University students and other volunteers donated about 1,600 copies of Ellen G. White’s landmark book O Grande Conflito (Portuguese edition of The Great Controversy) to Juazeiro Prison in Bahia, Brazil on April 23, 2022. Copies were distributed among inmates, prison officers, and visitors.
Regional church leaders said initiatives like this one are an opportunity to highlight the importance of reading and the impact a book can make on a person’s life. The activity was part of the Libertos Project, an Adventist initiative that specifically targets prisons to support reading among inmates. It follows Brazil’s Law 7.210/84, which seeks to promote reading as a form of social reinstatement.
In some cases, getting involved in a reading initiative has even helped some inmates to get a sentence reduction, officers said. They explained that reading has been shown to promote the social integration of an inmate. It also has proved to reduce idleness and prevent recidivism. For every book read, the law allows a four-day reduction of the inmate’s penalty, up to a maximum of twelve books per year.
For Gleydson Silva, director of Publications Ministry at the Adventist Church's administrative headquarters for the northern region of Bahia, the initiative was a way to put compassion into practice and help others.
“Whenever I drove by the prison complex, I felt someone was telling me to do something to follow Jesus’ invitation to visit those who are prison,” Silva said. “It was the genesis of the Libertos Project, which seeks to free these people not only from physical but also from spiritual chains.”
Copies of The Great Controversy were purchased from literature evangelists, many of whom are students who work temporarily selling Adventist books to pay their tuition. For some of them, however, it is a full-time job. Pedro Luiz Oliveira is one who works full-time on book sales.
A literature evangelist for 22 years, Oliveira is part of a team in the region. He picked up more than 400 copies to distribute as part of the initiative. “I visited people to share about the project, asking for help to deliver the books to the prison,” Oliveira said. “I saw people shed tears, as they were thrilled to know that this project would free the oppressed.”
Oliveira added that such feelings were reinforced the day he and other volunteers visited the prison to distribute the books. “I felt the thrill of seeing hundreds of prisoners thirsting for hope. It was an opportunity to see lives saved and transformed,” he said.
Challenges and Outcome
The distribution of missionary books is a common activity in Adventist social and outreach initiatives. Free distribution projects, such as Impacto Esperança, have benefited many people for more than 15 years. But reaching out to those who can’t choose where to go is an even greater challenge, as Weber Thomas, Adventist Church president for northern Bahia, pointed out.
“Delivering a book to a neighbor, a friend, or an acquaintance is easy, but delivering a book to prison inmates is a challenge,” Thomas said. “There are rules to follow and other hurdles, but God opened the doors for us to visit several facilities. It was amazing to see the joy of volunteers and the emotion of inmates during the initiative.”