Prayer brings Brazilian student in contact with Baptist couple

by Dee Ann Campbell, posted Monday, May 03, 1999 (19 years ago)

BUTLER, Ala. (BP)--I've given to missions all my life,” Mack Sanders said, "but I have never personally seen the results ... until I met Roberta."

Mack and his wife, Bettye, of Butler, Ala., speak passionately about the Brazilian exchange student, Roberta Barbosa, they are hosting for the 1998-99 school year.

Barbosa, of Sao Paulo, Brazil, where she is a member of Faith Baptist Church, represents the third generation of Protestants in her family, in a nation where 90 percent of its citizens are nominal Roman Catholics. The story of her family's conversion to the Baptist faith is one that Barbosa retells with much passion.

In the 1950s, she recounted, a group of six Baptist missionaries from the United States (not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention) came to the Brazilian state of Piaui. Unwanted by the Roman Catholic priests who represented the dominant religion in the country, the Baptist missionaries met with violent resistance. In an attempt to rid the area of the unwelcome intruders, the Roman Catholics attacked the missionaries physically, throwing stones at them.

"My grandfather owned a hotel in the city [Picos]," Barbosa said. "He saw the missionaries being mistreated and decided to help them."

Barbosa's grandfather, Jose Correia, along with two other families in the area, provided the Baptists with a safe place to stay. The group of missionaries, which consisted of three husband-wife teams, rotated between the three residences on a weekly basis.

While staying in the hotel, the missionaries shared the gospel with Jose and his wife, Maria. Within a short time, both accepted Christ and became born-again believers.

With the help of the missionaries, who remained in Brazil for more than 20 years, Barbosa's grandfather raised his family in a Christian home. Barbosa's mother, who was born some five years after the missionaries came to Piaui, received much instruction about the Bible and the Christian life from the missionary group. And in turn, Barbosa has been raised in a family deeply rooted in the Christian faith.

"I was raised in a Christian home," she said, "and when I was 8 years old, I asked Jesus to come into my heart."

Barbosa's deep faith and committed prayer life are obvious as she talks about her relationship with Jesus. In fact, she said it was prayer that brought her to Alabama and to the home of the Sanders.

"When my mother first asked me if I wanted to be an exchange student, I began to pray," Barbosa said with much emotion. "I prayed, 'Lord, if it is your will that I go to the United States, please give me a Christian family to live with there.'"

Barbosa said she asked the Lord to provide her with a family who would take her to church, show her love and affection and allow her to grow spiritually.

"I didn't want to go to a family who would not take me to church because I knew that I would grow further away from God instead of closer to him," Barbosa said.

At the same time, the Sanderses were praying in much the same way. They wanted a student who would be committed to attending church with them at First Baptist Church, Butler.

They also wanted a student who was well-grounded in the Christian faith. Of utmost importance to the Sanderses, as well as to Barbosa, was that God's hand be at work in the process of student and host family selection.

The Sanderses and Barbosa agreed that each of their prayers was answered in an unmistakable way.

With a remarkably mature faith not often found in a teenager, Barbosa speaks humbly of her reliance on God in all things. In times when, as an exchange student, she has needed assurance, she has quoted to herself the promise in Hebrews 13:5: "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."

Since arriving in the United States, Barbosa has been in contact with former missionaries who had played such a vital role in her Christian heritage.

One of the couples, Stella and Loid Lowe, now reside in Florida. Another of the couples, Hubert and Lois Morden, lives in Massachusetts. The third couple, Margaret and Robert Tillotson, returned to their home state of Washington. Tillotson, however, is now deceased. The Baptist missionaries were instrumental in starting the first Baptist church in Picos. Baptists in the region have grown dramatically since they planted those first seeds more than 40 years ago. Many large Baptist churches continue to grow rapidly in cities that once knew only the Roman Catholic religion.

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