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A Wandering Jew in Brazil: An Autobiography of Solomon L. Ginsburg

Chapter 3—In Bahia

Solomon GinsburgBaptists in Bahia in 1892.— Dr. Z. C. Taylor had, soon after my baptism and ordination, gone to the United States not only for a needed rest and change of climate but also to have a very delicate operation performed on his wife, one of the most cultured and consecrated lady missionaries I ever met. She was suffering from a malignant sarcoma on one of her limbs and was unable to obtain adequate treatment in Brazil.

The church in Bahia was then in a very precarious condition. Dr. Z. C. Taylor, one of the most consecrated and self-sacrificing missionaries Brazil ever had, held some peculiar views about marriage and divorce. He believed that the local church had a right to grant divorces to innocent parties and once granted the divorce he believed the church could legitimately celebrate a new marriage ceremony. The laws of the country, however, were against divorce and no such marriage was recognized as legal.

Due to such proceedings the church had gotten into bad repute, and when Dr. Taylor left for the States I found myself confronting a grave problem. Young and inexperienced in mission or even church work, I realized the terrible situation in which the church found itself and after much prayer determined to drop out the element that was injuring the work. We had to exclude about a dozen members. To the honor of the Brazilian believers be it said that the best element of the church stood by me and realized the need of such drastic measures. Most of the members excluded also recognized the justice of the step taken and returned to the church humbled and changed.

Dr. Entzminger, though barely escaping death by yellow fever, was a tower of strength to me in those days and I was very sorry when he decided to move to the Pernambuco field, where he developed a wonderful work, building up a flourishing enterprise for Christ and the Baptists. He and his wife accomplished great things in that field, one of the most difficult in all Brazil.

Early History of Work in Bahia.— The early history of the Baptist work in Bahia would make one of the most interesting chapters of modern missionary endeavour. It was in this city that the first native Baptist church was organized in the year 1882. It was there that the first native worker was won, baptized and afterwards ordained to the ministry, and (a curious coincidence), his name was John the Baptist. It was there also that the first attempts at a Brazilian Baptist Publishing House were made and the first Baptist books published in the Portuguese language. The first piece of property bought for the Baptist denomination in Brazil was purchased in this city, the old Jesuit prison in which many men of God had suffered for conscience sake. This place was transformed into a great center of spiritual light and liberty. In this city also met the first Brazilian Baptist General Convention in 1907 in which plans were laid out and methods of work adopted that are telling upon the country mightily and transforming the Baptists in Brazil into a great spiritual conquering host. In Bahia the first Brazilian Home Mission Board had its headquarters, as well as the first Brazilian Foreign Mission Board. The Brazilian B. Y. P. U. work was initiated in this city and from it went forth the literature that organized the Baptist young people of Brazil into a great force for Christ. To the Baptists, therefore, Bahia is a great historical center and to describe the first attempts at evangelization is impossible here. A better understanding will be had when there appears soon an autobiography of Dr. Z. C. Taylor, the first missionary who gave himself to the building up of the Kingdom of Christ in that great metropolis and who for twenty-seven years labored and toiled in that field almost alone.

I can only mention a few of the results of the marvelous seed-sowing done by Dr. Taylor:

1. Fields Visited by Dr. Taylor. The work was inaugurated in 1882. When I reached Bahia for the first time it was in November of 1891. In that decade Brother Taylor had managed to visit and sow the good seed in almost every part of that great State of Bahia. Few realize what this means. The State of Bahia is larger than the State of Texas with the additional inconvenience of not having good transportation facilities. In spite of bad roads, lack of railways, rivers full of malaria and swamps full of deadly diseases, Brother Taylor, in the short space of ten years, managed to spread the good tidings of great joy all over that great State.

Not content with the work in Bahia he extended his usefulness into the neighboring State of Alagoas. The ex-Priest Teixeira, a charter member of the first church in Brazil, was a native of this State. Dr. Taylor sent him on a visit to that field and soon followed him with the message of life and light.

