Theresa Shomberg DeMerchant was born in Steven’s Point, WI in December 1935.
Her father was a carpenter and her mother helped take care of the farm with her siblings. She had four brothers and two sisters. Her family was Catholic.
A Pentecostal Watkins dealer came to their home to sell his products. He invited her parents to his house to see everything he was selling in his catalog. Theresa’s mother noticed the salesman’s wife reading a Bible. Theresa’s mother asked “Can you read the Bible?” The Priest had told Theresa’s parents that only priests could read the scriptures. The salesman’s wife said, “Of course, you can read the Bible.” Theresa’s father went out and bought a Bible that day. He stayed up all night reading it and the next morning he decided that the salesman’s faith was the truth.
The salesman and his wife invited Theresa’s family to go to the church in Clintonville, WI which was 65 miles away. Her mother and father were baptized. Eventually, she and her siblings were all baptized in the same church. Theresa received the Holy Ghost when she was eight and was baptized when she was nine years old.
She loved the church and treasured it every time she got to go. There were nine in her family and they had a ’35 Ford. She didn’t get to go to church very often because their car was so small and there were so many of them. She would stand up in the back so that they could all fit. They would leave at 3 pm in the afternoon and get home at 3 am the next morning.
One day, when she was 17, she had been praying for her future. She had been considering going to college. She felt God ask her, “Would you be willing to go to a foreign field?” She asked “Where, Lord?” She certainly didn’t want to go to Africa. She heard an answer: “Brazil.” She had studied about Brazil and South America in high school. The voice impressed her so much she would pray for Brazil first anytime she prayed. After high school, she enrolled at Apostolic Bible Institute, because she knew if she was going to be a missionary, she had to study God’s Word and be prepared.
She attended ABI for three years. While she was at ABI, she was involved in as many ways as she could with the music department and foreign missions. She played classical piano for all the special music groups with Bro. Gleason and taught piano lessons. She also became an English teacher. The teachers at ABI taught her a strong foundation in doctrine and theology, that she would use later to teach schools in Brazil.
After she graduated, President S.G. Norris asked her to stay on as faculty and teach for five more years. She assisted President Norris with administrative work and also taught English classes.
Bennie DeMerchant from Canada, arrived soon after as a student. She remembers seeing him as a prospective student when he came with his parents. Bennie shared with Theresa that he felt called to be a missionary to Brazil.
The more Bennie shared his passion for reaching Brazil, the more her friends teased her that “he was the one.”
Dates were special at ABI because they only got one date, once a month. On their first date, Bennie brought her a dozen red roses and chocolates. She shared the chocolates with the other teachers.
Bennie and Theresa constantly thought about their future plans. She saved $50 a month from her teaching salary for their wedding.
They were married at the ABI/St. Paul church in 1961. They wanted to go straight to the foreign missions field but the foreign missions board told them they were too young. They pastored in River de Chute, New Brunswick, Canada for one year and in Plaster Rock, Canada for one year before the board agreed to let them go to Brazil. They were the youngest missionaries at that time.
When they arrived in Brazil, they did not know the Portuguese language and there were no United Pentecostal churches. They studied the language in their small apartment and had church in their garage. She was nervous about raising their six month old baby Beth, in a mosquito-infested country known for malaria.
While they had church in their home, they worked on building a church. Brother Kilgore sent them a generous offering of a $1,000 to build their first church.
Pam was born in 1969 in Brazil and seven years later, Bennie Joe was born. All their kids had a love for the work. Beth and Pam would often help the Brazilians in street services before Sunday School. Beth loved to play musical instruments while the Brazilians preached and evangelized. Then they would head to their regular church services.
The DeMerchants struggled with Bennie Joe dying of bone cancer in 1992. Theresa had to take Joe to Canada to be in the hospital and Bennie tried to manage the work in Brazil. They prayed for a miracle and expected that God would heal Joe. Joe’s dream was to be a missionary just like his Dad. God ultimately healed Joe by taking him to heaven.
Joe’s death was what inspired the Bible schools. After Joe passed, Theresa had more time to train other ministers. She used all the notes and lessons that she had learned from ABI and translated them into Portuguese. The first Bible school was started in the Central church near their home in Manaus. ABI in Manaus is now the largest Bible school in Brazil.
The church in Brazil now has over 4,000 ministers, over 1,300 congregations, over 140,000 members, and over 124 ABI campuses training over 3,000 students every year. Manaus has over 300 churches and many conference centers. The Brazilian church is sending their own missionaries to other Portuguese-speaking countries around the world, including Africa.
Theresa’s family is all in ministry. Both her daughters, her son-in-law and her granddaughter all graduated from ABI. Pam and her late husband Carl Schuessler, pastored a North American Missions work in Houston, Texas. Beth and her husband George Sievers, are currently pastoring a church in Llano, Texas. Bethany, their granddaughter has been involved in missions in Brazil and in Paraguay. She loves working with home missions, ministering in jails and working with children’s ministry.
Theresa’s husband went to be with the Lord on February 8, 2017. She came home from Brazil, but is still active in ministry. She helps her son-in-law Bro. George Sievers and her daughter Beth with their church in Llano, Texas. She loves playing the organ in church and teaches Bible studies to an assisted living home. She continues to study God’s Word and reads it through three times a year. God’s Word is inspiring and is her strength.
Theresa would say to someone considering ministry that it is very important to prepare yourself. It is also important to go to Bible school. It sets a foundation and gives an in-depth study to the Word of God.
She is grateful for all the prayers and support from the North American church.