From the Pampas to the Prairies - Salvation Army Canada

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  • Mar19Mon

    From the Pampas to the Prairies

    God has been faithful every step of the way. March 19, 2018 by Saulo Neves de Oliveira
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    Saulo Neves de Oliveira and his wife, Mara (Photo: Genessa Panainte)
    Saulo Neves de Oliveira and his wife, Mara (Photo: Genessa Panainte)

    I was born in southern Brazil, where the culture is deeply rooted in the history and traditions of the gaúcho—a kind of South American cowboy who ranged the Pampas grasslands. Our community in Porto Alegre had many challenges—poverty, crime, violence—but most of my childhood memories are connected to attending The Salvation Army with my family. The best moment of the week was going to church together, singing Sunday school songs in my father’s old Chevrolet Opala.

    I can’t remember a specific moment when I decided to follow Jesus. I was a junior soldier, as my siblings were, but this was just a public expression of something that was part of our daily lives. We prayed before every meal, we did devotions, we asked God to meet our needs. We grew up knowing that faith was a relationship with God, as our present Father, and with Jesus, the one who gave us life.

    My father was a military musician, and the bandmaster at our church. He encouraged me to learn to play the trumpet, and later the trombone. It was my dream to play in a staff brass band, maybe even in Chicago or New York. I was fascinated by Salvationist history and also dreamed of visiting London, England. A Canadian Salvation Army officer who was working in Brazil, Major Sharon Giles, offered to teach me English. It was a good start.

    While I was studying kinesiology and attending a music conservatory, I was invited to work with youth in another denomination, where I led worship and conducted a youth and young adults choir. When this turned into helping newly planted churches establish music programs and worship teams, I was travelling almost 200 kilometres four times a week. On one trip, the day before starting a new job teaching at a university in another state, I met my wife, Mara.

    When we decided to get married, I returned to Porto Alegre, and struggled to find a job. Finding out I had been selected in the competition to become a civil servant was an answer to prayer. I began teaching physical education in schools—a job that allowed us to marry and own a home. At the same time, I was accepted into the PhD program at one of the best universities in Brazil.

    In 2015, after we had been married for four years, God answered another prayer and opened the door for us to move to Canada. I received a government scholarship to study with a professor at the University of Calgary—someone I had wanted to work with for many years. He supervised my thesis in the area of education, sports and aging, and has become a good friend and mentor. His wife was also very supportive of Mara as we adapted to life in a new country.

    After completing my PhD, it wasn’t easy to start a career here. Reconnecting with Major Giles, who provided a reference for me as I applied for a position with the Army, was another sign of God’s faithfulness. Today, I am the youth and family ministries director at the Red Deer Church and Community and Family Services in Alberta. It is incredible how God made a way to bring me back to the Army, now with my wife.

    One of our biggest challenges is reaching young families. In Brazil, there were many young adults with children in church. Here, the demographics are different, with mostly seniors and a few children. We wonder, “Where are their families, and why are they not together?”

    While we understand there are cultural differences to be considered, we also believe that God has called us to serve the church in this area. We believe that God has done miracles everywhere to bring people to know him, and that our part is to offer a place where they can gather and develop deeper and stronger relationships with him. We are excited to be part of the corps in Red Deer and hope and pray that it increasingly becomes this kind of place. We look forward to seeing more people accept Christ.

    God has been faithful to us, helping us in small things to big things, always hearing our prayers. For us, faith is the only way to live. We don’t consider we have anything—everything belongs to God and he guides us in our steps.

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