The growth of children preachers in Latin American evangelical churches is filling a special niche, creating a new kind of charisma based on innocence, reports the New York Times Magazine (July 14). The Assemblies of God has been the main denomination nurturing an estimated thousands child preachers in Brazil, though the phenomena is controversial, “earning scorn from other Pentecostal denominations, and even criticism from within the Assemblies of God…But the Internet and social media have helped young preachers find wide, sometimes international audiences. Today’s most successful child preachers work nearly every day and travel extensively,” writes Samantha M. Shapiro. One of Brazil’s best-known child evangelists is Matheus Moraes, who by the age of 10 was traveling through Latin America, Europe, and the U.S. and filling stadiums with 6,000 people.
Like Moraes, most of the child preachers come from poor and lower middle-class homes where their parents see their gifts for preaching and healing as a way out of the favelas or Brazilian slums. Critics charge that the children are being exploited as a commercial interest on behalf of their parents in receiving donations and selling DVDs. The children both preach and are seen as miracle workers, including two-year-old Alani Santos and 14-year-old Daniel Pentecoste, who crisscross central Brazil leading revivals in new farming communities and drug rehab centers, to 21-year-old Alex Silva, who by 13 had preached to crowds of 500,000. Shapiro finds that many of these child preachers see themselves as helping their families and communities and willingly sacrifice their childhoods and adolescence for their ministries. She finds that these children often preach on the common theme that the church serves as a hospital for sinners and ill people where healing and salvation is offered.