A business owner in Brazil is refusing to open his gas station on Sabbath despite fines and lawsuits from the government.
The owner, João Francisco do Nascimento, recently won a first court victory and is standing firm in the face of unrelenting state pressure, earning him admiration from customers who don’t always understand his beliefs but affectionately refer to his business as “the gas station that closes on Saturdays.”
Nascimento, who gave up a 15-year career in banking to start his own business in 2000, ran afoul of the authorities when they changed the rules only six months after he opened his gas station in Lagarto, a city of about 100,000 people in northeastern Brazil.
The federal regulator for the oil industry, known by the acronym ANP, issued a decree that gas stations had to work 14 hours a day, Monday through Saturday.
Nascimento, who was baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1980, refused to change his working hours to keep the gas station open during the hours of the biblical Sabbath, from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday.
As people began to notice that he was flouting the rules, the ANP registered two complaints against him, in 2006 and 2008. Fines and two lawsuits followed.
“Our fight is like that of a lion against an ant,” said Nascimento, 55. “The ANP has police power. It can close a gas station. We are dealing with an agency that can harm us. But this has made us seek the Lord in our weakness and helped strengthen our faith.”
Nascimento has not paid any fines and instead defended his right to religious freedom in court. Testifying in one of the two lawsuits, he declared that God’s law is universal and emphasized that the Bible is the basis for his faith.
The judge, Jailsom Leandro de Sousa, sided with him, saying that his faith encompassed all areas of his life, including his work, the Estadão news portal reported. The judge ruled that the lawsuit was against a private individual who had the right to worship as he chose, and issued an injunction allowing him to keep his old working hours.
The ANP has appealed against the verdict, and the second lawsuit has yet to be heard in court.
Some people have urged Nascimento, who is married and has one adult daughter, not to be so rigid about his faith. But one conversation in particular has stuck in his mind.
One Saturday night, after sunset, a customer stopped to fill up his tank at “the gas station that closes on Saturdays.” The man got out of his car and began to chat with the owner.
“When I pass by and see that the gas station is closed, I still don’t understand why you would do this on the busiest day of the week,” the customer said. “But I admire your convictions, your belief in the Bible.”
Tears shone in Nascimento’s eyes as he related the conversation.
“I think each of us comes into this world with a mission,” he said. “I don’t know if mine is to show that we have to be faithful despite everything. I just know that when we make the effort, God opens doors where none were seen and we reach the goal.”
He said that when somebody asks him why he closes the gas station on Sabbath, he opens the Bible and shares God’s law.
Nascimento said his gas station is prospering despite its unusual working hours and stiff competition from rivals. It is so popular that he receives a constant stream of offers to change the brand name of the fuel on tap. He has generous lines of credit from several banks.
“The Lord has provided everything that I need to live with dignity,” Nascimento said. “Today I can say that I truly see God directing my life, and I keep on asking for strength in my efforts to spread His message.”