The Search for One Sheep

by Joey McKinney
[Editor’s note: Joao Pessoa is the capital city of Paraiba state, located on the northeastern coast of Brazil. The following story is taken from the May 2000 issue of Joao Pessoa News.]
Nilton Lelas, retired civil servant, though living in Joao Pessoa, Paraiba, always reads the “Pernambuco Daily” from a neighboring state. One day he saw a School of the Bible ad in the Recife newspaper, offering free Bible correspondence courses. He wrote the school and received the “How to Become a Christian” course by mail.
Studying lesson after lesson, he became convinced of the course’s plea for non-denominational Christianity. As a Bible reader he saw that the world’s religious divisions aren’t God’s plan for the church. And in the last lesson he answered yes to the question: “Do you want to be baptized?”
Christians from the church in Recife visited him, studied with him, and baptized him. Nilton was overjoyed with his new brethren in God’s family, excited about being part of a movement whose goal is to reproduce the church that Jesus Christ built.
The Christians from Recife started making regular weekend trips to Joao Pessoa. They gathered together other course contacts and started holding a small church meeting in Nilton’s house.
Unfortunately, the visits became less frequent, and the small group dwindled, but Nilton remained strong in his faith. He always waited anxiously for visits, each time begging for more to come continue the work. Finally, he received some exciting news: a whole mission team was planning to move to Joao Pessoa in the next ten months. It was a lonely Christian’s dream about to come true. The rest of that year Nilton received no more visits or news, nada.
Concerned, he wrote a letter to the School of the Bible. He didn’t receive a reply. He wrote a second letter – nothing! He came to the sad conclusion that this movement of just belonging to Christ and his church had indeed ended, that his new family from Recife had disbanded just like it did in Joao Pessoa. The year was 1991, and he was all alone.
Only in 1999 did a mission team finally arrive, but we knew practically nothing of the previous work. It was such a long time ago that records of names and addresses had been lost. But everybody familiar with the work always mentioned this elderly Christian and wondered what had happened to him.
Several times during our first year here, different people would say these same words: “I remember there was an old man, we would meet in his house. That was such a long time ago and he was so old and sick, he’s probably dead by now.”
The last person to say this was the young man who had promised Nilton that a team would come in 1991. He still felt bad that he never got back in touch with him. He explained that in 1991 the volunteers in charge of the correspondence program started helping new congregations in greater Recife. The ministry came to a standstill and unfortunately several contacts were lost. The promised mission team never made it; they ended up going to another city.
“I’m curious what happened to him. Do you know how to get to his house?” I asked him. “I know Nilton’s probably dead, but maybe he still has family who can tell us something.”
He thought he could if he started from the bus station. And off we went.
After a couple of wrong turns, we stumbled onto the right street, found the house, clapped at the gate, and asked for Nilton Lelas. And out walked Nilton with a surprised look on his face.
It was a joyful visit. Nilton is 72 and suffers from diabetes and swollen legs. He doesn’t get out of the house, yet is very much alive. He was happy to hear that the movement to restore the church that belongs to Christ is also very much alive.
He said his faith in God kept him alive through these nine years filled with sickness and tragedy, such as the loss of his son. He reads the Bible two hours every day. He has read the Psalms so many times he has them pretty much memorized.
Praise God for Nilton’s perseverance!
I doubt I would fare so well if I were abandoned by my Christian brethren. How would you do if you thought you were the last Christian on earth?
Thank You, Lord!

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