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SMITH, Rev. John Rockwell
(Married Susan Caroline "Carrie" Porter, daughter of
James Denford Porter)
Jokn Rockwell Smith, a worker in the Southern United States Presbyterian Church, was born in Lexington, Kentucky, on December 29, 1846. He studied at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. After graduating in theology at Union Seminary (1868-1871) in Hampden-Sydney, Virginia, he was licensed by the West Lexington Presbytery in June 1871 and ordained on December 18, 1872. He worked as a graduate in Winchester , in his state, from October 1871 until April 1872. Since 1871, he was accepted, alongside the couple John and Agnes Boyle, as a volunteer for the new missionary work to be started in northern Brazil. The opening of this work was made possible by contributions from the New Orleans (Louisiana) and Mobile (Alabama) Presbyterian Churches .
On January 15, 1873 Smith arrived in Pernambuco, where he did a remarkable pioneer work as a missionary and educator. He started the services on August 10 of the same year, with an audience of ten adults and some children. As he still did not speak the language well, he had to read his sermon on Luke 4: 16-22. On the 30th, he recorded in a small pocket diary: “It's a fragile start”. At that time, the only other evangelical work in Recife was that of the congregationals, directed by Manoel José da Silva Viana, a deacon at the church of Rev. Robert R. Kalley in Rio de Janeiro and a canvasser of the British and Foreign Bible Society.
According to historian Vicente Temudo Lessa, Smith was the “Simonton of the North”. He surrounded himself with a select group of canvasser evangelists who did important preparatory work for missionaries like himself, DeLacey Wardlaw, George W. Butler, Joseph H. Gauss and William M. Thompson. In October 1875, he created the periodical Salvação de Graça, which was short-lived, with only twelve issues published. It was printed in Lisbon, because no printing house in Recife wanted to take the service. In this effort, he had the important collaboration of Rev. William LeConte, who, after a brief stay in Brazil, died in the United States in late 1876.
Rev. Smith organized the Recife Presbyterian Church on August 11, 1878, accompanied by Rev. Alexander L. Blackford, who was then traveling in the service of the American Bible Society . Among the twelve founding members, there were three young men who later embraced the ministry: João Batista de Lima, José Francisco Primênio da Silva and Belmiro de Araújo César. These young people were part of a small class for the study of the Brief Catechism. Desiring to prepare them for the ministry, Smith hired them as canvassers or part-time evangelists, which provided them with practical experience and financial support during their studies. In addition to Recife, Smith was a pioneer in many other places. In the following years, he also organized the Churches of Goiana (21-11-1880), Paraíba, currently João Pessoa (12/21/1884), Pão de Açúcar (8/18/1887) and Maceió (9/11/1887), always under strong opposition from opponents.
In 1879, the famous case of the “neophyte” occurred in Pernambuco. In a newspaper in Recife, a series of slanderous articles against Protestantism began to appear. The following year, these articles were brought together in a booklet entitled “Respectful questions addressed to mr. minister of the evangelical church in this province by a neophyte from the same church. ” The alleged neophyte was in fact Capuchin Friar Celestino de Pedávoli, who was promoting an intense campaign against evangelicals. Through the booklet “The Neophyte Denied”, Rev. Smith gave a concise and thorough answer to the alleged member of his flock.
For several years, Smith had to work almost alone, because the few colleagues who came to help him were transferred (Boyle couple) or died (LeConte, Ballard F. Thompson). The arrival of the Wardlaw couple, in 1880, allowed him to have much needed rest, going in 1881 to visit work in southern Brazil. While there , he met Susan Carolina Porter (1857-1921), with whom he married. Susan was the daughter of a couple from Alabama who came to Brazil shortly after the American Civil War.
As soon as they arrived in Rio de Janeiro, their father, James D. Porter, died of yellow fever. The widow, Susan Meggs Porter (1825-1890), then moved to Campinas, where she opened a American and British pension. Later, Dona Susan Porter and daughter Ella Virginia Porter went to the capital, having been listed in the Church of São Paulo on March 4, 1887. Young Ella came to marry the Methodist missionary Rev. Edmund A. Tilly (1860-1917). Another son of this family, William Calvin Porter, would also be a valiant Presbyterian worker in Northeastern Brazil.
