Brazil is Not for Beginners

Brazil was first known by its native name Pindorama, then was later given the religious name Land of the Holy Cross by its Portuguese colonists, but ended up with a merely pragmatic name, based on the red dye from the brazilwood the land produced. The name of the country wouldn’t be the only thing to constantly change. In addition to its natives and one of the largest populations of African slaves in the Americas, the New Land would receive from the Old World many who were exiled for being considered “undesirable” by the crown: Jews, heretics, polygamists, thieves, murderers and even those condemned for crimes like “cutting a tree while it would still bear fruit.” There is a reason why Brazil, according to a famous phrase, “is not for beginners.”

It would be within that odd mixture of Old and New World that constant intermarriage would happen, blurring the lines between ethnicity and race among Brazilians. Yet in 1808, the colony’s situation abruptly changed. Running from the Napoleonic forces, King John VI of Portugal fled with his court to Brazil, establishing the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves. This made Brazil the center of the Portuguese Empire where the colony would exercise governance over the empire. But the situation wouldn't last long, for the royal family would go back to Europe when the situation became stable enough to do so.

So in its history Brazil has been a land of native peoples, a colony, a kingdom and an empire, finally to become a republic. The constant changes in politics and society worked against building a national identity such that a vast majority of scholars agree that the nation simply has no national identity whatsoever. That’s why since the republic was born, finding a national hero and a representative of what it means to be a Brazilian has been the biggest challenge yet.  

Yet there is a subtle pattern that connects all of Brazilian history. In the strings of time, the natives saw the explorers depart, the African slaves and Portuguese exiles were taken away from their lands and even kings left their people behind. And then one word stuck—a word that has no direct translation in English. The word saudade refers to a “melancholic desire to be in a place or state that is no more.” This sense of longing is deeply felt in Brazilian culture, but there is hope in the gospel. As a nation that started in exile, hopefully the day will come when Brazilians will find out who they are by realizing to whom they truly belong—the Lord of all Creation, who makes of them citizens of a kingdom that will never fail nor change nor ever leave them behind. Jesus was the one who was abandoned in order that they might be found.

Here at Christ the King, we have a Brazilian congregation that not only experienced a sense of exile as part of their Brazilian heritage, but also were mocked and considered objects of ridicule for being Christians by mainstream Brazilian culture and even their families and friends.  Now that they are in Boston, they continue to experience that sense of exile, living as immigrants far from home.

Despite these struggles, God has been using this congregation to bless their new home of Boston through their worship, work and witness in the city. A new generation is being raised up, one of second generation Brazilians, born between both worlds, yet from the same Kingdom. There is still much to do, and their experiences offer insight on issues such as racial reconciliation and the fight against sex trafficking (whose victims include many Brazilian women). They also remind us that, as much as we experience the exile of the American Church in our age, we can look around and see that we are not alone in this experience.

Hebrews 11:13-16 states, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth...but as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”

May the Lord bless us all together as we work to seek the welfare of the city, while we long for a better country, a heavenly one.

 

Sebastian Kim is the Youth Minister of the CTK Cambridge Brazilian congregation. Born in Argentina to parents of Korean descent, he spent most of his life in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He holds a ThM from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and spent several years in ministry in the Korean American Presbyterian Church before joining the staff at CTK. Sebastian currently lives on the North Shore with his wife, Saemi and their son, Samuel.