Theresa Shomberg DeMerchant was born in Steven’s Point, Wisconsin, 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 Roman 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 the salesman’s faith was the truth.
The salesman and his wife invited Theresa’s family to the church in Clintonville, Wisconsin, which was sixty-five 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.
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 go to church often because their car was small, and there were so many children. She would stand up in the back so that they could all fit. They would leave at 3:00 pm in the afternoon and get home at 3:00 am the following day.
One day, when she was seventeen, she was praying about her future. She was 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 at ABI, she was involved in as many ways as possible with the music department and foreign missions. She played classical piano for all the special music groups with Brother Gleason and taught piano lessons. She also became an English teacher. Her teachers at ABI provided her with a strong foundation in doctrine and theology she would later use to teach schools in Brazil.
After she graduated, President S. G. Norris asked her to stay on as faculty. She did so for five years. She assisted President Norris with administrative work and also taught English classes.
During that season, a young Canadian student, Bennie DeMerchant, enrolled in ABI. 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 fifty dollars a month from her teaching salary for their wedding.
They were married in Saint Paul, Minnesota, 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 Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, 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 Portuguese, and there were no United Pentecostal churches. They studied the language in their small apartment and held church services in their garage. Theresa was nervous about raising their six-month-old baby, Beth, in a mosquito-infested country known for malaria.
While they had services in their home, they worked on building a church. Brother Kilgore sent them a generous offering of one thousand dollars to build their first church.
Pam was born in 1969 in Brazil; Bennie Joe was born seven years later. All their kids loved the work of God. 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 when 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 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 inspired the Bible schools. After Joe passed, Theresa had more time to train other ministers. She used all the notes and lessons 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 missionaries to Portuguese-speaking countries worldwide, including Africa.
Theresa’s family is all in ministry. Both her daughters, her son-in-law, and her granddaughter 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 pastoring a church in Llano, Texas. Bethany, their granddaughter, has been involved in missions in Brazil and 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, George Sievers, and her daughter Beth in their church. She loves playing the organ in church and teaches Bible studies at 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 important to prepare yourself. It is also important to go to Bible school. It sets a foundation and gives an in-depth study of God’s Word.
She is grateful for all the prayers and support from the North American church.