Posted on: Wednesday, March 4th, 2015
Renato Nascimento and Emory & Henry’s 140 Years of Missionary Service: By Dr. James Dawsey
Former Emory & Henry College student Renato Nascimento spent five days during November 2014 on a mission trip to an orphanage in Haiti. There was a spiritual component to the trip with daily hymns, prayers, and meditation. But, the principal purpose of the mission was to provide dental care to the orphans. The group also took presents to the children and furnished extra desks, bunk-beds, bedding, and other resources to the orphanage. A goal was to increase the capacity of the Christian orphanage from the twenty-six orphans it now houses. There is a long list of children 6-11 years old awaiting admission.
Renato Nascimento attended Emory & Henry in the late 1990s and today is a successful businessman in Birmingham, Alabama. He works as the Alabama, North-Florida, West-Tennessee Regional Supervisor for Professional Financial Services Corp and last year was selected outstanding employee of the company. Renato is also the Director of Beraca Foundation, a nonprofit, international Christian organization that supports local communities in developing countries. He is married to Rebeca and is the father of two daughters, Julia and Emily. Renato speaks of his responsibility to give back to society and recalls Emory & Henry professors Suzanne and Robin Reid, Margaret Hutson, Eleanor Hutton, and others who influenced his life. He keeps close contact with Jim and Dixie Dawsey.
Renato organized and raised the money for the trip together with his Birmingham church and another Christian church that founded and runs the orphanage. The mission was unusual in that it marked not only ecumenical cooperation but collaboration between two countries, as a number of the eight participants came from the United States while others traveled from Brazil.
Renato’s story is also unusual in that it was some 140 years in the making. Jesus said, “A good tree bears good fruit.” And Renato’s life-course and, if we look closely enough, his mission to Haitian orphans are rooted in the lives of two Emory & Henry classmates of the 1870s: John James Ransom, who graduated in 1874, and Walter Russell Lambuth, who graduated the following year.
Soon after being ordained in the Methodist Episcopal Church South and graduating from Emory & Henry, Ransom responded to calls to the Nashville Christian Advocate requesting the sending of a young man who could learn Portuguese to spread the gospel in Brazil. Ransom had a gift for languages and was a brilliant scholar. He raised money for the trip in Tennessee and Virginia, some of it in the Abingdon District–families promising $5 a year in support for three years. Arriving in Brazil in February 1876, Ransom settled in the Province (today State) of São Paulo near a colony of Southerners who had emigrated from the United States after the Civil War. There he learned Portuguese and within a few months started preaching and evangelizing in Portuguese. He opened two schools and started a publishing house.
By 1881, Methodist work was spreading so rapidly to the capital city of Rio de Janeiro and two other Provinces that Ransom brought three more missionaries from the United States to help with the work. One of these, James L. Kennedy, was from the Holston Conference and had been brought into full connection at an annual conference held in Abingdon. Kennedy would spend fifty-five years ministering, preaching the gospel, building schools, and providing programs of medical and social relief where needed in Brazil. A second of Ransom’s recruits was Martha Watts, out of Kentucky, who became great friends with Brazil’s first democratically elected president, and who was largely responsible for introducing co-education in Brazil and for modernizing the Brazilian national curriculum for young women. The school that Ransom’s wife, Annie, founded and that Martha Watts directed after Annie’s death of yellow fever became one of the premier private universities in South America, UNIMEP. Today, the Brazilian university maintains collaborative programs with Emory & Henry. Another Methodist that Ransom influenced into going to Brazil in 1906, the Reverend H. Clarence Tucker from the Tennessee Conference, was recognized by the Brazilian government with the country’s highest civilian honor, the Ordem do Cruzeiro do Sul, for his work helping rid the city of Rio de Janeiro from yellow fever and for other accomplishments. Tucker was actually appointed as a missionary to Brazil by the Reverend E. Embree Hoss (also an Emory & Henry graduate, class of 1869), who served at the time as the Methodist Episcopal Church South’s Bishop to Brazil.
