Hélio told me that something happened to him on Christmas Eve that year when he was home for the year-end break. He said, “everything I had heard from afar about the book of Romans started to come to my mind.” He continued, “I couldn’t stop thinking about it the whole week through and it made me very uncomfortable.”
Interestingly, a few days after the new year began, an Indonesian friend who lived in the city, invited him to a special gathering of young people in the outskirts of the city. There were a few Indonesian immigrants in São Paulo during those days and his friend was one of them. Hélio accepted the invitation but only when they reached the place did he realise that his friend had brought him to a youth camp where people were talking about Jesus and the Bible.
“I was upset with my friend and wanted to leave,” Hélio told me. He could have been upfront with him without manipulating him to attend a Christian youth camp, he felt. But anyways, he reluctantly decided to stay and listen to what these people were talking about in their sessions.
The following day, in the evening, a speaker shared about Jesus and his invitation to an eternal relationship with him, starting here on earth. Strangely, it seemed as though the message was not only registering in Hélio’s mind but was going way deeper than that, so much that, before it ended, he found himself on his knees, weeping, convicted and surrendering his life to Jesus.
That unexpected encounter produced in him a deep sense of peace and an inner knowing that he had been reconciled to God. What had happened was so impactful that he decided to follow Jesus, no matter the cost. When university classes resumed, he told his two roommates about what had happened, and they initially thought that he was joking. But when they saw the changes in his life, they knew that he had had a genuine encounter. It was the year 1984.
When he met Jesus in a personal way at the camp, Hélio felt like he had entered into a relationship with a God whom he could not see with his visible eyes but could sense his reality in a way that surprised him as well as nourished his interior life in a very profound way. At the same time, he began to have this deep desire to create awareness about the reality and the loving mercy of God.
Soon after his Master’s, he started working including serving as a physicist for nine years in a collaborative scientific project between his institute and the Brazilian Navy. During that time, he, along with a few colleagues, conducted bible-studies during lunch breaks and saw hundreds of Navy personnel impacted in ways that changed many of their lives. Years later, in 2000, he was awarded a PhD in Science from the University of São Paulo after partly developing his doctoral project in the US. Since then, he has been teaching Physics at the university. But despite his academic and professional accomplishments, wherever he is, whatever he does, this unassuming physics professor tells me, he wants to live his life in a way that matters to God.
On one occasion, a colleague at the university told him that he had been diagnosed with skin cancer. He was very shaken and overwhelmed. Hélio offered to pray for him. The next time they met, his colleague said that he had undergone another test and the doctors had told him that the cancer was no longer there. Right after sharing to me about this, he said, “I’ve prayed many times for people with serious illnesses but that was the only time I saw a miraculous healing take place.” His honesty in saying that was refreshing because far too often are too many miracle workers whose claims fail to pass the test of real scrutiny.
The afternoon was growing old but Hélio and I continued to go deeper in our conversation, almost oblivious to the sky darkening outside. He tells me about how he lives in two worlds: one, the world of academia, interacting with professional colleagues, scholars and students and the other, going out with his son Lucas into the streets of ‘Crackland’, the open air drug market of São Paulo, to demonstrate in practical ways God’s love to addicts and sellers and countless women who have lost hope. He loves both worlds.
We ended sharing about our mutual fascination for Japan and I could see that there was a certain homesickness in him even though he has never been there. He also expressed his concern about the things he heard were going wrong in the land of his ancestors such as the nightmarish rate of suicides, the postmodern hermits who are so addicted to loneliness that they won’t leave their rooms for months and even years, the absence of authentic relationships prompting many to go to the extent of hiring dates, and so much more. That night, I reflected on that and it caused me to think of the futility of human achievements, no matter how glorious, in the absence of God .