WRITTEN BY BARRY CHASE
Florianopolis, or Floripa, as it’s also called, is the capital and the second largest city in the state of Santa Catarina, Brazil. Fables from years ago tell tales of witches and sorcerers casting spells and curses on locals. Witches are found in many of the legends there.
Milla Poffo Sao Thiago was raised Catholic here, primarily because of her mother, although she herself was neither Catholic nor Christian. But she studied in a Catholic school, and her mom forced her to attend mass. Her father’s side of the family was spiritists. There were several mediums in the family, but her father, although he was raised in a spiritist environment, considered himself too open-minded to commit to any one faith. He believed that God was inside him. So, he would have times when he meditated and spent time communing with nature. Her younger sister, Maite, was raised Catholic as well, again, because of their mother.
In 2019, when Milla was 21, the family moved to Portugal to start a completely new life. When they arrived, she started working and living on her own for the first time. Her family, however, was struggling financially. They had always supported her in the past, but she knew they could not continue to do so now. It tore her up to see them suffering, and she began to wonder what life was all about and questioned herself. She said soon she realized that she was lost. She had already changed university paths three times and, truthfully, did not know what direction to take. She was concerned that she might end up like her parents. So Milla began opening herself up to spirituality in general, trying to find God. She thought maybe He could be found through Catholicism, but she just hadn’t realized it before. Or perhaps it was something else.
At times, she wouldn’t be able to sleep at all. She felt tormented.
So, she resumed going to mass, got involved with the Catholic scouts, and resumed catechism. She was in exploration mode, researching spiritism (she started a spiritist course online) and chakras, and began drawing mandalas. She tried online meditations from India, explored Buddhism, etc., all in an effort to find God.
But soon after, she began to have trouble sleeping. At times, she wouldn’t be able to sleep at all. She felt tormented. When she was 16, Milla ran into a friend she had known in preschool. She hadn’t seen him for ten years and told me that she didn’t know how she remembered him or from where, but she knew him. She was going to a physiotherapist to prepare for a needed surgery and saw him there. When she approached him, he remembered who she was, and they exchanged Instagram and Facebook accounts. For the next five years, they didn’t contact each other.
Once she was in Portugal, at age 21, he contacted her and told her he would be in France so that they would be close to each other. They never stopped talking from that point. And he started to send her Bible passages. She already had an opinion about the Bible that she would never read. She was okay with him sending the Bible passages, but to her, it was his belief, not hers. They had very strong arguments about the Word. As time passed, she continued practicing what she believed was right for her. But as her friend continued to send her Scripture references, she started to read the Bible herself. She began at Genesis but couldn’t continue for some reason she could not explain. But she noticed her behavior and mindset changing because of being exposed to the Gospel. She didn’t want to go to parties or drink anymore. But she was afraid of changing because no one in her life lived like a Christian except another friend who had been saved for a while. So, she continued to endure the experiences that she had been going through. Milla says, that’s when God started coming after her, putting things in her way and making her stop and think about her life's direction. In April 2021, she was in a car accident. A scooter hit the car that she was riding in. It slammed slightly behind her, a matter of centimeters from where she was sitting. She couldn’t feel one side of her body where the impact occurred. She later regained feeling but was terrified, realizing she could lose her life at any moment.
They had run out of food and water. They had no cell phone signal to call anyone.
Then, while visiting the Azores in May, she and her friends planned to go mountain climbing. A storm was approaching, a big one, but they were told that when they got above the clouds, above the storm (about a five-hour climb), the skies would be clear. It didn’t work out that way. As they climbed higher, she couldn’t see even one foot in front of her because of the fog, and the wind felt like she would get blown off the mountain. They couldn’t even set up a tent because the wind was too fierce. All they could do was look for some kind of shelter among the rocks. They finally found a tight fit among the rocks, placed the tent over them, and hoped the weather would clear. But because of the conditions, they were forced to spend the night on the mountain. They hoped, by the morning, that the weather would improve and they could climb down. They were freezing cold and soaking wet. But in the morning, there was still no visibility, and the wind was still too strong. They had run out of food and water. They had no cell phone signal to call anyone, but they had each been given a GPS tracker to press if they were in trouble. They all pressed their trackers. The rescue team would have to climb the mountain to reach them because the winds were too high for a helicopter rescue. Estimated time of the rescuers’ arrival? FIVE HOURS!!! They waited and waited. And waited. Five hours passed. No one showed up. They huddled for warmth. But their bodies had no heat to share.
