I was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to a kind, affluent family. I had a great childhood filled with good memories. Around the age of 13, however, I started drinking beer and smoking marijuana.
I liked hanging out with my friends and doing these things, but when I was 17, one of my friends showed up with cocaine. I had no idea how addictive this drug would be. After my first hit, I wanted more.
At the age of 18, I moved to San Diego, California, to learn English. Three months into my studies, someone encouraged me to take the TOEFL test (Test of English as a Foreign Language). If I passed, they told me, I would be able to attend college. “Why not?” I thought. I passed without studying one single day. How, I do not know. I could barely speak the English language. God surely had a plan for my life.
I began college at San Diego State University and graduated with an international business degree. I was drinking heavily, growing and selling marijuana, and smoking heroine. My life was out of control.
Living on the coast, I liked to surf, but being out in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean magnified how insignificant and lonely I felt. I would often cry, then I would go home and escape feeling lonely with drugs.
On December 17, 1998, my roommate and I had a party in our house. We spent all night drinking and doing all sorts of drugs. By early morning, I realized I was in trouble. I lay on the floor in a puddle of cold sweat, and my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest. I could hear someone laughing at me, but there was no one there.
“Today, you are going to die,” a voice taunted.
“God,” I cried out. “If You really exist, save me…and I will follow You.”
Moments later, I fell fast asleep. When I awoke, I was completely sober. It was as if nothing had happened. I was a new man. I got on a plane that afternoon and flew to Sao Paulo. When I got to my parents’ house, I began to think about my experience, and I heard the sweetest voice say to me, “Cleber, open that drawer.”
I opened the drawer in front of me, and there was a New Testament. I started reading, and every verse spoke to my heart. I cried as I read about a man named Jesus who loved me so much. I said to God, “I want this Jesus in my life, and I want to be like Him.” That day, the Lord called me to Himself, and I answered His call. Nobody had ever told me the Gospel of Jesus Christ before. God Himself reached down from Heaven, answered my cry, and revealed Himself to me.
“God, I give You my life. I give You everything,” I said. In that moment, my desire for drugs disappeared and a new desire for Jesus filled my heart. I started attending Bible studies in San Diego to learn more.
Two years later, I met a beautiful, godly Brazilian woman. We dated ten months and were married and then began our ministry of planting churches. Together, we have taught the Word of God and shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ in several nations, including Greece, Great Britain, Spain, and Brazil.
After my salvation, I returned to my former drug friends to tell them about Jesus. I wanted them to know that He could fill the lonely places of their hearts, too. Sadly, 80 percent of them had died. This fact fueled my passion to give more people access to the Gospel so they could learn about Jesus and find freedom from their pain.
This year, my wife and our three boys moved to Orlando. For 16 years, we have planted churches, but now the Lord is moving us into a new season, giving us a time to raise our boys. We are excited about what God has for us to do here among our new church family and community.
Church planting is a challenging ministry. We’re never in one location for very long, and the constant uprooting of our family makes it difficult to connect with others. Few people understand the call on our lives and the passion that fuels us. I think this is true for any ministry leader, really. That’s why we must pray fervently for our leaders, especially our pastors. Satan attacks them and their families fiercely.
Planted now in Orlando for a season of time, we are looking forward to being able to serve our church family and build lasting relationships. We don’t know what God has for us here, but we trust He’s already prepared and provided all we need. Sure, we have fears, but our faith goes ahead of us. God never leads us to an empty place. He’s always there.
I thank God for His goodness and the privilege of serving Him. I thank Him for His presence. I have no more lonely places in my heart, because Jesus sits in every place.
by Cleber Cordeiro
Photo by Ben White