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Juliana Santos Ferreira, 12, with her mother, Maria de Fatima Daumerie Santos. (Andrew McChesney / Adventist Mission)

Brazilian Girl Gives Up Birthday Cake to Feed Homeless

“I thank God for Juliana,” Mother said. “I don’t deserve a daughter with such a good heart.”

By Andrew McChesney,

Mother didn’t expect her daughter, Juliana Santos Ferreira, to refuse a cake for her 11th birthday.

“I want to bake you a chocolate cake,” Mother said a few days before Juliana’s birthday on a Friday.

“No, thank you,” Juliana said.

Mother looked surprised.

“Why not?” she said.

“I want to feed the homeless people rather than have a cake,” Juliana said. “Let’s make soup for the homeless.”

Juliana had seen a crowd of homeless people sleeping at the bus stop when she and Mother had gone out, and she could not get them out of her mind.

Mother thought it would be dangerous to go to the homeless and wanted her to forget it.

“It’s too difficult and too much work,” she said. “It would cost too much money for the ingredients. We also don’t have a big pot to cook so much soup.”

Juliana was not discouraged.

“I want to give soup to the homeless,” she said. “This is the work of God.”

Juliana had learned about God at a Seventh-day Adventist church in Salvador, Brazil. She first went to church because she wanted to join its Pathfinders club. She had seen a neighborhood friend wearing the Pathfinder uniform, and she wanted to be a Pathfinder, too. Then she gave her heart to Jesus and was baptized.

Mother was glad that Juliana loved God, but she wasn’t interested in going to church with her.

Determined Daughter

After Mother said she couldn’t cook soup without a big pot, Juliana decided to take matters into her own hands. Without Mother knowing, she visited the homes of several Seventh-day Adventist neighbors and asked whether they had a big pot that she could borrow to cook soup for the homeless. Two neighbors gave her big pots, and she brought them home on Tuesday, three days before her birthday.

But she still didn’t have the ingredients for the soup. The matter seemed hopeless, so Juliana prayed on Tuesday night, “God, please give me wisdom and touch Mother’s heart to allow me to make soup for the homeless.”

The next day, Juliana gingerly asked Mother again whether she could make soup for the homeless.

Mother replied angrily, “Go to the grocery store and ask for them to donate food for the soup because I’m not going to spend any money on this!”

Mother secretly hoped that Juliana would be too shy to go to the store.

But Juliana merrily skipped to the neighborhood store, praying along the way, “Thank you, God, for answering my prayer!”

At the store, she asked, “Excuse me, good afternoon. Is the store manager here?”

Someone called for the manager.

“Good afternoon,” Juliana told him. “Could you help me by donating some vegetables? I want to make soup for the homeless.”

“Sure,” the manager said. “Come back tomorrow.”

Juliana went to several other stores, and the managers also told her to return the next day. She also visited the Adventist neighbors again, and they promised to bring over some vegetables.

Story continues below

Juliana Santos Ferreira, 12, tells why she didn’t want a birthday cake. In English and Portuguese. (Andrew McChesney / Adventist Mission)

Surprise for Mother

On Thursday, the day before Juliana’s birthday, she stopped at the first grocery store after school and received a huge bag of vegetables. The other stores also gave her food, and then the Adventist neighbors began knocking on her door with donations of food — and clothing for the homeless.

Mother was shocked as she saw the bags of onions, chili peppers, potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, corn, spices, and other ingredients for soup.

“What’s happening here?” she asked.

“These are the ingredients for the soup that you are going to make!” Juliana declared happily, and she showed Mother the two big pots that she had borrowed.

Mother was amazed at Juliana’s determination to help the homeless, and she had to admit that she didn’t actually know how to make soup. When several Adventist women realized this, they came over to help make the soup on Friday morning.

On Friday evening, Juliana put on her Pathfinder uniform, and she and her friends loaded the two big pots of soup into one car and the donated clothing into another car. Arriving at the bus stop, someone announced, “Today is Juliana’s birthday, and she has made soup and brought clothing as a gift for you!”

The homeless people were delighted. They formed a circle around Juliana and, clapping, sang “Happy Birthday” to her. Juliana was embarrassed but smiled happily.

Afterward, they still had a lot of soup and clothing, so they drove around the city and stopped whenever they saw homeless people. Four hours later, they finally ran out of soup and clothing.

A Changed Heart

Mother was so impressed with Juliana’s kindness and generosity. She felt ashamed that she hadn’t wanted to help the homeless. She realized that Juliana was filled with the love of God — and she wanted to be filled with God’s love, too.

Without Juliana knowing, Mother began to take Bible studies.

Two months after Juliana’s birthday, Juliana was in church one Sabbath when the pastor announced that several people would be baptized. Then Mother descended into the baptismal tank. Juliana couldn’t believe her eyes, and she began to cry with joy.

Mother said she decided to give her heart to Jesus because of Juliana’s example.

I was baptized because of the determination of my daughter to be an Adventist and to be faithful to God,” said Mother, 43, whose full name is Maria de Fatima Daumerie Santos.

Today, Juliana and Mother and several other church members go out twice a month to feed the homeless. Juliana still collects food donations from grocery stores, and she has received donations from all over Brazil after posting videos about her work on YouTube and Facebook. She calls her outreach project, “Love Your Neighbor.”

She also is trying to find other ways to help others. She hasn’t cut her hair in seven years, since she was 5, and she is planning to cut it to provide hair for children who have lost their hair because of cancer. She also distributes tracts about Jesus on the street and, as a treat for neighborhood children, she collected donations of candy and toys and threw a big party for them. She and her mother dressed as clowns for the party.

“I thank God for Juliana because I don’t deserve her,” Mother said. “I don’t deserve a daughter with such a good heart.”

Maria de Fatima Daumerie Santos says her life changed because of her daughter’s actions. In English and Portuguese. (Andrew McChesney / Adventist Mission)

Part of this quarter’s Thirteenth Sabbath Offering will help open a community center in Salvador, Brazil, where people can take Bible studies and healthy cooking classes. Thank you for your mission offerings.

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