Guilherme Belz (Wilhelm, in German), one of the first converts to Adventism in Brazil, was born in 1835 in the province of Pomerania, currently belonging to Germany. His mother was Luise Belz.1 Born into a Lutheran family, Guilherme was in contact with the Scriptures when he was a child. While studying the Bible in his youth, he discovered that the seventh day was the only day that God gave people to keep holy. He was surprised because he did not understand why he and his family observed Sunday. When he asked his mother about it, she took him to a Lutheran pastor who could not give him a convincing answer.2 He simply said that Christ had changed the day of rest. Guilherme decided to set aside the subject, only coming to meet it again many years later in a distant land.3
Like many European immigrants, by the second half of the 19th century, Guilherme emigrated to Brazil. He settled in the German colony of Braunschweig, now called Gaspar Alto, located near the town of Brusque, state of Santa Catarina.4 He married Johanna. They had six children: Emília, Reinhold, Francisco, Guilherme, Elfriede, and Augusta.5 It was in Gaspar Alto where the curious story of his conversion happened.
Around 1878, a young man named Borchardt, having committed a crime, ran away from Brusque and found a job on a ship that had a direct route between Europe and South America. At one point in his travels, this young man met some Adventist missionaries who asked him for the address of someone to whom they could send literature.6 Borchardt gave them the address of his stepfather, Carlos Dreefke, who lived in Brusque.7
A few years after this event, in 1880,8 a package was sent to Davi Hort’s grocery store with ten copies of the Adventist Review in German, Stimme der Wahrheit (The Herald of Truth), addressed to Carlos Dreefke. By that time, Hort’s grocery store was the place where all mail was delivered.9 Dreefke initially feared receiving the package because he thought he would have to bear the costs of such deliveries. However, because of the encouragement of the owner of the grocery store, he agreed to open it to see what it was about.
As soon as he noticed it was a package of magazines, Dreefke distributed them to nine people who were interested in the subject, and they continued to receive the new editions that came. It was not long before he, suspicious again, decided to stop receiving these deliveries. That was when he decided to write a letter asking for cancellation of the order. By this time, a teacher named Chikiwidowsky, who learned of the incident, became interested in the matter, and was willing to receive the magazines instead of Dreefke, taking responsibility for any costs. Later, Chikiwidowsky also lost interest and gave the responsibility to Dressler, a drunk man from the region. This man, interested in getting money to buy drinks, wrote to the shipper of the publications asking for more literature. Gradually, people to whom he used to sell the magazines developed a real interest in the matter and longed for the arrival of the new issues. Realizing this interest, Dressler saw an opportunity to earn more money and sent another letter asking for more literature urgently, even promising to pay for what would be sent.10
A larger amount of literature was sent, as well as some books, which brought more profit to Dreesler. He also sold them to traders who used the paper to wrap goods. Part of these publications reached Guilherme Belz. One day when he was returning from shopping in the village of Brusque, he realized that one of the wrapping papers had something written in German. After exploring the content of this printout, he was worried and thoughtful for several weeks.11 After a while he went to his brother Carl’s house and found the book Gedanken über das Buch Daniel on the shelf, a German translation of the book Thoughts on Daniel, written by Uriah Smith. When he picked up the book to study, he noticed it dealt with the same matters as the paper used for wrapping, and what caught his attention was the title of one of the chapters: “The Papacy Changes the Day of Rest.” These events led him to compare the content of the materials to the Bible. That was how he came to the conclusion that observance of Sunday was something created by human tradition and that the seventh-day Sabbath is the real day, established by God, and intended to be kept.12
On the Saturday after this episode, Guilherme could not eat and he looked a little pale at breakfast, because he did not feel comfortable going to work with his son that day. Johanna noticed his concern and asked him what was happening. Then Guilherme explained what he had learned about the validity of the Sabbath. He decided not to transgress the fourth commandment of God’s Law, so he did not go to work that day. He invited his wife and his younger children to follow him in his purpose of honoring God. They did not accept immediately, because they did not understand anything about the matter. They observed the first Sabbath soon after, around 1890. The three oldest children Emília, Reinhold, and Francisco, who were already married, didn’t accept it easily. “Emília, the oldest, never accepted” the Adventist message. It is reported in the Adventist community that these were the first Sabbath-keepers in Brazil, before the arrival of any Adventist missionaries.13
The attitude of the Belz family regarding the truth revealed in the Holy Scriptures had positive results. Through their testimony some of their neighbors got to know and started to keep the fourth commandment, among them the families Olm, Look, and Thrun. Along with the Belz family, they formed the first unit of Sabbath keepers in Brazil,14 that around 1894 was discovered by Albert Bachmeyer. He was a canvasser who had accepted the teachings of the Adventist Church, but hadn’t been baptized yet because there was no ordained pastor in Brazil at the time.
