Ilídio Santa Rita Silva as a young man, welcomed the first missionaries, Rev. Everette and Mrs. Garnet Howard, to Mindelo, São Vicente, Cape Verde, on March 9, 1936, with an “unforgettable smile.” He was born in Santo Antão and was the son of Manuel Fernandes and Francisca Andrade Silva. Ilidio was converted on São Vicente in 1930 during the first meetings held by Mr. António Gomes de Jesus who had his barber shop there. This was during the ministry of Pastor João Dias on the islands. Ilídio was a graduate from a commercial school and became the bookkeeper in a large store in Mindelo, the port city.
In 1937, he quit his job and committed himself to full-time work for the Lord. One morning in 1939 while working on the pastors’ course of study in Everette Howard’s office, he suddenly fell out of his chair and began praying and screaming as though he were dying. People crowded outside anxiously inquiring whether someone was sick.
After a while his face lit up through the tears and Ilídio found the sanctifying power of God. Everette Howard affirmed, “Since that hour he has never been the same.” While pastoring on Brava Ilídio married Miss Constança “Tanchinha” Ramos (b.1912) and they had six daughters–Raquel, Sara, Lotty, Silvia, Berta and Ilidia– and two sons–John and Manny. They pastored at São Filipe, capital and only city of Fogo, and were greatly used of God there before going to Povoacao, Santo Antão.
He was well educated and devoted much time to Bible study and translation work. The first holiness literature resulted from his labors. He was a born musician and was called “the singing pastor.” Ilídio had a beautiful tenor voice and wrote Portuguese lyrics for many Wesleyan hymns. Several of his gospel songs have been published. On one occasion in 1942 during an evangelistic campaign in Praia, he sang “It’s Real” with his hand uplifted and tears flowing from his eyes. People ran to the altar. Several of his own compositions became popular.
As a new Christian he was evangelizing at San Filipe on Fogo and rode on horse or mule deep into the interior with Bibles and tracts. Once in 1938, he came across a Roman Catholic chapel at Galinheiro where people had been waiting for hours for their priest to come for mass. They had word that he was not coming but they continued to pray before the images of the saints. Silva spoke to them for three hours explaining how he had also sought rest as they were doing. He found it through Christ. All thirty of them bowed and prayed that day and found that true and wonderful rest.
In 1945 the Silvas pastored at Longueira on Santo Antão and a young man, Mr. Joaquim António Lima (1929-1999), found the Lord. This young man followed his father to Argentina where he met Nazarenes and won his father to the Lord. Joaquim entered the ministry and helped to pioneer work in Brazil. There he was elected the first national district superintendent in 1975 and General Board representative for South America.
In June 1946, Ilídio Silva and the missionary Everette Howard were walking along the beach at sunrise. They had spent a night of devotions near the village of Ribeira Grande (Povoação) on Santo Antão. They came upon a leper named João. He was half starved and looked as though he had never washed. His clothes were a mass of filthy rags and he was trying to cover himself with the black sand to keep warm. It was unusual that he did not beg. When they spoke to João, he just sobbed and pointed to his feet with his chin. Not able to walk because of the leprosy, he crawled on his stomach. They sat down and told João the story of Jesus and His love for lepers. All he knew of Jesus was an image he had seen of Him as a baby in the arms of Our Lady of Fatima.
After they had explained the whole story of Jesus, João wanted to pray. He did not know how but finally said, “Please Jesus, forgive my sins.” He began to smile and tears of joy ran down his cheeks. They told him that this same Jesus who had forgiven him could heal him and enable him to walk. In surprise he answered, “Really?” Without waiting for help from them he prayed, “Jesus, will you please heal my disease?”
As they walked on towards Silva’s home they looked back. João, the leper, was looking upward with arms extended in prayer and praise to God. Three days later he came to church and showed no sign of leprosy. The following week he carried the accordion for them on his head as they walked to the village of Paúl. João found work at the mission and continued as a faithful Christian. Years later he was still completely free from leprosy. Ilídio Silva began regular ministry among the lepers.
In 1950 Silva gave the following testimony, “With gratitude I praise the Lord for His merciful love with which He pardoned my sins and sanctified my heart in the precious blood of my adorable Saviour. He lifted me from the miry clay of sin to the mount of perfect love.”
To be successful in holiness evangelism, Silva believed in varying his approach as occasion required. Once about 1956 he was stopped by a catechist on Maio who shouted at him, “The Protestants don’t enter here! Get on your way!” Silva began to explain that they were calling people to Christ, not making them Protestants. He saw however that bystanders were being influenced by this man’s words.
Sensing the presence of the Lord with him, he spoke sternly to the catechist, “You are here forbidding that these souls hear the word of God. You have no right to do so. Who are you to tell me to go my way? By the help of God I shall enter this village!” Then in a spirit of compassion and with tears in his eyes he showed the man his first aid box on the back of his motorized bicycle. He told him, “I came here not only to preach to you the good news of salvation but also with God’s help to try to heal the infirmities of the poor people of this village.” A great change came over the man’s face and attitude and he became as meek as a lamb. The man eventually found the Lord and would often visit the pastor and bring presents for the family.
During his twenty-four years of ministry in Cape Verde, Ilídio Silva touched most of the islands. He was a splendid preacher, a wise and understanding pastor, a tireless evangelist - and more. His messages were simple, direct and conversational in tone. When he preached, many found salvation. Two government officials who rarely attend Nazarene services said after hearing him, “When Senhor Ilídio preaches there seems to be a power from the other world in the church.”
In 1961 the Silvas moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts, and started a church for the Cape Verdean people where he pastored for eleven years. Silva was then transferred by the New England District to Rumford, Rhode Island, to pastor the Bethany Nazarene Church that served Cape Verdean Americans. The rapid growth culminated in the construction of a new building adjacent to the old church. He served there for eleven years and in the ministry for a total of forty-five years. After his retirement in 1983, he moved to Pawtucket and continued to faithfully serve the congregation. In visits to France and Dakar, West Africa, he held services among Cape Verdean people. After retiring in 1983 from the active pastorate, Ilídio Silva was very busy contacting and working among Cape Verdeans throughout Western Europe.
Ilidio Silva passed away on Friday, September 1, 2006. A scholarship has been established in his name to assist students preparing for the ministry in the Cape Verde Islands.
Paul S. Dayhoff
Olive G. Tracy, The Nations and the Isles : A Study of Missionary Work of the Church of the Nazarene in the Nations - Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Italy - and the Isles - the Cape Verde Islands, (Kansas City, MO: Nazarene Publishing House, 1958), 224-25. Bodas de duro: album Egreja do Nazareno, 1908-1958 (Fiftieth Anniversary Album), (S. Vicente, Cabo Verde: Editora Nazarena), 22.
Florence Davis, Missionary Stories from Around the World, (Kansas City, MO: Nazarene Publishing House, 1941),91-92. Earl Mosteller, letter, (April 21, 1995).
Everette Howard and Jorge de Barros, The Seed and the Wind, (Kansas City, MO: Nazarene Publishing House, 1982), 50-52, 71-84.
Earl Mosteller, Cape Verde Travelogue, (Kansas City, MO: Nazarene Publishing House, 1958), 65-66.
Ilídio Silva, notes sent on May 6, 1995.
Linda Braaten, Out of Africa, e-mail News Bulletin, (Florida,1710, South Africa: Africa Nazarene Publications, September 18, 2006), 5.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Living Stones In Africa: Pioneers of the Church of the Nazarene, revised edition, copyright © 1999, by Paul S. Dayhoff. All rights reserved.