August 23, 2017

From Offender to Adventist UN Youth Ambassador

In the past, Brazilian Seventh-day Adventist Pastor Jeconias Vieira Lopes Neto was an offender and drug user. Last July, however, the young minister, currently serving as Prison Ministries Coordinator of the Federal District in Brazil, was selected as one of Brazil’s United Nations (UN) Youth Ambassadors, at the UN Office in the capital city of Brasilia.

Together with 19 other people, Neto, 25, was selected to represent Brazil in joint efforts among many nations around the world. Neto, who became an offender at an early age, now works to reintegrate young people who followed the same path back into society. He is currently working in partnership with the Office of Children Services in the Home Affairs Department of Brazil, but also as part of the Seventh-day Adventist Prison Ministries Project.

“I feel it a great privilege from God to take part in such important and rewarding projects, but above all, to be able to help other people,” he said.

Neto explains that his job description now includes meetings to discuss projects which may benefit young people around the world.

“I cannot but thank God, my mother Manoela, my wife, and my extended family for believing in me,” he said. “I also want to thank every single person that, through a dark period in my life, was able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and supported me so I can be where I am today.”

A Turning Point

According to Brazilian newspaper Metrópoles, which recently featured Neto’s story, his life began to change when he fell in love with Stephany, who eventually became his wife and inspired him to look for a better life. One day, he decided to enroll at River Plate Adventist University in Argentina.

“It was not easy to study in a foreign country, as I moved south with my wife and little girls,” Neto told the newspaper. “I didn’t speak Spanish or even good Portuguese.”

But Neto said one of his professors at school was instrumental in his development as a student and as a person.

“[Theology professor] Laurentiu Ionescu sort of adopted and re-educated me,” Neto told the newspaper. “He took me to his place, taught me how to speak, and showed me that there is much more to life than crime.”

Eventually traveling back to Brazil, Neto began to serve the Adventist Church by supporting the regional church’s efforts to reintegrate vulnerable people back in society. Through the church’s Prison Ministries, Neto and a group of friends are providing educational opportunities to young people serving time for their crimes.

In spite of his recent success, Neto said it pains him to see so many young people paying for their bad choices, including a younger brother and several cousins, who are currently in jail.

“My dream is to see [young] people happy and reinserted in society,” he told the newspaper. “In the neighborhood where I grew up, we were a group of nine friends, but now only two of us are left.”

When interviewed by the South American News Agency, Neto asked to share a special message geared to other Adventist youth, since he said he feels “honored to represent Adventist young people.”

“It is our duty to become stronger every day through the power of Christ and education,” he said. “[It is our duty] to fill important positions in society, and make a difference in other people’s lives.”