Albert shared his discovery with W. H. Thurston, an Adventist missionary who had recently arrived in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Thurston, in turn, immediately got in touch with Pastor Frank Westphal, the first ordained pastor designated to work in South America, who lived in Argentina at that time. To fulfill this missionary request, Westphal left Buenos Aires and arrived in Brusque on May 30, 1895.
There he baptized the first group of converts composed of eight people from the families of Carlos Look and Carlos Thrun, on Sabbath, June 8, in the river Itajaí-Mirim. Three days later he baptized,15 the second group composed of Guilherme Belz and his family, except for his oldest daughter Emília, accompanied by the family of Mr. Olm and Albert Bachmeyer, the canvasser who had found them.16
Starting with this first unit composed by 23 people, on June 15, 1895, the first Seventh-day Adventist church in Brazil was organized,17 in Gaspar Alto, the second one in South America.18 Guilherme was one of the organizers of this church and he was also the donor of the property where it was built.19 In addition, he was the first elected deacon of this congregation,20 as well as the first librarian of the Publications Society, being responsible for receiving and distributing the Adventist material coming from the United States.21 The beginning of this new church was marked by strong opposition and frequent persecution that, by the grace of God, were all overcome.22 God had His way to lead to the truth. Through unusual instruments, He provided means for the good news of the gospel to come to hearts that craved for more light. Guilherme Belz died March 11, 1912, and was buried in Gaspar Alto alongside his wife.23
Borges, Michelson, A chegada do Adventismo ao Brasil. Tatuí, SP: Casa Publicadora Brasileira, 2000.
Borges, Michelson. “O pioneiro do Brasil.” Revista Adventista, year 100, no. 11, November 2005, 9. Accessed February 14, 2017. http://acervo.revistaadventista.com.br/.
Germano Streithorst. “O início de nossa Obra.” Revista Adventista, year 53, no. 3, March 1958, 29-30. Accessed February 15, 2017, http://acervo.revistaadventista.com.br/.
Greenleaf, Floyd. Terra de Esperança: O Crescimento da Igreja Adventista na América do Sul. 1st edition, Tatuí, SP: Casa Publicadora Brasileira, 2011.
Lessa, Rubens S. “Nossa Trajetória.” Revista Adventista, year 104, n. 1215, August 2009, 23. Accessed April 11, 2016. http://acervo.revistaadventista.com.br.
Meyers, E. H.. “Uma Recapitulação dos Começos na América do Sul.” Revista Mensal, vol. 23, no. 10, October 1928, 4-5. Accessed February 15, 2017. http://acervo.revistaadventista.com.br/.
Moura, Marcelo Mendes de Melo. “A Origem do Adventismo no Vale do Itajaí, 1880-1895.” Mastership dissertation, Seminário Adventista Latino-Americano de Teologia, Campus Engenheiro Coelho, 2015.
Nigri, Moisés. “Gaspar Alto: o marco inicial de um grande movimento.” Revista Adventista, year 53, no. 2, February 1958, 30. Accessed September 9, 2016. http://acervo.revistaadventista.com.br/.
Olson, L. H. “Progressos da Obra na América do Sul.” Revista Adventista, year 51, n. 9, September 1956, 3-4. Accessed February 14, 2017, http://acervo.revistaadventista.com.br/.
Streithorst, G. “Santa Catharina.” Revista Adventista, vol. 19, no. 12, December 1924, 10. Accessed February 14, 2017. http://acervo.revistaadventista.com.br/.
