“I came to understand the Holy Spirit could change me from the inside out and that education was a pathway to freedom.”
Henrique, Sao Paulo, Brazil
I can always pinpoint where I was on my journey by the songs I listened to at the time. As a young person I used to sing, Hillsong’s “All Things Are Possible.” It was a faith statement. I was the kid who grew up in a broken home — in an overcrowded Favela— a city within a city. No sewer or running water for many and gangs that roamed the streets. There were only two rooms in our house. One of them I shared with my mum, my brother and grandmother. Mum worked two jobs to put food on the table — she was my hero — but it was tough.
At school, I was the shy, skinny kid with the mismatched clothing who got bullied. I never thought my life would change, but then one Sunday it did. At the age of twelve, I was invited to a local Sunday school. Here I found God and a community of people who were attentive, kind and joyful. I got a glimpse of a better life.
I went to church, youth group and summer camps. I heard about the promises of God. I started writing down my plans and goals. At times I’d get frustrated and cry to God, “I’ve served you for four years and nothing has changed!” Then God would say, “Be still and know that I am God.”
Over time, I learned the Holy Spirit could change me from the inside out and that education was my pathway to freedom. I had to do my part. So, I worked hard, finished school and got various jobs to support me through law school.
After graduating, I built my career in the corporate market and at the age of thirty, achieved one of my impossible God dreams: I opened my own restaurant. One day, a beautiful woman with soft green eyes walked through the doors and looked up at the wall mounted TV. Brooke Ligertwood was singing Hosanna. “What band is this?” she asked. I told her she might not know them because they are Australian. Then she said, “Is this Hillsong?” That was it. I was in love. I had been praying for a woman of God; then she appeared.
After we got married and had our daughter, I became restless. By now the soundtrack to my life had changed. We had a nice home, a beautiful life and I had made plenty of money, but I was struggling with a lack of purpose. I was missing something. In 2015, we packed our bags and moved to Australia.
My year at Hillsong College was a highlight. I served with Hillsong CityCare, we had a big connect group and I planned to do my Masters. But God began speaking to me about a mission that would go beyond the walls of the church — a mission that would combine my story with my passion for education. But where? One college chapel service, I was down on my knees weeping and asking God to reveal His will when a fellow college student gave me a word from God. Afterwards, we felt it was time to go back to our own country – even if that meant starting from scratch. In 2017, we landed in Sao Paulo and for the next year helped Hillsong build what God was doing Brazil and Latin America.
At the same time, we prayed for a business opportunity. In 2018, we discovered a company that franchised educational/vocational centres, offering students courses on technology, administration, and languages. In a leap of faith, my wife and I bought our first centre. It paid off. Within months, we had recouped all the money we had invested and were able to buy another centre in the community where I was born. We now have six education centres with around 3,000 students. Several years ago, we partnered with Hillsong CityCare in Sao Paulo as part of their community outreach to help refugees, single mums and homeless people. Last year, with the help of other partners and Hillsong volunteers, we graduated fifty asylum seekers, including a young man from central Africa who now has an amazing job and has found a life partner.
More recently, another man, staggered into a rehabilitation outreach. He was addicted to alcohol and drugs. His marriage was broken, and he was struggling with suicidal thoughts. He opened up to me. Over a couple of months, he went through an administration course and now he is on the team and helping all the other guys, which he loves. It’s all about connecting people to their purpose. The soundtrack to my life right now is “Never Walk Alone.” Since accepting Jesus into my heart as wide-eyed kid full of dreams I never have.
Hillsong CityCare is the expression of the heart of Hillsong Church acting to see people in social vulnerability advancing in all areas of life.