After nearly 50 years of ministry and missionary work, Maria Ribeiro recently became one of the oldest ordinands in the Church of the Nazarene. She was ordained by General Superintendent David Busic at the age of 90 during the Rio de Janeiro District Assembly 5 January.
Though her husband, Luiz Tomaz, was ordained in 1988, Maria was not granted the same honor until 2019.
“When [she heard that] the Board of Credentials approved her ordination application, she wept,” said their son Elio Tomaz, now the local district superintendent. “My mother and I entered the room together and David Busic placed his hands on her; it was a very special moment for both her and me. It was one of the happiest days of her life.”
Maria and Luiz were born in Portugal, but they met and were married in Brazil after their families fled Europe following War World II in 1947. They moved to Nilópolis, a 5.5 square mile community in Rio de Janeiro with no Nazarene presence at the time.
Maria began experiencing health issues and other personal struggles, so she visited “spiritists” to find relief but she found none. One day while attending a prayer service at a local Christian church, she felt God touch her heart and was healed of her bronchitis. She soon visited a nearby Nazarene church and accepted Christ through a neighbor named Humbelina.
Humbelina invited Luiz and Maria’s two children to church, taking them to Sunday School when she could. When Maria began attending with her children, local missionaries Jayme and Carolina Kratz took a special interest in the family, making an effort to personally disciple them.
Luiz, who was not yet a Christian, was hesitant to go to church. Like Maria, his Christian journey began with personal struggles. Luiz’s business was robbed multiple times, leading to financial struggles.
Later, Luiz underwent a painful surgery on his leg. After the procedure, his doctors believed he would die and let him return home to spend his remaining time with his wife and children. Luiz requested Humbelina come to pray for him. That night, Luiz accepted Christ as his savior and he survived his injuries. He later joined the nearby Church of the Nazarene with Maria and Humbelina.
Maria and Luiz faced many difficulties after they accepted Christ. Their families didn’t approve of their decision to join the Church of the Nazarene, ridiculing Maria and Luiz for their decision. Though it was very difficult, they made sure to never show anger or resentment and instead responded with love and compassion. As a result of the couple’s grace and kindness, many of their relatives received Christ.
“When they accepted Christ, I didn’t take it well,” Elio said. “[But] I saw the transformation that occurred in their lives, especially in my father. They would talk to me about the gospel, but I was reluctant to attend church, and yet they would continue praying for me. One day, God touched me — the Holy Spirit touched my heart — and I confessed my sins. I accepted Jesus in my heart.”
Both Luiz and Maria received a call to ministry, eventually enrolling in theology classes. After they finished their course work, they left Brazil to serve in their home country of Portugal in 2001. They spent four years there, helping the churches in Algarve, Coimbra, and Lisbon. Their work focused on strengthening relationships within the local church. They led prayer meetings, invited people to church, and followed up with new believers.
In 2006, the couple moved back to Nilópolis, and they have remained active in local church ministry. To this day, Maria continues to call, pray, counsel, and encourage people in her church.
The work that Luiz and Maria started continues through the work of their son Elio, who planted his first church in 1991. Elio planted two more churches, one of which planted three more missions — now officially organized churches. The church Elio planted in Nilópolis began with eight members and has now grown to more than 900. In total, there are 15 Nazarene churches in the area thanks to the faithfulness of those like Maria and Luiz.