For the third year in a row I was able to participate in Rio de Janeiro's annual St. George Festival. St. George was a Roman soldier and Christian who refused to bow down to and worship an image of the deified Roman emperor Diocletian (284-305 A.D.). He paid the ultimate price for his faithfulness to his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, which makes this annual event so ironic!
You see, both Roman Catholics and Spiritists "venerate" St. George to the point of attributing to him supernatural powers such as the ability to answer their prayers. When we arrived at the festival the first thing we saw was a man on stilts and dressed as a clown with his prayer to St. George printed on a sign on his back. Also, due to his military status, St. George is essentially the "patron saint" of the Rio police force and fire department. He is venerated for being a warrior who supposedly will fight for those who put their lives on the line.
In other words, what makes this whole St. George thing so ironic is that people end up doing to St. George what he refused to do (and eventually died for): to worship idols!
After arriving near an outdoor stage where the Catholic Church was holding continuous masses, we faced in the opposite direction so as not to disturb the mass with our bullhorn and began to preach, hand out a great little tract put out by the Baptists here called "How to Have Eternal Life" while holding our two banners high. One of the banners (see above) that I had originally developed to use while preaching to the gay pride parades in Rio and São Paulo had Rom. 1:26-27 and 1 Cor. 6:9-10 on it. Actually, since 1 Cor. 6:9-10 covers a variety of sins - including idolatry - this banner has been a mainstay at most of my preaching events. In the interest of not only giving people the bad news, I made sure I included the following statement at the bottom of this banner: "What's the solution? Abandon your sins and deposit your trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord." The other banner had the Ten Commandments on one side and James 2:10 on the other.
We were a relatively small group of four (three others couldn't participate at the last minute): me, one recent Law School graduate (Alexandre), a Social Work student (Flávia) and an older gentleman from my church (Jorge). While Alexandre and I took turns preaching, whoever wasn't preaching was either holding a banner, handing out tracts and/or talking one-on-one with people.
At one point while Alexandre was preaching I noticed a festival official talking to Flávia. I was thinking, "Oh, here we go again!" You see, last year we had unintentionally stirred up an almost violent reaction on the part of the St. George followers as we preached in front of St. George Catholic Church in the West District of Rio de Janeiro. While preaching against idolatry and several other biblically-erroneous doctrines of the Catholic Church (e.g., purgatory, salvation by faith + works, etc.) we suddenly found ourselves in the midst of a sea of red-shirted (St. George's official color) faithful shouting us down, telling us to leave, beginning to push and shove us while lifting up a huge styrofoam sculpture of St. George - on his horse - in front of our banner so that people would be unable to see the text. We were escorted out of the immediate area by municipal guards for safety reasons, but not before being interviewed by two newspaper reporters (and being filmed by a national TV station).
So, when I saw that festival official speaking with Flávia, then being joined by a municipal guard, I knew we were about to be interrupted. Sure enough, the municipal guard (whom I had spoken with last year while preaching in another part of downtown Rio) called me aside to encourage us to leave in light of the anger our presence was already generating among 10-15 men. We were being accused by those men of doing something illegal because we were promoting "religious intolerance," but the guard assured us we were legal. His only concern was for our safety. I told him that I felt it was his duty to protect us as we exercised the
Brazilian equivalent of the First Amendment, but apparently they don't value the right to free speech as highly as U.S. authorities do. Since the other three had never been in a situation like that, I decided to not make those men any angrier than they already were and followed the advice of the guard to move our outreach to the train station, which was about 300 yards away. In fact, many festival goers were arriving from the west side of the city by train, so it was an opportunity to preach to many before or after their participation in the festival, not to mention to many others who were using the trains that holiday.
Besides the thousands who heard our preaching and/or read our banners, to our knowledge at least four people humbly gave their lives to Christ. Our prayer is that the banner verses, the words that were audibly heard via the preaching (or the one-on-one conversations) and the evangelistic tracts would accomplish God's purpose in each life that was reached.
It was a long day for us, and some of us had some aches and pains during and after the event, but we all felt that we had given our all to lift Jesus Christ up - the Truth - in the midst of such an idolatrous event. Thank you, Jesus, for allowing us to preach the gospel to so many!