In the service of the community
Welcome to a remote village in Brazil, a former settlement for escaped slaves. This is the village where Juvenal Basílio da Costa has committed himself to serve his neighbour. He has an organising role in the political community, and is the rector of the New Apostolic congregation.
It is a dark chapter in the history of Brazil. A sad and cruel time, in which slaves were traded ruthlessly and callously. Between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, more than three million slaves were shipped across the Atlantic from Brazil to Africa. There the men, women, and children were exploited and forced to work on sugarcane plantations under inhuman conditions.
Slavery in Brazil was abolished on 13 May 1888, and slaves were granted their freedom. More than 55 million descendants of these slaves live in Brazil today. This is the highest number of people of African descent outside of Africa.
A hideaway for fugitives
Shepherd Juvenal Basílio da Costa descends from an African slave. His great-grandfather was a slave. Shepherd Juvenal—as everybody calls him—lives in a so-called quilombo. This was the name given to a settlement established by fugitive slaves. These settlements were typically established in inaccessible areas, where nature offered natural protection to the runaways from their captors. They formed small communities and organised themselves.
The quilombo Capoeiras is located some 72 kilometres from Natal, the capital of the state of Rio Grande do Norte. Shepherd Juvenal reports: “Capoeiras was a term used by slaves to express a mixture of dance, martial arts, and music.”
Today Capoeiras is inhabited by about 230 families. The town’s population is 2,000. There is a primary school and a health centre. Electricity was brought to the town only about twenty years, and tap water about fourteen years ago.
Community leader in Capoeiras
Like his father before him, Juvenal Basílio is the community leader in his town. “As a community leader, I have to be available around the clock to help and serve the people when they need something,” he says. “Sometimes it becomes necessary to get medicine for someone, another time I might have to organise transport to a doctor’s appointment. And sometimes you have to get in touch with politicians from various parties, and speak with them and ask for their help.”
Capoeiras is in an isolated place. Still today, the only access is a dirt road. “That is one of the biggest obstacles.” Like other townspeople, the community leader’s family farms for a living. “We grow manioc, beans, and corn. And then I still sell beverages in a beverage shop, and my wife recycles PET bottles to makes brooms.”
Rector in the congregation of Capoeiras
Shepherd Juvenal, his wife, and their seven children and 16 grandchildren are the core of the congregation in Capoeiras. “My wife and I have a family motto, which we try to impart to everyone else: we don’t allow anyone into the house who is full of hate. We want there to be happiness because we know: we are in the hand of God,” the rector of the congregation says, and adds, “We have quite a few small rooms in the house. There is always room for everyone. We are very thankful that the whole family goes to church.” A little while ago, the congregation of Capoeiras was merged with Sítio Pavilhão. No, there are up to seventy members in a divine service.
Juvenal Basílio first came into contact with the New Apostolic Church in 1984, when an Apostle from Germany and his companion brought the New Apostolic doctrine to Rio Grande do Norte. The congregation in Capoeiras was founded in 1985 and Juvenal Basílio was ordained as a Deacon. In the course of time, additional congregations were established in Sítio Pavilhão, Bom Jesus, and Elói de Souza for example.
“Our life is hard. Our faith is indispensable in helping us to survive, to look ahead and move forward, and to keep our joy in spite of the hardship,” says Shepherd Juvenal. “With life under such circumstances you have new experiences every day.”