SAO PAULO, Brazil – Inside a Sao Paulo garage the first chords of a heavy metal song blast out and the lyrics speak of Jesus Christ and salvation. The venue is the Crash Church, an evangelical church attended by rock lovers seeking to learn about the word of God via music.
As if they were attending a hard rock concert, the faithful are dressed in dark colors and move their heads sharply as the electric bass and the percussion kick in in a room painted black and decorated with tribal symbols.
After several high-voltage numbers, the faithful, some of them wearing Metallica or Joy Division t-shirts, settle down and Pastor Batista begins the service. He does not wear any religious garments, but rather jeans and white and red sneakers.
Tattoos, all of them referring to Christian faith, cover his forearms and a dozen piercings and earrings adorn his ears. His grayish beard is fashioned into a braid about 1.5 inches long.
Besides being a pastor, Batista is the lead singer in the Christian death metal band known as Antidemon and one of the founders of this "unconventional" church created in 1998 out of what he says was a "divine need."
"This is part of God's plan to cross barriers, which had a very closed-off format and were unable to reach many aspects of society," says Batista, referring to other more conservative religious currents, including the powerful Universal Church of the Kingdom of God and the Assembly of God.
Maria Aparecida Castellini, 54, has seven children and three of them belong to traditional evangelical churches that don't "tolerate" members adopting "punk" fashions such as dying one's hair green, painting fingernails and lips electric blue and wearing torn clothing that exposes portions of their skin.
She says she is "crazy" for Jesus and rock, but her previous church - Reborn in Christ - "told me that rock was a sin, a thing of the devil," adding that she walks two hours to attend the Crash Church.
Behind a medieval-looking pulpit, Batista reads from the Gospel, while the congregation follows along on their cellphones, in regular Bibles or on the TV screens that show the biblical passages being discussed.
Batista uses everyday jargon to explain the word of God and intersperses his sermons with rock songs that, despite their intensity, don't bother two babies sleeping in their mothers' arms just a few feet away or the octogenarian women listening impassively to the loud music.
In one of his sermons, the pastor compares the story of Jesus with that of the congregation members, noting that despite the prejudice that existed (and exists) against them, they are all still "of God."
"The people awaited ... a powerful messiah. Nobody expected a church like ours. They're not expecting us to be people of God, but we are of God," he says.
He says that churches like Crash Church have contributed to the expansion of evangelical religion, which - in contrast to Catholicism - has gained ground in recent years in Brazil.
In 1994, 75 percent of Brazilians declared themselves to be Catholic, but that percentage has dropped to 50 percent now, while evangelical Protestants have increased to comprise 29 percent of the population.