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Preachers rescue addicts from 'cracklands'

Published:Thursday | May 29, 2014 | 12:00 AM
A former drug user and member of the God's Love rehabilitation centre holds the head of a drug addict as he and other former addicts pray for her in an area known as 'crackland' at the 'pacified' Jacarezinho slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Former drug users react during a morning prayer at the God's Love rehabilitation centre in Rio de Janeiro.
Drug addicts eat food distributed by members of the God's Love rehabilitation centre.


Dressed immaculately, the evangelical preachers head out to work when night falls. They journey through the gloom into the "cracklands" where addicts consume crack cocaine in open-air dens, areas well-hidden from the eyes of tourists heading to Rio de Janeiro for the World Cup.

After midnight, hundreds of grime-covered addicts lie on the sidewalks of the Jacarezinho slum. They focus on little more than the next fix, on finding a lighter to put flame to pipe.

Rifle-toting police observe from a corner as the preachers calmly mingle amid the chaotic scene of users seeking a fix.

Some of the preachers know the horror scene well. Not long ago, many were crack addicts themselves.

Now, they're here to preach the Gospel, not pull toxic smoke from a pipe. They talk of God to those who will listen, hoping to find converts, to rescue souls from the crack epidemic that's swept Brazil in recent years.

Hit and miss

Pastor Celio Ricardo, who leads the team of street preachers, has had hit-and-miss success in persuading users to, at least, try quitting.

He offers them a roof in a makeshift shelter in a nearby neighbourhood, a simple structure next to his humble Love of God evangelical church. He relies on donations and handouts from local supermarkets to feed those he is trying to heal.

There, young men sleep side-by-side on plain, raw-wood beds. Clean shirts hang from roof beams, meagre belongings gathered tidily on battered dressers.

On a recent day, 25 young men gathered in a circle outside the shelter, lifting their hands to the sky and shouting: "Glory to God! Glory to God!"

Ricardo says the first challenge is taking care of the physical needs of addicts, only then can they go on to tackle spiritual issues.