By Judy Ryder
“Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” Isaiah 55:6,7
Life has not always been a bed of roses for Dr. John Amaral, a resident of Swansea, MA and the Pastor of New Destiny Christian Assembly (formerly Christian Assembly) in Seekonk, MA. Truthfully, far from it. In briefly reviewing a March, 2007 Good News Today article about him, we see that John, whose parents brought him and his five siblings from the Azores to Fall River in 1968, found the transition, at age 11, particularly difficult. Taking English as a second language, he ended up quitting school at age sixteen. Like many immigrants, he worked on a farm, then in a “sweat shop”. Soon he started hanging out with a tough crowd, becoming heavily involved with gangs, fighting, alcohol, and dealing drugs.
Around Christmastime in 1978, after daringly returning to a mall from which he had previously been ejected, John was approached by a young woman he had never met. She inquired what he knew about Christmas. After he cavalierly replied, “great things, eat, drink, and be merry”, she told him about another aspect of Christmas which he had never before considered: Jesus Christ and His love. John even agreed to pray the sinner’s prayer of repentance with her, yet distinctly remembers the next six months of his life were worse than ever as he continued his downward spiral, not yielding to the seed of Truth which had been planted in his heart. No matter how often he repeated the sinner’s prayer, “thousands” of times, he claims, nothing changed – – not yet…
However, soon after John’s experience at the mall, his father eventually repented of his own sins, asked for forgiveness, and invited Jesus into his heart. Promptly, alcohol and cigarettes were removed from their home, and John began regularly attending the Luso Pentecostal Church in Fall River with his father, whom he affectionately refers to as “my hero”. It was there that John accepted Jesus into his heart in March, 1979. But John still continued to struggle with his addiction, doggedly but unsuccessfully trying to kick the drug habit, until one September day while walking alone on the beach, he gave up on his own efforts and cried out in desperation to the Lord for help. Instantly something “clicked” inside of him, and at that very moment he was set free.
Since then, many good things have happened to John. First and foremost, he married Connie, the love of his life who has been a great joy to him, walking beside him for 36 years. Their two beloved daughters, Regina and Kristal, ages 34 and 29, have brought them immeasurable happiness in addition to producing (Regina) two fine young grandsons and (Kristal) a third grandson expected in a few months. Also, a sergeant from the Fall River Police Department whom he’d met through the Police Athletic League (PAL), became his mentor and introduced him to a coach, Dennis Amaral (no relation), who got him interested in hockey. John became a coach for the Hockey Little League.
For the past 33 years, Pastor Amaral has continued to acquire higher education in addition to pastoring. In 1982 he graduated from East Texas Bible College (Tyler, TX) with a ministerial major, after which he returned to MA and started a tent ministry with evangelistic meetings on Aquidneck Island, Fall River, and Providence. During his first tent meeting he met a passer-by, Pastor Anthony Saraiva, of Christian Life Fellowship in Rehoboth. Over the years John became impressed with Saraiva’s spiritual convictions and passion for winning souls to Christ, and the two established a meaningful, long-lasting relationship. When John’s pastor at Luso Pentecostal started a church in Brazil, he sent John to pastor it. Connie joined him six months later and they stayed for 2½ years until, in 1987, John was called to pastor a Portuguese congregation, Christian Assembly, in Seekonk, MA. Ten years later they had already built a much larger brick building and expanded their ministry from being strictly a Portuguese assembly to including services and Bible studies conducted in English. The church has done mission work in Brazil, Haiti, Mexico, the Azores, and India, as well as established local churches in surrounding cities and states, preparing ministers, and ordaining workers.
In 1991, John earned a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Counseling, and in 1995 a degree in Christian Counseling Psychology, both from Independence Bible College and Seminary in Independence, MO; he is certified with the American Association of Christian Counselors. In 2007, he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from Omega Bible Institute and Seminary (Monroe, LA). In 2008 he graduated with a Doctor of Divinity from the N. C. College of Divinity (Wilmington, NC). Although afflicted from childhood with both ADD and ADHD, John claims that neither has ever been a handicap for him; his ongoing successful educational pursuits would seem to provide proof positive. He explains that if one knows he has a slight learning disability, he can be weak in one area, and strong in another. He makes no excuses for any of his disabilities, but has discovered what he’s good at and can do. He enjoys learning, relates well to people, and attempts to live for Someone greater than himself: the Lord Jesus Christ. He believes in accepting the destiny God has given him, and riding that talent to the point of exhaustion, at which time he says God will give us more. He identifies two specific gifts he has received from the Lord: (1) the ability to help people who think they are no good, build them up, and be their cheerleader and (2) the ability to speak in public. In his past life, his mind “cooked” with drugs, he couldn’t even think straight, but now that ability has been restored.
