RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (IMB) — After seven years on the streets, Marcelo Gomes had seen enough. He’d witnessed too many fellow crack addicts brutally murdered at the hands of the drug lords who ruled Rio’s favelas (slums). If he didn’t do something soon, he might be next. He had thought about escaping, but it seemed impossible. Influenced by his older brothers, Gomes began using drugs at age 11. Ironically, during the seven years he spent on Rio’s streets, Gomes turned down multiple opportunities for help from a ministry called Cristolandia — “Christ-land” in Portuguese. Created as an outreach of Brazilian Baptist churches, Cristolandia provides food, clothes and lodging to addicts, prostitutes and the homeless. More important is the center’s offer of freedom: the means to end addiction and escape the streets. “People who do drugs feel there’s no hope. They think they can’t get out of it,” Gomes explains. “There were people that would point to me and say, ‘That guy, there’s nothing that can be done for him. He’s going to die smoking crack.’” But on April 21, 2012, Gomes proved them wrong. Driven by his fear of Rio’s drug lords, he told Cristolandia volunteers he was ready to make a change. Now, two years after Cristolandia changed his life, Gomes is helping the ministry do the same for others.
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