EDITOR’S NOTE: This year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention will be Dec. 4-11 with the theme of “His heart, His hands, His voice — I am Southern Baptist missions” from Acts 1:8. Each year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering supplements Cooperative Program giving to support Southern Baptists’ 5,000 international missionaries’ initiatives in sharing the Gospel. This year’s offering goal is $175 million. To find resources about the offering, go to imb.org/offering.
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (BP) — “When people die, is it like this?” Peter Moreira Esteves wondered.
Peter, then 18, was bleeding from a bullet wound in his shoulder as two police officers shoved him against the outer wall of a shack in a thicket.
“Give me three bullets,” one policeman said to the other. “I’m going to kill this guy.”
Peter had been out of a Brazilian jail just three days when — driven by drugs — he’d stolen a car. When police chased him down a dead-end road, he jumped out of the car and tried to run into the woods. He didn’t get far.
“God, don’t let them kill me,” Peter prayed silently as the officer brandished his weapon.
Peter’s mother once told him that even in his last moment of life he could repent and God would forgive his sins. But now, facing such a moment, Peter couldn’t bring himself to repent. He couldn’t bring himself to feel anything at all.
But he prayed: “God, will You let me die like this? Without repenting? Don’t let me die like this.”
Suddenly, backup policemen arrived, and the officer lowered his gun.
“I believe if it were only the two of them, they would have killed me,” Peter now recounts. “But since there were other witnesses, they didn’t.”
Even so, the police officers surrounded Peter and beat him so severely he almost died of blood loss. And after a trip to a hospital, Peter found himself back in jail in Rio de Janeiro.
Peter’s life of crime started after he got hooked on drugs as a teenager. He began selling things from his parents’ home to support his marijuana and cocaine habit and even sold his mother’s wedding ring. Soon Peter found himself spending nights on the street and going days without eating.
“I was arrested many times when I was underage,” Peter recounts. “My mother was a lawyer, and she would get me out of jail.”
But after Peter turned 18, his father threatened to leave his mother if she bailed Peter out again.
“People in his family were ready to give up on him,” says Eric Reese, an International Mission Board missionary in Rio, now a mentor to Peter. “But his mom just would not give up on him.”
After spending a month in jail, Peter returned home with his mother. Peter’s father met them at the door.
“I expected the worst,” Peter says. “But when he got close to me, he hugged me, and he told me these exact words, ‘My prodigal son, I love you.'”
Peter hugged his father back and begged his forgiveness. Then his mother took him inside the house.
“She put me on my knees with her, but she couldn’t pray. She just cried,” Peter remembers.
In that moment, he finally repented. “I started a new life with Jesus, and I started serving the Lord,” Peter says. “That was 25 years ago.”
Today, Peter serves as a pastor and the director of an English-language course with 400 students. His home is filled with the love of children and grandchildren. And he actively shares his faith with the city that once nearly claimed his life.
“Peter has made a radical change. When he came to Christ, he came wholeheartedly,” Reese says. “The grace of God has brought that guy from near deaths and shootings to, now, a beautiful family, a lovely wife, awesome kids. Only the grace of God could do that.”
Though Reese didn’t lead Peter to Christ, the missionary has been there for him as a spiritual brother. Over several years, Reese has discipled Peter, and the two have served together to spread the Gospel.
“It was very important for me to meet Pastor Eric,” Peter says. “He started to be like a mentor to me. I knew that God had something special to do with my life, but I didn’t know what. And at that time, Pastor Eric helped me to understand this call.”
Looking at Peter today, no one could guess that he had once been enslaved to drugs. His face conveys only the joy of Christ.
“As I discipled Peter, he would always smile,” Reese says. “He always smiles. He’s smiling today.”
Peter’s is a life changed by walking with Jesus. And Reese, as an IMB missionary working in this South American megacity, has been there to encourage him in that walk.
“‘Shine, Jesus, shine,'” Eric says, quoting a well-known Christian praise song. “I see the love of God, the mercy of God and the goodness of God shining in Peter’s life.”
Tristan Taylor has served as an International Mission Board writer in the Americas.