The following is the transcript of a recording made in 1955 by pioneer missionary Jim Willson. It was transcribed by our colleague Jim Leonard. It is surprising to see how much of the information is still quite relevant to the field today. I am posting it in its entirety, along with a few footnotes.
We are coming to you from the Baptist Bible Institute of Juazeiro,CE. I am Jim Willson, I personally would like to give my greetings to the folks at Everett, WA. For a long time we have had an interest in the Calvary Baptist Church of Everett, WA.
In this photo of the early pioneers of our field, Jim Willson is third from the right.
I’ve been asked to say a few words about Brazil and the need that we have here. If you will bear with me a bit, I would like to tell you a little bit about this country. First of all, Brazil is quite a country. It’s larger than the United States. 1 In 1950 the population was about 52 million people, and at present time it might be around 57 million people.2 Each year the population increases a million. In this country we have about 3 1/3 % Protestants; so you see that we have a challenge before us. 3 Actually we have one of the most open doors that there is in South America. Brazil is half of South America both in size and in population. We speak Portuguese here instead of Spanish, and it is the key country of all of Latin America. And it is a country in which we have the opportunity of preaching the gospel.
The Evangelical cause has grown more in Brazil during the last 50 years than in any other large country in the world. And so you see we have an open door. Our work is progressing constantly. I have been in this state for over 14 years and I’ve seen a great deal of progress during that time. And yet even with all of this progress we have a real challenge before us. Actually here in the state of Ceará which is about the size of Illinois, and has a population of about 3 million people, but here the percentage of Protestants is less than 1%. There are about 54 cities in this state of over 2000 people, and I would say that perhaps we do not have the Gospel in 10% of them.
So, we have a real challenge before us. But it isn’t an easy challenge. Our work here in Brazil is much like that in the United States. We do not need specialized missions so much as we need young people who have the courage and the ability and the stability to stay with a job that’s very difficult. The job that we have is this: you go into a town where there are no believers more than not, and that is a town in which you are to bring an evangelical church into existence. And that isn’t easy. You live alone, you speak a foreign language, you live with a foreign people, you have to become accustomed to foreign customs. And the job of winning Roman Catholics is not exactly an easy job; although it is not as difficult as many people think, because the Roman Catholic accepts the Bible, and yet he’s a long ways from the Bible. And if he can be introduced to the Bible, in time he either becomes an indifferent Catholic, or a convert to the Gospel. Many times we find that missionaries have a very difficult time here. It isn’t the case of the climate. You can find any climate you want in Brazil. As far as I’m concerned, the climate is better than what you’d find in the United States. Here in Ceará we have what I would consider almost an ideal climate. So it isn’t the case of climate. But it’s the case of a past that’s difficult. I would say that the characteristic that a missionary should have would be that which would make of him a good pastor in the United States. Because much of his work is that type of work, of bringing churches into existence and making grown and prosper. Let’s remember this one thing about this vast country: that it receives very little emphasis from the evangelical cause. 4 We, our missionaries of Mid-Missions, outside of the possible exception of Japan, Brazil is the most important and the largest mission field that Mid-Missions has today. We are not the only missionaries in Brazil. But nevertheless we have here close to 60 million people, and yet we receive relatively few missionaries; very few, in fact. And we need missionaries. It isn’t that the church here doesn’t have a certain amount of power. But it’s that the time is short. We never know how much time we’re going to have. And when the door is open we should make use of an open door. And the country is so vast that the national church needs help in this expansion program and that is the thing that we can offer them.
We have a school here in Juazeiro; really we have three schools. We have a primary school, a prep school, and a Bible School. We have in the 3 schools between 40 and 50 young people. And our job is that of preparing young people for His ministry. And we’ve had many a blessing in this work, and we have seen that consolidate the work that missionaries have done in this state. And so here in the State of Ceará we have seen the work of the Lord go ahead. At the present time we are opening up churches in five different cities. We have churches in four different cities. And we have a few more missionaries to come, perhaps even this year to open up work in this state, and yet, it isn’t only this state in which we find interest. We would like to have some older missionaries that we could take from this state and open up work in neighboring states.
Because here in Brazil we are starting a new movement, that of the General Baptist of Brazil, a movement that would compare to the General Association of Regular Baptists in the United States. And so we would ask your prayers and your help, and we’d ask the interest of you young people here in this cause.
If you are a young person interested in meeting this new-old challenge, please contact me. You can also join a Facebook group that we have set up specifically for those interested in serving with us here in northeast Brazil.
1. Brazil is larger than the “lower 48”.
2. Now around 180 million.
3. For the current numbers, see here.
4. While there was an upswing in missions after this, the pendulum has swung back the other way in the last decade. If anything, Jim Willson’s appeal is much more urgent today than it was in 1955.