They arrived late, eyes anxious, and fidgeted throughout the study. As Marcelo spoke, he couldn’t help but notice a group of unfamiliar faces. When the Bible study ended, the group sprang up to approach Marcelo.
They introduced themselves, then said nervously, “We came here to ask you, what did you do to Beto? He’s a totally different person.”
My husband, Marcelo, our two daughters and I, are honoured to serve in a church plant in a neighbourhood built around a rubbish dump. A visit to the dump can be a sensory overload: the stench of rotting trash; the sound of rumbling rubbish trucks; the sun beating down as sweat drips into your eyes, seeing people – even children – sorting through the rubbish. The first time we visited, we were impacted by the poverty, violence and hunger, but even more, by the hopelessness and desperation we saw on many faces. We longed to share the hope we have in Christ.
Front row seats to God’s power
In 2013, Marcelo started pastoring a church for those in the community who wanted to learn more about Jesus. Since Igreja Bíblica Espaço Emanuel started, we feel we’ve had front row seats to what Psalm 107 powerfully describes: “Let the redeemed of the LORD tell their story, those he redeemed from the hand of the foe … They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away. Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness, prisoners suffering in iron chains. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness … and broke away their chains … He sent out his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave.” (Psalm 107:2-20)
When we met Beto, he was living with another woman after years of infidelity, drunkenness, drug-use, and fights – often physical – with his long-term girlfriend, Patricia. They had started dating after meeting at a party when Patricia was 13; at 15 she had their first child, Junior. Following a miscarriage after a fight, they had another daughter, Beatriz.
Then Beto was invited to the church’s weekly men’s group where he heard a Bible message after playing football. He began attending the church services with his family.
They came because they longed for change. Could God change Beto?
An incomprehensible change
Beto heard of a loving God who wants a relationship with us, but that sin separates us from him. He didn’t need convincing that he was a sinner, in chains, in need of a Saviour. In God’s perfect timing, the Holy Spirit convinced Beto of Christ’s saving and life-changing power and he trusted in Jesus as his Saviour. Soon afterwards, that night at the Bible study, we were reminded of God’s transformative power. We didn’t “do anything to” Beto, Marcelo explained – God had.
For Beto’s family and friends, the change was incomprehensible – to walk past the bar and no longer see him drunk; to witness Patricia, through the grace of God, forgive Beto; to see 34 year-old Beto return to school to learn to read and write so he could better read and share God’s word.
Now you’ll find Beto’s entire family at church, often with old drinking buddies and extended family in tow. We’ve seen that people don’t largely start seeking Christ merely because of mission workers or church activities, but due to the transformation in friends and family who become followers of Christ – the redeemed of the Lord, sharing their story of how he brought them out of the darkness and broke their chains.