A Prayerful Grandma
Growing up in Sao Paulo, Brazil, my two sisters and I were raised by our parents and by our mom’s parents.
Grandma Sther (as opposed to the biblical name Esther, a result of a typo mistake by the clerk who wrote her name on her birth certificate), a faithful follower of Jesus, took all of the five grandchildren to church every Sunday morning from the time we were nearly walking.
Grandma’s Sther constant joy in Jesus and never-ending prayers for all of us, had a huge impact on me growing up, and her prayers for me were answered years later as I came to know Jesus as my Lord and Savior at the age of 26.
As a result of a deep emptiness and longing for love, during my teens, I started using my athletic and attractive figure to get men’s attention and affection. I started dating, drinking, having boyfriend after boyfriend, pursuing a life totally in the world, while still going to church on Sunday mornings.
I grew up in a loving family, with very caring and loving parents, and the middle child of two amazing sisters. I don’t remember rationalizing this growing up, but maybe because I felt left out in between my two sister and in need of my parent’s love and attention, I performed in everything I did. I was the best in sports, school, music, and everything else.
I learned to perform and be my best in what I did so that I could be loved and accepted. Later I would learn that Jesus did all that needed to be done on the cross in order for me to receive and accept God’s love for me, and that no measure of performance of my part will ever change His never ending and never giving up love for me.
(From left to right: Cristina, Paula, Mariana / Mariana, Paula, Cristina)
Life in the US
When I was 17 years old, I left Brazil as an exchange student. I lived with a very loving Christian family in South Georgia for eight months and had an amazing study abroad experience, as I became part of their family as well as their church family.
Upon finishing my exchange student program and returning to Brazil, I moved back to the US to pursue my undergraduate studies, and four years later, I graduated with a Bachelor’ Degree in Economics, from Michigan State University. By then, I was ready to move back to Brazil.
Saved by God’s Grace
A couple of years after being back home, trying to adjust to my own culture and life as an adult, coping with a bigger cultural shock than when I had moved to the US, by God’s leading unknown to me, I started attending a small American church, planted by American missionaries to Brazil many years earlier.
After being there for one year, in February of 2002, I accepted the invitation to go to a spiritual retreat with the College & Career group from the church. I was 26 years old at that time, still living the worldly life that I was used to: dating, drinking, working and looking for men to fulfill my deepest needs.
During the three days I was at the retreat the speakers preached from I John 5:5-10
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
One night, through my exposure to the Word, the worship songs and fellowship with believers, God opened my spiritual eyes and the gates of heaven to me and I gave my life to Jesus.
I understood that I was a sinner, that I needed a Savior to rescue me from myself, that Jesus was the only one who could do that and bring me blameless before God, so I surrendered my life to Him.
I went back to Sao Paulo three days later, completely renewed in Christ, a new creation. As I often say, my radical conversion was like Jesus’s first miracle registered in the Bible, when He turned water into wine. As I started learning about who God is, spending time in the Word, and in fellowship with believers, God began changing me from the inside out, my values, my beliefs, my desires, my purpose. I no longer needed to drink, look for men or anything else, to give me joy or peace.
I had found Jesus! One year later I was baptized and publicly confessed Jesus as my Lord and Saviour.
Cross Cultural Missions
A couple of years after, completely led by the Spirit of God, I answered an altar call at a local church during an evangelistic crusade and happily surrendered my life to serve God as a missionary anywhere He would lead me. Almost one year after that, God prepared the way for me to leave my job and get ready to attend the Word of Life Seminary in a city just outside of Sao Paulo.
I learned a very important lesson back then: There is nothing impossible for God and true joy can be found in Him as we choose to obey Him. He holds my life in the palm of His hands and when I trust I Him, He directs my paths according to His will.
I attended the Word of Life Seminary for one year, and through a series of events and God’s leading and provision, I felt led to continue my studies at the Liberty Theological Seminary in the US. My church in South Georgia (of 13 years before), laid hands on me and sent me back to Brazil for me to get a student visa to move back to the States. In August of 2006, I started a two year Master’s Degree program in Cross Cultural Missions in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Northern Cyprus, Marriage, Kids and Life in Canada
While pursuing my studies at Liberty, I met my husband Michael, a second generation Dutch Canadian, who had already concluded the same program that I was starting. Mike had done his cross-cultural internship in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), an island below Turkey, 65 Kms west of Israel, 1/3 Turkish (the north), and 2/3 Greek (the south). One year into my studies, through hearing God’s call in my life and being obedient to it, I joined a small group on a mission trip to Northern Cyprus for three weeks.
It was there that the Lord grabbed a hold of my heart, opened my eyes to see that He loves those of Muslim faith and called me to minister to them.
Not too long after returning from the trip my husband and I got engaged, married, pregnant, and started life together, while I continued my second year at the Seminary (talk about having to adjust to change!). Mike and I still dream of going back to Northern Cyprus one day with our boys to share the love of God in the island. By the grace of God, I concluded my program, our first son Gabriel was born, and six months later we moved to Sarnia, ON, Canada.
For the next twelve years, we went through all of the struggles that a cross cultural marriage can handle: job losses, financial hardship, seven moves (including three cities), seven churches, and more. And in the midst of all of that, by God’s immeasurable love, He gave our family the desires of our hearts, and our second son John was born in August of 2016, in Toronto.
A Breakthrough and a New Beginning
At the beginning of 2019, on one late night, I cried out to the Lord for guidance and direction because of my desire to serve Him among those of Muslim faith.
By His mercy, He heard my prayers and prepared the way for a new season, and in December of the same year, I took a position as the National Coordinator for Loving Muslims Together (LMT), serving as a full-time missionary.
As I serve the Lord in this capacity, I watch in expectancy to see what God will continue to do in and through this ministry, for His glory. When God called me to serve Him as a cross cultural missionary, I understood that bringing the good news to the ones who live in darkness was a privilege, and more than that, a purpose. I realized that I have been created to know God and to make Him known.
My prayer is that through my abiding in Christ and my willingness to live and share my life among Muslims, they too will come to know of God’s never ending and never giving up love for them and come to live a life full of purpose, a purpose in Him.
As the National Coordinator for Loving Muslims Together, Cristina serves as the administrative hub for the Canadian Leadership Team and the larger Canada-wide network. She has experience in office administration, newcomers settlement and international students admission. Cristina’s caring and enthusiastic personality, cross-cultural experiences and evangelistic heart for the unreached Muslims are great assets to the Outreach Canada team. She lives in Toronto, ON with her husband and their two boys.