Child Preachers of Brazil

There’s an interesting article in the New York Times with the title “The Child Preachers of Brazil: The youngest evangelists in the country’s Pentecostal churches try to balance the demands of their youth with those of their faith.”

Pentecostal churches are making big inroads in South America. Here’s the beginning of one child preacher’s story:

The Santos family lives in a low-slung concrete house in São Gonçalo. On the evening I visited last year, a car had just rolled off an overpass nearby, and the sound of gunfire briefly kept residents from leaving their houses. By the time I arrived, though, the street was quiet. On the corner sat an empty food truck covered with a mural of baile-funk dancers; drug dealers sometimes set up shop in it, the Santoses told me. The only store I saw sold window bars, but it was closed.

The family’s living room was tiny and tidy, with one cinder-block wall painted a cheery orange. Alani had finished her day at elementary school and was in her room, changing out of jean shorts and a school-uniform shirt. Her mother, Sandra, set out purple fruit punch and crackers as Adauto cued up a slide show of Alani’s preaching on the family’s computer.

Adauto and Sandra were each brought up Catholic. Adauto then converted to Umbanda, an Afro-Brazilian religion. When he was in his 20s, his brother, then the leader of a car-theft gang, went to jail. The prison had a Pentecostal church run by inmates, which held services for their families on Sundays. Adauto’s brother converted, and his family was impressed by the change in his behavior. He seemed happier, more purposeful. Soon Adauto decided to be baptized, too. He took a theology course to become a pastor and began evangelizing in poor neighborhoods, known as favelas, and in prisons, preaching in the long underground tunnels where inmates with tuberculosis or H.I.V. were held. He brought Sandra to Pentecostal services, and she was taken with the raw emotionality and the feeling of community; eventually, she and her entire extended family converted, too.

Sandra, who is shy and, at 37, a decade younger than her husband, told me that she tried to become pregnant for seven years. During that time, three different people in church prophesied that God would give the couple “a pearl,” which she and Adauto understood “to mean that we would have a daughter and she would be used by God. We just didn’t know how young it would start.”

Alani’s parents say she performed her first miracle at 51 days old. Her father placed her hand on the distended stomach of a woman who had come to his church for healing. The woman fell to the ground, and, Adauto said, her belly immediately deflated. When Alani was 1, her parents encouraged her to pray for miracles. At around 2, they allowed her to begin laying on hands at church services. “By the time she could speak, she could preach, and she was already being seen as a miracle worker,” Adauto recalled. He began taking Alani with him when he preached in prisons and favelas, to provide her an outlet for her talent. “Some kids who have this gift are probably in psychiatric wards, because it could be easily misunderstood,” he told me gravely. “It’s an extraterrestrial force.”

Here’s an interesting statistic from the article:

No one keeps track of the number of child preachers in Brazil, but Pastor Walter Luz, who coordinates a 10-day conference for preachers ages 5 to 18 in São Paulo, estimates there are thousands. Most come from poor or lower-middle-class families, and nearly all of them are affiliated with Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination started in America in 1914 and taken to South America by missionaries. Assemblies of God is now the largest Pentecostal group in Brazil.

It’s hard to believe that there is a conference for preachers as young as 5.

This still happens in the United States in some places, though it used to be more prevalent in Pentecostal culture. One interesting book looks at the phenomenon of girl evangelists in the United States in the 1920s. Many of these came from Pentecostal backgrounds as well,*Out of the Mouths of Babes: Girl Evangelists in the Flapper Era *.

I believe the operative Scripture is Acts 2:17, which has special significance for Pentecostals.

I believe Rev. Al Sharpton was a child preacher.

NY Times article:

What would be more interesting to me is if any of these kids actually heal anybody. No doctors have taken it upon themselves to investigate? The author of the article didn’t investigate one claim. How hard is it to accompany a person to an HIV test to see if they no longer have it? A previous positive test result could be compared. It is tragic if people are given false hope like Benny Hinn does.


I’d say to anybody who would visit such preachers to check out the film Marjoe. It’s the documentary of Marjoe Gortner, who was once dubbed the youngest ordained preacher. He had a knack for pantomime so his parents trained him to emulate the preacher style. He grows up and his parent leave with his money. Marjoe decides to do one more run but brings a camera crew with him to show both how he operates onstage and behind it (including the tricks on how to get the most money at revivals).

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