Faustino Reis (April 10, 1982 – August 21, 2004)
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones.” Psalm 116:15
Abstract: This is the story of Faustino Reis, beloved Christian brother and third leading national in his Mozambique congregation. Faustino was murdered in August while working at our bookshop, the Biblioteca Fiel. His personal testimony and the surprising events that followed his untimely death display God’s hand at work in the lives of men, bringing blessing and glory to those who know Christ, judgment and ruin to those who do not.
Faustino first visited our Nampula congregation 9 years ago at the age of 13. His mother, a widow, eked out a living working a small garden plot 30 miles outside of town. At night she and the six children still living at home crowded together in a tiny two room mud hut covered with straw thatch. During the day everyone lived outdoors. From time to time one man or another would join the family, then move on.
Mom was illiterate and didn’t understand Portuguese. That did not discourage her from attending the worship services conducted by our little Portuguese speaking congregation that met just 100 yards from her hut. Over the years it was evident the family did not attend church out of concern for Christ, spiritual life, the Bible, truth, or even a desire to live on a higher moral plane. As with many Africans, what mattered was being part of a larger social structure or tribe that could give one identity and that could supply the security everyone needs against disasters that overwhelm individual resources. That seemed to be all the family wanted, all they sought, and, despite our best efforts, all they got from their association with us. No one ever showed any abiding interest in the gospel, with one exception – the third youngest child, Faustino.
For the first many months Faustino appeared to be like the rest of his family. He wore a permanent blank expression and in Sunday school responded inarticulately when asked a question. Though he spoke Portuguese and went to school, he could not recall any details of the Bible stories taught and acted out only a week earlier.
But almost overnight something happened. His whole countenance changed. His face lit up with interest. Soon he was volunteering for every question asked, getting not just the details of the stories but also the applications. Within a few weeks he became the star student. The transformation was obvious to all.
When he was 17 the church offered a weekly Bible class for adults that involved regular homework and tests. After looking over the handouts, Faustino came to the church leaders asking if he could study with the adults. Faustino was small and thin, looking more like 13 than 17, but as no one had shown such motivation before, we thought the adult class would be appropriate. From the first he did well, often scoring 100% on the tests and out-performing adult leaders from neighboring churches.
This is not to say that Faustino was naturally bright. He struggled in school and failed his grade last year. When Faustino was 15 the church began the catechism-Scripture memory program I wrote about in the last report. Faustino jumped in with both feet, but he would study for weeks just to learn two or three verses which he could say only haltingly. Memory work seemed beyond his mental capacity, but he kept at it. Once again something clicked, and suddenly, after months of effort, he began passing off on ten and more mini-passages a week. His peak performance was 41 passages in one week. In little over a year he memorized all the 300+ passages in the 46 page catechism, eventually becoming one of our three proctors responsible for testing others.
I visited him in his hut one Sunday afternoon soon after the breakthrough described above. I asked if he thought God was at work in his life. He was certain of it, and one of the answers to prayer he enthusiastically pointed to was God’s enabling him to overcome his agonizing inability to memorize Scripture, something remarkable in his own eyes, and giving him understanding of the verses he memorized.
His life in Christ
Unlike many of those we have worked with, Faustino’s testimony never faltered through the years. When he was still a teenager, the church was split by malicious stories fabricated by one of our leaders, Senhor M. Though Senhor M. was highly esteemed by all, including the leaders he falsely maligned, I was amazed and disheartened that some of our best members had trouble recognizing the flagrantly sinful behavior that characterized his fall. When Arnaldo and I withdrew from Senhor M. and established a new church plant, only five participants joined us at first. One of those few who had no difficulty discerning the spiritual issues at stake was the teenager Faustino.
Shortly after that, Faustino came to the leaders asking to be baptized and received into membership. As a member, he exercised his prerogative to exhort the congregation from Scripture during our open participation time each Sunday. Seeing his ability and desire to contribute, we put him into the monthly rotation for leading worship. He was never a charismatic personality, and on those occasions he pretty much plodded through his responsibilities. But there was no doubting his sincerity and commitment to Christ, and he never erred in his teaching.
When our colleague Richard Chiorino got the Biblioteca Fiel (Faithful Bookroom) underway one year ago, he asked Faustino to work there. Though we had an older man splitting shifts with him, Faustino was the one put in charge, and we trusted him completely. Similarly, when the youth group started this term, he was the natural choice in the eyes of all to assume leadership.
