Milton S. Afonso
Dialogue with an Adventist philanthropist in Brazil
Dr. Milton Soldani Afonso is a Seventh-day Adventist lawyer and businessman entirely committed to the advance of the church's mission in the world. He and his family own more than 20 companies in Brazil, the most important of which is the Golden Cross, which is considered the largest health-insurance company in Latin America and the fourth largest in the world.
He also owns a modern university in the city of Sao Paulo, with 14 schools, including dentistry and medicine.
The Golden Cross Group employs 70,000 individuals, among them 18,000 physicians and 5,000 health insurance representatives. Golden Cross provides assistance to more than two million insured members.
During the past two years, Dr. Afonso and his family have contributed US$100,000,000 to Adventist education, welfare, and evangelism. In 1994 he donated 11 radio stations to the Seventh-day Adventist Church in South America.
In the midst of his business appointments and travels, Dr. Afonso graciously consented to answer questions for College and University Dialogue.
Please tell us about your roots.
I was born in the town of Nova Lima, near the city of Belo Horizonte in southern Brazil. Our home was extremely poor. I grew up in a shack that was damp and contaminated, at the rear of a lumberyard. From a human viewpoint, I had no future and very little hope during my childhood. However, I recently celebrated my 73rd birthday, thanks to God's extraordinary goodness to me.
Were you born into an Adventist home?
No. My mother was involved in spiritualism while my father called himself Catholic, but never went to church.
How did you become acquainted with the Seventh-day Adventist Church?
In a most providential way! My father used to spend the little money he earned in gambling, drinking, and smoking. Every Saturday morning he bought a lottery ticket, hoping that he would become rich. One Sabbath, the man who sold lottery tickets in our neighborhood offered one to an Adventist member who was on his way to church. His reply was, "I don't spend money on those things, but here is an invitation for you to attend a series of religious lectures." The lottery salesman gave the announcement to my father. My mother saw the invitation, and one night she took me to an Adventist evangelistic meeting held in a lecture hall.
Where did you begin your Adventist schooling?
After joining the Seventh-day Adventist Church, my mother realized that the only way of helping me overcome the surrounding influences and making something useful of my life was to send me to an Adventist boarding school. She worked very hard to pay for my education. However, after a while my mother was unable to provide for my school expenses, and I was told by the administration that if I did not pay what I owed the school, I would be suspended from classes and could not take my final exams. In desperation, I decided to go out as a student colporteur at 14 years of age.
How was your experience as a young salesman of Adventist publications?
As a child, I had sold candies and cookies in the streets. That gave me a good background in salesmanship. I sold Adventist books and magazines for five years, while continuing with my studies. With God's blessing and dedication, I was very successful. So much so, that in 1941 I was the national literature sales champion in Brazil.
What did you do next?
My years as a student at Brazil Academy in Sao Paulo made me realize the great possibilities that life opened for me. After completing my secondary studies, I passed the entrance examination to law school. During my university studies I began supporting nine other students who needed help.
Do you continue to help young men and women in their studies?
Today we assist 8,000 students at all levels in Brazil, from preschool to university. Many of them are taken care of in our 12 children's homes.
You seem to have a soft spot in your heart for orphans.
It is the result of my own childhood experience of poverty and loneliness. Although I was not actually an orphan, my parents had very little time for me at home. My father was an alcoholic, and my mother had to make major sacrifices to sustain us. She even had to mortgage her sewing machine to help me pay for part of my early schooling.
Do you have other interests?
In addition to Adventist education, I am concerned about the health condition of many people in society. Having seen the dreadful effects of smoking, drinking, and other addictive drugs, I consider the health component of the Adventist message to be of great value. God has given us specific instructions on how to live healthy and useful lives. Personally and through our companies we seek to share those practical counsels on health with those who are not members of our church.
What is the secret of your success?
Faith in God and willingness to go to battle, tuned to His wisdom. Integrity in all transactions. I have learned to trust in God's providence and to move forward with confidence. Many times I ignore the budget figures, and don't even know how much cash is on hand. If God inspires me to make a donation, I do so independent of any other situation. God is the provider. I do not withhold, and always receive more. Looking back on my life, I can see how God has sustained and guided me at every step.
Does a Christian businessman have time to commune with God?
A businessman can be in communion with God anywhere, in the midst of any activity. Of course, any successful businessman who is also a Christian faces many temptations. You may become proud and self-centered as a result of being flattered, praised in public, reported favorably in the social columns of the newspapers, and interviewed on radio and TV. But if he is conscious of his daily dependence on God--that everything he is and owns really belongs to Him--he remains humble and in touch with Him.
What made you decide to purchase and donate several radio stations to the Church?
I am a member of the Adventist World Radio Committee and became enthused with the miracles God is performing in unentered areas of the world through the radio. For those reasons, I decided to support the radio outreach in the South American Division.
What do you consider the greatest blessing in your life?
To be a Seventh-day Adventist, a member of this wonderful remnant people, and to have a part in giving the last message of salvation to the world.
A special joy?
To have a home, a loving wife, four children, 9 grandchildren... all healthy. To own a group of companies that make it possible for me to help the church in its mission.
Not to have enough time to do everything that I would like to. This is why I am always in a hurry!
To be in the kingdom of God one day, and to have there my children, brothers, family, and friends.
A philosophy of life?
To be in constant conversation with God. To ask for stronger faith. To nurture this faith so as to overcome the obstacles and problems we face, knowing that God is at my side and that some day I will meet Him face to face.
A favorite Bible text?
"I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day" (2 Timothy 1:12, NIV).
Interview by Assad Bechara. Assad Bechara (D.Min., Andrews University) serves as director of communication, public affairs, and religious liberty for the South American Division, in Brasilia, Brazil.