A group of us recently worshiped at the First Baptist Church of Para, Brazil (in the city of Belem). This is actually one time that the name really means something–it was THE FIRST Baptist Church of all of the state, Para’, Brazil. It was founded by a member of the Swedish Baptist Churches in the US — the group that is now called Converge Worldwide.
Eric Nelson was a simple farmer in Kansas, but felt called to be a missionary in Brazil. He was not accepted by the Theological Seminary at the time, but convinced that God still wanted him to go. With a radical faith and zeal for the Lord, he left everything he knew to embrace a life he knew nothing about. He arrived in Belem, Brazil in 1891 and began sharing his faith with others, eventually establishing the first protestant church around. Eventually, Eric Nelson became known as the “Apostle of the Amazon” by starting and strengthening churches all along the Amazon basin. He lived on a simple boat and brought the gospel of Jesus to people who had never heard it before. What an impact one man can make when called by God, compelled by God, moved by God and empowered by God.
This pioneer missionary’s life is not so far removed from us. We also had the opportunity to meet a woman who actually knew Eric Nelson. When she was a girl in her early teens, Pastor Nelson would often stay in her family’s home when in Belem. She told us about his simple life, his uplifting personality, and his undying fervor for the Lord. Yes–Eric Nelson is not an idealistic legend, but a radical nation-changing leader.
I was reminded of how much God can use one sold-out person to impact our world. I’m still convinced that God is searching the earth for people who are gripped by God and gritty for God. Eric Nelson sure was. I want to be that, too.