Inside the Weird World of Brazil’s Child Preachers
|Ana Carolina Lucena Dias, Photos by Ezequiel Dias|
Managed by their parents, on tour 365 days a year, and charging $900 for a two-hour sermon, child preachers are big business in Brazil. Each event is a finely tuned marketing maneuver promoted with posters, magazine coverage, and radio ads. If you want one of these kid wonders to visit your parish, you’ll also have to fork over a down payment on a minimum of 150 DVDs (around $750).
Considering that there are approximately 17,000 evangelical parishes with over 24 million members across a country renowned for its drugs, violence, and general depravity, Brazil is a huge market for potential “salvation.” We met up with three of the country’s most popular pint-size proselytizers to see what happens when people stop being polite and start being Brazilian child preachers.
Ana Carolina Lucena Dias, 14 years old
VICE: What was the first sign that maybe you had a special thing happening with God?
Ana: When I was three years old, I got pretty sick. I can’t really remember what happened, but my mom told me that I stopped breathing and my heart stopped beating for a couple of minutes. Then God sent an angel down to earth who rescued me. So I was reborn and started a new life. A few weeks after that I did my first sermon to share this miracle with other people because I wanted to help them find God too.
Do you think your relationship with God is different from that of other Catholics?
It’s a little bit complicated. In the Bible you find people who are called the “chosen ones.” For example, Sansão [Sampson—of Delilah fame] was “chosen” by a prophet to be the voice of God on earth. I’m pretty confident about being one of those “chosen people,” too. Everybody recognizes the Holy Spirit right away and sees that I’m different from other kids because I’m a medium and God speaks through me.
So in some ways I’m speaking to God right now?
No. Only when I preach can you hear the true voice of God.
Do you have any religious training?
My parents couldn’t afford to send me to school. I grew up in the pretty poor favelas. I studied the Bible because it is the strongest book in the world and you can find the answers to everything in God’s words. In addition to that, my parents taught me how to be good.
What role do your parents play in your life?
They are more than a mother and father to me: They are friends, pastors, and disciples. I would say they fill all the gaps in life on earth because they are always there. I am sure God sent them to help me.
What do you do when you’re not spreading the Gospel? Do you enjoy things other children your age enjoy?
The Bible says that I don’t need to take time off because I’m God’s servant all the time and that is a blessing. You can rest when you are blessed, and you are blessed when you are dead. So I will continue to serve God as long as I live on earth.
But don’t you ever miss your friends?
I hang out with kids my age in school, but as long as I have my parents and God, I don’t need more in life.
No boyfriend then, I take it.
No. I belong to God.
What kind of job would you like to do when you grow up?
I want to become a federal judge and hope I still have enough free time to go out on the streets and into the favelas to tell the people the word of God. I hope God will be in my life all the time. And as intense as he is right now.
|Matheus Moraes, Photo by Francinete Moraes|
Matheus Moraes, 11 years old
VICE: Was there anything especially religious about your birth?
Matheus: I was born in Rio on the 18th of May, 1998, after a promise. God sent a prophet to earth who told my mom that she would get pregnant very soon and that the baby she was going to give birth to would have a very special gift. He would be a son of God.
Did she pay any special attention to this prophecy?
She didn’t believe it in the first place, because she wasn’t able to get pregnant her whole life. But all of a sudden she gave birth to me nine months after the prophet appeared.
What happened then?
In November of that year I was in pretty bad health. My lungs had a certain virus—I had serious breathing problems and I almost died. This reminded God of his lost son and the prophecy and he sent the prophet again to save me.
At what age did you start preaching?
Officially, I started preaching in 2003. My parents told me that I mumbled Bible phrases when I was a baby—even when I wasn’t able to read. I spent most of my childhood in church and had a pretty close connection to the pastor. At some point he asked me if I would like to give sermons, and so I started to walk the path to God. In 2006, I held about 250 sermons all over the country.
Has anything resembling a miracle happened during one of these sermons?
When I preach, people find God, and a strong belief in him can change a whole life. I remember this one woman who came up to me and wasn’t able to walk or move around. I prayed with her and held sermons and after seven days she found illumination and peace.