Though none of his family has responded to the church’s spiritual ministry, Faustino consistently worked and prayed for their salvation right up to the time of his death, and he solicited others to pray as well. He brought his two younger brothers to church regularly. As had become routine for him, he scored a perfect 100% on the Bible test he took the week before he was murdered. A week before that, he shared at one of the meetings his system for memorizing new Bible verses and keeping hundreds of old passages fresh, committing Sunday afternoons to reviewing them in sequential fashion and carrying memory cards with him throughout the week.
We are grateful for several fine Christians in our congregation, but Faustino was remarkable for his humble beginnings, quiet unpretentiousness, and the seeming absence of natural ability. Nothing about Faustino was flashy; his style was one of constant understatement, and so he never made it into any of our newsletters before now. But he raised the level of every Bible class Richard and I taught through his faithful attendance, his clear grasp of Scripture, his readiness to enter into discussion, and his capacity to support his comments from hundreds of passages he had hidden in his heart.
For us, the blessing of his participation ended on Saturday, 21 August. A few minutes before closing time a customer came into our empty bookroom. Inducing Faustino to step into the bathroom with him, he suddenly seized him by the throat, strangling him to keep him from calling for help. After Faustino grew weak, the assassin beat his head against the walls until he lost consciousness. No one outside heard anything. When the deed was finally done, there was blood everywhere in the bathroom, on the walls, inside and outside the toilet, on the sink, the bidet, and all over the bathtub inside and out. A great pool of blood covered the bathroom floor, and there was more blood on the floor of the corridor leading into the bathroom. The shower curtains and rails, even the shower head, had been ripped out of the walls and were now strewn about the room.
The murderer took $90, all there was in the money box. He selected our two most expensive items, a study Bible and Bible dictionary costing together about $140; a radio; our calculator; and a few other books. These he loaded into a shipping carton we had on hand. He donned the Biblioteca Fiel service jacket to cover his blood-stained shirt and calmly walked out of the bookshop, wheeling Faustino’s bike down to the street below. Those who observed him assumed he was a friend of Faustino’s. Downstairs he asked the bank guard to watch the bike for him while he returned to get Faustino’s keys and the box of books he had selected. He locked the bookshop behind him, carried the box downstairs, and disappeared from sight with the box, the bike, and the money.
When the youth group met later that afternoon Faustino’s absence was conspicuous. His absence was even more noticeable the next morning at the Sunday worship service he was to lead. This was the only time Faustino failed to show without advising us in advance. His brothers stayed home, they said because Faustino had not returned from town and they were worried. It is indicative of Faustino’s humble origins that even after failing to appear for 48 hours, the only effective measure his brothers could think to take was to wait resolutely for him at home, as if somehow that might help Faustino materialize sooner.
Monday morning our second worker, Jorge, showed up for his shift at the bookshop. He was puzzled to see the padlock improperly applied to the grate. After working a while in the shop, he stepped into the kitchen where he caught a glimpse of the large pool of blood outside the bathroom door. Trembling, he turned the latch, opened the door, and beheld Faustino’s dead body lying in a pool of blood in the center of the wrecked bathroom. He fled the shop at once, ran to our home, and finally collapsed in a state of hysteria, stunning us with the awful news of Faustino’s demise.
We picked up the police and returned to the bookshop. Faustino was lying in a position of rest, his right hand on his chest, as if he had regained consciousness and had arranged himself as comfortably as possible while sinking into death. There was no rigor mortis. A police technician performed an autopsy which confirmed that Faustino died some time after the attack from a subdural hematoma, bleeding inside his cranium induced by the trauma to his head.
His funeral was held two days later and was a beautiful testimony to the one or two hundred people present. His remarkable transformation, his love and understanding of the Scriptures, his impeccable behavior, and the very fact that he died in the Lord’s service seeking to make His word available to Christians throughout northern Mozambique, furnished abundant opportunity to comfort the family in the assurance that his conversion was genuine and that he died prepared to meet his Maker, and to speak of how they too could come before God with the same confidence through faith in Jesus Christ.
The rest of the story
As Paul Harvey used to say, you’ve heard the story. Now for the rest of the story.
While Jorge, and I stood shuddering in the hallway that Monday morning, staring down on the prostrate form of our friend and brother, we were reminded of a similar eerie scene, but without the blood, that had played itself out in the same spot two weeks earlier.
