Northwest NEWS

October 4, 1999

Features

Begging for change

Silva family

Allesandra and Lazaro Silva, with son, Judah.
Photo by Alecia McGill.

by Alecia McGill, special to the Weekly

   Lazaro Silva's father demanded that the young boy shine shoes or wash cars all day instead of attending school in his home town of Natal, Brazil. His father then took all the money and bought alcohol. Drunk much of the time, Lazaro's father beat everyone in the household.

   With a child's logic, Lazaro decided that by living full-time on the streets, he would "feel more secure and be free from the violence at home." He was seven years old.

   Lazaro went to an area where many of the "throw-away" children of Natal gathered to sleep. "I quickly learned how to survive on the streets," he said. "The older kids stole money, and I begged for change, picked pockets, and searched the garbage for food."

   On days when money was scarce, Lazaro sniffed glue to ward off hunger pains. Within a month, he learned the paradox of living with the street kids: while they helped him survive, they also beat him at their whim. But he did not return home.

   "Loneliness, fear, hunger, and rejection were my constant companions," recalled Lazaro.

   By the age of twelve, a street-wise Lazaro was addicted to marijuana, prescription drugs, and cocaine, and was stealing and hocking car radios. Throughout the next five years, Lazaro was in and out of juvenile jail.

   "The guards there taught me to read and write, but I never had any formal schooling," he said. "I considered myself lucky when a guard wanted a radio, because often he would release me to steal it for him."

   Eventually Lazaro was jailed for more major offenses, including being present during a rape. On many occasions, the police harassed and threatened him. They broke his fingers; they often beat him.

   Lazaro's fears of the police were justified when, at seventeen, he watched the police grab his friend. "You're next!" they promised Lazaro. The friend was never seen again.

   Finally, Lazaro was captured by three policemen wearing hoods. "My terror grew as they drove me to a deserted place outside of town. I knew they could do anything to me," he remembered.

   The police took him to the delegacia, a temporary jail, and pushed him into a room with one other man. Certain that this would be the place of his death, Lazaro was shocked when the man, Sheriff Cabral, said, "Your life is in my hands." Pausing, he then added, "Do you know God loves you?" Then he quickly led Lazaro out a side door to freedom. Lazaro then moved to the town of Fortaleza.

   "I can't tell you how I stayed alive, but within a month, I was admitted to a drug rehabilitation center," he said.

   With the support of staff, Lazaro eventually conquered his drug habit. "The people there really cared for me. At nineteen, I became a Christian and changed my life."

   After his recovery, Lazaro learned about Youth With A Mission (YWAM) and trained and worked with them. "In my new work, I went out to meet young people who needed help," he said.

   Another part of Lazaro's new job was to work with churches. He was sent to the church in Recife, Brazil, to minister during Carnival. When he spoke there, he captured the attention of a young woman named Alessandra Carlos Pereira.

   Alessandra was finishing her third year of architecture school. Her family background was similar to Lazaro's. Her father was an alcoholic who often fought with her mother. He also had a mistress. Once her parents' divorce was final, Alessandra lived with her father. Being the youngest of five children, she eventually lived alone with her father. One night when he was intoxicated, he attempted to rape her.

   Over the next nine months, she and Lazaro became friends. Abandoning her architecture studies, she enrolled in the Discipleship Training School in Fortaleza where Lazaro was on staff, and the two fell in love. She decided to marry him and join him in mission work, but Alessandra's friends were against the marriage, as were her church and family.

   "My family did not approve of Lazaro's darker skin, finances, and goal of mission work," she said. Her older brother even offered to have Lazaro killed.

   When Alessandra asked her mother for help planning her wedding and preparing a new home, her mother said, "No! You have nothing. You will end up selling Bibles on the street."

   Trying to forget her mother's words, Alessandra married Lazaro on March 23, 1996. The newlyweds moved to Rio de Janeiro for more training in Biblical studies and then on to Montana in 1998 to attend a School of Sports Ministry and learn English.

   Finally, Alessandra and her mother did reconcile, and when the Silvas' son was born in 1998, the new grandmother flew to Montana for the birth.

   Unfortunately, today there are still some wounds. Playing peek-a-boo with Judah, Lazaro commented, "When I look at my son, I can't understand why [my parents] didn't want me."

   Further English studies brought them to Redmond, where they lived with S. Elvira Gradin, the pastor at Iglesia Hispana del Pacto Evangelico, which meets at Highland Covenant Church in Bellevue.

   The Silvas left Redmond in September to attend the YWAM's School of Evangelism in Brisbane, Australia. Ultimately, they wish to return to Rio de Janeiro to develop a new school modeled in part on the school in Australia.