In the history of the Lords work, sustained periods of dramatic progress have proven to be most unusual. When the Lord spoke to His people in Exodus 23 He sought to encourage them in relation to their entrance into the Promised Land. He promised His presence, His power, and His preservation in the great process of driving out their enemies. In verses 29 and 30, however, He adds, "I will not drive them out from before thee in one year; lest the land become desolate By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land." It is easy to become discouraged when the dramatic results that we long for are not forthcoming, but "by little and little" the work of God moves forward and the enemy is driven back.
We are deeply thankful to the Lord for the extent to which His blessing has been seen in the work here in the South of Brazil. In 1950 the gospel was brought to the State of Rio Grande do Sul by Mr. & Mrs. John McCann. They were joined in 1952 by Harry Wilson, and the first small assembly was formed in Osório in 1956. There are presently 19 assemblies in this state with an additional two just across the border in the State of Santa Catarina. More than half of these have been formed in the past 25 years, with the latest three established since 2005.
Two of the most recent assemblies have close links with the work in Novo Hamburgo where Tom and Dorothy Matthews had the joy of seeing an assembly formed in 1979. From the start of the assembly in Novo Hamburgo, there were members who lived in the neighboring city of São Leopoldo. It was not, however, until May 2005 that the time was right for an assembly to be established in that city. Then in June 2006 another assembly was formed not far from Novo Hamburgo, in Sapiranga, where the work had been started by Gregg Buchanan with other local brethren in 1991. While early progress in the work was followed by a period of slower development, blessing in more recent years indicated that the time was right for the formation of a local testimony.
The most recent assembly connected with the work here in the South is in Sombrio, 40km across the border into the State of Santa Catarina. One of the national workers, José Matos, had been working in this area for a number of years. In 1998 he had the joy of seeing an assembly planted in Passo de Torres which lies just on the border between Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina. Soon, contacts were made in Sombrio, and over the last number of years souls were saved and the work grew until the decision was taken to establish the new assembly in June last year.
It is important to remember the effect of the formation of a new testimony on the neighboring assembly where the believers have previously gathered. Sometimes some of the most experienced and useful brethren have moved to form part of the new assembly, leaving behind a void that is not always easy to fill.
In the case of Sombrio the original assembly in Passo de Torres has been left relatively small, although it is most encouraging to see the zeal of the believers that have remained. In the case of Novo Hamburgo, the formation of the Sapiranga assembly was the third time that a group of believers had left to establish another local testimony so that has brought its own challenges for the assembly in Novo Hamburgo. This, of course, is not something new - over the years a similar situation developed in the greater Porto Alegre area where Harry and Beth Wilson have labored for many years. Since the formation of the original assembly there in 1961, three further assemblies have been formed in the area and yet the assembly in Porto Alegre itself is presently the largest in the State.
There are many other places where a gospel work is carried on where as yet there is no assembly testimony. Lindsay and Beth Carswell live in Sapucaia, close to the São Leopoldo assembly, where there is a small group of believers. John McCann (Jr.) recently purchased a suitable building for meetings in a town called Restinga Seca where a gospel work has been carried on for a number of years in association with the assembly in Santa Maria. In Venâncio Aires, Roberto Ploia, another of the national workers, has labored for some years. This town is not far from his home in Santa Cruz do Sul where there has been an assembly since 1983, formed largely through the labors of brother Tommie Wright.
Other labors are being carried on in places where the nearest assembly is some distance away. Our Brazilian brother Carlos da Silva has labored for the past six years about 125km to the south of Porto Alegre in Camaquã where the work to date has not been easy. Crawford Brown has made a number of visits to Lages in the State of Santa Catarina, nine hours to the north of São Gabriel where he and Heather live. Gregg Buchanan has had meetings in Itapiranga in Santa Catarina, which lies to the north of his home in Três Passos. For some years now, we have traveled eight hours to São Borja on the border with Argentina. The latest visit there highlights one of the great trials of the work: we had the responsibility of speaking at the funeral of a lady who heard the gospel over the past seven years, but passed away without ever professing faith in Christ.
As we seek to report on the work here, we are conscious that we cannot claim dramatic progress. However, we are deeply thankful that "by little and little" progress is being made, souls are being saved, lives transformed, and testimonies established to the glory of our absent Lord. "Brethren, pray for us" (1 Thess 5:25).