Responding to a devastating flood in a Lutheran heartland in Brazil

James Sharp Bolivia, Brazil, Disaster response, FORO, Mercy Leave a Comment

A house completely destroyed in Arroio do Meio.


I just got back Monday from a few days in Brazil and Bolivia, fulfilling some of my duties as Area Facilitator.

Helping with disaster relief

In Brazil, I was helping Rev. Dr. Ross Johnson, director of LCMS Disaster Relief. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil, our partner church, invited him to do an assessment of the damage caused by historic floods in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul.

The waters rose over 30 meters (98 feet) in a matter of hours, submerging this house completely in water.

Unlike many disasters in Latin America, where Lutherans are sparse, this flooding took place in a heavily Lutheran area and affected many Lutheran families and churches. Our sister church, known by its Portuguese initials IELB, has done an initial assessment and found more than 200 Lutheran families affected by the flooding. Dozens lost property to flood waters. Several have completely lost homes. Thankfully, no members of the IELB died in the flooding, but many are homeless as they seek to rebuild almost a month after the flood occurred. Heavy rains continued most of the time we were there, complicating the ongoing cleanup.

The flood line on the building of Trinity Lutheran Church in Estrela is above my shoulder. 

Dr. Johnson and I were accompanied by one of the vice-presidents of the IELB, Rev. Airton Schroeder. We visited four congregations in the area that had people affected by the floods, including two in which flood waters entered. In the other two churches, the building was spared, and they are operating as a center of clothing and food distribution. We took time to meet with pastors, church leaders, and members of the affected communities. An elder in the congregation in Roca Sales had to be lifted off of his roof by a helicopter as the waters rose quickly.

a building damaged by flood waters in Brazil

Flood waters destroyed this building in Roca Sales

Rev. Schroeder led a devotion with each group based on Psalm 23. We listened to their stories, prayed with them, and let them know they are not alone. Our presence was appreciated both by the people on the ground and by the leadership of the IELB. We assured them, in the words of Rev. Schroeder’s devotion, that “the Lord will bring us through the valley of the shadow of death to rich pastures, and our cup will overflow, because Jesus has gone through the valley of the shadow of death to bring us to eternal life.”

The IELB has already received donations of food, water, clothes, and money to aid in these areas. We were impressed by the reaction of our Brazilian Lutheran brothers and sisters in this time of need. Dr. Johnson is working on a proposal of how best the LCMS can come alongside the IELB and help to show mercy and Christian love to our brothers and sisters affected by this damage.

Half of the sanctuary is dedicated to the clothes that have been sorted at St Paul Lutheran Church in Arroio do Meio. 

It was a very fulfilling time for me, not only to see how the IELB is responding to this disaster, but also to be of service and be helpful. I did not know that when I was an exchange student in Brazil in 1999, that I would be back there 24 years later, speaking Portuguese and helping the LCMS in its partnership with the IELB, but there I was. It is yet another reminder of how the Lord prepares us for the tasks he has given to us.

Bolivia Foro

Pastor Limberth Fernandez, President of the ICEL of Bolivia, addresses the partners gathered for the Foro.

After two days of visits with pastors and members in Brazil, I headed to Bolivia for two days of meetings at the Bolivia Foro. Foro means “forum” and is a meeting of partners to coordinate mission efforts. I met with leaders of the ICEL (Evangelical Lutheran Christian Church) and other mission organizations that support the work in Bolivia. I heard a report on something I am very excited about, training men to be pastors in their native Quechua language. We continue to support this effort to give men pastoral preparation in their language. About 40% of the people in Bolivia speak Quechua.


A hymn in Quechua


I am new to this!

Please forgive the poor formatting on the blog post, this is my first time! I’m going to try to post something every week to keep all of our friends and supporters back home in the USA informed about our work.

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