A regular reader had come in a few minutes before closing time, asked to use the bathroom, then never came out. When Jorge was ready to close up, he showed the other patrons to the door, then knocked at the bathroom to check on the last customer. As there was no answer, he opened the door and was shocked to see the man lying stiff on the floor. After a brief attempt to rouse him he grew alarmed and ran for help, locking the customer inside the shop. Jorge went first to Richard’s house, but since he was not there he ran to get me. The message transmitted by the guard at our gate was that someone had died in the bookroom. I grabbed my medical equipment and together we hurried back to the shop. When we got there the “corpse” was seated on the bathroom floor, seemingly confused. He denied epilepsy, said he had fallen to the floor, then fainted. Even now, more than 30 minutes after the attack, he fainted and turned limp every time we moved him. I could not understand this when his pulse remained strong and full at 60 beats per minute, his blood pressure was elevated at 150/110, and his skin remained dry and warm. Each of these physical signs contradicted the story he was giving us, which was itself medically inconsistent.
Finally we had to wrap him in a table cloth, carry him supine to the car, and deposit him on an emergency room gurney at the downtown hospital. I wrote his name, Brigido Edson Ussene, in my pocket calendar so I could check up on him later. That wasn’t necessary as he returned to the bookshop within a few days saying he had spontaneously recovered while awaiting treatment in the ER.
Jorge confirmed further that Brigido had come during his shift each of the three days leading up to Faustino’s murder. The morning of Faustino’s death he showed up, allegedly to read, but then left promptly when he learned 8 people were having a Bible class in one of the back rooms, telling Jorge he would come back later. When Faustino arrived for the afternoon shift, Brigido had not yet reappeared. While Jorge and I mulled over these things, the police questioned everyone in the building and found that a first floor worker and the bank guard had each seen the killer but did not know his name.
Though there were possible medical explanations for the event two weeks earlier – epilepsy, hypoglycemia, metabolic derangement, brain tumor – none of them completely satisfied the strange picture Brigido presented. It seemed to me that in the course of events, God had unmasked the identity of Faustino’s attacker, who had tried his ruse again with Faustino, oblivious to the fact that the shop owner who had come to his aid was a doctor who had been baffled by inconsistencies in the feigned illness that Brigido himself was unaware of. I was so sure God had revealed the killer that I swore out a statement accusing him of murder that same day. But though we had a name and eye witnesses, no one knew where the fellow lived amongst the 400,000 inhabitants of Nampula.
Jorge remembered that the customer had formerly participated in Richard’s Bible class. Some of those fellows were now in my class, so we consulted with them. From them we learned the name of the church where he regularly attended the 6:00 a.m. daily services and the name of the school where he studied. One member said he had visited his hut months before and offered to help find it. However, the bairros change quickly as old huts fall down and new ones are thrown up in different locations, and our friend could no longer recognize anything. After several attempts in the following weeks he gave up. The police staked out the school and the church, but the suspect never showed. Jorge searched the school records and found he had not enrolled this term. None of his church leaders knew where he lived. They said he had not come to church for a month. Of course, he no longer frequented our book shop, though he came regularly in the months before the murder.
By now nearly three weeks had passed and we were fearful that if we did find the killer our witnesses would no longer recognize him and the stolen goods might already be sold off. Suspecting God had helped us thus far, we took Jeremiah 33:3 to Him in prayer, “Call unto Me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not.” Surely the omniscient God could show us where Brigido lived.
Twenty days after the murder, I asked our friend to try once more. The police promised to send plain-clothes agents with him if I would provide transportation. As God would have it, soon after they stepped from the car into the bairro of 50,000 people they found someone who took them straight to Brigido’s hut. He was at home, as was the Biblioteca Fiel box with the Bible and Bible dictionary he so coveted. They also found the blood-stained Biblioteca Fiel service jacket and everything else taken from the shop.
After two days in jail, seeing all the evidence against him, Brigido confessed to the murder. He had planned it out for a month and kept looking for an opportunity. During the first bathroom episode, Jorge was to have been murdered, but Brigido learned from that attempt that feigning shock and weakness did not give him sufficient advantage over his victim. So the second time, after asking to use the bathroom, he returned to tell Faustino there was something strange inside. When Faustino went to check, Brigido followed, pulling out an iron rod he had filed into a blade on one end. He struck Faustino over the back of his head, the blood flowed, but Faustino didn’t fall. Instead, he cried out, at which point Brigido dropped his weapon to strangle him before anyone could hear. As Faustino weakened, Brigido beat his head repeatedly against the wall until he lost consciousness altogether.
While Brigido was moving about the shop arranging the items he wanted to take with him, including the murder weapon which was already stowed in the box, he was startled to suddenly come upon Faustino standing dazed and bleeding in the hall outside the bathroom. Somehow he had revived. As soon as Faustino saw Brigido, he cried out again, so Brigido again strangled him, this time making a greater effort to knock him out permanently, beating his head against the bathtub, the bidet, etc. Somehow Faustino struggled on, ripping everything off the walls around the bathtub, but was finally overcome. When Brigido left the shop Faustino was still unconscious on the floor of the bathroom, bleeding profusely from multiple scalp lacerations.