Waldvogel, Isolina A., História de nossa Igreja. 2nd edition, Tatuí, SP: Casa Publicadora Brasileira, 1965.
Westphal, F. H. “Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina.” ARH, October 1, 1895, 12. Accessed February 15, 2017. http://docs.adventistarchives.org/docs/RH/RH18951001-V72-40__B.pdf#view=fit.
“Westphal, Frank Henry.” In Seventh-Day Adventist Encyclopedia, 2nd edition, vol. 2. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996.
Westphal, Henry Francisco. Pionero em Sudamérica. 1st edition, Libertador San Martín, Entre Ríos, AR: Universidad Adventista del Plata, 1997.
Wilson Luiz Paroschi. “Brasil: 90 anos de adventismo.” Revista Adventista, year 82, no. 11, November 1986, 25-27. Accessed May 11, 2017. http://acervo.revistaadventista.com.br/.
Michelson Borges, A chegada do Adventismo ao Brasil (Tatuí, SP: Casa Publicadora Brasileira, 2000), 59.↩
Henry Francisco Westphal, Pionero em Sudamérica (Libertador San Martín, ER: Universidad Adventista del Plata, 1997), 23.↩
Michelson Borges, “O pioneiro do Brasil,” Revista Adventista, year 100, n. 11, November 2005, 9.↩
Borges, A chegada do Adventismo ao Brasil, 59-61.↩
Germano Streithorst, “O início de nossa Obra,” Revista Adventista, year 53, n. 3, March 1958, 29-30. E. H. Meyers, “Uma Recapitulação dos Começos na América do Sul,” Revista Mensal, v. 23, n. 10, October 1928, 4-5.↩
Meyers, 4-5.; Floyd Greenleaf, Terra de Esperança: O Crescimento da Igreja Adventista na América do Sul (Tatuí, SP: Casa Publicadora Brasileira, 2011), 25.↩
Streithorst, “O início de nossa Obra,” 29-30; Marcelo Mendes de Melo Moura, “A Origem do Adventismo no Vale do Itajaí, 1880-1895” (Mastership Dissertation, Seminário Adventista Latino-Americano de Teologia, Campus Engenheiro Coelho, 2015), 32-38.↩
Meyers, 4-5; Greenleaf, 25.↩
Borges, A chegada do Adventismo ao Brasil, 59.↩
L. H. Olson, “Progressos da Obra na América do Sul,” Revista Adventista, year 51, n. 9, September 1956, 3-4; G. Streithorst, “Santa Catharina,” Revista Adventista, v. 19, n. 12, December 1924, 10; Greenleaf, 25; Borges, A chegada do Adventismo ao Brasil, 59-61.↩
Borges, A chegada do Adventismo ao Brasil, 59-61; Henry Francisco Westphal, Pionero em Sudamérica (Libertador San Martín, ER: Universidad Adventista del Plata, 1997), 23.↩
Isolina A. Waldvogel, História de nossa Igreja (Tatuí, SP: Casa Publicadora Brasileira, 1965), 308.↩
Nigri, Moisés, “Gaspar Alto: o marco inicial de um grande movimento,” Revista Adventista, year 53, no. 2, February 1958, 30; Meyers, E. H., “Uma Recapitulação dos Começos na América do Sul,” 4-5.↩
Meyers, “Uma Recapitulação dos Começos na América do Sul,” 4-5; Borges, A chegada do Adventismo ao Brasil, 61; Streithorst, “O início de nossa Obra,” 29-30; “Westphal, Frank Henry,” in Seventh-Day Adventist Encyclopedia, vol. 2, ed. Don F. Neufeld (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996), 870-871.↩
Meyers, “Uma Recapitulação dos Começos na América do Sul,” 4-5; Rubens S. Lessa, “Nossa Trajetória,” Revista Adventista, year 104, no. 1215, August 2009, 23.↩
Borges, A chegada do Adventismo ao Brasil, 90.↩
F. H. Westphal, “Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina,” ARH, October 1, 1895, 12.↩
Meyers, “Uma Recapitulação dos Começos na América do Sul,” 4-5.↩
Wilson Luiz Paroschi, “Brasil: 90 anos de adventismo,” Revista Adventista, year 82, no. 11, November 1986, 27.↩