2. Churches Organized. In 1891 I found the following churches organized and in fairly good working conditions:

(a) The First Baptist Church that was worshipping in the old Jesuit prison building transformed into an excellent spiritual center. The membership was not very large but notwithstanding the difficulties mentioned above, full of zeal and anxious to spread the good news of salvation.

(b) Another church existed in the city of Valenca, a small but very industrious little place situated about fifty miles down the coast. The membership was not large but composed of some of the better class of people. They also were spreading the good tidings all around.

(c) Another church existed in the city of Maceio, capital of the State of Alagoas. The membership was very small and the persecutions the believers suffered were severe, but this no doubt caused every member to become a strong and stalwart soldier for Christ. The church, that still continues faithful is a strong spiritual center for God.

3. Literature Published. Dr. Taylor believed in the printed page and consequently used it to great advantage in laying the foundations for the future. It is impossible to give the whole list of books and tracts he published, but I will mention a few, especially those that had, and still have, a mighty influence upon the work in Brazil.

(a) One of the first books he published was a translation of Dr. S. H. Ford's "Origin and History of the Baptists." In the same book he included a translation of the Philadelphia Confession of Faith as well as a few Rules of Order as to Church Government. Next to the Bible this book has been a main stay in almost all of the Brazilian churches. The translation is not one of the best and the historical arguments may not be up-to-date, but the book has been a means of building up the young churches in the Faith once delivered to the saints, and has developed a Baptist brotherhood proud of its history and jealous for its privileges and opportunities.

(b) Amongst the other books that have helped to form the Baptist character in Brazil might be mentioned: Dr. Harvey's "The Church and State," Tertulians "Apologetics," Broadus' "Harmony of the Gospels," etc., etc., all translated and published by Brother Taylor in his small printing plant.

(c) The greatest amount of literary work was done, however, in the publication of leaflets and small tracts which Brother Taylor used to an almost unlimited extent. He had the knack of issuing leaflets and tracts that would tell upon the people and bring forth results. One of these was entitled "Three Reasons Why I Left the Church of Rome," written by the ex-Priest Teixeira. That tract has bad a most creditable history, having been instrumental in the opening of blind eyes to many a sincere Catholic.

Another tract that caused a great commotion amongst the Catholic clergy was one entitled "A Photograph of the Virgin Mary in Heaven." Brother Taylor published that tract first in the daily press and then issued it in leaflet form and spread it all over the country. It accomplished wonders and is still doing the work for which it was prepared.

Two small tracts that have helped to organize a good many churches in Brazil have the titles: "How to Pray" and "The New Birth." Both of these subjects are entirely unknown to the Catholics.

And so I could go on mentioning the good things I found when I made my appearance among the Baptists in 1891. What it was when I returned to that field in 1909 can more easily be imagined than described. The number of churches had grown to that of about thirty-five with hundreds of preaching places. In the capital of the State instead of one little church there were four, all prospering and on the good road to self-support. Best of all, I found established and in good working order an educational institution that was exercising a powerful influence upon the field and the workers. The good Lord was abundantly blessing the faithful and self-sacrificing work done by his servant who, in that very year, had to leave the field, on account of his health, and to which he never returned, being swept into glory on the occasion of the great Corpus Christi, Texas, catastrophe in 1919.

A Public Debate.— I had not returned to Rio de Janeiro since becoming a Baptist, so taking advantage of a meeting of the missionaries at the home of Dr. W. B. Bagby, I went, not only because of my desire to know all the Baptist missionaries, but also to meet some of my old friends and converts in the Congregational church, and tell them of the change that had taken place in my doctrinal beliefs.

