, South American Division
Two years of local church outreach to a state prison in northern Brazil have resulted in the baptism of a third of its inmates and the opening of a Seventh-day Adventist church on its grounds.
Erton Köhler, president of the Adventist Church in South America, encouraged local church members to keep sharing the gospel wherever God leads during the church dedication at the prison in Bacabal, a city of 103,000 people in the Brazilian state of Maranhão.
“We are going in the right direction,” Köhler said. “We need to go where God sends. He will do the conversion work.”
He emphasized that the Adventist Church exists to save souls.
“This salvation is entering places that were previously impossible,” he said.
Twelve inmates were baptized at the church opening in the prison of about 150 prisoners on Sept. 17. The new church members declared that the baptism had set them free even though they remained behind bars.
In all, 92 inmates have been baptized since local church members began visiting the prison in 2014. About 50 of those inmates are currently in prison. The others have been released and become active members of the local church, local church leaders said.
“We have former inmates who now preach the same Word that transformed them,” said Caio Campos, pastor of the prison church.
Inmates still in prison have also noticed a change over the past two years. The number of fights and other violent incidents has sharply declined, and the facility is now ranked as the second most peaceful state prison in Brazil, Campos said.
The pastor of the local Adventist church, Alexandre Meneses, praised his members for their dedication in working with the prisoners.
“The church is strong in this region, and the gospel has expanded wherever it goes,” he said. “We are happy and committed.”
Among the former inmates who have been baptized is José Pereira Sousa Jr., a one-time bar owner and drug dealer. While serving an eight-month sentence, Sousa accepted the message of hope presented by the Adventist Church and his life began to change, he said. He completed his sentence a few days after his baptism and was released.
Married and the father of two children, Sousa now works as a motorcycle taxi driver and operates a cafeteria in his home. In church, he serves as a deacon, Sabbath School teacher, and a coordinator for the prison outreach program.
For him, nothing is better than sharing the Word of God.
“I am happy because I am serving,” Sousa said. “God performed a miracle in my life, and I feel an obligation to help people who are going through the same situation that I went through.”