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The Send, in São Paulo and Brasilia, was unlike any event we have seen. I was at two of the stadiums (or stadia, to be correct). First, São Paulo Stadium and then Alliance Arena stadium, about 15 kilometres away. Those two venues hosted well over 100,00 young people who came to hear more about how they could be missionaries. They stayed the full 12 hours, and the excitement was greater at the end than at any time during the day! They fully engaged with every worship set and listened intently to the missions speakers. I was astounded!
Throughout the day, I reflected on the question, “What is God doing here in Brazil?” The total global force of missionaries is something in excess of 400,000, but the Brazilians I spoke to are believing for 1% of the evangelical population to go into missionary work. That would be 800,000 and would treble the number of missionaries in the world!
A high-profile conversion?
All that was very exciting and encouraging, but something else grabbed the headlines in the Brazilian newspapers. Their President took the stage in Brasilia to declare that he is a Christian! When that happened in Brasilia, the social media networks buzzed and it was the only time during the 12-hour day, that the crowd temporarily seemed distracted. They celebrated in little groups; they prayed for President Jair Messias Bolsonaro and the rumours ran through the stadium in visible ripples.
I wasn’t sure what, exactly, had happened; so, I contacted a friend who was on stage in Brasilia and he reported that the President did take to the stage and stated that he is a Christian. Within seconds, it was reported that he had given his life to Jesus at The Send. One person who was there said it was an incredible moment and that it seemed it shifted the atmosphere over Brazil. He also wondered, “Will it stay that way?”
That is a good question! What can we expect now? We know his wife has consistently identified herself as a Christian, but who is President Jair Messias Bolsonaro? The mainstream press in Europe and the USA have depicted him as a dangerous, reactionary, right-wing opportunist. But that’s the way they often describe any politician who is on the conservative side of politics. So how do we know who he is and how do we know if this proclamation is sincere?
It’s hard to not judge
We do know that Jesus warned us not to judge because we cannot know another person’s heart. Most of the media will assume that he was just seeking votes. Maybe he was, but we don’t have any way of knowing. All we have is a commandment not to judge and the Biblical assurance that “by their fruits you will know them.”
There will be vitriolic attacks against him by journalists who are “sure” that he is a hypocritical opportunist. Christians will be tempted to rush to his defence and align with this man who has publicly confessed that he is following Jesus. But, is he?
After consultation, The Send wanted this statement to be released:
The president is a Catholic Christian and his wife is a born-again Christian. He has professed Christ as his Saviour previously and he stated it again at The Send. He is hungry for God although he can be controversial at times. His appearance was not planned. It was a surprise and when we knew he would show up, we were advised by some fathers in the church of Brazil to at least allow him to greet the people. He kept his greeting short, non-political and was visibly touched by the prayers and the presence of God in that place. The immediate press reports were positive and the feedback from the Church leaders has also been positive.
If we choose the path of wisdom, we will not rush to his defence, nor will we join the many who have already condemned him. We should take the wise path, praying for him and being careful about expressing opinions one way or the other, especially in public forums.
Some people who are born again experience an immediate reorientation of their entire life, including significant transformation of their character. Others come to a genuine faith, but the transformation of their character, their values and their choices is a process that takes time. Still others are like the rocky soil Jesus spoke about: they respond to the gospel, but when tests come, they abandon their faith. If President Bolsanaro takes paths that suggest that he has not changed, let us not desert him at the first mistake. He might yet turn out to be a force for godly transformation in Brazil.
Nor should we support him, whatever he does, just because he publicly confessed that he is a Christian. It is entirely possible that he was vote seeking at The Send. Let us not be impulsive one way or the other.
Time will tell.