Several families in Nictheroy had become greatly interested in the teaching of the Baptists and through these a public discussion had been arranged between the pastor of the Congregational church and myself. I consented to the discussion being held in the Congregational church under certain conditions to which both parties subscribed, but to which I alone was obliged to adhere. At the last moment the Brazilian pastor thought it best to change the program calling to his help other speakers hoping, I suppose, that I would desist and thus give them an easy victory. I stuck to the opportunity and when the time for the discussion arrived I enjoyed it immensely. Mr. Tucker, of the American Bible Society, presided over the session and instead of my discussing with the native pastor alone I had to answer about a half dozen of them. The outcome of it all was that each party claimed victory, but the families that had arranged for the discussion soon after joined the Baptist church and became very zealous workers in the kingdom, some of them continuing faithful up until today.

First Visit to Victoria.— While in Nictheroy, the Baptist missionaries thought it opportune to begin work in the neighboring State of Espirito Santo, and I was asked to visit that field. Taking a small coasting vessel I sailed for Victoria, the capital of that State, asking the Lord to guide and direct me. On board the vessel I became acquainted with the Chief of Police of that place who was a Brazilian of German descent and who spoke German fluently. Before leaving the boat he urged me to be very careful about the work I was going to do as the fanatical element in that city was very bitter against the Protestants. However, if I should be in need he promised to stand by me.

It was a beautiful Sunday morning when I landed in that enchanting city of about 10,000 inhabitants and it happened to be Carnival Sunday, a day given over to sin, vice and crime. I was wondering whether it would be wise to do anything in such a time, but, asking the Lord about it, I thought that it would be well to take advantage of the Carnival season and distribute the tracts I had brought to the multitudes that were crowding the streets.

The people must have taken my work as a carnival joke, for I had not gone far with my tract distribution when a crowd began to follow me asking for more. I distributed all I had and when I saw the multitude begging for something else my heart began to yearn to tell them the story of salvation. Climbing upon a rock that was lying at the corner of one of the public squares I began to tell them of Jesus and His power to save. I was having the best time of my life. I suppose more than two thousand people stood around me listening attentively to the message of love and salvation.

Soon however, I noticed a change coming over the multitude. Some one was poisoning their minds. I began to notice hatred and anger and then protests. I continued to preach, however, without paying much attention to those things. Then someone threw mud at me which struck me right on my cheek. This act provoked laughter in the crowd and pandemonium broke loose. It was fortunate that the chief of police was present and managed to get close to me. Taking my arm he led me, covered by a protecting guard, to my hotel, where I was kept closely guarded during the night.

The next day I visited many of the citizens of the place and sold a good many Bibles and books. The better class of people deplored the scene that had taken place the day before and promised to help when the work was to be started. I returned to Nictheroy and reported favorably about the opening of a mission station if competent help could be found. I was sure that the work would prosper and it certainly did when few years afterwards the Lord led Brother Reno to give his life to that field and work. It is now the general observation of the missionaries that in every place where the Cause of the Master is persecuted, the work prospers. Also, in every place where the Cause is received by the people with indifference the work seems to lag and, in spite of every effort, does not seem to go forward.

The Power of God's Word.— Returning to Bahia I received one day the visit of two gentlemen, one a retired officer of the army and the other a lawyer. They had come from the city of Amargosa, a small interior town of about five thousand inhabitants. They brought two little tracts with them on which was printed the address of the mission. One was entitled: "Como Orar!" (How to Pray), and the other: "O Novo Nascimento!" (The New Birth). These tracts had done a great work in the heart of these two men. They had come as a delegation from the town to ask the missionary to visit that city and explain in the town theater the meaning of such teachings. They informed me that not long before the people had expelled the local priest on account of his immoral life and that the best elements in the town were anxious to learn about the teachings of the Protestants. Of course I accepted the invitation, and on the day set was on my way to the place, never dreaming of the great things the Lord was calling me to.

To reach the place I had to cross the bay, sleep in a city on the other side of the bay and take a train the next day for that place. I filled my satchel with Bibles and books and utilized my time both on board the small vessel as well as in the hotel and trains selling books and talking to a great many about Jesus and His power to save.

