To many Brazilian Christians, Maria Dutton is known as “Senhora or Dona,” a term of respect and endearment.
Fluent in six languages — Portuguese, English, Spanish, Italian, German and French — she earned a master’s in languages from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and also studied at the University of Michigan. In 1961, she was hired by a team of 15 missionary couples and one single missionary — Allen Dutton Sr. — to teach them Portuguese.
“Soon, I began studying the Bible to find out what they believed in, and I discovered many wonderful reasons to believe in the Word,” she said. “The missionaries were always honest, sincere, punctual and helpful.”
She was baptized, married Dutton and became a missionary to her own people. The couple helped establish five congregations in Brazil.
Allen Dutton Sr. died in 2001. The couple’s son and two daughters are all faithful Christians. Their son, Allen Dutton Jr., is a medical missionary in Campinas, Brazil. Maria Dutton attends the Guanabara Church of Christ in Campinas. She has six grandchildren. What do American Christians need to understand about Christianity in Brazil?
American Christians need to understand that we have a different outlook on life. We are poorer than the U.S. in general, but we have a happy way to see things, and once we are determined to keep our commitments, we do.
Unfortunately, the masses are led by promises of financial wellbeing and cling to whatever is preached without questioning. They believe in a lie, thinking that they will receive material blessings. When they discover the lie, they are at first frustrated but later on decide to study in depth the Word so as not to be deceived again. This is where the Church of Christ comes in strong. We love to study God’s Word.
What attracts Brazilians to the Christian faith?
I believe Brazilians are attracted by the straightforwardness and truth of the Bible. Not many of us were used to reading the Bible, and sincere Christianity offers study of the Word.
Many Brazilians are amazed at what they find when reading the Word. What they thought was true cannot be found in what they are reading, whereas plain truth is not observed at all. For example, bishops should be married and have faithful children. What changes have you seen in people’s attitude toward the Christian faith in Brazil?
Years ago, it was a matter of status to be a Catholic. It is not anymore.
Also, in general, people with a lot of money thought they would be involved and asked to contribute more than they wished. Gradually, the Church of Christ is clarifying that notion. He who sows much reaps much. He who sows little reaps little. Increasingly, Christians in the Global South are taking leadership roles in the church and international evangelism. Do you see evidence of this in Brazil?
Many Churches of Christ in Brazil already have elders and deacons. Many are evangelizing by planting other congregations that are fully supported by the local work and not by outside funds. This is happening throughout Brazil.
Brazil is very receptive to the Gospel, and the growth of the church in Brazil is evident. Across Latin America, charismatic churches have seen phenomenal growth. What is their appeal?
In my understanding, their appeal is largely emotional, offering healing and tongue-speaking — emotions that are very difficult to go against.
But if you really come to the conclusion that Jesus is the Word, you need nothing else but to follow him, as it is evident in the Bible.
People get so emotional that they forget to study and be rooted in Jesus, the Word. How have you seen Churches of Christ change in Brazil since your conversion?
Changes in the church in Brazil have been happening in recent years, and they worry me a lot. Opinions and differences in culture are, for sure, subject to adaptation, but I am afraid that what the Bible says about singing and women’s role are being taken another direction.
I have attended services where musical instruments are used and people are entertained as in a show. Even though the lyrics are praising God, one is distracted by the noise of several instruments.
I have also heard of congregations where women are taking the lead in worship services little by little, praying or using the pulpit for other things excluding preaching.
This concerns me because I do not see this teaching in the Word. When I was converted, this was not even heard of in the Church of Christ. What challenges does Christianity face in South America today?
I understand it is very difficult to evangelize tropical countries because of beaches, Carnival, summer clothing and the spirit thus created, but it is not impossible.
In spite of all this, Brazil continues to be very open and receptive to the Word. It may take longer for these people to realize the seriousness of eternal life. With the examples of evangelists following the Word, they eventually will.