THE year is 1923. The concert hall at the Drama and Music Conservatory of São Paulo is packed! Can you hear George Young’s steady voice? Sentence by sentence, his talk is being interpreted into Portuguese. All 585 present are listening attentively. Bible texts in Portuguese are being projected onto a screen. As a grand finale, a hundred copies of the booklet Millions Now Living Will Never Die! are distributed, along with some in English, German, and Italian. The lecture is a success! Word spreads. Two evenings later, the hall is packed for another lecture. But what led up to these events?
In 1867, Sarah Bellona Ferguson emigrated with her family from the United States to Brazil. In 1899, Sarah knew that she had found the truth after she read some Bible literature that her younger brother brought to Brazil from the United States. An avid reader, she subscribed to the English Watch Tower. Thrilled with the Bible’s message, she wrote to Brother C. T. Russell, describing herself as “living proof that there are none too far away to be reached.”
Sarah Ferguson did her best to share Bible truth with others, but she often wondered who would further help her and her family, as well as all the good people of Brazil. In 1912, Brooklyn Bethel advised her that someone was coming to São Paulo with thousands of tracts entitled Where Are the Dead? in the Portuguese language. In 1915 she said that she always found it surprising that many Bible Students expected to be taken to heaven soon. Expressing her viewpoint, she wrote: “How about Brazil and all South America? . . . When you consider what a terribly big part of the world South America is, it will be easy to see there is more harvest work to be done.” Yes, much more harvest work would be done!
About 1920, eight young Brazilian sailors attended some congregation meetings in New York City while their battleship was being repaired. On returning to Rio de Janeiro, they shared their newly learned Bible hope with others. Not long thereafter, in March 1923, George Young, who was a pilgrim, or traveling overseer, arrived in Rio de Janeiro, where he found interested ones. He arranged to have several publications translated into Portuguese. Brother Young soon traveled to São Paulo, then a city of some 600,000 inhabitants. There he gave the lecture and distributed the Millions booklets, as mentioned in the introduction of this article. “Being alone,” he reported, “I had to depend entirely upon newspaper advertising.” These were “the first advertised public lectures given under the auspices of the I.B.S.A. in Brazil,” he added. *
In a report on Brazil, the December 15, 1923, Watch Tower commented: “When we consider that the work there began June 1 and that no literature was on hand at the time, it is remarkable how the Lord has blessed the work.” The report went on to say that Brother Young’s public lectures in São Paulo were 2 of the 21 delivered from June 1 to September 30, with a total of 3,600 in attendance. In Rio de Janeiro, the Kingdom message was gradually spreading. And in only a few months’ time, over 7,000 of our publications in Portuguese had been handed out! Moreover, publication of The Watch Tower in Portuguese had begun with the issue of November-December 1923.
George Young called on Sarah Ferguson, and The Watch Tower reported: “The sister came to the parlor, and for a time was speechless. Taking hold of the hand of Brother Young, and looking earnestly into his face, finally she remarked: ‘Are you a really live Pilgrim?’” She and some of her children were soon baptized. In fact, she had been waiting for 25 years to be baptized! The August 1, 1924, Watch Tower mentioned that 50 were baptized in Brazil, mostly in Rio de Janeiro.
Now, some 90 years later, we need not ask: “How about Brazil and all South America?” Over 760,000 Witnesses of Jehovah are preaching the good news in Brazil. And throughout South America the Kingdom message is now being heard in Portuguese, Spanish, and many indigenous languages. In 1915, Sarah Ferguson was right, ‘There was more harvest work to be done.’
^ par. 6 I.B.S.A. stands for International Bible Students Association.