It is the 12th of August 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
With absolutely no offense meant- I tend not to put Calvinists and Brazil in similar categories in my mind.
Something about the long beards and back robes doesn’t fit my picture of Brazil and Carnival.
But the history of Brazil and its interactions with the Christian Church have been fascinating, from 16th century French/Portuguese clashes to 21st century Neo-Pentecostals in the Brazilian government. Today we remember the landing of Ashbel Green Simonton- a key Presbyterian missionary- in Rio De Janiero on this day in 1859.
But let me jump back to the time John Calvin thought Brazil could be a handy refuge for his French brethren.
In the second half of the 16th century the Portuguese had set up camp in Brazil and the Catholic Jesuits were sent to proselytize. French Admiral Villegagnon had left the Catholics for the Calvinists and knew that Brazil could be ripe for the picking.
Villegagnon convinced Calvin to send a group of settlers and missionaries to suss out the situation.
Upon arrival, it looked difficult but doable. Until Villegagnon decided to return to the Catholic Church. All those Calvinists that he brought with him were told to leave or die.
[5 of the missionaries couldn’t leave as their boat was not sound. 1 escaped. Villegagnon personally killed 3 but the last was spared as he was a tailor and deemed useful].
Fast forward to the 19th century. The century of world missions. And perhaps just the time for the Presbyterians to give Brazil another shot.
The man to do this was the aforementioned Ashbel Green Simonton.
Simonton was born to a middle-class Presbyterian family in West Hanover PA in 1833. After studying at the College of New Jersey he taught in the south before a religious experience convinced him he needed to go into church work.
Simonton attended Princeton Seminary where he was inspired by a chapel message from Charles Hodge to become a missionary. And the church had its sight set on Brazil.
The country was nominally Catholic- most were baptized but few attended church. The Presbyterians saw in the religious situation in Brazil the mirror image of late Medieval Europe on the eve of the Reformation.
In July of 1859, Simonton having spent two years studying Portuguese left for Brazil. He arrived in Rio De Janeiro on the 12th of August in 1859.
His ministry was short-lived as he died young- but the foundation he set would lead to the establishment of the Brazilian Presbyterian church and Brazilian Presbytery (before this the Brazilians were under the auspices of the Presbytery of Baltimore).
Simonton.s work was not as flashy as the revivalists and high-intensity camp meetings wouldn’t come to Brazil for another century. But laying the groundwork for what would become an independent Presbyterian church laid the foundation for other Reformation traditions to make inroads as well. Today there are roughly 1.5 million Brazilian Christians in 3000 congregations that make up 20 different Reformation traditions.
Despite Calvin’s best efforts, it took until the 1800s with the work of Ashbel Green Simonton who arrived in Brazil on the 12th of August in 1859.
The last word for today comes from Mark 4:
Then Jesus said, “This is what God’s kingdom is like. It’s as though someone scatters seed on the ground, then sleeps and wakes night and day. The seed sprouts and grows, but the farmer doesn’t know how. The earth produces crops all by itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full head of grain. Whenever the crop is ready, the farmer goes out to cut the grain because it’s harvest time.”
He continued, “What’s a good image for God’s kingdom? What parable can I use to explain it? Consider a mustard seed. When scattered on the ground, it’s the smallest of all the seeds on the earth; but when it’s planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all vegetable plants. It produces such large branches that the birds in the sky are able to nest in its shade.”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 12th of August 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by the King of the Samba, Christopher Gillespie .
The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.