20 April 2021
Reflections from Brazil - Multicultural Society
Shortly before the pandemic hit, Carolyn Lawrence visited Brazil to see at first hand the work and mission of the Methodist Church in Brazil.
Brazil is home to half the population of South America. Within this one nation there is such a variety of mixed races, nationalities and ethnic groups that is hard to define a typical Brazilian. The history of Brazil has brought people from many parts of the world. There are many indigenous Amerindian tribes though a lot less than there were originally as sadly, European invaders treated them as slaves and a lot of the tribes became extinct. Many also died as a result of contracting European diseases.
The Europeans played a large part in the colonization of Brazil, primarily the Portuguese, hence the language, but also French, Dutch, German, Italian and British. When the European settlers began to run out of indigenous slaves for their money making exploits, many slaves were brought to the country from Africa. It is estimated that Brazil received more slaves than any other nation, with over 4.9 million Africans transported to the country between 1501 and 1866. They were forced to work in the flourishing sugar trade and later on the gold and diamond trade.
After slavery was abolished, there was an influx of people from Asia, including Japan and Korea. Brazil is now home to the largest Japanese population outside Japan itself.
While Brazil upholds the ideal of racial harmony, inevitably, some racial discrimination does exist. I learned that there are a lot of refugees from Venezuela in the country, particularly in Manaus and the Amazon region and these people are not well liked by the locals. There are also a lot of Haitians who fled to Brazil after the big earthquake of 2010. We met one Venezuelan man who was trying to scrape a living by holding an umbrella over guests going into one of the Brazilian barbeque restaurants. He was very pleased to speak to Sandra in Spanish, something he is not often able to do. He told us that he cannot learn Portuguese because he can’t afford the lessons so he is living from hand to mouth to try to make ends meet. This story could be repeated many times across the city of Manaus and there is little sympathy because there are so many Brazilians also living in extreme poverty.
As far as the church is concerned, I witnessed a wonderful cross section of Brazilian society in worship and in leadership. I have worshipped in many nations but Brazil is definitely the most multicultural church I have ever experienced, apart from in large cities like Manchester in the UK. I noticed that there seemed to be no distinction on the basis of colour or background and it was as though no-one noticed the colour of another person’s skin which was a wonderful experience and for me a little taste of heaven as we were all one in Christ!
Carolyn Lawrence, Vice-President of the Methodist Conference, 2020-21.
Read other blogs in this series: