From Beggar to Baker, Thanks to Angels of Hope

Brazilian lay-led ministry is transforming city streets, one homeless resident at a time

From Beggar to Baker, Thanks to Angels of Hope

Like countless others, Manoel de Freitas Ribeiro left his home up north one day to find a better life in Brasilia, the capital city of Brazil. Like for many others, however, things turned out to be more difficult than what he had first anticipated. A baker by profession, Manoel ended up wasting his salary and his health on heavy drinks, until one day, he was fired. Next thing he knew, the woman he was living with also kicked him out.

With no job, no money, no friends, and no hope, 51-year-old Manoel soon ended up living on the streets, with alcohol as his only companion. He had no choice but to wander around Brasilia’s Bus Terminal, begging for someone to fund his next drink.

Until the day he met Angels of Hope.

Thanks to Angels of Hope, Manoel got his life back and does what he knows best—he bakes almost 2,000 buns a night. [Photo by Kléber Lima]

It was a busy day at the bus terminal. For Manoel, however, it was one more day sitting on a curb, as in a daze.

Suddenly, a kind-looking woman approached. She stared at him, but unlike everyone else, she did not frown. She did not look the other way. She did not turn around. On the contrary, she smiled. She extended her hand.

“Let’s go have a bite,” said the woman. “We’ll talk as we eat.”

Over lunch, Mariza Eiras told him it was time for him to move off the street. She said she would help him. But he was not convinced.

“I’ll think about it,” he said.

Mariza said good-bye, and Manoel thought he would never see her again. But she came back time after time. A friendship slowly developed.

“I know a place where you can find shelter,” she said one day. Manoel finally decided to accept her offer. Then she took him to the nearby San Sebastian Seventh-day Adventist Church.

“After church, Mariza took him to my place so he could take a bath,” said Gerry de Carvalho, in an interview with the Jornal de Brasilia newspaper. Gerry is a street vendor who has followed Manoel’s story closely and became his friend. “Then we took him out to get a haircut, and back to church we went.”

The local church pastor found some good-hearted donors, and soon, a comfortable room for Manoel was secured.

“This project springs right out of God’s own heart. I know He will bless it until the day He comes.”

“All of it happened on a single day,” said Carvalho. “In fact, on that single Saturday, his life changed completely.”

A day later, however, Emergency Services had to be called in, as Manoel began to feel the effects of quitting alcohol cold turkey. He suffered seizures and hallucinations. After some time at the hospital and proper medication, he began to feel much better.

“I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Manoel recently when interviewed at his new apartment. “I met blessed people.”

Manoel has also found professional fulfillment, as he was eventually hired by a bakery in the city. “Now I spend all night working on the dough,” he said. “It is hard work, but I love it. And nobody can imagine the excitement I felt the day I got my first paycheck!”

Since that eventful Saturday, Manoel hasn’t missed a single worship service at the San Sebastian church.

“I will never drink again,” he said.

Who are ‘Angels of Hope’?

Angels of Hope SDA is a lay-led ministry launched by Mariza Eiras, an Adventist educational psychologist, in 2016. Eiras lives in the city of Formosa, Goiania State, an hour north-east of Brasilia.

Eiras acknowledges she had never planned to launch a ministry to local homeless people. “One day, I found a man who had fallen on the street and couldn’t get up, so I stopped to help him,” she said in an interview with Adventist Review. “Others were moved by my act, and decided to join me to assist more people living on the streets.”

Eiras shares that now she is leading a group of 20 Angels of Hope volunteers—just 5 of whom are Seventh-day Adventists.

“Every Sunday, we work on the roads and public squares across our city,” said Eiras. “I have trained our volunteers so that they can go out to the streets and know exactly what to do.”

Eiras explained that so far, it is a self-supporting ministry. “We contribute our money to fund our ministry,” said Eiras. “When there is a major expense, I visit nearby churches asking for members’ assistance. We always find someone willing to support our project.”

While Eiras would love to get more funds for her ministry, she is not willing to wait for it. “Our work can’t take a break now,” she said. “Our goal is to take as many people off the streets as possible.”

Eiras, however, is adamant that finding shelter for the homeless is not their ministry’s ultimate goal. “Our greatest desire is to share God’s love with them,” she said. “This project springs right out of God’s own heart. I know He will bless it until the day He comes.”