I opened my eyes to stare at the ceiling of a tiny room, in a small house, in a rundown neighborhood, of a massive city, in a strange country.
Not only was this my first visit to Brazil, but I didn’t even know the Portuguese language.
I was in Sao Paulo six months before the 2014 World Cup soccer championship. Previously I had worked with a nonprofit organization to help women get out of the sex trade during a U.S. Super Bowl football championship, and now I wanted to do something similar at the World Cup. I put my job as a personal fitness trainer in the U.S. state of Georgia on hold. But after multiple attempts to find church members or nonprofits with whom I could partner, my plans seemed to have fallen through. I was alone. What now?
Finally, I got up and headed outside for some fresh air. I began to walk around the neighborhood, even in places where it wasn’t safe for an outsider. But I didn’t care. I just needed to get away.
Less than a block from my house stood a woman who looked like she was even more depressed than me. Although I couldn’t speak the language, I decided to pray for her.
Before I knew it, the afternoon had passed, and I had walked around nearly the whole district, praying for every person who seemed troubled. I couldn’t believe that I had prayed for five hours.
“Lord, is this what you wanted to show me? Is it this what you want me to do, pray for people who need prayer?” I prayed.
“OK, I’m willing to do this, but let’s make a deal,” I said. “If all you want me to do is pray for and reach out to those I meet in the streets and for the victims of trafficking, then I’ll do it, but I can’t do it just here in Sao Paulo. You will have to take me to every World Cup host city in Brazil and give me someone to go pray with. Also help me learn to speak Portuguese. And by the way I only have $800 left for the next six months.”
God kept His end of the deal. Shortly after my prayer, a friend whom I had not seen in six years, Levi Longoria, decided to join me in Brazil. Together we walked more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) through the 12 host cities where the World Cup would be played. The entire time we prayed for the deliverance of women and girls from the sex-trafficking industry.
God worked many miracles in answer to those prayers, but one of our favorites occurred right at the beginning.
Arriving in Recife, a city of nearly 4 million people, I set out by car with Levi and a Brazilian friend on our mission of prayer. We had just started driving when we spotted a woman under a bridge. We stopped the car, and the woman came over cautiously, thinking we probably wanted to do business. When we told her that we had actually just stopped to pray for her, she was dumbfounded.
“What? Pray for me?" she asked, incredulously.
“Yes, pray for you. Do you want prayer?”
“Do I want prayer? You have no idea! I love to pray. Wow, I can’t believe someone stopped just to pray for me.”
Then it was our turn to be surprised.
“You see,” she said, “I love Jesus. I know it doesn’t seem that way, but I really do. I don’t like what I am doing, but I really have no other choice right now. My husband abandoned me and my two children, and I don’t know how to support them, so I do the only thing I can to keep them alive. But I’ve been praying every day that God will rescue me from this horrid lifestyle and that I can do something else to support my kids. I want to get out of this life so I can get baptized.”
We listened awestruck. The woman continued to speak, her words tumbling over each other in her excitement.
“I have been studying the Bible with some people, and I believe everything they taught me about the Bible,” she said. “I want to go get baptized in their church, but I am so ashamed that they won’t accept me if they know what I am. Have you ever heard of the Seventh-day Adventists? I cry myself to sleep every night, praying that God will let me escape this life and let me give my life to Him."
We were so stunned that we were speechless.
“Ma’am, we are Adventists,” one of us finally spoke up. “You have prayed for someone to come to help you out of this life, and we have prayed for God to send us someone we can help. Today God has answered both our prayers.”
In the book of Ezekiel, God tells us He is seeking intercessors to stand in the gap for the land. “So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one,” God says in Ezekiel 22:30.
That call is for you and for me. We are intercessors for our land, for the outcast, for the hurting, and for the lost.
Oh, and one more thing. It turned out that the woman under the bridge was named Hosannah. Today we say, “Hosanna!” that God heard her prayers and is giving her a new life.