‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’ Prov 29:18 (KJV)
When Leandro Silva paid a visit to the infamous Felipe Camarão neighbourhood in Brazil he saw terrible poverty, violence and injustice. And he found a group of churches ‘too heavenly minded to be any earthly use’. He decided it was time they stood up… together.
The Felipe Camarão neighbourhood of Natal in Brazil is notoriously violent. Put the name into Google Images and you will see a string of photos of corpses, often riddled with bullet wounds. So it is not surprising that when a 19-year-old Leandro Silva decided he was called to work there, everyone urged him to reconsider – mercifully he didn’t.
Waiting for the end of the world
What Leandro soon discovered was that there was no shortage of churches in the area – 140 in total – but they were having little impact; not on the violence, nor on the terrible poverty or rampant injustice. So he began visiting the churches and meeting the pastors. He soon found out why the churches were making so little difference; they seemed to have no idea that transforming the community was part of their job description as the church.
‘They were waiting for the end; for Jesus to come back and call them. So when you have so many churches working alone and all of them just waiting for Jesus to return, there's no change.’
To make matters worse the churches were all operating separately with no cooperation in spite of the vast need on their doorstep. So Leandro started to gather the leaders together and share the unpalatable truth. ‘The pastors were shocked, they couldn't see the reality in front of them. They said "We have to do something!" And together we started the movement in this area.’
'When you have so many churches working alone and all of them just waiting for Jesus to return, there's no change.’Leandro Silva
Leandro quickly realised the pastors themselves needed help; ‘we needed the leaders to change first – they were struggling in their own lives and needed to be better leaders. They needed a place to learn together not in a classroom. We created meetings where they could practice things such as leadership, discipling and community development.’
In this environment, friendship and partnership began to blossom between the ministers of Felipe Camarão. Together, they began to figure out ways they could make a bigger difference to their corrupt and violent surroundings.
The churches began offering more than services and Bible studies for the faithful. They started offering things like youth and children’s work and income-generation schemes for some of the many thousands without meaningful work. Some began schemes to prevent trafficking, which was rife. And crucially, the churches began to encourage their own members to speak out on these life-and-death concerns.
Up against the chaos
‘In December 2009, a pastor was murdered. A few days later we went to the street to ask for justice and peace with more than 400 people from the local church. The authorities gave them the answer and the person who killed the pastor was found and arrested.’ Gradually, the levels of violence and trafficking began to fall in Felipe Camarão.
Word got out about this remarkable church-led transformation in one of Brazil’s most notorious communities. Church leaders from all over Brazil came to see Leandro and his wife Adryelle for help.
Leandro and Adryelle launched ALEF Mission with the help of many of the pastors and Christians who now shared their vision. The idea is to help churches in the poorest parts of Northern Brazil replicate the amazing results of Felipe Camarão in their communities. Every year, hundreds of leaders gather at their conference and share training, resources, best practice and remarkable testimonies of churches and communities changed.
Leandro speaks excitedly about ‘the penny dropping’ for churches, as they discover a new, but utterly biblical way of being the church. At the same time he says, when churches have a bigger vision they often grow. He says so many churches in poorest areas need to catch the vision or die.
‘I went to a very dangerous street to invite a pastor and his church. The pastor left the church crying. He got the invitation in his hand and he said “why didn't you come one week before? Today we are closing the church.” I like to remember that story because it reminds me that in the poorest areas of Brazil, there are so many churches, but most of them cannot change the reality in the places they live. They need a vision of what amazing things can truly be achieved, overcoming poverty, corruption and hopelessness – I’m here to help more and more churches catch that vision.’
PRAY FOR THE WORK:
- Pray for Leandro and Adryelle that they can continue to build and encourage ministers and Christians all over Brazil.
- Ask that the churches in Felipe Camarão will continue to overcome the violence and corruption in their district.
- Pray for more and more churches and Christians throughout Brazil to catch the vision of working together for social change.
Leandro and Adryelle Silva are Inspired Individuals. The Inspired Individuals programme exists to identify, develop and connect new leaders who are aspiring to live like Jesus and whose dreams have the potential to transform some of the most needy places and people in our world.