By Roxy Photenhauer –
Ronaldo’s drunken father shoved his face into the mattress so the neighbors would not hear him scream as he beat him savagely.
“When I grow up, I’m going to become a criminal and I’m going to come back here and kill you,” the 5-year-old threatened his father, who beat his mom too.
Of course, Dad only beat him more. So little Ronaldo ran away one night. He ran and ran and ran. He could hear his dad calling after him, but he never turned back.
When he could no longer run, he traversed 12 miles of jungles until he came to the Brazilian city of Bello Horizonte. On the streets, homeless and hungry, Ronaldo got picked up by a police officer who took him to a rehabilitation center for children.
It was supposed to be a safe place for children, but the types of kids who were taken there and the negligence of the staff made it essentially a criminal factory, Ronaldo says.
“They got a lot of money from the government to take care of children,” Ronaldo says on a Manna Testimonies video on Youtube. “That project does not exist anymore because it was a failure. They were just creating new criminals.”
Ronaldo had no choice but to join a gang.
“I soon realized I would not survive unless I joined a gang,” he says. “I saw all the children being beaten. They got their brains damaged for life because they would hit their heads against the concrete.”
The gang’s leader promised to keep Ronaldo safe and to show him how to escape the house. They fled by way of the garden and squeezed through a hole in the fence. In exchange for these services, the leader demanded one thing of Ronaldo.
“You belong to us,” he told Ronaldo. “You are our slave.”
The gang forced him to break into people’s houses and steal their belongings. He also stole from supermarkets. He often got caught by police who would beat him.
One night, he got caught by a rival gang, who abused him all night in a cave. “They did horrible things,” he says.
For fear that Ronaldo would tell the police, they threatened to kill him.
I’m going to die here, he thought, and there’s no one to listen to my voice.
Inexplicably, one rival gang member suddenly shouted: “Let him go!” and they didn’t kill Ronaldo.
In all of this, Ronaldo’s thirst for revenge against his dad only grew. If his dad had raised him correctly, none of this would have happened, he reasoned.
That’s when a Christian woman found him on the streets and took him to a Christian orphanage. It was very different from the other rehabilitation center. He was given food and love. He also heard the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“I came to the realization that I need Jesus for my salvation,” Ronaldo says. “I was shocked when I heard that Jesus loves me. Why does he love me? What have I done to earn his love?”
At the same time, he learned he must forgive his father, a demand of the gospel that vexed him.
“No, I cannot forgive my father,” he told his Christian teachers. “I have an aim in life. I have a project in life. I must go back and finish that guy off.”
“If you don’t forgive people their sins,” they replied, “God cannot forgive you.”
The conflict between thirst for revenge and longing for salvation simmered in his soul for years. How could he just let go of the evil and violence perpetrated against him and his mom?
Ronaldo grew up to age 16. He wanted to see his dad to know if he could forgive him or if he would kill him. But how would he ever find his dad in a city of 8 million?
One day while he played street hockey with some friends, he saw a woman with a little girl.
“A voice inside of me told me, that’s your mother,” he relates. It was an impossible chance meeting. Eleven years had passed since he had run away. Compelled by the voice, he walked down some stairs and started walking next to her looking at her wondering if it were true.
He asked her for the time. She looked at him. She was struck by the sight of his face. He was 11 years older than when she last saw him.
“Ronaldo?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he replied with wonder.
“Is it really you?” she asked. “Do you want to go and see your father?”
A powder keg of conflicting emotions detonated inside, and he froze. He didn’t know how to answer.
“I wanted to see my father,” he says. “I wanted to see if I looked like him. I knew I needed to face my past. I knew I needed to forgive him.”
A meeting was set. His mother led him to the home.
“When my father saw me, his eyes opened wide. I wanted to look him in the eyes, but I couldn’t,” Ronaldo relates. “I didn’t say a thing. He didn’t say a thing. Just morbid silence.”
Suddenly, Dad slipped out of the room. Apparently, he slugged some alcohol to bolster courage.
“Remember when you were a child you said you were going to come back to kill me?” he told Ronaldo. “You have the chance now.”
Dad told Ronaldo’s youngest sister, Leticia, to go to the kitchen and bring her older brother a knife. “Your brother is going to kill me today,” Dad told her.
She refused – three times. For her disobedience, he slapped the little girl across the face.
In that moment, “everything came back, everything he had done against me,” Ronaldo remembers. “I was so angry. My whole body began to shake.”
Against her will, she brought the knife. Dad sat on the sofa, put the knife with the tip touching his chest, took Ronaldo’s hand and put it on the handle of the knife.
“Kill me,” he told Ronaldo.
The Holy Spirit came over Ronaldo. “That’s right, I told you I would become a criminal and I would come back and kill,” he said. “But in the way, I met a love greater than anything you did against me…In Jesus’ name, I forgive you.”
In response, Dad snarled insults. But Ronaldo realized he was changed.
“I felt love,” Ronaldo says. “I felt love for my father, the one who caused me so much hurt and suffering and wounds.”
Ronaldo wanted to be a different type of person. “I wanted my children to love me. I wanted my wife to love me,” he explains.
Ronaldo visited his father from time to time. He married, worked, and wanted to be a millionaire – everything his father had not been.
But God didn’t call Ronaldo to be a millionaire. He called Ronaldo to become a missionary for the gospel of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
To know more about a personal relationship with God, click here.
Roxy Photenhauer studies at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Los Angeles.