Do you have a lot of fans?
Usually I try to go to as many cities as possible. Every time I go back to a city there are always people with signs and posters. They ask me for signatures, too, and bring me gifts. Most of them buy my DVDs, and that is really good because I can make some money and give it to my parents. I don’t have to worry about food and clothes. I also use a lot of the money to go to the favelas and give bread and water to the people there.
It sounds like you certainly feel dedicated to a higher calling.
My parents and God are always there to help me. I love what I do, and it is the best to see the masses touched by the word of God. My goal in life is to win as many people as possible for the Kingdom of God. I don’t want to be afraid of all the bad things that are happening in the world.
|Alex Silva, Photo courtesy of the Silva family|
Alex Silva, 15 years old
Vice: Please tell us the story of your birth.
Alex: I’m the son of a prophecy. When my mom got pregnant, a prophet came to her and told her that I was going to be an instrument in the hands of God. Here in Brazil we have a strong belief in prophecies like that.
So you’ve been at this is for some time.
I’ve been preaching since I was nine years old.
How do you prepare for a sermon?
Every preacher has his own ritual. The first thing is that I don’t do anything that stresses me. The second thing is that I read a certain passage of the Bible that I want to talk about. The third thing is that I read religious books in general so that I get to know more about the topic and can preach better, and the fourth thing is that I always think a lot about everything I read. Also, I always try to rest right before a sermon—I pray and fast to face the Holy Ghost.
Is there a special child-preacher training program in Brazil?
I never had the chance to take religious classes. My rhetoric, my preaching, and my creativity all come from God. I have my own motivation, which is more important than a class.
But the point is that everyone starts on the same footing. When do the miracles come into play?
You need to be anointed to make miracles and to do healings and bring people back to life. You need to win souls for God’s realm.
Have you seen miracles?
Yes, I’ve seen a lot of them.
What role do your parents play?
My mom was always a friend, a partner, a helper, and a safe harbor. She is the supporter of my creation. She helps me with everything I do, supports me, and prays wherever I pray so that God blesses me.
Tell us about your own prayer.
When I pray, I speak to God. When I pray, I’m in total peace and the Holy Ghost comes down to me so that my soul finds peace with God. If you ask me how often I pray, I have to say that I usually don’t pray longer than five minutes—but I never have more than five minutes where I don’t pray. The secret is that you always have to talk to God. It doesn’t matter how often, it matters how you pray.
And when you aren’t praying and you aren’t preaching? What do you do then?
This sounds like the fun part of the interview. When I don’t pray to God I watch TV. Sometimes I read books or play video games. I recently started to get into soccer and tennis with my friend Waldir. He became my tennis teacher, but to be really honest I love soccer more. I’m not that different from any other kids my age. I’m just precocious when it comes to my gift.
Do you have a girlfriend?
How can you dare to ask that? Of course not.
Are you nervous before you go on stage to preach?
In the beginning I was pretty nervous. Not because of the crowd, but because of the spiritual responsibility: I’m a portal for God’s voice on earth to the people.
What was the greatest moment of your life?
I’ve seen a lot of miracles in other people’s lives because they found God. I grew up in a very poor environment, and God changed my whole life. He came down to me and gave me this gift to spread his words. I became very popular all over Brazil, and even in other countries. Every time I see someone crying because he is so touched by my words, it warms my heart.
Your DVDs are among the best-selling ones out there. I take it the money’s pretty good.
Many of my DVDs are sold around here, but the guys who make the most money are the ones who pirate them. Also, I do a lot of preaching all over the country. I do make a lot of money, but you have to know that the costs of what I do are pretty high, too.
Oh? Give us an idea, please.
For every sermon I do in public I get a new suit. I buy a lot of religious books. I have to pay for my education and for food. Also, together with Waldir I try to help the kids who really need it, because they don’t get any help from the state or the church. At Christmas and during Easter everybody gets gifts from us in the favelas. We try to help the poorest people.
What is your goal in life?
That is a pretty good question. We live in a materialistic and pessimistic world. People just live to work, to get food, and get food to work more. That’s how the world is right now. I want to bring love to the people. I want to free the people’s minds. I want to change the world.