“Pastor, do you think we could hold a service at my house next Thursday?” the peroxide-haired gangster wondered, cradling an AK-47 in his lap as he took a seat beside the man of God.
A few months earlier, the 23-year-old had bought his first home with the fruits of his illegal work as a footsoldier for one of Rio de Janeiro’s drug factions. Now, he wanted to give thanks for the blessings he believed he had received from above.
“I’ve dodged death so many times. It was He who delivered me from evil,” the drug trafficker reflected as he began another 12-hour night shift on the frontline of the Brazilian city’s drug conflict.
That Christian conviction was echoed all around the young outlaw, on walls adorned with frescoes of the Old City of Jerusalem and an extract from the Epistle to the Galatians: “Walk by the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”
The gangster’s body celebrated his religion, too. One wrist carried a tattoo of a cross and the words “Jesus lives”. The other featured the motto: “May my courage be greater than my fear and my strength as great as my faith”.
“They know theirs is a cut-throat world so they seek something to believe in,” said Elias Santana, a favela-based preacher who has made it his mission to save the souls of Rio’s ever more evangelical gangsters.