By Jaci Schneider, Opinion Editor
Paul Goncalves easily blends into the crowds of students loitering campus; students would have trouble picking him out from a crowd of young men with shaggy hair and baseball caps.
He’s similar to most young men his age; he fiddles around on the guitar, plays soccer in his residence hall hallway, and he’s still trying to find a church in Abilene to call his own.
Like many freshmen, Paul, a freshman biblical text major, has a story. When asked by people why he chose to come to ACU, he can say because his parents and his sister came here. He can say because it’s a good school. But his story goes deeper, and it begins several thousand miles away in the cities of Brazil and in a different lifetime.
Paul’s problem with pornography began before he became a teenager and continued for several years. He struggled with all types, but he said the real issue isn’t the pictures.
“The problem is what it causes,” he said, “contamination of the mind-lust.”
His parents brought him up in a church environment. He was part of a church-planting team in Brazil, but nothing ever clicked.
“I grew up in the Church of Christ, but I wasn’t a Christian,” Paul said matter-of-factly, in the same way he talked about his addiction to pornography. He’s not ashamed, but ready to let people know that he made it out alive.
“The Lord brought me out of that,” he stated, without shame, without blinking eyes, without reddened cheeks.
“When I was 16, the Lord found me,” he said. “I don’t believe any human being caused it.”
Paul said his conversion was a sudden event, a complete and abrupt turn, and even his family was amazed by the change in his life.
“It was absolutely stunning,” said his sister, Ali Kaiser, a senior Bible major, but a freshman at ACU at the time. She said she heard about his baptism, but when she went home, she saw the full transformation.
“Paul was a different person from the inside out,” she said. “I literally saw him go from the dark to the light.”
Paul transformed from Ali’s sometimes-violent and jealous kid brother, to a cherished friend. He even walked Ali down the aisle at her wedding this summer because their father performed the ceremony.
Paul explains the change simply as a work of God.
“Hearing the Lord’s voice is a powerful thing,” he said.
“I think that most people who have an addiction, whether drugs or alcohol or anything, they don’t believe that there’s hope,” Paul explained. “They think that’s who they are-it’s the greatest trick Satan ever played.”
But he learned that the only way out was to give in to the truth of Christ.
“Jesus said, ‘You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free,'” Paul quoted from the Gospel of John.
The power of Christ’s truth changed Paul’s life from an existence with no satisfaction to an “awesome adventure.” Almost instantaneously, the place he called home for eight years, Itu, Brazil, changed from a home to a mission field, and an after-school job at an English language school turned into an opportunity to share the love of Christ.
Paul grew up in Brazil. He was born in Abilene in August of 1985 and was whisked away to the city of Curitiba by his parents, Antenor, a Brazilian, and Phyllis, an American. The family spent about seven years church-planting in Curitiba, a “small” city of more than one million people in southern Brazil. Paul and Ali, both dark-haired and dark-eyed, attended Brazilian school but spoke English at home, leaving them fluent in English and Portuguese.
When he was 8 years old, Paul and his family moved to Oklahoma for one year while his dad preached at the family’s supporting church.
“When I was a kid, my dream was to come to the United States,” he said.
But after spending the rest of his adolescence in Itu, southeastern Brazil, he says he’s “more Brazilian than American.”
“I’m American, but I have a different perspective,” he added.
Much of that perspective comes from the religious background of Brazil, where Paul says everyone is a non-practicing Catholic. In a way, he says that makes it easier for him to share the news of Christ.
“In Brazil, they have never really heard of the church,” he said.
Once Paul became a Christian, telling the Brazilian world about Christ came naturally. He said a change of attitude was all he needed.
“Before I knew the Lord, it was like, ‘How can I gather up courage to tell people about Jesus?'” Paul explained. “After I felt his love, I was like, ‘How can I keep from telling about this?'”
Marusia was the first person Paul saw come to Christ. She was the owner of the English language school where Paul taught. He was a natural teacher because of his fluency in English and Portuguese. They started a Bible study, and one month later she was baptized.
“That was the first person,” Paul said, still with a little bit of awe. “The Lord brought her to himself through me.”
Soon after Marusia became a Christian, Paul began a study with her boyfriend, George. Two months later he came to Christ.
“He took a little longer,” Paul said, as if two months was a long time in which to change a person’s life forever.
After George came his brother, Luiz. Then Aline and her husband and Marusia’s parents.
He used the English lessons to get the discussions going. Sometimes he studied the Gospels in English, sometimes he used a Bible study book and sometimes just a discussion. In order to teach using the Bible, he agreed to work for half pay, Ali said.
But for Paul, the English lessons were just a tool to do the Lord’s work.
People started to take notice of Paul’s work at the English school. The Itu Church of Christ, a congregation of about 350, let the teenager preach. He even became the unofficial youth minister, a rare position in Brazilian churches.
Paul was working with about 40 teenagers in the Itu youth group when he first met Mark Kaiser, senior social work major from Columbus, Ohio, who had come to Brazil to visit his girlfriend and Paul’s sister, Ali.
Kaiser said he remembers Paul then, much as he is now.
“I remember thinking he was a very, very friendly person,” Kaiser said. “He really engaged people.”
At ACU Paul has retained his friendliness, inviting his U100 class to his sister’s home for dessert and never failing to greet an acquaintance he sees on campus.
“I’m glad I’m living around him this semester,” Kaiser said. “You pick your wife and get stuck with your in-laws, but he’s one I enjoy being stuck with.”
Over the years, Kaiser has gotten to know Paul and become part of his life, giving him insights into the confident freshman’s personality.
“He enjoys arguments,” Kaiser said. “He gets random ideas, and even when he knows they’re on the ridiculous side, he fights them.
“I enjoy taking him down every now and again.”
Since Paul moved back to Abilene in January he has spent his extra time working several jobs and adjusting to a new life. His wide and friendly grin could be seen all over the city, at Olive Garden, Cajun Cones and a cleaning business. He’s worked so many different jobs that he has trouble remembering each one.
The extra time he’s had in Abilene has given Paul a chance to build relationships, which he loves.
His love of people comes out in random forms, like wearing a gorilla suit around campus.
His friends bought him the suit, which he plans to wear sporadically throughout the semester.
“It wouldn’t make sense if I tried to explain it,” he said.
“I like to see people laugh,” he finally attempted. “It’s my passion in life.”
Since he began school at ACU, he’s had many opportunities to make his new friends laugh.
“I’ve met so many people in the last two weeks, it’s not even funny,” he said.
But he loves it. He loves the new faces and new relationships.
“He’s in love with people,” Ali said. “His passion is to be with people.”