Brazilians Turn To Evangelical Church In Rural Town Wracked By Drugs And Poverty

"Churches are taking over the leadership role which was supposed to be in the hands of the political powers," says a Catholic youth group member in the Brazilian town of Central do Maranhão.
The town of Central do Maranhão, in northeast Brazil's sugar cane belt, is one of the country's poorest. These rice fields line one of the town's long, narrow dirt streets. Source: Catherine Osborn/NPR

To the outsider, there is a beguiling charm and tranquility about the farming town of Central do Maranhão in northeast Brazil. It's tucked amid the palm groves, mango trees and rice fields that cover the landscape rolling gently toward the Atlantic Ocean, some 30 miles to the north.

Yet beneath the surface lies a troubled world, where drug and alcohol abuse are corroding the lives of many, especially young Brazilians. It is one of the poorest farming towns in Brazil, a community in the doldrums, where the only other social pursuit that appears to be truly flourishing — apart from booze and narcotics — is religion.

Although it has a population of fewer than 9,000 people, Central do Maranhão has 18 places of worship, of

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