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Howard Norton speaks to an attendee at the Baxter Institute's annual seminar in Tegucigalpa in 2011.
Photo by Erik Tryggestad

Howard Norton: ‘Brazil has known turmoil before and has overcome’

Longtime missionary to Brazil, former editor of The Christian Chronicle, talks about the nation's presidential woes and people of faith.

Editor’s note: While Christians in the U.S. debate (and, in some cases bemoan) their choices in the upcoming presidential election, the South American nation of Brazil is in the midst of its own political turmoil.

Last night, senators in the nation of 200 million people voted to suspend President Dilma Rousseff, who they accuse of illegally manipulating finances to hide a growing public deficit before her re-election in 2014. The move follows an earlier vote of impeachment by Brazil’s Camara Federal, similar to the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Howard Norton, former editor of The Christian Chronicle, traveled to Brazil, where he served as a missionary from 1961 to 1977, to work with Churches of Christ there. He offers his perspective on current events in the country and Christian living.

I have often said that Brazil is always changing and remains forever the same.

The impeachment of the President Dilma Rousseff underscores my interpretation. What does change are the names of the actors, the dates of significant events and the precise circumstances that call for the best and worst in political leadership.

My wife Jane and I have been on a speaking and teaching mission to Brazil during the past few weeks leading up to the impeachment. We haven’t been with the rich and powerful, but rather with the good, lovable Christian people who have endeared Brazil to our hearts. They are warm and personable, hospitable and encouraging, humble and dedicated to the Lord. They had no personal vote for or against impeachment. Some of the Christians were for the indictment, and others were against it. As visitors in this great country, we watched the proceedings and left the politics to the politicians. It is not our country — we are here as guests.

When we arrived as missionaries to Brazil on June 17, 1961, the nation’s president was Janio Quadros. He and John F. Kennedy were inaugurated within weeks of each other. Both men were charismatic, fascinating, powerful speakers. We read about Quadros before moving here, and we were impressed that both Brazil and the United States had elected presidents who media compared to each other.

Members of the 1961 mission team to Sao Paulo, Brazil, gather on the campus of Abilene Christian University in Texas. (PHOTO PROVIDED BY ABILENE CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITY)

Everywhere we turned, people praised Quadros for his determination to clean up corruption, for his courage and for his ability to speak the Portuguese language with such power and accuracy. Some compared him to Abraham Lincoln. He made some strategic errors early on that backfired and provoked strong political reaction against his leadership. Six months later, he resigned the office and went on an around-the-world cruise. Pandemonium reigned in the government from August 1961 to March 1964 and beyond.

Time magazine, June 30, 1961
On March 31,1964, the Brazilian military led a movement against then-president Joao Goulart who many thought to be a communist or a communist sympathizer.  Goulart was forced into exile, and generals ruled Brazil from 1964 until 1985. In other words, our mission team lived and worked under a military dictatorship for 13 of the 16 years we called Brazil home. During those years, the military takeover was called the “Revolution of 1964.” Once the military returned the country to elected leaders, the takeover was renamed the “Golpe (Coup) of 1964.”

For people watching Brazil’s impeachment proceedings from afar, they should be optimistic about the future of Brazil. Brazil has known turmoil before and has overcome. So has the United States. The country is very much like our own nation in that the people are intelligent, resilient, optimistic, creative and self-confident. Brazil will survive and prosper.

What’s the problem, then? The problem is corrupt political leaders who are more interested in themselves than they are the people who elected them. Is this so different from the USA?

Brazil and the United States are great nations, but they both need to learn the lesson King Solomon taught some 900 years before Christ: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34, New American Standard Bible)

Filed under: Headlines - Secondary Opinion Views

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