The New Life: A Powerful Transformation
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has
passed away; behold, the new has come. (Gal. 5:17)
The New Life: Cleaning the Inside
As I wrote in the last post, the day when I came to Christ was April 24th, 1991, a Wednesday night prayer service. I also said that night Jesus set me free from drugs, but I was still struggling with alcohol and cigarettes. Yet, I wrote that after the pastor shared with me that God had spoken to him that one day I would be the pastor of that church - Around June 1991 I got strengthened to fight with my alcohol addiction. On that day I made a commitment to God to stop drinking, and I did stop. No more alcoholic drink.
Those words, said by the pastor, about me being a pastor at that church echoed in my mind day and night. It seemed insane, but I liked that; I wanted those words to come true in my life. I began to pray about being a pastor. I made myself available to God. I started attending a Sunday school class for a new believer. It was a class in preparation for baptism. I learned that the youth ministry leader used to host a prayer meeting on Friday nights at his house. I asked if I could join them for prayers. He welcomed me in the group; however, he advised that they had a time to begin, but not to end. I said that was not a problem for me. I was hungry and thirst for God and His words. My new life in Christ was changing me completely day by day. I was free from drugs and alcohol. I decided to go back to school – at least to finish high school. I was committed to my job, and my routine was again leaving home to work, work to school, and school to home. Wednesday and Friday nights I was devoted to attending the church and our prayer meeting.
My church was a very small church. The attendance on Wednesday nights was around fifteen to twenty people. The majority of those attending were ladies. We didn't have anyone to play any musical instrument for our worship time, so I prayed and asked God to help me to learn to play guitar. I learned to perform two songs and the pastor kindly allowed me to play those two songs every Wednesday night for a long time. Definitely, God was working in my life. I was praying every day for His will to be done in me, and He was listening to my prayers. I was still living in the same community, and as part of the process of my transformation, God led me to go to people who I had fought in my past, people who I had hurt and asking them to forgive me. I have to confess that it was not an easy task. Each time I would want to back out, but I couldn’t prevail against Him. Each time, I decided to obey.
I talked to my pastor and to my prayer group about what God was leading me to do in regards to seeking those people who I had hurt and asking them for forgiveness. They made a commitment to be praying for me. If I needed him, my pastor was willing to go with me. I was scared of doing it, but I was also sure that I had to do it. I remember, in particular, two men that I talked with. The first one, after I told him that I had become a Christian and recognized that what I had done to him was wrong and I would like to request his forgiveness - he just looked at me and said, "These things are not as easy as you think. You come to me and say that you are now a believer, but that doesn’t change anything.” I pleaded with him, but he kept the hardness of his heart. I left him with the certainty that I had done what was correct, and it was not in my power to make him accept my request.
Nevertheless, a couple of months later this same man came to my house to talk to me and said, "Sometime ago, you came to me and told me that you had become a believer, and you recognized that you had done wrong to me in the past. You also asked me to forgive you, and I didn’t forgive you. So, I am here to tell you that I became a believer too, and now I understand what you were doing that day. I am here to say that I forgive you, but also to ask you to forgive me." We talked for a while and prayed together giving thanks to the Lord for our new life in Jesus. GOD IS GREAT!!!
The second man was the husband of the lady in my church that I shared about in the last post. That man was a challenge to me because as I said, he tried to kill me. I feared his reaction, but I was convinced that God was leading me to do it. It was a week before my baptism when I had a chance to talk to that man. It was a Saturday afternoon, and I remember I prayed to God and asked Him to create an opportunity for me to ask this man’s forgiveness. When I was leaving my home to go to church, the man passed in front of my house, but he was driving. However, he stopped at a grocery store. I went in to meet him. When I met him, I told him about my new life in Christ and my recognition that I had done wrong to him. Therefore I want to ask him for forgiveness. He said that he wasn't God to forgive me, but I pressed him, and he said, "If it makes you feel better; that is okay; I forgive you.” Wow, that was awesome!!! Now I felt I was ready for my baptism. I was baptized on September 7, 1991.
