January 21, 2009

Light Bearers Then and Now

2009 1503 page26 cap was a witness to Adventist mission history. On June 14, 2007, medical missionary launch Luzeiro 2000 (Loo-zay’-roh) made its last run and was put up for sale.
This epoch of the launch’s history on South American rivers began July 4, 1931, when Leo and Jessie Halliwell christened Luzeiro I. In the 76 years since, after many launches carried that name on innumerable missionary voyages, their period of service ended.
Some of us are old enough to remember Leo Halliwell’s thrilling stories published in such books as Light Bearer to the Amazon. Young and old followed Leo and Jessie’s adventures, as well as those who continued their work. What happened to terminate this period of missionary endeavor?
Here’s some historical background.
Long Ago, Far Away
Luzeiro I medical missionary launch, the first of a series of vessels to cruise the rivers of South America, brought physical and spiritual healing to thousands.
2009 1503 page26Moisés Batista, president of the Amazon-Roraima Conference, explained the new challenges. He invited my son, Ronald, daughter-in-law, Jeanine, and me to join a group riding Luzeiro 2000 on its last run down the Rio Negro to its confluence with the mighty Amazon. (The 2000 after its name indicates the year it was christened.)
As we approached the sleek, modern vessel, we passed the venerable great-grandfather of them all, Luzeiro I, on display on the bank of the river under a protective roof. It still exists today, whereas Luzeiro II on to Luzeiro XXIII have been either sold or suffered shipwreck.
As we examined the hull, 30 feet (9 meters) long and 10 feet (3 meters) wide, built of itaúba, a long-lasting Amazon hardwood, we thought of Leo Halliwell, an electrical engineer, who sketched the design himself. He installed a 20-horsepower diesel engine and two generators for electricity. His wife, Jessie, a nurse, broke a bottle of soda water on the bow to christen it.

For 30 years, Leo steered their aquatic clinic up and down the 1,000-mile (1,600-km) stretch of river between Belém and Manaus. Together he and Jessie treated more than a quarter million Brazilians for a host of tropical diseases, and spread the message of salvation to a grateful people.
As we climbed onto the old vessel, we thought of the new and improved Luzeiro II, launched in 1941, and the many others that followed. Ronald and Jeanine showed special interest in the launch, since they had taken their turn as missionaries, spending five years working on Luzeiro III and Luzeiro IV.
How Things Change
As we boarded Luzeiro 2000, we thought of the contrasts: instead of wood, it has a steel hull. It is longer, 43 feet (13 meters); wider, 12.6 feet (3 m, 80 cm); and has a more powerful motor (180 hp). It carried missionaries up and down the rivers for more than six years.
Batista told us that Luzeiro 2000 is too large, too expensive, and too slow for present needs. It has been replaced by smaller, faster, less expensive aluminum-hull motorboats called voadeiras. They are powered by outboard motors. Twelve of them are now in use by pastor-evangelists who work in various districts in the state of Amazonas. These small boats have not been named. From now on only colporteur launches will continue to use the time-honored name Luzeiro.
2009 1503 page26We asked how many churches and companies a district pastor must care for. Batista told us the average cares for 15 to 20 different congregations. We could see why they would need faster transportation.
Batista told us another reason for changing mission methods. For decades missionaries spent much of their time treating sick people and pulling teeth. Now the state government operates well-equipped launches and clinics with qualified personnel to care for sick people in the jungle. Today pastors are free to dedicate themselves full-time to evangelism. They deal with physical needs on the first-aid level only and give instruction on the principles of healthful living. This has proven to be a good arrangement. In recent years Brazilian authorities have required that medical professionals treat the sick, which mission budgets would not allow.
I soon discovered another reason for leaving behind the larger, slower Luzeiro launches for the smaller, faster aluminum boats—the phenomenal growth of the church. Leo Halliwell baptized the first Adventist converts in the Amazon area. The 2008 Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook reports 516,860 members in the former North Brazil Union Mission.*
Until 2006 Batista was president of the Central Amazon Conference in the heartland of the jungle, with a membership of 147,887. So church leadership divided the state into two conferences. This new Central Amazon Conference, with João Peixoto as president, has 63,877 members divided into 11 districts. Batista still leads the Amazonas-Roraima Conference, with 89,433 members divided into 21 districts. With so many people to shepherd, local pastors have only 12 voadeira aluminum boats to speed on the message in the entire state.
My son, Ronald, and I have a special interest in these leaders. More than 25 years ago both Batista and Peixoto were our students at Northeast Brazil College in the state of Pernambuco.

After a six-hour ride in the last Luzeiro, we saw clearly why leadership closed the door on the old, time-honored methods of the Halliwells. New times demand new methods. Under God’s blessing, with new motorboats and a renewed dedication, a younger generation of workers is poised to speedily finish God’s work in north Brazil. 
*At the closing of this edition it has been reorganized and comprises the new North Brazil Union Mission and the Northwest Brazil Union Mission.
Robert G. Wearner, a retired pastor, teacher, and missionary, lives in Collegedale, Tennessee.