Poverty tries to suffocate those who are caught in it. Realizing that we are made in God’s image and that we are nothing less than the crown of His creation completely changes the way we face our obstacles. Understanding that God loves us is the first step to overcoming poverty.
“The church cannot be trapped between four walls,” says Josué, pastor of our partner church, Baptist Missionary Church in New Conquest, which does holistic development work in the poor community Nova Conquista (New Conquest).
Nova Conquista has many problems: dysfunctional families, alcoholism, drugs, fear, gun violence, etc. The goal of the church is not only to reach out to children, but also to their families, through love and assistance.
Most of the community’s inhabitants are unemployed or have part-time jobs, earning just enough to survive. Nova Conquista is an urban slum located in Diadema, a city located in the São Paulo, Brazil, metropolitan area.
Approximately 15,000 people live in Diadema, in houses made of plywood, unfinished brick or both. The streets are narrow and dirty, and people steal electricity. Conditions in Nova Conquista are worse. It suffers from very poor infrastructure, poor houses made of unfinished brick, shanties, and a lack of basic sanitation and hygiene.
The Baptist Missionary Church in New Conquest was established 11 years ago when another church realized that there weren’t any evangelical churches or any evangelism work with children in the area. So they opened a missionary front to serve that community and the child development center callled Benevolent Association New Conquest was founded.
“We were the first Christian social work in this community,” says Pastor Josué.
The church and child development center walk side by side as they serve the community. In addition to the center’s daily activities, such as devotionals, Bible studies, home visitations and school support, they also host events to help the community.
Because of their work, the church and the center are recognized and respected by the community.
For many years, the center was the only place where Gessykleyton found peace. His house was a battlefield for his parents. His mother, Albenita, was an alcoholic and she used to spend what little money her husband earned on drinks and parties. Angry, her husband used to hit her. This was their lives, day after day.
“Because of my behavior, we never had enough money for our basic needs. My family was destroyed,” says Albenita, who also said that she even had to become a prostitute in order to get food for her two children.
The story of Gessykleyton’s family is a common story in Brazil: families from the northeast of the country move to São Paulo trying to get a better life. But instead, they again find poverty and still have to fight against it, but now they do so far from their families and their homes.
Gessykleyton’s family discovered this harsh reality when they moved to São Paulo 12 years ago.
Gilberto, Albenita’s husband, had gone to São Paulo to find a job and when he found work, Albenita decided to move too.
In São Paulo, Albenita faced a hard reality. Waiting for her husband at the bus station when she first arrived, she was frightened by the number of people around her. And, different from her expectations, they couldn’t buy their own house. No warm place was waiting for them. No great job. They had to live with relatives until they could get their own home.
They made sacrifices and saved money to buy a small house inside the dangerous community of Nova Conquista. By that time, Albenita had been drinking increasingly and realized she had become an alcoholic.
“The devil always gives some reason to drink. If I was sad, it was a reason to drink; if I was happy, it also was a reason to drink. I even drank rubbing alcohol.”
The family was dysfunctional. Scenes of domestic violence were common in front of the kids. Albenita’s out-of-control behavior left the family poorer than they used to be.
Albenita never had the courage to ask for help, but the children talked about their problems at the Compassion child development center, which always sent help.
But the main help – and what made the difference in their lives – wasn’t food and clothes. Romans 8:1 was what opened Albenita’s eyes.
Despite her problems, Albenita was an active mother in the daily life of her children and at the child development center. She always went to the parents’ and teachers’ meetings. It was in one of those meetings that Pastor Josué spoke about truth: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
After this meeting, alone in her house, Albenita felt depressed.
“I was thinking about what I was doing with my life when this verse came into my heart. I was doomed and I wanted to be free.”
She decided to join the church to know more about Jesus. In three months, she gave up drinking and smoking. Through her testimony, Gilberto also decided to follow Jesus and since then, they’ve started a new story in their lives.
Nowadays, the whole family is Christian and, unlike the past, they work together to build a better life – a dream that is becoming true because of the freedom and hope that the gospel brings.
Gilberto opened his own little woodwork shop and the family works there, helping him to earn the daily bread.
Three years ago, the family adopted an adolescent, Michele. They met her through an evangelism work of the church in another city. Michele’s family was troubled and her mother gave provisional custody to Albenita’s family to take care of her.
Albenita’s house is small, a shanty made of unfinished brick and pieces of plywood. But God’s grace and love overflow in the house.
Talking to Albenita, it is difficult to imagine this woman drunk and uncontrolled. Serene, devoted to family, she smiles and says: “God truly becomes the character.”
The Baptist Missionary Church in New Conquest works quietly but with great dedication, taking care of lives battered by poverty. Witnessing the effect hope in Christ has had on these families reinforces the importance of the local church’s action to release children and families from poverty in Jesus’ name.