the ´breaking of bread´ and the teaching of the Bible. Alec´s and Janet´s deeds have followed them.
In 1950 (the year Alec died) only 3% of Brazilians were ‘evangelical´ whereas today (according to a feature article in the major Sao Paolo daily, 26 June ’05) there are 15% who are ‘evangelical´. Many of these, however, promote an outrageous form of ´prosperity theology´, creaming off entire salaries of many vulnerable local people and bringing the Gospel into disrepute. The growth in the numbers and membership of the assemblies is a fraction of this supposed growth in ‘evangelical´ numbers. Yet what these believers lack in sheer numbers they more than make for in purity of doctrine, holiness of life, congregational affection and missionary zeal. God was always more interested in a remnant people who honoured him than in vast numbers of those who merely professed to.
There is another assembly now in Uberaba in addition to the one where Alec and Janet served all those years ago. The original assembly has almost made up the numbers it gave for the new venture. Together they are a body of several hundred very active members who remain true to the Brethren vision as a non-clerical, lay movement. Every member is a minister, and a missionary, and a serious student of the Word. The Brethren movement was never vast, but its world wide missionary impact has been disproportionately great. These people have always punched above their weight.
The origins of the Scottish Brethren mission in Brazil (humanly speaking) owed something to a book entitled Adventures with the Bible in Brazil, based on the author David Glass´s journeys there in the 1920s. As far as I can make out this book served as something of a catalyst for the ´pioneers´ courageous determination in the decade or so following. A stronger clue to their motivation is to be found in the words Janet inscribed as her husband´s epitaph (Revelation 22:6 and 1 Corinthians11:26) both of which are Second Coming texts. The conviction of the Lord´s Return and all that meant seems to have driven these wonderful people to leave home and hearth for their life-long sojourns in a foreign soil where they mostly remain.
Brazil is a vast land-mass with an immense population (150 million). The children of the ´pioneers´ are praying for a deepening awakening by God that will raise up a new wave of workers who will take the Gospel to the length and breadth of their homeland.
See the following blog for the Alexandre Simpson Orphanage in Sacramento, Brazil