In the train I noticed a nice young man sitting in a second-class carriage and I felt the Spirit of God move me to sell him a Bible. I had sold about all my books, but had kept one good looking copy of a Bible for a present to one of the higher officials of the town. But I felt impelled to go and get that young fellow to buy that book. I went up to him and sitting down by his side I asked him to buy that Bible. I told him plainly what kind of a book it was and how the priests hated and abused the Bible. I opened up several pages and read different passages to him. He at first seemed to hesitate, but at last bought the book. I then asked him to come to the meeting that I was going to hold in the theater in the city to which both of us were traveling and he promised to come and we both went to the same hotel.

The meeting was a great success. It began about seven in the evening and we got through with it about three o'clock in the morning. After explaining the two tracts, the position of the Baptist churches and their beliefs on several topics, the lawyer who had come to see me presented a series of questions to be answered right before the crowd. It was very interesting and instructive, though it does tax the knowledge of a fellow greatly. I was glad that in the Seminary I had gained a medal on the study of Popery, as Dr. Grattan-Guinness, the director of our college, who was a great authority on the Romish question, had drilled me so well on such discussions.

Of course I did not talk all that night. We also had singing of hymns and with my little Bilhorn I managed to teach the crowd some of our beautiful Gospel songs. One little verse captured the crowd. It was sung with a Salvation Army tune and ran as follows in Portuguese:

"O sangue de Jesus me lavou, me lavou,
O sangue de Jesus me lavou, me lavou;
Alegre cantarei, louvores ao meu Rei,
Ao meu Senhor Jesus, que me salvou!"

"Oh, the blood of Jesus cleansed me,
Oh, the blood of Jesus cleansed me,
Happily will I sing praises to my King,
To my Lord Jesus, who saved me!"

As I left the theater for a little sleep, the young man who bought the Bible came along and asked me to teach him that song and those words as he was very anxious to take that song to his people. We sat up the rest of the night singing and talking and then I saw him off to the station, asking the Lord to use him as a messenger of God to some needy soul, little thinking how wonderfully the Lord would answer that prayer, for though this young man was never converted, in spite of having made a public confession of faith, the Lord used him to take the message to many that were hungering for the light of life!

It was a few years afterwards that Dr. Taylor told me of the effect of that Bible. The work in Amargosa was moving along nicely. A church had been organized as a direct result of that visit, but what interested me most was what that Bible accomplished. This is what had happened. The young fellow on reaching home and thinking about the danger of having a book prohibited by the priest in his possession, went to a brother of his who was the baker of the town and a very devout Catholic. He took the Bible to him and told him:

"Marcellino, an American, a foreigner, made me buy this book. He told me that the priests prohibited the reading of such books and I want you to throw it into the fire."

The baker looked at the book and asked him all about it. The man told him of the meeting in the theater and the singing of hymns and, as an illustration, sang that Salvation Army song about the "Blood of Jesus cleansing from all sin." It was like a live coal from the altar of God. The baker was hungering and thirsting for salvation and that message of song stirred his heart and soul as nothing else had done.

There was living in the village an old believer who had told the baker about Jesus and His power to save and had been praying for his salvation. The Bible sent to him through the instrumentality of his unbelieving brother brought him to the saving knowledge of Christ. He asked the brother to let him look through the Bible before throwing it into the fire. He opened it and finding several of the pages turned down began reading therein.

The first page he read was Exodus 20, the Ten Commandments. He read the chapter through once, twice and several times more until, stirred by the Spirit of God, he called for his wife and asked her to listen to the words of God. He read the passage to her, laying stress on the second commandment, where it is plainly prohibited to have idols to worship. He called her attention to it and also to many idols that adorned the walls of their home. He had a great many of them and with tears in his eyes he said:

"Wife, what shall we do about it?"

"Why," she said, "the only thing to do is to burn them." He did not wait for further instructions, but gathering up the whole outfit he threw them all into the oven. That was a glorious beginning. The baker became a burning torch for God. He gave his all, his life, his time and his means to the work of the Kingdom of God.