Hope was fading, and one of her friends wanted to start the climb down by himself. Crazy! Having talked him out of it, they decided to wait another hour before considering that option. About a half-hour later, she heard a whistle!! They were saved! They started yelling. The whistle was not for them but for another group of experienced climbers that had decided to brave the mountain that day... But when Milla’s group started yelling, the guide heard them and found them. When the guide found them, she asked, “What are you doing here? Are you out of your mind? We have to go now!!” They had to leave everything there and start down. They gave them some food and water and hugged them to give them some warmth. They went down, Milla smiling all the way. This ordeal lasted 24 hours! One more night on the mountain would have ended badly.
Incredibly, the next month, Milla was in another car accident. Again, she was unhurt, but she began thinking third strike!! What is happening? She pondered all these things but kept working, studying, “doing her thing.” Later, she found out that her friend from preschool had been praying for her during these times. He also kept sending her more passages from the Bible. In July, he invited her to a Christian camp near Lisbon. She told him she had plans. It was the truth. She was a coordinator for a volunteer project (through the Catholic scouts) to Botswana that same week, so she had to go. Three days before departure, the Botswana project was postponed! The way was cleared for Milla to go to the Christian camp! She told her friend she could go after all. She asked him to explain a little bit about what the Christian camp was. It was hard for her to know the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism. She viewed Christianity through a Catholic lens. She always considered it to be like a Catholic mass, which was why she didn’t want it. But she went to the camp open. She considered the near-misses she had experienced and hoped God would speak to her there.
From the first message, she cried. She often found herself crying: in the messages, in the worship, and she was terrified. She was afraid because she knew something was happening but didn’t know what. She told her friend how she felt, and he told her just to keep going, and we could talk about what was happening together. On August 4, she heard another message, and afterward, there was a call to accept Jesus. Everyone’s head was bowed, and she wanted to go up. But she felt unworthy to go where Jesus was. He was so good and so perfect, and she was not. A battle was going on inside her, afraid to go up, yet afraid to stay put. But then she looked up and saw one of her cabin mates, Jessica, going forward to accept Christ. Milla somehow found the courage to go up. Even when she got to the front, she still felt she didn’t deserve to be there. Milla tells me her camp counselor Flavia told her it’s just because you think you don’t deserve it that you should be here. Milla said that’s when it all clicked for her. That’s why Jesus died for her. Because she wasn’t enough. But He was.
She says her transformation was immediate. Her fellow campers saw the difference in her, noticed the change, and voted her the most inspirational camper. She says now; she’s never been happier. Describing her life with Christ now, she said it could be summed up in two words: love and joy. She says her family still struggles, and it still hurts, but she trusts in God’s sovereignty and knows He’s got her and her family.
Describing her life with Christ now, she said it could be summed up in two words: love and joy.
An interesting aspect of this story: Milla says that from the time her friend from preschool came back into her life and started to share the Gospel to the time she gave her life to Christ, it was nine months! It was as if the seed of the Word grew in her, and after nine months, a new life came into the world! She was born again! Amazing!
She has since moved to Italy to finish her studies but continues to have joy and trust in her savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. She told me that she doesn’t know what she was thinking before or why she didn’t believe in Jesus, but she hopes that others can identify with her story and accept Jesus into their lives to experience the love and joy she has now.
Were you touched by reading this story? Would you like to get in touch with Milla and learn more from her experience with God?