In this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, Samantha M. Shapiro has a fascinating and frightening look at child preachers in Brazil:
[Pastor Adauto Santos] prepared the crowd to receive his daughter, who is now 11 and has been preaching since she was 3. On Monday nights, Alani lays on hands; on Wednesdays, she has a revelations service, in which she and other preachers make predictions about the future; on Saturdays, she hosts a radio show about the Bible. She also does Skype prayer sessions with followers who live far from her or are too sick to meet her, and preaches at other Pentecostal churches and gatherings.
There’s no evidence any of it works… but it’s not like religion ever let common sense get in the way.
Alani’s not alone. There are lots of kids just like her. Which leads to an obvious question: Why is this a thing?
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.
You see in the article that these kids provide hope to desperate people who see them as prophets of sorts. The crowds are willing to fork over a lot of money for the privilege of access to these “magical” kids. In some ways, it’s a lot like Toddlers & Tiaras: These kids are often pushed into this world by their parents… and it gets to the point where they start believing their own hype.
Just check out this story, which has parallels to Justin Bieber‘s discovery:
There’s Alex Silva, who is now 21 and left a tiny town in the Brazilian state of Bahia with his mother when he was 11 to take up preaching in São Paulo. The family slept on floors while he was getting his start; soon he was informally adopted by a church elder, who began managing his career. By the time he was 13, Alex had preached at Brazil’s main Pentecostal conference for an audience of 500,000 and had been to Angola three times to speak in a stadium there.
No one has the ability to tell these kids and their families that there’s nothing happening. There’s no gift. God’s not speaking through them. Any effect they have on crowds is all in their heads.
The cycle will continue as long as religion does, because the whole game is about providing hope for those who can’t find it in reality.
(Image via Shutterstock)