The first period of the School of the Bible of 2014 just finished. In just the two courses I taught I had twelve people study the Gospel of Matthew and nine the Panorama of the Bible. Most of these are visitors from the community and many had not studied the Bible before. The School of the Bible is the downtown congregation’s most effective means of meeting new people for the Gospel.
Junior is one of those who came to Christ through the School of the Bible a few years ago. At that time I didn’t know his life’s story. Last month he preached a sermon entitled “A God who Redeems”. In his message he told how God worked in his life by humbling him and bringing him to understand his need to acknowledge God.
He preached from Daniel 4 where the Bible tells how the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar was ruler of the world until God took everything away to make him understand that it’s God who rules our world.
Here’s his story…
Junior grew up in a middle class family with no Christian values. He was taught that the only real value in life was to make money and that material things would bring purpose to his life. And so he grew up in the pursuit of wealth, always telling his mother that one day he would be a rich man.
He married his wife, Valeria, in January of 1987. In November his only child, Daniel, was born. Junior decided to leave Brazil and to take his whole family to the US. The mindset of many Brazilians is that, if you really want to make money, you should move to the US.
Junior and family moved to Atlanta and started making money, the problem was, he started drinking heavily. Drinking and the pursuit of money consumed him. He knew then he was not a good husband, nor a good father.
Junior’s first contact with the Gospel’s message was a church that offered English as a second language classes using children’s books. He also received counseling that convinced him that he was an alcoholic. And so Junior stopped drinking. That was his first major victory in the right direction. And while he felt drawn to the Bible’s message, the call of money spoke louder.
He decided to move back to Brazil in an effort to make money using what he had learned in the US. But it seemed that the more he ran towards money, the more money ran from him. And this lack of a firm foundation started to take its toll on his family. Drowning in debt, his marriage started to fail and the distance between he and his son grew.
In a final and desperate attempt to make money, Junior borrowed a cart to sell grilled meat on a stick, a popular snack in the streets of Brazil. But at the end of the day his sales were low and he had to eat the meat that he had bought to sell. He didn’t even have money to buy the gas used to cook the meat.
His son Daniel, who was now in his teens, started to get involved with drinking and other things. The friends Daniel made were not a good influence, and Junior started to blame his wife and yell at his son for this.
Without any hope or any kind of guidance, Junior decided to leave home. He put his remaining few belongings on top of the car and walked out as his crying son begged him not to leave. He was depressed, and in his own words, blind.
He ended up living in a rural abandoned house owned by his brother, home to many rats and cockroaches. He had arrived at the bottom of the pit. By no means was it a decent place to live, but it was there where Junior had finally learned to cry out to God.
Junior started to pray to God. He began cleaning the place up. But he was losing weight because he didn’t have anything to eat. He would scavenge through the trash of local groceries stores. He would take baths with water from the rain. His brother would give him some money, around 5 dollars, which would be all he had for a week’s expenses.
But God was teaching him a hard lesson. He was being broken down and learning to humble himself like the Babylonian king.
While this was going on, God was also working through his wife, Valeria, and son, Daniel. They had seen an advertisement for English classes at the School of the Bible and Valeria enrolled herself and Daniel so that he could keep practicing the English they learned in the States. But what Daniel found was a lot more than language skills. He found God’s Word and he found a loving church.
This church family adopted Daniel at a time that he didn’t have a father present, feeling alone in the World. And after studying the Bible, Daniel was baptize at a teens’ camp and one month later Valeria gave her life to Christ as well.
Some time later Daniel went to visit his father and invited him to church. But Junior did not like the idea. His rejected his son effort to help him. And after his son left he was filled with a deep sadness. On that day Junior decided to end his life.
He got an electrical wire and threw it in the pool of the old house. He sat in a chair at the edge of the pool and was getting ready to throw himself in. At the moment he prayed: God, please, you have taken my money, my family, my home, don’t take my sanity. That’s all I have left.”
He fell asleep in that chair next to the electrified pool. When he woke up he decided not to kill himself, but to go to church instead. Upon arriving he was overwhelmed by people’s receptivity. People spoke highly of Daniel and Valeria. The church started to become his family and someone who had lost everything was given a second chance.
Shortly after, he started studying the Bible. No longer did he resist, no longer was he too proud or too blinded by money. And in the following year he gave his life to Christ.
Today, several years after Junior’s conversion, his wife coordinates the church’s children ministry and his son Daniel is a preacher of the Gospel and leader to many young souls who are looking for guidance. Daniel is married to a good Christian woman whom he met while at a school of preaching in the US. They are teaching their son, Noah, 20 months old, (Junior’s grandson) how to pray.
God has even blessed Junior with a good job to support his family. But the deeper blessing was learning to say like the king of long ago, “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble..” Daniel 4:37