In the days since his capture I have had several opportunities to speak with Brigido about genuine repentance, urging him to call upon Christ for salvation. As far as we can tell, Faustino lost his life and we lost a great spiritual asset in the church and ministry so Brigido could gain $90 cash and $200 worth of merchandise. We know Faustino is enjoying a rich reward, but we long to see something of eternal benefit come from his death. Please pray that God would save the soul of his murderer.
Now that Brigido is in the hands of the police, he is indeed sorry for his act and wonders how he could have done it. He claims to have made sincere attempts at reform, including going to church, attending Richard’s Bible class, and reading religious books from the Biblioteca Fiel. He broke down and wept when I told him the kind of Christian Faustino was and how valuable he had been to the church and bookshop.
The police aren’t buying any of it. They believe he cultivates these relationships in order to steal from churches and missionaries. We all think he is the culprit in a similar break-in at the Chiorinos’ house in June. While they were at church the guard was nearly killed by blows to the head with a piece of crowbar, then shut up in the outside bathroom. Several of the Chiorinos’ belongings were found by the police in Brigido’s hut. Brigido does not deny they once belonged to the Chiorinos, but claims they were gifts. We will know if Brigido is truly repentant when he confesses to something before it is proven and seeks forgiveness from those he has harmed.
Readers may be nonplussed that a missionary would so quickly suspect someone of murder who rises early to attend church every day, faithfully comes to Bible class, studies for hours in a Christian bookroom, and prizes study Bibles and Bible dictionaries. Part of the explanation is that I knew the church he attended. It is a charismatic sect from Brazil that preaches a blatant prosperity gospel, appeals to carnal desires to gain adherents, and teaches its members how to supposedly manipulate God to satisfy the flesh. The billboard in front of their building advertises all this without shame. But this is not new. From time immemorial false religions have been raised up to satisfy one of two ends – to manipulate God to serve man’s purposes, or to promote self-reform through works. Many “respectable” churches in Christendom as well never get beyond that.
And though they do not realize it, many “Christians” do not either. That is the rest of the explanation for so quickly suspecting a church-attender. The church in Mozambique suffers terribly from false brethren who are themselves deceived regarding their spiritual condition. For the majority of local adherents, and even many evangelical folk at home, Christianity is no different in essence from the false religions. They view Christianity as a works-based religion that has given some people remarkable success in being good, raising well-behaved children, having happy marriages, providing for their families, gaining respect and influence, and securing God’s help in their affairs. That remarkable success is what they want too. But unfortunately, if that is all they want, they miss out on the greatest treasure Christianity offers. That treasure is Christ himself, without which all the rest will ultimately collapse in catastrophic ruin, if not in this life, then in the day of judgment.
For every child of God the side effects of Christianity, as wonderful as they are and as much as they may be sought at first, become incidental in comparison to knowing Christ, having communion with God through Him, discovering the power of His resurrection at work in transforming one’s own life, not through religious works, methods, or gimmicks, but through His Spirit. Christ is all the difference between Christianity and false religions, even when those religions bear the name “Christian.”
For all his religious works, Brigido still has not come to this realization. He is not seeking Christ that he might know Him and devote his life to serving His purposes. He is seeking a god he can manipulate to accomplish his own ends. To discerning Christians, this is plainly evident through the advertising of the church he attends.
In contrast, Faustino discovered the wonderful difference knowing Christ makes. When he began attending our services nine years ago, he probably wasn’t seeking Christ any more than the rest of his family. But God was seeking him. And God found him, changed his life forever, and steered him unerringly to glory.
After Faustino’s funeral I went to the Biblioteca Fiel to make arrangements for re-opening the next day. There I discovered Faustino’s Bible, hymnal, and study notes on the desk behind the counter. When the assassin walked in, Faustino was working on the outline for worship he expected to lead the next day. He had gotten as far as the Scripture reading which was taken from I Peter 4. The passage he was studying ended with the words in verse 7 “for the end of all things is at hand.” He had only written out his comments for verse one and two before he was interrupted for the last time. He said to note the final words of verse one – to cease from sin. And the final words of verse two – to carry out the will of God. He then asked his listeners what they were concerned about as they planned their lives – food, raiment, shelter, education, a spouse, a job? “The greatest honor and privilege in life,” he wrote, “is to carry out the will of God.” There his notes ended.
It was a poignant reminder from the Lord that He was with Faustino right to the end, that he died with eternal concerns on his heart, expressing in his last words his supreme goal of carrying out the will of God in his life, the end of which came much sooner than any of us expected.
Dr. Charles Woodrow
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