While prepping for processing at Presbyterian Historical Society (PHS) back in March 2010, I remember feeling just a little jealous of the processors who would actually get to process all of the super cool collections there! So you can imagine how I jumped at the chance to process a collection at PHS when our processing schedule changed at the last minute. I could not wait to get my hands on some papers!
Taking on the Philip Sheeder Landes papers, I got to travel to mid-twentieth century Brazil and learn about Presbyterian mission work in an otherwise Catholic dominated mission environment. Landes was born in Brazil and spent most of his life there, and helped to build a Presbyterian community across the entire country — which is no small feat, in case you didn’t realize, Brazil is gigantic! In addition to evangelizing, the mission (there were actually 3 or 4 related Presbyterian missions strategically placed in Brazil) brought literacy and other education, including a farm school, to people throughout the remote areas of Brazil.
The Landes and other missionary papers we processed at PHS taught me a lot. For one thing, the missionaries we got to know truly embraced their adopted countries as their own, whether they were stationed in Brazil, China, Korea or the Belgian Congo. They devoted their whole lives to their work and chose to raise their families in these countries. Though there were undoubtedly negative consequences of missionary work and perhaps some ethnocentric motivation, I found that the missionaries we met were well-intentioned people, who provided very valuable services to the communities in which they lived.
While I was excited to process the Landes papers and learn more about Landes’ work in Brazil, I was frustrated to find out that approximately half of the collection is in Portuguese, a language that I am not familiar with! I didn’t get to learn as much about the Brazil mission as I would have liked, but I was surprised to see that even with the language barrier, I was able to quickly provide much needed order to a collection that was in complete disarray when I found it. Now it is ready for use, and I expect that a researcher, especially someone with knowledge of the Portuguese language, would certainly be satisfied with what it has to offer.