Seeking for spiritual maturity, I started reading some theological books under my pastor’s supervision. The youth leader was training me in evangelism by using the four spiritual laws. I joined the music ministry helping with audio and video system. I learned to play a few more worship songs, and I had the opportunity to play guitar once a month in our Sunday morning service. I was deeply involved with my church, doing whatever was needed, even helping cleaning the church and working with construction. In 1993, I was elected as the new youth leader, and I began to teach the baptism class. In one of the baptism classes, I met my wife. I used to say that I did such a great job that I married her two years later. In 1994, I became the vice president of my church. In 1996, my church invited me to be the associate pastor. At that time, my pastor was a bi-vocational pastor because our church couldn't pay him for full time. He suggested the church to invite me as a full-time associate pastor. There is an interesting thing that I want to share. As you already know, I struggled with poverty during my childhood and adolescence; however, in 1996, my older brother and I were running a small health insurance company; small but big enough to make a good amount of money monthly. My church proposed to pay me the amount that corresponded to twenty percent of my income. What my church was offering was just enough to pay for my house rent. My pastor said that I should talk to my wife and pray about it and, if God led us to accept the invitation, He would take care of us. I spoke to my wife, and she said that whatever I decided she would support. In April 1,1996 I started working at my church as a full-time associate pastor. We faced a very challenging time financially speaking, but my wife never complained about anything, and God always provided what we needed.
In 1997, my church requested to our Baptist convention for my examination and ordinance to a pastoral ministry. After I passed the almost six-hour examination, I was ordained as a Baptist pastor. In 1998 my pastor switched his position with me; I became the senior pastor and he the associate pastor. My pastor was and is an excellent example of a man of God to me. At that time we were about 60 members attending the church. As the senior pastor, I decided to build my ministry upon three pillars. Mission, Fellowship, and Evangelism. Once a year we had a Missionary convention to raise money for local, national and world missions. Our church began to raise monthly the same amount for missions that was raised from tithes. Every weekend we did evangelism door to door, and our people were being encouraged to visit with one another weekly. God was blessing us and our ministry tremendously. God was adding day by day those who were being saved. In 2002, my wife started leading the women's department. She decided to work in small prayer groups. She trained two women, and at the end of two months she multiplied into three groups; less than one year later there were fourteen groups with about 160 women attending the weekly meeting. I was working with discipleship and training deacons and leaders. The church was growing spiritually and in number. In April 2006 we built a new temple to our church increasing the capacity from one hundred to 500 hundred people. Our church became known for its love to God and love for the neighbors in our community. We were a poor church, but with a big heart to those in needs. Our church began social work in our community, delivering baskets of food to needy families and toys for kids. It made our church well known, and God was being glorified. To Him be the glory.
God's plans are bigger than our plans: Moving in another direction
In 2007, my wife and I decided to donate our vacation time to visit with a missionary family that had returned to Brazil. They were in need of spiritual and emotional care. They were living a little far away from our church, but the trip was worthy. When we were there with them, the husband got a call from a pastor who asked him for help translating for an American pastor who was in the town. We went together. The pastor was also a Professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The missionary introduced me to him and told him my story. The Pastor offered to visit my church with a big choir for a one-night performance. I immediately accepted the offer. That was awesome! We made plans. I got back to my church and started the announcements. On the day of the performance, we had to have two presentations, and we did not have enough seats to accommodate the large number of people attending the service that night. We had over a thousand people!
In that same year, the American pastor revisited my church, but this time he was accompanied with the senior pastor of Birchman Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. They proposed a partnership between our churches, and we made agreements. God was working! The senior Pastor also recommended as part of our partnership to bring me to the USA to get my Education at SWBTS. Although I was a senior pastor recognized by our Baptist convention, I didn’t have any undergrad degree, I had just finished High School. The idea of coming to America was insane because I didn't speak English; I had never even thought about moving to another city in my own country! However, a year later my family and I were moving to America for a period of one year. During that time I would work on a Certificate in Biblical Studies. It was the most challenging journey of my life, but we decided to follow the directions that God was giving to us. Nevertheless, the process to come to America was harder than we thought. First, I had a problem getting my visa. It was denied for the first time. The consulate’s officer, after interviewed me, just looked at me and said. “Sir, you will not get the visas.” Six months later, I applied again, and this time we got visas, but the American consulate made a mistake and gave a religious visa to my wife and a tourist visa to my daughter and me. Conclusion, when we landed in America, we were deported. We flew eleven hours from Brazil to the USA, stayed under custody for sixteen hours in immigration, and flew another eleven hours back to Brazil. While I was in immigration, Birchman’s Senior pastor in America worked with a congresswoman who attended his church, and two days later I was flying back to America. It was the greatest adventure ever. Living in America for ten months, my wife and I experienced all kind of challenges and emotions. I struggled with going to seminary classes without speaking English. My wife got pregnant. We had financial problems, cultural challenges, and we got homesick many times, but at the end of the ten months I finished my program and got my certificate. Our son was born, and we went back to Brazil.
For the next two years from August 2010 to August 2012, I worked hard at my church in Brazil. I trained my staff, I planted a new church, everything was flowing but… I will tell you what happened in the next post. See you there.
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