This is the second of a two part post for Thanksgiving. Three years ago I made a video of what six men at Christland (all former addicts) were thankful for. This is a follow up on how God has been at work in those men’s lives.
Imagine you and your family scraped together $14,000 to get you a fake passport and visa to get into the U.S. You still had to travel up from Brazil, through Mexico, and cross the Rio Grande in an inner tube, even though you can’t swim (and a lady in your crossing group drowned).
You make it to the east coast where your brother lives. You get a job, start making a decent living, work your way up to a managerial position, and have high hopes for a future. Then one day a co-worker who’s mad at you because you didn’t hire his sister turns you in and you wake up with immigration pounding down your door. You’re hauled off to federal prison and eventually deported back to Brazil. Without a dime, without a job. And having lost everything you put together in the U.S.
Would you want to thank the guy who turned you in to immigration? Well, that’s one of Saulo’s biggest reasons for gratitude this Thanksgiving. He said he wishes some day he could meet the guy who turned him in and thank him. And here’s why: besides all the conquests of a great job, plenty of money and material possessions, Saulo had also acquired a desperate addiction to crack, while living “the dream” in the U.S.
And the night before he was arrested he had gotten down on his knees and begged God to free him from that addiction. That’s exactly what God did when the immigration officers arrested him. In prison, still in the U.S. a Brazilian pastor (naturalized U.S. citizen) shared the Gospel with Saulo. Saulo converted to Christ and when he was deported back to Brazil that same pastor connected him with a Brazilian pastor by the name of Wagner who was just getting started with the first Christland recovery center in Pernambuco.
A few months after that I met Saulo. To say he was rough around the edges would be kind. He was still hardened from all his experiences and had a lot of anger at life’s injustices. He was way too hard on the students in the Christland program. But under that tough shell there was a good heart. Saulo was teachable. He grew and matured. He softened and learned about mercy. He had been a hard man, but he had met the carpenter from Nazareth, who can take anyone, soften their hearts, and shape their minds. And then you just watch what our Father will do.
God gave Saulo a wife in a Christian lady who had visited Christland to see if that was where she should serve the Lord. Saulo and Nena married, he completed his time at Christland, then worked two more years there as a monitor. Nena still serves at Christland and Saulo does volunteer work when he can. He’s now in seminary with hopes of some day pastoring a church. It’s been a privilege watching God at work in Saulo’s life. A man who is thankful God answers prayers – even in the ways we would least expect.
I’ve got a lot more to tell you more about Alex in a future post. Suffice it to say for now that if Saulo was rough around the edges, Alex was like a busted cinder block. Before he entered Christland he stayed up all night getting drunk, then tried to smuggle a jug of wine into the center. He thought he was just going to keep on partying. That first year was a hard one for Alex.
And that’s when I met him. I don’t know how to describe it, but Alex was just one of those guys you sense the Lord whispering in your ear and saying, “stay close to this one – I’ve got big plans for him.” Like Saulo, after his first year, Alex decided to stay on in the Christland program. He had a project he wanted help on. He had experience as a baker and he wanted to see if we could get the equipment for him to begin baking bread. The original idea was to economize on the center’s expenses for meals. I could see it would give Alex a way to minister using gifts he had brought with him.
One of the things Alex is thankful for this Thanksgiving is you. He said to thank all of you who contributed to the funds we managed to put together to build that bakery. And the funds I still use to help support Alex. Gildo, the director of Christland in Pernambuco had the beautiful idea of not only building a bakery, but also turning it into a bakery school where the men could get vocational training to prepare them for work when they leave Christland.
And guess who the bakery professor is? Yep, our Alex! To date I believe something like 40 students have graduated the Christland bakery course. Alex teaches the theoretical classes and the practical ones. I’ll share more about the bakery in a future post, but for now here’s what Alex is thankful for.
Alex said he is first of all thankful the Lord for saving him, to Christland for giving him direction and an opportunity, and to those of us who have supported him personally and financially. And just for believing in him. He’s thankful the Lord restored his relationship with Neide, and allowed them to get officially married.
Three years ago I made a video of six men and what they were grateful for at Thanksgiving. Four of those six men, all formerly bound by the chains of addiction, have gone on to pursue careers in Christian ministry. And God is doing amazing things with their lives.
Something I tell the students in the Christland program, and that I truly believe is this: the enemy has used his most powerful weapons on these men because somehow he knows the potential they have to serve the Lord’s purposes. They may never preach or plant a church. But I believe in my heart each and every one of these men has a special place in God’s plan. If we can just help them find transformation in Christ and come to see what a glorious future He has in store for them, there’s no telling what God will do with such men.
Jesus sought out the “sinners”, the outsiders, the marginalized. He wanted them. He sought them out. He did then. He still does now. There must be a reason.
Thank you for your prayers. And for Saulo and Alex, for Bruno and Tiago, thank you for believing in them – and for giving them hope.