‘Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!’
Elda Valim has a passion to see her home nation, Brazil, freed from the shackles of corruption. It’s a mighty beast to slay, so she’s called the church to join the fight.
Elda still remembers what first got her thinking about corruption: ‘I was very young and I heard about a local municipal building that was being built with public money. And I saw how much it was supposed to cost; it was a huge amount, so many zeros! And I thought to myself, “is this really the cost of this building? Is it really that much?” It's the first doubt that I had.’
Convinced that the money of Brazil’s poorest people was lining the pockets of the well-off, Elda decided that she wanted to hold people to account.
Passion for justice
After university, Elda studied for, and passed, the rigorous entrance exams for Brazil’s civil service. ‘I believe God wanted me to pass, because my colleagues were sons and daughters of judges, they’d studied in great schools. My father had no studies, no university education.’
What Elda did inherit from her family was a passion for justice and mercy. ‘My great-grandfather was a violent man. But then he became a Christian and he helped people who worked on his farm. He cared for the widows and he paid for everyone on his farm to receive an education.
'I heard so much about him; I always wanted to follow Jesus and live a life like my great-grandfather.’ Elda took a job as Federal Auditor in Brazil’s Court of Accounts. ‘I thought I could help Brazil fight against corruption as an auditor. Corruption is a big problem in Brazil. We all talk about it a lot; I grew up talking about it.’
However, she soon discovered that the tentacles of corruption extended far inside Court of Accounts itself along with the other government departments. ‘There was nothing I could do because the corruption goes right to the top; my work was basically put onto the garbage pile.’
Elda also saw the ill effects of the corruption she was supposed to be fighting, whilst powerless to stop it.
‘I saw a child die in the public health system. Why did it happen? I saw the bad quality of care, and how much money was being siphoned out of the healthcare budget into people’s pockets. Sometimes I couldn't sleep at night for asking myself, "How can people do this? Who is taking the money? Where is it going?”’
The anger and frustration took its toll on her health; Elda developed chronic Burnout Syndrome and was given early retirement from her job in 2011.
Ironically, she says, leaving that job has allowed her to make a far bigger impact. ‘I was a slave in Egypt in this job – like Moses and the Israelites. Now God has delivered me out of slavery, I can really do something.’
Elda hadn’t lost her sense of vocation. Inspiration for a new way to tackle the problem came after the Micah Challenge social justice campaign (in which Tearfund plays a major role) visited Brazil. Elda was invited to join them.
‘It's changed everything; before I was fighting against corruption only with my energy. It wasn’t about God. Now I fight against corruption in the name of God of the impossible.’ Her other new allies were God’s people; the church in Brazil.
Elda helped to found a brand new national anti-corruption movement ‘Love the Truth – Evangelicals Against Corruption.’ Its mission; to get the local church to join the fight – from the grassroots upwards.
Rampant corruption may be common knowledge to all, but getting it talked about in church wasn’t so easy. ‘That sort of discussion isn’t allowed in the church, because it divides people. People would say “I prefer this party, and you prefer this party,”’ says Elda. ‘We want to show pastors that the discussion is not about people, it's about God’s values, like integrity and truth; these are the very opposite of corruption. Corruption is the lie. Jesus Christ is the truth.’
There’s another key Christian principle at work in Love the Truth; taking the splinter out of your own eye first. Pastors and churches are encouraged to examine their own attitudes towards probity first, rather than merely pointing the finger at faceless bureaucrats and politicians.
‘Brazil is considered the second most corrupt place in the world for tax evasion. I believe with all faith that God bring this topic to Brazil.’
‘We think that ultimately we are all corrupt, because if I say I have no sin, I am lying. But there are some sins that affect all of the community, and we have to talk about it and separate it out. And we need to demand honesty from each other – this is how the Christian body grows up.’
Elda sees a renewed church as an unstoppable force for justice and transparency, in their communities, their regions and even the whole nation of Brazil. ‘See how many churches there are in Brazil, and every week they meet at least once. Think about it, if they spent a few minutes before or after the service talking about health services, say, or discussing the local budget. They need to meet and talk about how their money is being spent and participating in their communities because corruption must be not allowed.’
As well as Love the Truth, she works alongside several other groups and campaigns, applying pressure on the public and private sectors to become more accountable. One of her current passions is to see an end to tax secrecy in Brazil – a much discussed topic all over the world.
‘Brazil is considered the second most corrupt place in the world for tax evasion. Only Russia has a bigger problem with it. I believe with all faith that God is bringing this topic to Brazil.’
She may have been retired early due to ill health, but Elda is still going strong and taking the subject of justice and accountability up the agenda, from the tiniest evangelical and pentecostal churches, to the largest public and private sector organisations. She says her vision is to see a Brazil where ‘peace and honesty’ is the norm. Does she think she will see it in her lifetime?
‘In the Bible, Paul talks about one person planting the seed of the gospel, another person watering it and a third harvesting it. If I don’t live to see our churches fully uprooting corruption, I am satisfied that I have helped plant the seeds.’
Elda Valim is an Inspired Individual. The Inspired Individuals programme exists to identify, develop and connect new leaders who are aspiring to live like Jesus and whose dreams have the potential to transform some of the most needy places and people in our world.
Pray for this work:
- Pray for more churches to and Christians to sign up to Love the Truth.
- Pray that local churches and communities will become practiced in holding their local representatives and politicians to account.
- Ask that God may truly transform the culture of corruption, wherever it is rife in Brazil and around the world.