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On Rio's mean streets, a rare credibility

Pentecostals' message of transformation is helping Brazil's drug dealers give up their guns for Jesus.

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He felt weak physically. But spiritually, he had never felt stronger.

Alexandre dos Santos, a converted Pentecostal, fasted for two days in the favela, or slum, where he grew up, before getting on his knees to lead 18 others in prayer.

"God protect us," they chanted, before going to persuade a gang of drug traffickers in a violent struggle with the police to put down their arms and accept Jesus.

The group, named "Fishermen of the Night," had no idea what to expect that evening two years ago, Mr. dos Santos recalls. Since then, they have seen men killed. They have been threatened with death. But God has sent them as emissaries, they say, to stop the violence that is suffocating many of Brazil's poor communities.

"You cannot shake. You must demonstrate courage," says dos Santos.

"You cannot stutter," adds his wife Christiane in their modest home in Mangueira, a favela that winds up the side of a hill, where homes seem like blocks stacked upon one another. "You say, 'I am from Jesus.' There is no room for doubt."

The group's core purpose is not to fight crime, but to convert as many as possible. More law and order is often a byproduct.

In Rio's favelas,crowded with men and women on the margins, they find fertile ground. To outsiders they are called "the Evangelicals," and for the most part, people here don't challenge their missionary work.

In fact, Pentecostals – for theological, cultural, and personal reasons – have apparently won the respect of the same criminals who may think little of shooting a lifelong neighbor.

So in a city that is considered one of the most dangerous in the world, which registers 6,000 murders a year, and where the police and military are distrusted at best, Pentecostals are among the few who are facing up to organized crime.


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