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Evangelical Passion Drives Brazil Presidential Challenger Marina Silva

Will Divine Providence, or "Bible roulette," play a role in the outcome of next month's Brazilian elections?

Presidential candidate Marina Silva
Presidential candidate Marina Silva
Natuza Nery, Ranier Bragon and Andreia Sadi

BRASILIA — In difficult times, when she has to make a tough decision, Brazilian presidential hopeful Marina Silva usually turns to a faithful companion, one that has barely left her side in her 56 years: the Bible.

Although she is running to represent the secular Brazilian Socialist Party, Silva is an evangelist. This particular characteristic could prove decisive in the presidential race, especially in a country where more than one-quarter of the population now identify themselves as evangelists.

Recent polls show that Silva is well-positioned ahead of the first round of voting Oct. 5, and could beat incumbent President Dilma Rousseff in a runoff.

Born Catholic, she almost became a nun in her teenage years before converting to Evangelicalism in the late 1990s. The particular Christian movement she follows is Pentecostalism, whose adherents believe that the Holy Spirit intervenes directly in people's lives.

The politician converted after receiving what she called her "third death sentence" by doctors when she was very ill. Silva says she was cured thanks to a divine message, and since 2004 she has been a missionary for an "Assembly of God" in the capital of Brasilia.

There are two specific occasions when she made a decision after participating in what is sometimes called "Bible roulette," in which people randomly open to a Bible page looking for spiritual guidance in a verse that will point in one direction instead of another.

According to a close Silva aide, one of these occasions was Oct. 4, 2013, just hours before surprising the country's political class by announcing her support of Eduardo Campos and becoming the Socialist Party candidate's running mate in the upcoming presidential election. At the time, Campos also said that the political alliance between the two had been inspired by the Bible.

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Silva and late candidate Eduardo Campos in November 2013 — Photo: José Cruz/ABr

Of course, we know by now that Campos was killed in an Aug. 13 plane crash, leaving Silva as the party's candidate for next month's election.

The other occasion of "Bible roulette" was described in her authorized biography, Marina: A Life for a Cause. Before agreeing to the book, Silva needed to hear "somebody else's opinion."

"She got up from the couch and went to get a Bible," author Marília de Camargo César wrote. So the approval for the biography itself came after "a personal message from God," which was expressed in the psalm she read after randomly opening the holy book.

Cheating death

"For her to make a decision, bless her, it takes time," explains clergywoman Valnice Milhomens, a friend of Silva's for the past decade. "Not only does she consult the earth, she also consults the heavens. She needs to hear everybody for the decision to mature.”

Speaking after Campos' fatal crash, Silva attributed her absence aboard the plane that crashed north of São Paulo to "Divine Providence." It was not the first time she has cheated death.

Growing up in a very poor family in the state of Acre, in northwestern Brazil, she was struck several times by different diseases, including malaria, hepatitis, leishmaniasis and even suffered heavy metal poisoning, all of which have forced her to maintain a rather restricted diet.

Then in 1997, she says she had an epiphany that led her to become an evangelist after yet another health scare. It was her doctor who, on the phone one day, put her through to a young pastor of the Assembly of God, André Salles.

"I thought that was an unusual thing to do for a doctor," the Socialist candidate explained once. "Then the pastor talked to me and said, "I have the gift a revelation of the Holy Spirit.""

After that, Marina Silva converted to evangelicalism. Two years later, while she was still ill, she had a divine revelation while waiting in a church line for the anointing of the sick. The letters "DMSA" came to her mind. She only remembered later that this was the name of a drug from the United States that she had refused to take a few years back. She took it, and the level of mercury in her body dropped.

The new pastor at her church, Hadman Daniel, believes that she doesn't need a spiritual guide. "She has her own relationship with God. She knows God," he says.

According to Daniel, she turns to the church in difficult times, like when she accepted Campos' offer to be his running mate. There was another time before that, back when she was Environment Minister, and a fire broke out in the northern Amazon forest.

"We prayed," the pastor recalls. "And although it wasn't forecast, that same day it started to rain."

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