Dr Bill Woods: The Belfast Boy who Burned for Christ in Brazil (1937 – 2023)

Devoted to Christ. Passionate about people. Remarkably successful. But always fiercely self-effacing. This was the hero of the faith that many of us have been privileged to call our friend, Dr. Bill Woods.

Rev. Ian Brown / 6th November 2023

Converted to Christ on 20th July 1952 in Ravenhill Free Presbyterian Church under the ministry of Rev. Ian Paisley, Bill Woods became part of a thriving youth fellowship in that church, out of which proceeded an extraordinary number of missionaries who carried the message of Jesus to many parts of the world.

Bill’s personal desire to become one of those missionaries was driven by a number of factors:

  • the powerful preaching of his pastor, Dr. Paisley; a pointed appeal by Jessie Munn, one of a family of missionary sisters – “Is there a young man here who would be prepared to surrender his life to Jesus Christ and go to serve Him on some mission field?”
  • the death of one of those volunteer missionaries after surviving only six weeks in Brazil’s interior, Mrs. Ina Orr.
  • Mollie Harvey’s impressive challenge using an oil lamp when she emphasised how one small lamp can make such a huge difference when everything around it is so dark.

Bill Woods determined to be that small lamp.

Beginning in January 1957 he spent two years in the WEC (Worldwide Evangelisation Crusade) Missionary Training College in Glasgow; left Belfast harbour on 20th August 1960 on board a ship to Liverpool with the strains of hymns sung by his friends sounding in his ears – ‘Take The Name Of Jesus With You,’ ‘God Be With You Till We Meet Again’ – and, having boarded the SS Hubert, eventually docked one thousand miles up the Amazon at Manaus in October. Overwhelmed by the sight of multitudes who were suffering around him, Bill dedicated his life to relieve their pain. This involved him spending years in language and medical schools before he emerged with the skills he needed to treat thousands of leprosy patients.
Exactly how God was with him, and how Bill took the Name of Jesus everywhere he went has provided the rich material for an incredible story that has been recounted in a book by his close friend and now President of Acre Gospel Mission, Victor Maxwell (‘I Want You To Do Something’), recorded in an ITV documentary by Paul Clark (‘Angel of the Amazon’), and has been recognised by the conferring of multiple awards in Brazil and an OBE in the United Kingdom by Queen Elizabeth II.

I was intrigued by the warm tribute delivered by the current president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, when he received the news of the death of Dr Woods. He described him as the “leprosy doctor” and called him “Dr. Guilherme” – a Portuguese variant of the name William that means “resolute protector” or “strong-willed guardian.”

Screenshot of www-correiobraziliense-com-br.translate.goog

President of Brazil gives tribute to Bill Woods

Screenshot of www.sundayworld.com

That Dr Woods deserves these designations due to his tireless work in medicine in Acre and Amazonas is unquestioned; but he especially qualifies for these descriptions because of his faithful labours in his primary field, that of missions. Bill never lost sight of the fact that God had called him to Brazil to be a witness for Him. Therefore, wherever he went, he burned brightly for the Lord Jesus Christ.

Along with several children’s workers from the Martyrs Memorial Free Presbyterian Church, I had the immense privilege of accompanying Bill on 29th June 2023 as he came full cycle and made a return visit to one of his first sources of education, Nettlefield Primary School, Belfast. It happened to be prize day.

Bill was immediately installed as the guest of honour. Encouraged by questions put to him by the school principal, Simon McLean, Bill related to the children in that packed assembly hall how “the greatest moment” in his life came about when, just over seventy years ago, “he was found by Jesus Christ.” He left them with a few lines in Portuguese – which he then revealed to be “the gospel in a nutshell” that we find in John chapter 3 verse 16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Right to the end Dr Bill was, like the biblical John the Baptist, “a burning and a shining light.” The small lamp that significantly shone in the darkness. Or, as expressed in the words of a hymn sung in Bill’s presence on the night before Fred and Ina Orr left for Brazil in March 1954:

“Let me burn out for Thee dear Lord,
Burn and wear out for Thee,
Don’t let me rust or my life be a failure my God to Thee:
Use me and all I have dear Lord,
And get me close to Thee;
‘Til I feel the throb of the great heart of God
And my life burns out for Thee.”

Bill Woods – The Belfast Boy Who Made A Difference

Rev. David Park gives a tribute to Dr. Bill Woods OBE

Public Memorial Service

A public memorial service was held in Martyrs Memorial Free Presbyterian Church on Sunday 3rd December at 3:30pm. Watch the service below.

Bill Woods movie 2010 – Celebrating 50 Years in Brazil

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