Rio de Janeiro has been nicknamed cidade maravilhosa (“the marvelous city,”) but Jews for Jesus branch leader Sergio Danon wants to show the way to an even more marvelous city: the city that has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminates it (as described in Revelation 21:23).
Sergio, a native of Rio de Janeiro, grew up in a traditional Jewish home, but both of his parents became believers when he was 16 years old. Sergio came to believe in Jesus as his Messiah four years later. He received his B.A. in Sociology and his theological training from the Seminßrio Teol=gico Betel. He was ordained and served as a pastor at Igreja EvangTlica Beit Lehem for five years before joining Jews for Jesus in May 2000. After finishing his missionary training, he returned to Brazil in April, 2002 with his wife Alexia and their children Israel (now 15) and Gabriel (12) to start our Rio branch “from scratch.”
Sergio had to go into high gear almost immediately, making preparations for our Behold Your God Rio campaign in 2003, and Behold Your God Sao Paulo in 2004. Also, in 2003 the branch began their yearly outreach during Carnival, the biggest annual event in the city of Rio de Janeiro. This outreach has been growing every year.
In 2007, the Pan American Games were held in Rio de Janeiro for the first time and that was a great opportunity for another evangelistic outreach. Sergio says, “That was an essential campaign, because it gave us insight and improved our knowledge to prepare us for the coming sports events in Brazil: the Soccer World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.”
In July, 2008 we moved our office to Copacabana, close to Rio’s most concentrated Jewish community.
Besides our presence at the big annual events, the Rio branch, like all Jews for Jesus branches, conducts weekly direct evangelism with sorties (tract-passing expeditions), phoning, visits and a Bible study at our office. Please pray for Sergio as he relies on volunteers to help shoulder the load, that God will provide all the help that is needed.
Our Carnival outreach is a unique challenge as our staff and volunteers are on the streets from 3PM to 4-5AM, talking to people who are open to hear about the gospel. Last year’s group handed out 35,525 broadsides, received contact information from 195 seekers, of whom 25 were Jewish, and prayed with seven Gentiles to receive the Lord.
One woman walked by, received our broadside, crossed the street, and then crossed back to tell us, “Wow, I’m Jewish and I knew about Jews for Jesus in New York, but Jews for Jesus in Rio… that’s crazy!” After chatting for several minutes she gave us her contact info, saying that she wants to know more about Jews for Jesus. “But really” she said, “I want to know more about Him…” And she pointed to the word “Jesus” on the campaigner’s shirt.
Please pray for this year’s Carnival outreach, March 4-8.
Facts about Jews and Brazil
When Pedro Alvares Cabral discovered Brazil in 1500, at least three Jewish men were present. They came because Brazil held the promise of freedom from religious persecution, which was on the rise in Spain and Portugal.
The Jewish community flourished under Dutch rule, from 1630-1654. But with the end of the Dutch colonization many Jewish people fled, fearful of the Inquisition. Some crossed to the “New World” and helped to settle New Amsterdam (New York).
The second half of the 19th century saw a resurgence of Jewish immigration to Brazil, starting with Sephardic Jews coming from the Mediterranean area, and culminating after the Second World War, with Ashkenazim (Eastern European Jews) who fled the Nazis.
Chabad, an ultra-Orthodox sect, is active in Rio, sponsoring Friday night Shabbat services. It is said that roughly a third of the attendees are young people who meet one another at the synagogue and from there go on to Rio’s night life.
Estimates concerning the Jewish population in Brazil vary widely, from 120,000 to 190,000. Estimates of the Jewish population in Rio de Janeiro range from 40,000 to 70,000. The census in Brazil tends to provide the lower numbers. The option to indicate one is Jewish corresponds to religion rather than ethnicity, so many Jewish agnostics, atheists, or those who embrace other religions do not identify themselves as Jewish. Others are simply not comfortable making their Jewishness a matter of public record. Branch leader Sergio estimates that there are 50,000 Jewish people in Rio, and 80,000 in Sao Paulo, which is just 300 miles away.