Thursday, April 22, 2010

French Witness in Brazil

The Psalms resonate with all of God's creatures. Case in point, Jean de Léry was a missionary sent in 1556 by the Church of Geneva to the fledgling Huguenot colony at what is now Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, known as France Antarctique, who recorded his adventures in Histoire d'un voyage faict en la terre du Brésil (History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil) (1578). One anecdote concerns a trip he took with some of the local Tupi Indians. He writes (p. 149):

I do recall, however, another example that I will put forth here, showing that these nations of savage living in the land of Brazil are teachable enough to be drawn to the knowledge of God, if one were to take the trouble to instruct them. One day, going from our island to the mainland to get provisions, I was accompanied by two of our Tupinikin savages and by another of the nation called Oueanen (which is their ally), who had come with his wife to visit his friends and was returning to his own land. As I was passing with them through a great forest, contemplating so many different trees, grasses, and flowers, all green and fragrant, and hearing the songs of the countless birds warbling through the woods in the sunlight, and I felt impelled to praise God, and feeling gay of heart, I began to sing aloud Psalm 104, "Bless the Lord, O my soul." My three savages and the woman who walked behind me took such delight in it (that is, in the sound, for they understood nothing of the rest) that when I had finished, the Oueanen, stirred with joy, his face beaming, came forward and said to me, "Truly you have sung wonderfully; your resounding song has recalled to me that of a nation that is our neighbor and ally, and I have been filled with joy at hearing you. But we understand their language, and not yours: therefore I entreat you to tell us what your song was about." So I explained to him as best I could (I was on my way to join two of my countrymen at the place where I was to spend the night, and I was the only Frenchman present) that I had in general praised my God for the beauty and governance of his creatures, and in particular I had attributed to him this: that it was he alone who nourished all men and all animals, and made the trees, fruits, and plants grow throughout the whole world; moreover, that this song I had just sung, dictated by the spirit of this magnificent God whose name I had celebrated, had first been sung more than ten thousand moons ago (for that is their way of counting) by one of our great prophets, who had left it to posterity to be used to that same end. They are wonderfully attentive to what you say to them, and will never interrupt you, so that, as they made their way, it was more than half an hour after hearing this discourse that -- using their interjection of amazement, "Teh!" -- they said, "O you Mairs (that is, Frenchmen) how fortunate you are to know so many secrets that are hidden from us poor wretches!" And to compliment me, saying "Here, because you have sung so well," he made me a present of an agouti that he was carrying, which I have described along with other animals in Chapter X.


  1. Andrew, you may be pleased to know that this history is known among the Brazilian Presbyterians today. My friend in Brazil (Iposted a link on his Facebook) gave me a link to an article detailing the Huguenot arrival and witness. On p.14 thru 18 is the COnfession of Faith of Guanabara (present day Rio de Jenario) written in Portuguese. The article ends with the Psalm (#5) the Huguenots sung in Portuguese using the Genevan tunes. This was sung in March 1557 at the Fort de Coligny (named after the most famous Admiral).
    Here is the link (all in Portuguese):

  2. Hail brothers,
    My name is Ademir Moreira, and I’m an Elder from the Puritan Reformed Church at Brazil, the only one fully reformed denomination at Brazil (as long as we know).

    I’m writing to say that, sadly, this history is not so known here...
    With a population of more than 200 millions, 80% of our people are illiterate (total or functional), 70% do not have any access to the Internet, and 80% of the ones that have this access does not know even how to send an e-mail. My denomination have only 8 congregations, but in all these cities we are the only church who is not charismatic or Arminian in any extant. At least 54% of our people were NEVER really reached by the Gospel – in only one of the cities where we have our congregations, there are 4 isolated “outbacks” of an ethnic group called “caiçara”.

    The struggle is very hard here; there is much work, and just a few workers. Please remember us at your prayers.

  3. Thank you, gentlemen, for your feedback.

    Mr. Clonal - It is a privilege to remember you and your church ministry in our prayers. May the Lord be pleased to shine the light of the gospel throughout Brazil. Thank you for writing, and God bless you.