A thousand kilometres for a choir practice
“The congregations are like remote islands,” Raúl Eduardo Montes de Oca, the responsible District Apostle of Brazil, says. Following is his report about the Chief Apostle’s recent visit to Brazil and the life of the congregations there.
Brazil stretches for roughly 4,300 kilometres from east to west and some 4,500 kilometres from north to south, occupying about half of South America’s landmass. It is a huge country, comprised of 26 states. Its size also has an impact on congregational life. Often the congregations are hundreds of kilometres apart.
“The Chief Apostle visited us this year. It was the ninth visit of a Chief Apostle to the country,” District Apostle Montes de Oca writes. At the end of October he conducted two divine services: one in Rio de Janeiro in the south-east and one in Fortaleza, in Ceará state, on the north-eastern coast.
The sounds of Africa in Rio de Janeiro
The service in Rio de Janeiro took place on Wednesday, 28 October in the Maracanã congregation. The members from the congregation of Juiz de Fora were also invited. With only 180 kilometres between them, they are considered immediate neighbours by Brazilian standards. Some 135 members and guests heard the Chief Apostle’s sermon based on 1 Corinthians 16: 9: “For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.”
The congregation is comprised of many nationalities. Many have German roots, but there are also Swiss, Angolans, Congolese, Argentines, and people from other parts of the country. The rector is a Congolese by birth. Although the congregation is fairly small, it does have two choral ensembles—the normal congregational choir and then an African ensemble, Vozes da África.
While the Chief Apostle was in Rio de Janeiro he was given a guided tour of the city and shown the scenic attractions such as Mount Corcovado with its towering statue of Christ the Redeemer, Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf mountain), and the football stadium Maracanã.
A thousand kilometres for a choir practice
The Chief Apostle celebrated his second service on this trip to Brazil in Fortaleza. It was the divine service for the departed and took place on 1 November in a hotel; nearly 400 people attended. He based the service on Luke 14: 23: “Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in that my house may be filled.’”
The 100-strong choir and orchestra were made up of members from surrounding congregations. Many covered distances anywhere from 350 to a thousand kilometres by bus, and at their own expense, to attend the rehearsal and then the service.
A concert had been scheduled in Fortaleza on Saturday, a day before the service. The choir and orchestra presented folk songs and texts that describe the hard life in the Sertão (“outback”), the semi-arid region of this north-eastern part of the country. The choir and orchestra wore the traditional costume of the region.
In search of fellow believers
Many Europeans immigrated to South America in the 1920s and 30s. Among them were many New Apostolic families from Germany and Switzerland. Most of them settled in São Paulo. Among them were also the Families Koller, Biemann, Skalla, Riese, Freitag, and Lipok. At the time there were no congregations in Brazil.
“Family Koller put an ad in a German-language newspaper asking other New Apostolic immigrants to contact them so that they could meet. And this is how the first contacts came into being. Before long, a Priest and a Deacon—also immigrants—had their ministries confirmed in a letter by Chief Apostle Hermann Niehaus,” District Apostle Montes de Oca reports. The first divine service took place in the home of Family Koller in 1927. The congregations in Brazil grew. District Apostle Gottfried Rüfenacht, who was responsible for the congregations in neighbouring Uruguay, was asked to look after the fledgling Church in Brazil. In the years from 1984 to 2002, the north-eastern part of Brazil was under the care of the District Church North Rhine-Westphalia (Germany). In 2002, then, Chief Apostle Richard Fehr appointed Apostle Guillermo Vilor as District Apostle for all of Brazil.
Raúl Montes de Oca has been District Apostle in Brazil and Bolivia since 2010. With 250 ministers he looks after 10,100 members in 123 congregations.