Catastrophe and Compassion in Brazil: Relieving Suffering Amid Rio Grande do Sul’s Tragic Flooding

Facing insurmountable devastation, the body of Christ in Brazil is already serving their neighbors sacrificially.

Devastating floods in the southern Rio Grande do Sul state of Brazil have left at least 113 people dead, 756 injured, 146 missing, over 69,600 in shelters, and more than 400,000 evacuated as of Friday, May 10. The floods, attributed to extreme rainfall exacerbated by a heatwave from El Niño, have inundated towns and disrupted essential services in the region, including electricity and water supply.

“It is difficult to express the devastation,” Randy Richner, ABWE missionary in Brazil since 1996, told us. Pastor Pierre of Feitoria Baptist Church echoed the chaos of the past week: “Several neighborhoods in our city of São Leopoldo and neighboring cities have been flooded and many houses are completely under water. People are still being rescued with boats . . . Many people lost everything, their businesses, their income, everything!”

Pastor Pierre and ABWE missionary and Brazil regional director Randy Richner.

Perhaps the most gut-wrenching account comes from Pastor Heleno of Campina Baptist Church, also in São Leopoldo, who wrote to our team, “I’m very resistant to asking for help for myself. But the truth is this time I’m broken. My street, house, and church are literally underwater. I can’t get there, we lost everything. Many of my church family did too.”

Yet by God’s grace, the church is already faithfully acting as the hands and feet of Christ—in part, resourced through ABWE’s compassion fund—ministering in situations of desperation and sharing the love of Jesus.

“We know that we cannot resolve all the problems, nor is it our intention, but whatever God allows, we want to be a channel of God’s love to help people,” Pastor Pierre expressed.

Randy Richner is one of those channels—already seeking to serve the needs of his neighbors as a missionary.

Among those visited by Randy was Pastor Pierre’s mother-in-law, Noemi, who became a believer through the Richners’ ministry. When she told Randy with tears that she had “lost everything,” Randy encouraged her with the hope of the Lord: “No, you haven’t lost everything. You have Jesus, so you have everything.”

“You’re right,” she replied—and started singing.

Left: Randy Richner with Brazilian Pastor Pierre’s mother-in-law, Noemi. Right: Noemi’s home, fully submerged.
When she told Randy with tears that she had “lost everything,” Randy encouraged her with the hope of the Lord: “No, you haven’t lost everything. You have Jesus, so you have everything.” “You’re right,” she replied—and started singing.

Immense relief remains to be done. “We went to the store to get supplies for 35 people that are sheltering in the church in São Leopoldo. We spent $2,000,” Randy reported. “Unfortunately, the demand for food exceeds the available supply.”

Donations of clothing, bedding, towels, and shoes provided to Feitoria Baptist Church shelter in São Leopoldo.

Yet, “[p]astors and churches from the region are mobilizing to provide assistance and to help rebuild homes and churches,” he explained.

Fellow missionary Joel Richner (Randy’s son) recounted a visit to Feitoria, a neighborhood severely affected by the relentless rains. There, a local church, previously planted by ABWE missionary efforts, now serves as a sanctuary for about 50 flood victims, providing not just shelter but opportunities for evangelism.

Joel himself is involved in the relief. This week, he took a carful of 20 food baskets stocked with essential items to Igrejinha, the city in which he is planting a church—and one that was almost completely underwater, according to Randy’s account.

Pastor Luís (right) and his church, established by ABWE missionaries Dan and Diana Richner, are located on the edge of the flooding area and are at the forefront of food distribution efforts.

The physical needs alone are indeed immense, ABWE GO Executive Director for Latin America Scott Russell shares.

“The most urgent need is drinking water, but food and personal hygiene products are also in short supply,” he explained. “There is still much to do.”

But these material needs are not the only issues presenting themselves; missionaries are also addressing their neighbors’ spiritual concerns.

One local man, an unbeliever whose home was devastated by the floods, contemplated suicide via the toxic waters of the overflowing river. But through the persuasion of others, he and his family took refuge at the church in São Leopoldo.

On Thursday, May 9, Randy and his teammates sought to bring joy into brokenness by celebrating Marcia’s birthday at the Feitoria shelter.

“It’s funny, because I’d never wanted to go into a church because I smoke,” he conveyed to Randy. “But now, look—not only did I come to a shelter, I’m actually in a church.”

Despite grave uncertainty, the quiet, hopeful resolve of the national believers is evident in the humble plea from pastors like Pierre.

“I know you are already praying for us, and your prayers are very important. Those who want to help us financially in some way can contribute, and we will be wise with the resources that come in,” he shared. “Thank you all in advance and may God bless you all.”

Here is how you can pray for the Brazil flooding relief ministry efforts:

  • Pray for the success and fruitfulness of relief ministry in southern Brazil
  • Petition the Lord for the spread of the gospel alongside works of compassion and mercy
  • Ask God for divine help in the immediate meeting of dire needs among both believers and the larger population

ABWE’s team in Brazil estimates $100,000 is needed by May 31 to continue relief ministry. You can support efforts like these by giving to the compassion fund today.

Believers from Dois Irmaos church plant pray in Novo Hamburgo church, located at the edge of the flooding, after distributing food to locals.

Editor’s Note: This article was last edited on Friday, May 10, and is being updated continuously as the situation develops.