God’s plans for us always exceed our biggest dreams
Cleiton and Franciele Drides have always been drawn to a life of cross-cultural service for God. They are young, adventurous, and willing to serve anywhere. But several years ago as they sat and listened to reports of God’s work around the world at a youth campmeeting in Curitiba, South Brazil, the possibility seemed out of their reach. Franciele had just learned she was pregnant.
That’s why she courteously declined one of the small coins that were being distributed as an incentive to to step out and serve. Each coin could be redeemed at the South Brazil Union for 1,000 Brazilian rials ($200) towards the cost of a mission experience. “No, thank you, give it to someone else,” she suggested as she shared why she couldn’t use it.
“Oh no, it is yours!” responded the usher as they pressed the incentive coin into Franciele’s hand. “God will make your baby a missionary too!” The thought caught Franciele’s imagination. She began praying every day that her little one really would be a missionary.
That’s why all three of them attended the I WILL GO Conference in Bahia, Brazil in the fall of 2022–Cleiton, Franciele, and little Liz. They heard presentations from all over the world. They began sensing even more clearly a call to serve God wherever He needed them.
“We realized we were part of one of the largest Adventist populations in the world,” recounts Cleiton. “When we learned there was one Adventist for every almost 93,000 in the Middle East, and one for every 132 people in Brazil, we wondered if it was time to export!”
That week they kept asking each other, “Why are we here? Couldn’t we contribute where we are needed more?” They talked about ways they could serve. They talked with friends working in the Middle East. They didn’t know exactly how to make it all happen, but they felt God’s call and they agreed to answer.
That meant selling their natural foods store. They had spent years of planning and prayer before opening a natural foods store in their community. Cleiton managed it and Franciele, a trained chef, provided packaged vegan dishes. Their personal witness and the free literature the store offered had become their mission during the two years since they’d opened. The thought of closing it was painful.
“We were living a vision we felt God had given us; it was hard to think He had done so much to bring us this far–only for us to let it go,” Cleiton admitted. Then their business partners, a couple from their church who shared their vision, agreed to buy them out and build a business that would, in fact, support missions! Deeply moved by how God worked, they kept dreaming.
When the possibility of serving in Australia arose, though, reality set in. Most service opportunities required English as a common language and they only knew Portuguese. Maybe, they reasoned, God’s plan was for them to work a small farm in rural Brazil and plant a church in their own country.
That’s when they heard from their new friends in the Middle East that Middle East University (MEU) not only had a strong English language program, but the university was also developing a training program in cross-cultural service. Did God want them on a little farm in rural Brazil, or was this a door to learning English and serving in the Middle East. How could they know?
“As we were weighing our two options, a close friend who knew nothing about our plans messaged me that she’d had a dream. In it God was telling her that her friends should move out of Brazil,” Franciele tells. “I was moved; I knew God was calling us to the Middle East, to Lebanon.”
They finalized the sale of the store, measured how long their resources might last, and took the leap of faith.
Franciele was realistic about the risks. “One night I lay awake, crying to God to confirm what He wanted us to do.” The next morning, as they were studying Liz’s Sabbath School lesson together, little Liz opened her Bible to the Book of Joshua. And, as her little finger followed words on the page, she began repeating, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9.
Franciele knew Liz couldn’t read. She also knew she had never taught her little girl Joshua 1:9. She was sure, though, that God had answered her prayer; He would be with them as they took the step to move to Lebanon and prepare to serve in the Middle East.
Within months of the I WILL GO Bahia conference and only weeks after Liz “read” Joshua 1:9, Cleiton and Franciele, with Liz squirming between their laps, sat in a classroom on the campus of Middle East University in Beirut, Lebanon, with 20 other students of the Advanced School of Missions (ASM) in Beirut, Lebanon. They were part of the first cohort of students committed to two semesters of English and cross-cultural training followed by a year of volunteer service in the region. MEU Chaplain, Raphael Preuss, was welcoming the group and affirming the call God had given each of them.
Pastor Raphael, the MEU chaplain who has helped launch ASM on the campus, knows the Drides’ journey well. “Their experience represents the miraculous process that has led us to develop a training school here, that has brought them to us, and that promises to be with us all as we move forward for His work here in MENA.”
Cleiton realizes that every miracle they’ve experienced is part of that much larger miracle. “We live by the simple notion that God will continue working in the future like He’s worked in the past. He’s brought us this far. He will be with us ahead!”