Staying Put Until God Calls Me Elsewhere
A Brazilian footballer aims to continue his service in Russia
M o s c o w – Marcelo Mauricio Santos, a Reformed (Presbyterian) pastor, preached in Moscow’s Second Baptist Church on 25 November. That’s not an every-day occurrence in Russia: a black person holding Christian sermons in the national tongue. But this may unfortunately soon be history: On 10 December he and his family will need to leave Russia. At home in Recife and Sao Paulo/Brazil, the family will wait and hope for a new visa. But Marcelo has already purchased round-trip tickets: “My work in Russia is not yet over,” he declares. “It was God who sent me to Russia, and I need to stay put until he calls me elsewhere.”
Marcelo played professional football (soccer) in Brazil for 16 years. When he was 32, he hung up his spikes and went into full-time mission work. Marcelo has spent most of his time since 2000 in Russia – even his daughter was born here. Sent here by a Presbyterian mission, Marcelo partners with the international “Athletes in Action” missions programme. He has founded a football programme called “Goal”, which attempts to teach 10- to 18-year-olds the tricks and tactics of Brazilian football. He is also trainer for the Second Baptist Church’s football club. “My work here continues,” he states. “I want to prepare the trainers so that they will be able to continue on with my work. I want to introduce the lay trainers to professional athletes, so that the trainers can help bring the Gospel into professional sport.”
Non-professional sport (football, hockey, volleyball, basketball) is a well-developed part of the „Athletes in Action“ sport programme in Russia. The professional sector is more problematic. Yet Marcelo does all that he can: When Brazilian football stars come to Russia, he tours through schools and children’s homes with them – and the hosts never say “no”. Autographs and sport articles are handed out; “the kids are always thrilled.” He’s been on the road more than once with Revaldo, the world star who played until recently for Barcelona. Marcelo reports that six Brazilian believers are now playing for Russian football teams. With one of them - de Souza Dudu (or „Dudu“) from CSKA Moscow – he frequently makes visits. Such contacts are not difficult for Marcelo to make, for he himself stems from a famous football family. His father, Djalma Santos (born 1929), played together with Pelé on the national team when Brazil won the World Cup in 1958 and 1962. His father is counted as one of the world’s 125 best, still-living footballers.
Marcelo is deeply convinced of the evangelistic opportunities spawned by sport. “When I preach with a suit and a Bible, only the
Christians will come to listen. But yesterday I pulled on the uniform and went out to a snow-covered pitch. Very soon 20 young guys gathered around to help play. Later, I talked to them for 20
minutes about God.”
But a heavy cloud darkens the work of this elegant, Presbyterian pastor: the cloud of racism. He needs to worry about scuffles and insults continually; he has suffered broken bones and cuts. Being called a “monkey” is probably one of the smallest evils. From the police he expects little. Policemen have advised him more than once that he should for the sake of his well-being leave for home as soon as possible. In order to protect his wife Nilbe and the two children, he is very cautious about giving out the address to his flat. Moscow football clubs have graciously shown him mercy by loaning him one of the cars usually reserved for visiting foreign teams. Were he forced to use public transport, not a day would pass without incidents. He states: “The authorities in my mission would understand immediately if I would pull up my stakes and leave. They think I’m living very dangerously here. But God is my protector. My life and well-being are in his hands.”
He is perhaps must hurt though by the behaviour of some fellow Russian believers. It happens at meetings for ex. that the person
beside him will stand up and find another seat once he has taken place. A believer told him once: “You have a black heart, but I have a white one.” He has seen drawings by the children of
Christians showing all the bad persons as black.
„Christians are much too passive in the face of evil!“ he exclaims. “Where are the preachers who preach out against racism? When I tell people about my suffering for Christ in this country, they respond: ´You’re really great! You are a great encouragement to us.´ But they are themselves not ready to stand up and fight against racism.”
Dr. William Yoder
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 30 November 2007
An article of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. May be published freely. Release #07-52, 775 words.
A note from January 2021: Sadly, I do not believe Marcelo Santos has been active in
Russia since 2008.