And here is my favorite Fourth of July story: When I first came to the U.S. in 1982 some people who had never met anyone from Brazil couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask some very probing questions: “Do you have television in Brazil?” “Did you ever see a piranha on the river?” “Can anacondas really go through walls like in the movies?” But the question that topped them all was always: “Do you have the Fourth of July in Brazil?”, which I, in my unenlightened years, I would respond with, “Yes, it’s between the third and the fifth.”

In truth, though, Brazil’s July 4th is September 7th. On that day Brazilians celebrate the end of Portuguese rule in the country, a violent struggle that lasted three years and though it did not shed as much blood as the struggle for independence in the U.S. did, it is still equally significant to Brazilians who this year will celebrate 194 years since it declared its independence from Portugal.

240 years ago brave U.S. citizens also threw off the shackles of British control and carved a destiny for a young nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to all who fought to secure our freedom from tyranny.

I number myself among those who are eternally grateful and here are some of my reasons:

  1. Your struggle for freedom inspired some even younger nations to fight against their oppressors. Whether Brazilians recognize it or not, we stand in that long line of true freedom fighters, of which the U.S. has produced some of finest. 
  1. I grew up under a brutal military regime that ruled Brazil for 20 years. I didn’t even get to vote for the first time until I was well into my thirties. As a young university student, the exploits of people like Martin Luther King were always a source of great inspiration for me. A country of justice and laws, a people who dreamed to be whatever they wanted, and a body politic that was guided by a sense of a high moral calling — these things made the U.S. the lighthouse of the world, giving hope to all who yearned for freedom. And I for one followed that light. 
  1. Contrary to most people I know in this country, who through no choice of their own were given birth rights as U.S. citizens, I chose to live in this country. My story is not much different from an adoption story, except in this case the child, as it were, chooses his own mother. I chose the U. S. and I am proud of it. My sojourn in this country has enriched my life and blessed me beyond what I can express in words. 
  1. Being from Brazil has also given me a fresh perspective on the difference between loyalty to country and loyalty to Christ. I am a patriot alright. I rise and place my right hand on my chest whenever I hear the sound of the national anthem. I am humbled by the ultimate sacrifice that so many made so I can enjoy the freedoms I have. I am at awe of the moral leadership of this country that has allowed it to come to the aid of those who suffer.

But the experience of growing up under a regime that elevated love for country to the same level as love for God has also taught me to be cautious. Governments are predictably fallible and the best of intentions can sometimes result in disastrous policies. We are journeying through a time in the history of our nation when there is a paucity of moral courage and an amplitude of small stomachs to stand for things that are right. If we are not careful, we will soon be drowning in a sea of relativism so the Church of Jesus Christ must refuse to be identified with any ideology or world view that is contrary to the Gospel. We should love country without ever forgetting that our ultimate citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20-21).

Happy Independence Day, everyone, and remember to thank God for the greatest freedom we have — forgiveness of our sins through the Lord Jesus Christ. He has defeated the greatest tyrant of our life, that old serpent, the slick usurper and father of all lies, whose only mission is to keep us under bondage forever. Thank God we are free from him, once and for all! (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Pastor Ivanildo da Costa Trindade

Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA