‘Offering Everything They Have’: How Small Churches Are Saving Lives in Brazil’s Floods

In the country’s most secular state, tiny congregations have made a big impact by their disaster response.

For weeks, Tárik Rodriguez had been working on bringing a guest preacher and worship leader from across the country to help his church celebrate its third anniversary. In 2021, Rodriguez and a small team launched Viela da Graça Igreja in Novo Hamburgo, a small city in Brazil’s most southern province, Rio Grande do Sul.

Then, it started raining.

The floods have done more than interrupt the small Reformed congregation’s celebratory plans. They’ve devastated the community. The storms that began at the end of April struck Rio Grande do Sul’s most densely populated areas and have killed at least 116 people. Around 130 people are still missing. The high water has closed roads and even the airport, which has grounded flights until May 30. As of Friday, May 10, nearly 400,000 people have been displaced from their homes and 70,772 are in public shelters.

Some of those have found their way to Viela da Graça, which is located on higher ground and has been largely protected from a water breach. Since May 4, Rodriguez and members of the 75-person congregation have been hosting around 50 people in a two-bathroom, 3,500-square-foot building.

“As Christians, we needed to open our doors,” Rodriguez says. “And that’s what we did.”

Beyond the bathroom constraints, the situation has been less than ideal. There are frequent power cuts (1.2 million people have been affected by outages) and the building has lost access to both running and potable water because the sanitation company cannot treat the dirty floodwaters. A nearby residential condominium, which gets its water from a well, has provided drinking water and showers.

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