But back to our tale of Renato’s mission to the orphans in Haiti. Ransom was the pioneer who opened Methodist work among the Brazilians. But he did not work alone. As mentioned, one of Ransom’s friends at Emory & Henry was Walter Russell Lambuth, who after graduating in 1875 continued at Vanderbilt for the Master of Divinity and Doctor of Medicine degrees. Upon finishing his studies, Lambuth went to China as a medical missionary. Later he opened Methodist work in Japan and Korea. Like E. Embree Hoss, Lambuth became a bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church South and was charged with overseeing the mission to Brazil. Lambuth was also one of the founders of the African-American Paine College in Augusta, GA. In that effort, he became great friends with the distinguished John Wesley Gilbert, who as a son-of-slaves became Paine College’s first graduate and America’s first African-American archaeologist. Together with this companion in 1911, Lambuth took Methodism into the Belgium Congo.
In 1913, while Bishop to Brazil, Lambuth was approached by a young ministerial couple, Cyrus and Ethel Dawsey, about going to Japan as missionaries. Lambuth convinced them instead of the greater need for their services in Brazil and appointed them to the interior of the State of São Paulo. Charged with a circuit larger than the State of Texas, the couple settled in the town that marked the last stop on the railroad. From there, they opened preaching stops in approximately 30 towns that could be reached by train or horseback, including what today is the city of Lins where Renato was born. Following Ransom’s pattern, the Dawseys founded churches and opened co-educational schools. They worked with lepers. When the Spanish Influenza devastated the region in 1918, they turned their parsonage into the first hospital of the area. A number of years later, by then himself a bishop, the Reverend Dawsey established the first Methodist orphanage of the region.
In 1921, the Dawseys were joined in their work by the missionary educators Clement E. and Patience Hubbard, who in 1928 founded a Methodist school in Renato’s birth city of Lins. Hubbard was one of the persons who introduced the sport of basketball into Brazil, popularizing both the sport and the Methodist schools where it was played. By 1954, three years before he retired, the school at Lins had prospered to such an extent that Hubbard introduced Odontology into the curriculum and established a dental school. It was the first such school of the region and continues to fill a strong need, graduating approximately 60 dentists a year.
By the modern period, the acorns planted by Ransom, Lambuth, and their followers had grown into large oaks. In the early 1990s, at the behest of the Brazilian Methodist Church, another Emory & Henry alumnus, Dr. J. Marvin Reynolds, traveled to Brazil to consult with the Lins Dental School faculty and administration. He quickly came to admire the service orientation of the school’s faculty and staff and the work being performed in the free clinic for indigents. He also saw the needs of the community and became fast friends with the President of the Methodist Institute in Lins, Dr. Joaquim Miranda da Rosa Filho.
Upon returning to the United States, Reynolds followed through with promises made to Dr. Joaquim and approached Emory & Henry about strengthening its historical ties to the Brazilian schools. As it happened, the Academic Dean of the College at the time was the grandson of the same Cyrus and Ethel Dawsey sent to Brazil by Bishop Lambuth and who had first opened Methodist work in Lins. Reynolds generously provided scholarships and other support. Many others soon helped. And so, a strong international collaboration between Emory & Henry College and the Methodist schools in Brazil developed through the 1990s with the Methodist school in Lins always playing a major role in that relationship. Each summer during that decade Dr. Joaquim and the Lins school would send a group of faculty, staff, and students to study English on Emory & Henry’s campus, and each fall and spring semesters Emory & Henry would reciprocate by sending several of its students to Brazil to teach English to the Lins students.
Renato was one of those students who directly benefited from the joint program. It was while playing basketball in Lins with some of Emory & Henry’s visiting student instructors that Renato first learned about the American College from southwest Virginia that, out of all proportion to the minuscule 23 students in its 1874 graduating class, had so positively influenced his city and region. Renato developed a friendship with those American students and, before they left, he contacted Dr. Joaquim about his interest to come to Emory & Henry. An application, admittance, and much study followed.
Renato says that Emory & Henry is life-altering. Yes, it can be. Ransom, Lambuth and the missionary pioneers from years ago planted seeds. The trees grew and bore fruit. And isn’t it marvelous to see how Renato and a new generation continue to harvest that fruit forward!