He had a brother who was a rich land and cattle owner as well as a leading politician in a neighboring county. This brother came to see him and to argue with him about his change of religion. Unable to convince him he brought a priest along to drive the devil out of him, but both returned unable to destroy the work of the Spirit of God.

It was not long after that until this brother also saw the light and became a veritable Evangel for Christ in that vast interior of Brazil. As a result of that Bible there are today dozens of churches and preaching places proving once more the reality of that glorious promise of God: "My Word shall not return unto me void."

A Narrow Escape.— Dr. Taylor had returned from the States and we had decided to divide the work. He was to stay in town and build up the local church and I was to take up the interior work. Soon I left in the city of Bahia, my young wife, and started on a trip of about 1,000 miles inland to a city called Jacobina, one of the oldest in the State, a great gold mining center, and where we had several persons interested in the Gospel.

The train took me as far as Queimadas, the terminal of the railroad. I reached the place on a Saturday, the great market day, and found the town crowded with thousands of people that had come from all over that region to sell their goods. It was considered one of the greatest market centers of the State. Gambling and drinking as well as every other crime was the order of the day. I had with me an old colporter, a well-known and highly-respected character of that region, who was a great help to me, especially through his knowledge of the road, and of the medicinal value of herbs and plants.

I set up my little organ in the most public place of the market and began playing some of our hymns. If there is one thing a Brazilian appreciates it certainly is music, and it did not take much time to collect an enormous crowd.

Having their attention I began singing a hymn and the crowd continued to grow and to listen. They had never seen nor heard such a thing. Then someone thought that I was singing for money and the crowd began to place nickels and dimes on the little organ. This, of course, gave me my text. Standing upon a stool I began to explain to them my object and mission telling them that I had not come for their gifts, but to tell them of the great gift of God—of a Saviour whose gifts were free and whose blessings were to be had for the asking. Oh, the joy of preaching the Gospel to hungry multitudes! My heart was over flowing with joy at the opportunity to tell those thousands of souls that had never heard of the love of a loving God, and of a Saviour mighty to save. And how they listened! With ears and eyes and mouths wide open they seemed to drink in every word of my message.

Just as I was reaching the climax of my speech the good colporter called my attention to a commotion that was taking place on the outskirts of the immense crowd, informing me, in frightened tones, that the relatives of the local priest were stirring up the fanatics against me telling them that I was the long expected anti-christ. It so happened that the priest who had charge of that town had a great number of children. Though not supposed to have children, almost all the priests, especially in the interior, live in sin, having one or more women, and consequently a good many descendents. As the income of a priest in a place like the one mentioned is large, he finds no difficulty in marrying off his illegitimate children, as the marriage is always accompanied by a good dowry. This, of course, enhances his hold upon the people. These descendents watch carefully over the interests that affect the income of the priest and will naturally oppose any movement that might injure his business which is also theirs.

These innumerable descendents of the priest were stirring up the fanatical elements in that great vast throng and it did not take me long to see the danger I was in. I kept on preaching fearing that as soon as I stopped they would fall on me and destroy not only my organ and books but also myself and the good colporter. While I preached I also prayed and asked the Lord to come to my rescue. I was alone in the place. I did not know anyone and had not even visited the Chief of Police to tell him of my work and stop over in town. My intention had been to pass through the place and go on the next day to Jacobina. How to escape this great crowd, growing every minute more threatening and dangerous, I really could not imagine. Several were taking out their daggers and passing the edge over the palm of their hands, and were pointing them at me as if to say, this will do you all right. Oh, how I prayed, asking the Lord to show me a way out, not so much for my own sake as for the sake of the man who had so willingly left his wife and children and come with me to help me in my work. He looked up to me several times with eyes full of tears as if to say, "we are lost."

...in less than five minutes about a half a dozen men came to me and surrounded the stool upon which I was standing and told me that they had come to take me to their homes. It certainly was a great surprise! Soon I was safely installed in one of the best parlors of the town, protected by soldiers with loaded guns. I thanked my Heavenly Father for delivering me so wonderfully from that infuriated crowd.

