Ana Hofmann and Fernando Andrade Da Silveira did not want to come to Sydney as newlyweds four years ago, leaving their family and friends behind in Curitiba, a city in southern Brazil.
Now they believe that God brought them to Australia so that they could meet Jesus.
They made their encounter with God’s son at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Australia’s oldest Anglican cathedral, which this year is celebrating its bicentenary with a series of talks called “Meeting Jesus.”
This culminated last Sunday, September 1, with a service attended by many politicians and dignitaries including the NSW Governor, Margaret Beazley, who relayed a message of congratulations from the Queen before reading the Bible.
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As well as many people who wander into the city cathedral next to Sydney’s Town Hall and hear about the love of Jesus through its Welcomer Team, many new migrants and travellers meet Jesus through the Cathedral’s vibrant ESL program. More than 60 people attend ESL each week. Ana is one of these.
Ana had a secure job for life with the Brazilian public service and the couple had just brought a brand-new home when Fernando was offered a transfer to the Sydney office of his long-time employer, HSBC Bank. But neither of them had any wish to live overseas. Even more daunting was the fact Ana could not speak a word of English.
She told Fernando that if he wanted to go, he would have to go alone.
“That’s what I told him many times – ‘I will not go with you,’” she says. “But then my mum said, ‘you have no option, you got married, you will go.’”
“I couldn’t ask for anything, even water.” – Ana Hofmann
For the first few weeks after moving to Sydney, Ana refused to go out alone. “I had no English. I was really afraid – terrified. [Fernando] took me to every place that I need to go. I couldn’t ask for anything, even water.”
But when she heard from a colleague of Fernando’s that the Anglican church offers ESL programs, she searched online and found her nearest church was St Andrew’s Cathedral.
Soon after Fernando took Ana to St Andrew’s to join its Bible and English classes, the young couple’s lives began to change. Her first English teacher introduced her to something that sounded like the “bubble”. Now she laughs at her misunderstanding, because it was through reading the Bible in English (with a Portuguese translation) that Ana encountered Jesus for the first time in her life.
“I went to many different denominations, but it didn’t touch me.” – Ana Hofmann
Oh, she had been a lifelong churchgoer in Brazil – but nothing about the rituals or teaching had made sense to her.
“I always went to the church with my grandmother, but I didn’t understand the Bible and I just went to the church because I knew that I need to go there,” she explains.
“When I was a teenager, I left that church and I tried to find another church. I went to many different denominations, but it didn’t touch me. I couldn’t feel like ‘now I understand, it’s clear now.’ I just went because it was the right thing to do.”
Fernando had been baptised as a child in the Catholic church, but for him going to church was more like protocol and stories of miracles. When he met Ana, he hadn’t been to church for a long time.
“In my country, the majority of people are Catholics, but nominal Catholics because most of them don’t go to the church. Since I met Fernando, I’d never seen him going to the church – never,” says Ana. “And then I started to invite him to go with me sometimes. I think it was the first time he went to a Protestant church, but we didn’t go often because there was no real meaning.”
Soon after Ana began to study English at the Cathedral, one of the volunteer teachers invited her to one-on-one Bible study as she couldn’t attend the optional Bible study after the class. Ana accepted and, very slowly, began to understand the riches of the gospel and the concept of grace.
“I had many questions because the way that I grew up, the church was very, very conservative – there were many rules – and, for me, seeing people with no rules that I used to have was very different for me, so I began to see it’s not like this,” she explains.
“I think that Jesus brought us here to finally meet him.” – Ana Hofmann
As Ana began to understand the Bible’s unfolding story of God’s plan of salvation through Jesus, she would share everything she learned with Fernando at home.
“Then we started to read the Bible in English together. I read in a loud voice with him because then I can practise. We do it until now. Every day we read one chapter, two chapters,” she says.
“When we read the Bible together, almost always we discuss about the topic that we read or sometimes we talk about other things related to that topic; and then, one of these times, we talked and he also agreed that we believe we are not here just for coincidence or his job.
“I think that Jesus brought us here to finally meet him!
“Why are we here? Because if I had English, I would not join the church, the ESL. There is a reason for everything, and I think the reason for us to be here is to meet Jesus.”
Last year, after Ana decided she wanted to follow Jesus, she trained through Anglicare to be a helper at the cathedral’s ESL classes, welcoming and registering students with winsome grace. “I don’t feel I have capacity, but I just want to help them,” she says modestly.
“None of this would have happened if we didn’t move here – never.” – Fernando Andrade Da Silveira
Despite the couple’s reluctance to leave Brazil, Fernando believes the move to Sydney was God’s provision for him.
“I was not keen on living somewhere else, but I thought it would be the only career opportunity at the time because our country wasn’t going through a good economic phase,” he says.
“I thought we need to do this; otherwise, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.”
In fact, one year after they left, the man who replaced Fernando was fired, so “if we had stayed in Brazil, it would be [Fernando],” says Ana.
Like Ana, he believes they would not have met Jesus if they had not moved here.
“Ana went there and started the ESL and the Bible study and then we started meeting together and none of this would have happened if we didn’t move here – never,” he says.
“I had plans before. He changed my plans, so I think it’s better not to have plans now.” – Ana Hofmann
As members of the Cathedral’s morning service, Ana and Fernando have asked to be baptised, but the practicalities are still being worked out – because they want to have full immersion baptism.
“It’s really part of my history because my grandmother used to take me to see baptisms in the river,” Ana says. She believes her journey in understanding how to live as a Christian has just begun.
“I never stop reading about the Bible – [and] not only the Bible – because it’s like I’m hungry to know more and more and more. Never satisfied!”
“I always ask God to guide me what he wants [me] to do and to be, because sometimes I don’t know what it is to be a Christian – I know, but I don’t know! We need to pray for it every day.
“Every day when I pray, I just put everything in God’s hands. He always guided us without our knowledge.
“If I have plans, maybe he can change my plans. I had plans before. He changed my plans, so I think it’s better not to have plans now. Just live one day at a time.”