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Youth in Mission

A Good Place to Come Closer An Interview With Vitasalus Student Pioneer Rodrigo Pessanha

Kim Busl


Kim Busl, ASI Europe’s vice president for evangelism, is helping to establish a lifestyle center and student pioneer program at VitaSalus in Penela, Portugal. Last year, he interviewed Rodrigo Pessanha, a student pioneer at VitaSalus.

Kim: Bom dia Rodrigo! We would like to know a little about your background. Where are you from?

Rodgrigo: I’m from Brazil.

Kim: Why did you come here to Portugal from Brazil, and when did you come?

Rodrigo: On October 28, 2004, I came to Portugal. I was having problems at home in Brazil with violence in my neighborhood. People were shooting one another. There was lots of stealing. It was simply a very tough neighborhood. Just before I left for Portugal, men in two separate cars shot at each other as I was walking home, and I had to wait, as I had to pass that way to get to my house. My grandparents are Portuguese. They moved to Angola when they were young, and then after the war in Angola they moved to Brazil in 1975. After living in Brazil for 17 years, they returned home to Portugal in 1992. My brother, aunts, and uncles had already moved from Brazil to be with my grandparents, so I came to join them. Two years after I came to Portugal, my mother also moved to Portugal.

Kim: How old were you at the time?

Rodrigo: I was 21 years old.

Kim: You were a Christian at the time?

Rodrigo: Yes, my mother is an Adventist Christian, and she raised my brother and me in the church, but my father was not a Christian.

Kim: We met in August of 2010 while you were part of the IMPACTO youth team. Tell us about IMPACTO.

Rodrigo: I was there searching for a way to be closer to God, and I wanted to work for Jesus at that time. IMPACTO is a program in which young people from all over Portugal and even a few from other countries come together for 12 days to do ministry. Each day and each night, we conduct Health Expos, Christian concerts, Vacation Bible Schools for children, and also receive training on how to do these programs. On the first day, Pastor Daniel Gouveia, the person leading the program, suggested that we have our private devotions each morning. So I did that. At lunch-time the same day, Pastor Daniel Bastos—who is part of the VitaSalus team— discovered that his best childhood friend was my cousin. As we talked together, Pastor Daniel shared about the pioneering work of starting a lifestyle center and school of health promotion in Penela. He told me that VitaSalus was going to start a Pioneering Student program in October and invited me to attend. I told him that I needed time to think and to pray about what God wanted me to do. After one week, I decided to come. The same day, two other people made other offers to me. One offer was for a job, and the other was from my pastor calling me to be responsible for a small group of people who were taking Bible studies. But I had already made my decision to join VitaSalus. I had prayed about it and believed that God was speaking to me.

Kim: What did you find when you arrived at VitaSalus?

Rodrigo: When I came on the property and saw the wonderful view with nature all around, I thought, This is a good place to come closer to God. Then I went and changed into my work clothes. I liked very much the idea of a work-study program. My first job was to start painting the room I was to stay in. That made me feel like it was more my room, since I was able to participate in preparing it.

Kim: What attracted you about a work-study program? Rodrigo: The first reason is because I like work. The second reason is that I am a nurse technician and I like to help people with health and also with practical community service. Additionally, all my life I dreamed of having an opportunity to live and serve in a Christian community. In the book of Acts, we read of the experience of the early Christians—they lived together, sharing what they had with all in service to others. Living in the project has given me a taste of this type of living. I found people who collectively live out Christian principles of life as we study and work together, day in and day out. When I came, I did not know any English and could not understand it at all. In the past I had prayed about having an opportunity to learn English. God answered my prayers, and after living here for just two weeks I was able to understand a lot.

Kim: Please share some of the highlights of your year as a pioneer student.

Rodrigo: As we conducted Health Expos, health clubs, and health surveys in the area, it opened the way for us to share about spiritual things with many people and to start Bible studies. One day as I was conducting a Health Survey with a lady named Ernestina, who owns a cafe near VitaSalus, the Lord impressed me four times that I should ask her whether she would like to have Bible studies together. I kept resisting until I finished all the 33 health survey questions, and then I finally had the courage to ask her. Her response surprised me. She said, “Why didn’t you ask me this sooner? I would very much like to have Bible studies. I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me this for a long time.”

We set aside time to have Bible studies in her cafe. Often she invited her husband and other friends to study with us. Over the next five months we had many special times sharing the love of Jesus and studying God’s word together. Each Friday evening, there is a lady on a television station here in Portugal who has a program where she communicates with the dead and gives messages from the dead to family members who are still living. She shares secret details of a person’s life that no one else knows. As a result of discussing this program with Ernestina’s group, I decided to study God’s word with them on this subject so that we could learn together the guidance the Bible gives us on this matter. One week after we studied about the state of the dead, Ernestina experienced a tragedy. Her youngest son, who was 40 years old, drowned while swimming with his two boys. This had a very crushing effect on Ernestina, as she loved her son dearly. After this great loss, Ernestina has not been willing to continue studying about the love of Jesus as she feels that God took her son from her. Many of us at VitaSalus have become good friends with Ernestina, and she treasures our friendship and care. Even though she is still not ready to study God’s Word together again, she is eager to have our hugs and expressions of affection. She attends the health clubs and activities we hold here at the property with much joy. Please pray with us that we can continue to be a blessing in her life and that she may soon again sense and understand the love God has for her, despite her loss.

Another highlight of my experience were the days we spent, cleaning, repairing, and renovating the home and property of a disabled lady. Her daughter is disabled as well. They were not in a position to help themselves. Their needs would be met and their suffering lessened only if someone was willing to help them. It was our privilege to be that “someone.” Although I have had the opportunity to do a great deal of practical work, this was the first time to construct a roof with no one guiding me through the process. The Lord helped me to create a good design, and the roof came out fine. It serves them well. I was blessed by being able to help someone in a practical way through physical work to meet their physical needs. Serving her opened the way for her to have an interest to attend our Health Club and to be blessed by what she has learned there.

When I came to VitaSalus, I was praying for God to give me light about what he wants me to do with my life. At the end of my year here, I knew that I wanted to be involved in ministry to others. In my mind, I had a few different avenues for ministry that I was interested in. One by one, the ideas I had did not work out. It was then that the Lord impressed me to be willing to consider pastoral ministry. The idea had been presented to me by others, but for a variety of reasons I had always resisted. Now I was willing. After communicating my openness to church leaders, a call came for me to serve as an assistant to the pastor of a church in the Lisbon area for one year. Now, after the experience of this last year serving with the church, I am settled even deeper in the conviction that the Lord is calling me to pastoral ministry.

Kim: What are your hopes for the future?

Rodrigo: After researching the theology programs of many schools, I am persuaded that, the Lord willing, I would like to receive an education and pastoral training at Weimar College. Presently I am working and praying to earn and raise the funds needed for this next step in my life of service for God.