With the transfer of the Wardlaw couple to Fortaleza in October 1882, Smith was again alone, but the arrival of Dr. George Butler in February 1883 allowed the Smith couple in November of that year to have their “furlough” (vacations and disclosure of the in the United States. It was Smith's first vacation in eleven years. Mrs. Wardlaw and her children went with them. When the Smiths returned to Brazil in September 1884, they brought with them Rev. Joseph Henry Gauss and his wife. In the same year, another worker arrived to assist in the work of Recife: William C. Porter, Smith's brother-in-law. On November 11, 1884, the first Society of Women of the Presbyterian Church of Brazil was created in the Church of Recife .
Rev. Smith had a vast theological culture, nurtured by his rich library. His long sermons, at least fifty minutes long, were deeply doctrinal and firmly Calvinistic. His career as a trainer for future ministers began in the Northeast. He taught all subjects, including Greek. On May 22, 1887, assisted by Revs. Blackford and Wardlaw, ordered his first class of three students, the aforementioned João Batista de Lima, José Primênio and Belmiro César. Revs were also his students in the northeast. William C. Porter, Juventino Marinho da Silva and Manoel Alfredo Guimarães. On August 17, 1888, the missionaries Smith, Wardlaw and Butler, as well as the newly ordained pastors Lima, Primênio and Belmiro and the elder William C. Porter organized the Presbytery of Pernambuco.
When organizing the Synod of the Presbyterian Church in Brazil in September 1888, Smith was the rapporteur for the commission that recommended the creation of the Presbyterian Seminary. Professors were elected Rev. Smith and Rev. Blackford, who died in 1890. In 1891, the Central University of Kentucky awarded Smith the title of Doctor of Divinity (DD). At the end of 1892, Smith moved to Nova Friburgo, in the State of Rio, where the seminar opened on November 15. The other teachers were Rev. John M. Kyle, pastor of the local Presbyterian church, and Rev. João Gaspar Meyer, Lutheran pastor . There were only four students: Franklin do Nascimento, Manoel Alfredo Guimarães, Alberto Meyer and the future historian Vicente Temudo Lessa. In addition to theology, Rev. Smith taught English, history, geography, arithmetic and rudiments of Greek and Hebrew.
In early 1895, Rev. Smith, his family and students moved to São Paulo, where the seminary was transferred, joining the Theological Institute created two years earlier by Rev. Eduardo Carlos Pereira. In addition to teaching, Rev. Smith collaborated with the 1st Presbyterian Church, where he preached frequently. At the Synod of 1897, he presented the controversial “Moção Smith”, requesting that the American mother churches help the Brazilian church in the work of evangelization by direct methods, applying their resources in the preparation of ministers and in the support of schools for their children. of believers, not in large schools. Since 1878 Smith had acquired the conviction that missionaries were not to be involved in secular schools. In 1906, this position would influence the division of Mission South into Mission East, with headquarters in Lavras (favorable to schools), and Mission Oeste, based in Campinas (contrary to them).
With the crisis that resulted in the division of the church (1903), the Smith family started to attend the United Presbyterian Church of São Paulo. From 1903 to 1905, Dona Carolina was president of the Sociedade Auxiliadora de Senhoras (SAS), which participated in the campaign for the purchase of the land on Rua Helvetia and the construction of the temple (changed to SAF in 1936).
In early 1907 the seminary moved to Campinas, where Rev. Smith ended his long career as a pastor and educator. In addition to leading the seminary, he held the positions of Greek, systematic theology, practical theology and ecclesiastical government. In 1910, he went to the United States for health care. On his return, he continued to serve the church; Besides working in the seminary, he regularly preached in two places close to the city. From 1904 to 1914, he participated in the interdenominational commission that, under the direction of Dr. Hugh Clarence Tucker (1857-1956), executive secretary of the American Bible Society, prepared a new translation of the Bible, the “Brazilian Translation”, published in 1917.
Smith prepared more than fifty men for the ministry. Among his last students were Jorge Goulart, Galdino Moreira, Guilherme Kerr and José Carlos Nogueira. When one of them noted that he needed to rest, Rev. Smith replied, "I will have eternity to rest." Due to health problems, he retired in December 1917. A few days before he died, on April 9, 1918, he said upon waking up that he had dreamed of distributing leaflets in the interior of Brazil. His wife, Dona Carolina, died on November 17, 1921. The couple's tomb at the Cemitério da Saudade, in Campinas, has the words: “They fought the good fight, kept their faith. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? ”