This was not the post I had planned on writing today, and even now, as my fingers move, I can scarcely believe what I am seeing appear on the screen.
As I was getting ready to teach an English class last night, the phone rang. It was a lady from our church, imploring me to get over to Pastor Francisco’s house, as he had been shot. “It doesn’t look good” she said.
Pastor Francisco has been my friend since 1999, when I first traveled to Sao Luis. In 2000 he performed our wedding. And long before that, he was Itacyara’s pastor, discipling her as a new convert. Ever since we met, he has prayed and urged us to come to choose Maranhao as our field of ministry. And when we finally arrived here in 2011, he and I began a fruitful ministry partnership. He welcomed us into the congregation that they were starting, and together we continued the task of bringing the church to where it could be organized. At the beginning of last year he told me about a piece of property near the city of Morros. We went and visited it, purchased it, and since then he has been the greatest cheer leader for our camp project.
As soon as I got off the phone I grabbed Mikey (who was studying while I taught) and together we took off full-speed in the direction of Pastor Francisco’s house. It is about a twenty-minute drive from where I was teaching. On the way, I got another phone call, this one bringing home my worst fears–Pastor Francisco was dead. As I weaved in and out of rush-hour traffic in São Luís, my heart was breaking. My friend, my mentor, my co-laborer…gone.
In human terms, it was a random event. Stupid, really. Pastor and his family were outside their house. He was working on his car–something he was always doing. His wife and daughter were on the front steps, together with our youngest son Nathanael who was visiting his “Brazilian grandma and grandpa”. Suddenly, shots rang out, together with cries of “ladrão!” (thief), and “tiros!” (shots).
A short distance from their house is a warehouse where a local chain of department stores keeps merchandise. Two young hoodlums tried to rob it, and the security guards ran them off. The two split up, and one of them, armed and shooting wildly, ran up Pastor Francisco’s street.
When they heard the shots and the yells, the pastor’s wife and daughter scooped up Nathanael and rushed inside. Once in the door, the pastor’s wife looked back to see if Francisco was following her. She heard him say “Ai, meu Deus!” (Oh, my God), and turning, saw him sprawled out on the pavement.
He was dead before he got to the hospital.
Several people, including Pastor Francisco’s younger son gave chase to the bandido, but he managed to elude them and is apparently still at large.
Pastor Francisco is an irreplaceable loss for São Luís, for our church, and he leaves a big, gaping hole in our personal lives. He also leaves a wife and three grown children. His legacy became apparent last night and into the early hours of the morning as people flooded into the house to pay respects. People were literally arguing over who would have the privilege of paying the funeral expenses. Without exaggeration, Pastor Francisco has touched thousands of people with his simplicity, sincerity, generosity, and genuine love for Jesus and for people.
And it goes to show what a terrible, mixed-up world we live in that my friend is the one in a casket at the front of the church (a church he built with his own hands), while the idiot that killed him is still roaming the streets. If I didn’t believe in the absolute sovereignty of God, I would be losing it right about now.
At this point I am at a loss for what else to write, except to ask you to pray. Our ministry changed radically yesterday afternoon, and the next few weeks are going to be a long and challenging.
Farewell, good friend. You are basking in the presence of Jesus, but we are going to miss you terribly here.
Pastor Francisco Bezerra and family