Near Death's Door.— The next day I continued my trip, this time on horseback. It being my first trip into the interior I was not very careful about the food I ate nor the kind of water I drank. Consequently the third day out I began to suffer with a very high fever. The colporter was distressed. To take me back to the place I had left he was afraid, as he did not have much confidence in the medical help which I would get. So after preparing a concoction of tea with the bark of the quinine tree which he gave me to drink he tied me on my horse and after two days of hot and burning sun and violent fever he brought me into Jacobina, and turned me over to a Jewish merchant who happened to be the local physician.

What happened to me after that was told by this Jew. For two days I had high fever and was very delirious. The colporter had found in one of my pockets a letter I had received from the lodge of which I was a member recommending me to this Jewish brother. Of course my name was Jewish enough, but he could not make out my business, and when the colporter told him that I was a Baptist preacher he of course knew that I was according to his ideas, a Jewish Apostate. Just a few weeks before my arrival he had driven out of his home his only daughter because she was resolved to marry a Gentile, and one can imagine his feelings when right to his door was brought, in a most helpless condition, a Jewish renegade. His desire was to let me die, as I, in his opinion, surely deserved. But there was that letter from the lodge calling him to the fulfilment of his duty as a member to a needy brother and forgetting his own personal resentment, he began to treat me as a father would his own child. Someone must have been interceding for me, for I was not only saved from death, but before leaving I was able to reconcile that father to his daughter and leave them with their ideas completely changed about Christ.

Death of Mrs. Carrie Bishop Ginsburg.— When I reached home from this interior trip I found my wife sick with yellow fever. The salary I was receiving was so meager, that to be able to live, I had to move into the Mission property, the old Jesuit prison. It was no doubt there that Mrs. Ginsburg had contracted the dreadful disease. The day I discovered that she was sick with fever I searched the town for a physician and though Bahia boasts of a medical faculty, on that day not one decent or capable physician could be found. It was Memorial Day or All Saints' Day and everybody seemed to be away from home. The only English physician in town was sick in bed. Finally I managed to get one who, misunderstanding the malady applied leeches, which I have no doubt hastened her death.

That was a sad day for me when she breathed her last. For ten long days I watched by her bedside, doing all that was in my power to save her precious life. We had known each other for more than three years and had been married only about four months. A portion of those few months I was away in the interior. We had planned to do a great work and were on the way to accomplish something for our Master in Brazil and, lo, here she was being taken away from me before we really had begun to live. When her last moments came and she realized that she was dying she called me to her side and whispered in my ear: "Do not weep for me, I am happy, for I am going home." While the believers who had learned to love her sweet and sunny smile and great help she gave them as a trained nurse, stood around weeping, she breathed her last, the same sweet smile hovering over her face.

No one was allowed to follow her last remains on account of the yellow fever and my heart felt sad and lonely when I saw her lowered into the grave in the English cemetery to await the great and glorious resurrection morn.

Thus ended a short but sweet life, consecrated and used by the Master. Little did she do herself, though she was preparing herself for a great work; but she did one thing and that was to guide my steps into the mission field. It was under God, due to her, that I was led to think of the Foreign Mission field as my sphere of labor. Had it not been for her, and her enthusiasm for the work in foreign fields I very likely would have never thought of it and would have no doubt continued setting up type until the present time.

I will never forget the first time we met on the seashore off the south of England where I was passing my holidays. She was taking an active part in the meetings for children. We talked together for hours about the Master's work and, oh, how she opened my eyes to the possibilities of one's life in the foreign field where millions were dying without the knowledge of God and the blessed Saviour. It was she who introduced me to the China Inland Mission and it was also she who helped me to get through the Regions Beyond Mission College. She had accomplished her purpose and the Lord took her to her reward.

The Lord gave, the Lord took her away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord!

End of Chapter 3

From A Wandering Jew in Brazil: An Autobiography of Solomon L. Ginsburg. Nashville, Tenn. Sunday School Board, Southern Baptist Convention, 1922.

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