When we came back home from our ministry visit to the United States last year, our pastor and his wife said they wanted to talk to us about a new ministry that had been started. We met together and they shared about a young family that had recently joined our church family. The man, Henrique, used to be addicted to drugs. He’s been free for the last two years and he is on fire for the Lord.
While we were in the states Henrique started this new ministry. It reaches out to young men in prison and to people living on the streets in the worst ways you could imagine.
Olavo, our pastor, asked if we could first, meet with Henrique and his family and second, walk with him in his new role in the ministry. Olavo knows how hard overcoming addictions can be and he wanted someone walking with Henrique as he ministers to those in addiction. Jesus sent his disciples out two by two and we know the importance of having God’s family around us to walk with us and fight for us as we go into the darkness with the Good News of Jesus.
We invited this young family over for supper and loved their hearts for God’s kingdom. It was very obvious how passionate Henrique is about sharing God’s love with those who are right now where he used to be.
Last Thursday I got a message from Olavo asking if I would go with Henrique to a place called Cracolândia or, literally, “Crackland” on Friday night. Henrique had visited this place a few times in the past with a group from another church. This group of men have been going to this place every other Friday night for thirteen years. They go to take food, give hugs, share Jesus, do spiritual warfare with demons and just “be” with those who most people want to just pretend aren’t there. I would be lying if I said I haven’t been one of those people in the past. It was easier for me to live in a bubble.
Henrique told me that the men fast for the twelve hours before they leave. I hadn’t fasted in a long time and I was amazed how easy not eating was for me, but as soon as the fast started I started having pains in my body. I knew the spiritual warfare had begun.
I was supposed to pick up Henrique at 9:30 to then go to the church where the men met before then going downtown. If you know us then you know that Benay and I are usually in bed by 9:30. We go to bed early and get up early. Last Friday morning I had woken up at 3:00. I thought I would die trying to start my night at 9:30. God gave me supernatural power that day and I never got tired.
It was obvious that God was wanting me to go and the enemy was using the pain and possible tiredness to try to get me to stay home, but God won.
I picked up Henrique and we went to the church where we met with the men who do his ministry. What a group of amazing warriors for Jesus! Some had already been there for a few hours just praying for the night. They all welcomed me warmly.
On the way to Crackland Henrique tried to share what it is like there. In our ministry here Benay and I have seen some really, really bad situations. I thought I was ready for what I would see. I was wrong. It was worse than I’ve ever seen.
The first person we met was a thirty-four year old woman. She was pregnant with twins. She was already the mother of nine. Henrique had told me about her and what to expect. Even so, I wasn’t ready for her appearance. It showed the devastating effects of long term drug use. I showed our kids her picture the next morning and asked how old they thought she was. They said 70. Here she is with Henrique:
None of her nine kids live with her and I think they have to be better off no matter where they are. The men told me these twins would not stay with her very long. She lives under a tarp with trash everywhere. Fifteen people live under the tarp which is about the size of medium sized tent. They have no running water, no bathrooms, nothing. I asked the men where they go to the bathroom. They pointed to the street next to the tarp. I’ve never seen anyone live in a place like that. This woman also has AIDS and syphilis. She continues to use crack.
Henrique and another man went right to her when we arrived. She came out of the tarp to greet them. Right next to her was a man who could barely move. He had the flu, honestly looked like he was dying and this woman was taking care of him. The guys in the ministry asked her if she went to get prenatal care from the free government health care. She said no. The guys went into the tent and prayed over the sick man.
We then went to see another woman who was also pregnant. She was late in her pregnancy and her stomach was only as big as my two fists put side by side. The guys I was with began to talk to her. She began to yell that everything was darkness. Everything is Satan. She’s ready to go and be with him and get away from all the darkness around her. She kicked a broom in the air about thirty feet. She was uncontrollable. The man she was living with just listened as we tried to talk to her. He watched and continued to smoke crack. He made a comment and she pointed to him and said, “See! Darkness all around me! Just let me go be with Satan!” The men decided there was no way to talk to this woman on that night. They were disappointed because the last time they were there they talked openly and freely about Jesus with her and she listened. She too is very young. She has cancer.
I then went with Henrique and Antonio, who is the leader of that ministry and who was also addicted to drugs at one time in his life. We walked two streets away from where the ministry group was. We walked by drug dealers. We walked by all kinds of prostitutes that you can imagine. The two men were focused. We were going to a certain place. As we walked I was amazed at the amount of trash and cockroaches we stepped on and over. We ended up meeting five men who were living together on a corner. Trash was piled up around them for at least twenty-thirty feet. They had no covering at all. Just living in chairs out in the open. They listened to Antonio share his testimony. They listened as he shared how much Jesus loved them. They accepted Henrique’s strong prayer for them.
While many of the ministry men went from street to street visiting people there was a group of men who cooked out sausages. After the visits were done and the meat was cooked, everyone came to get the food. As they waited in line Antonio preached God’s love for them. As he spoke and prayed the rest of us went and touched every person in line and prayed over them as well. It was an amazing thing for me to be a part of.
After the food and soda was all given out, the ministry group got together in a circle. We held hands and Antonio talked to us and then prayed over us. As we prepared to leave almost every man came to me and hugged me and told me how glad they were that I had come that night to be with them. One older man cupped my face with hands and said, “Is your wife ok? Are your kids ok? Do they follow and love Jesus?” When I answered yes to all he said, “Then you are good aren’t you? You’re blessed. The other stuff is just stuff.” He then gave me a big hug.
Olavo had asked me to go with Henrique to see exactly what this ministry does and see if it would be a safe place for Henrique. Olavo didn’t know much about the ministry and he didn’t want to put Henrique in any type of situation where he might be tempted if he happened to be alone. I was told that night that none of the men ever travel the streets alone. They go in groups of two, but usually more, men.
Honestly, after being with them just one night, I couldn’t think of a better ministry for Henrique to be a part of. For me or any of those men to be a part of for that matter. The love those men have for the forgotten, ignored, unloved of our city moved my heart. It was incredible for me to be a part of.
I got home a little after two in the morning. I wasn’t hungry and I was never tired the entire day. God wanted me to be there and I’m so thankful that I got to see this incredible ministry in action.
After I woke up Saturday Benay wanted to know all about it. As I shared she said, “Wow. That’s what we are supposed to be doing as Christians. Shining Jesus’ light in the darkness.”
Later in the day I was sharing my experience with one of my best buddies, and old teammate, Sascha. He sent me this verse:
“This, in essence, is the message we heard from Christ and are passing on to you: God is light, pure light; there’s not a trace of darkness in Him.”
1 John 1:5
Friday night I went to one of the darkest places I’ve ever been to and I was blessed to see pure light shined on God’s beloved people who happen to live in a place called Crackland. I’m thankful for this ministry, I’m thankful for Henrique and I’m thankful for every person I was blessed to meet on Friday night. I’m going back.