Written By Isaac Benavides, Brazil
I grew up in Chile; life was good then. My father had an important position in a large company and my mother worked as an army nurse. We led a carefree existence in a neighborhood away from civilization. The area we stayed was surrounded by rivers and nature; it was known as “the pearl of the river”, a befitting name. I never imagined that we would ever leave that place.
But we did. In October 2007, my family moved to Brazil with the desire to serve as missionaries in a Hispanic community under the ministry of a local church. Shortly after we arrived however, things changed dramatically.
Relational conflicts arose. At first, my parents tried to remain united to honor the commitments they had made to each other and to the Hispanic community. But unresolved conflicts that existed in our family before the move, coupled with the challenges of adapting to another country, language and culture proved too much to bear. A couple of months into our stay in Brazil, my parents divorced. This divided the family; my mother and sister returned to Chile while my father and I stayed back in Brazil.
Naturally, I started asking a lot of questions. I admit that these questions still haunt me now: Why did we come here? Why did all this happen? The divorce and the aborted mission deeply shook my faith. As result, I left the church, drew away from God, and went down a path of self-destruction.
My mother returned to Chile and my father had to leave the church and embark on a new path. He tried to work in various places but nothing went according to plan. One day, frustrated and embittered by his own mistakes, he decided to turn to God, seek Him and pray.
He sought the Lord for weeks; I heard his cries daily. I believe his sincere and heart-wrenching cries were pleasing to God. One morning, my father felt a strong prompting from the Lord to pick up some bread and coffee and walk along the city streets. And so he went.
Along the way, he came across homeless people—people who were abandoned, on drugs, or starving. With his limited Portuguese, he showed love to five of them through a simple act of sharing coffee and bread. He continued to do this faithfully daily, till he became a household name along the streets.
Today, some 2,000 people live on the streets of Curitiba, many of them addicted to drugs and alcohol. They represent one per cent of the entire population. There was so much need, and my father needed more people to help in this effort to reach out to them. He was convicted that God had called him to work with the invisible people in society—the homeless, addicts, victims of violence—and the direction of his life changed forever.
Five years on, he now has 100 volunteers from various Christian denominations, serving more than 200 homeless people in a well-known park in the city center. Every weekend, he conducts a church service and feeds the homeless people. He calls this place “open sky church”.
Today, the ministry has grown significantly and now operates a non-governmental organization as well as a center to rehabilitate drug addicts. Prayer has been the backbone of the ministry—not once has my father written any project plan or paper. And God has miraculously provided all that he has needed at the right time.
Within our family, we are still going through a process of restoration, forgiveness, and healing. We have grasped, however, the truth that we must look beyond our circumstances and bring the light of Christ to those who do not know of His love. There is always someone who suffers more than we do, and to whom we can make a difference. There’s nothing more important than a heart willing to be guided by God and to serve like Christ.
Some people ask me how to find God’s purpose for our lives, and my honest answer is: I do not know. But one thing I know for sure: God is good and He can use us, no matter what our circumstances and ability.
At a personal level, God turned me back to Himself when I got married. He convicted me of my responsibility as a husband and father to protect my family physically and spiritually. I now rely on Him for daily guidance and help.
Truth be told, I still struggle with working with drug addicts and homeless people. But I look at my father every day, and am amazed by the long hours he puts in and the risks he takes on a daily basis—all for the sake of having two or three people willing or able to leave the streets and drugs behind.
I remember asking him about this one day. “Dad, don’t you get frustrated that your hard work reaps such little results? People do not change!” He answered me, “I was not called to change and transform people, I was called to love them. The rest is the work of God.” That’s when I realized that only a broken person can see and know what another broken soul needs. Our mission is to love someone—that makes all the difference.