Pastor Amaral serves in many capacities. He does TV outreach through RI Interconnect with programs running Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:00 to 3:00 and 10:00 to 11:00 p. m. But probably his favorite calling is working as a Chaplain. In 2007 the Rehoboth Fire Department appointed him Chaplain on the recommendation of his long-time friend, Pastor Saraiva, recently retired from that position. A year later he was asked to be Chaplain for the Rehoboth Police Department. He also serves as Chaplain for Rehoboth Ambulance, and as the State Chaplain for the State lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police. In addition, he serves with the Seekonk Fire Department and the MA Corps of Fire Chaplains who work with the Fire Marshal to be trained in Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM).
Chaplains learn to be First Responders or Crisis Responders 24/7, plus attend briefings and the annual Police Memorials at the MA State House. Whenever Pastor Amaral hears his code on the emergency radio, he answers by responding to the scene in his emergency vehicle. Covering both fires and accidents, he works closely with the Red Cross to help provide lodging, water, and food to victims. He lauds the Red Cross for the excellent job they do, even giving two to three days of shelter in a hotel and up to $1,000 on a prepaid credit card which helps get people through a crisis. Among his duties are comforting those who lose homes and pets; he has even conducted funerals for pets. He says during times of crisis, he has a good opportunity to introduce people to the Lord. He calls Chaplainry “the ministry of presence”. He also teaches about chaplainry at CCRI’s four campuses.
Pastor Amaral has found a true calling in Chaplainry. Over five years ago he founded the International Christian Chaplains Association which now has over 10,000 members worldwide. There are chaplains in Kenya, El Salvador, Columbia, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Brazil, and now chapters and deputy chiefs in Nigeria, where they are building a clinic. Training is organized so that lay people, tapped by pastors in various churches, take 32-hour courses to become Community Chaplains. Speaking Portuguese in two dialects, Brazilian and Azorean, as well as some Spanish, has been helpful for Pastor Amaral in training pastors, who then train their laymen. Frequent travels put him in an ideal position to oversee this work. This November, Pastor Amaral will attend a graduation in Brazil for some chaplains now being trained. The Lord also opened the door for him to work with military police and fire departments overseas.
In the United States, there are Chaplains in CT, PA, MA, Washington, D. C., Jacksonville, and Holspin, AL where the Director is a Commander from the Marines who is training many lay people to be Chaplains; FEMA trains the Chaplains how to respond to crises. In AL, 60% of all the Chaplains are veterans who work in jails, hospitals, and with Hospice. Pastor Amaral prepared for this work by attending the Fire Academy in Stowe, MA. Since then, he has trained many retirees to be Chaplains. When a retired Fire Chief of Rehoboth suggested that Pastor Amaral prepare some lay people to respond to crises, he began by training forty Chaplains. Others heard about it, and now there are 1,000 Chaplains in MA alone, all of whom belong to the International Christian Chaplains Association he founded.
Not surprisingly, a man with this kind of zeal has received his share of recognition. On June 5, 2012 the Prime Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Portuguese Ambassador to the U. S. presented the Heritage Award to Pastor Amaral for his work in humanitarian aid. Given by the Portuguese Heritage Society to someone born in Portugal and residing in the U. S., the award was bestowed at the recommendation of Rep. Steven Howitt, from the 4th Bristol District of MA, on “Chaplain J. Amaral Portuguese Heritage Day” at the MA State House.
Meanwhile, Pastor Amaral says he spends about 70 – 80% of his time pastoring his church, which numbers from 60 to 80 these days, with 7 in ministerial positions. His goal is eventually to work himself out of a job by “influencing the influencers”, teaching, and discipling. There is more healing yet to take place due to a hurtful division a couple of years ago, resulting from a young man parting ways and starting another congregation in RI. At that time, the church changed its name to New Destiny Christian Assembly. Located at 1494 Fall River Avenue, in Seekonk, MA, meetings are on Sundays at 10:00 a. m. for Portuguese Bible Study, and 10:45 a. m. for Praise and Worship in the English language. On Wednesdays at 7:00 p. m. there is adult Prayer and Bible Study in English, Kids Service, and BEYOND Youth Service.
Currently, the church is looking forward to its annual Harvest Festival featuring delicious Portuguese food, games, and many activities. It will be held Saturday, October 8 from noon until dark on the church grounds. An outreach to the local community for the purpose of sharing Christ’s love, the Festival attracts local churches which provide various kinds of live music. Cultural Portuguese dancing, face painting, hay rides, a jump house, dunk tank, pumpkin patch, and much more will be available. Mouthwatering Portuguese specialties will be served, such as Malassadas (sugary, puffy, pillowy, deep-fried dough balls), Bacahau (salt cod fritters), and sausage and peppers, the usual hot dogs, hamburgers, and much more – whatever the Master Chefs concoct, with changes every year.
Pastor Amaral likes to brag on what God has done and, in looking back, thinks it is nothing short of amazing how he can possibly be where he now is, given where he once was. He feels grateful and blessed to be one of God’s “chosen (and weird)” people! Pastor Amaral ended the phone interview, (necessitated by an imminent trip to Haiti, taking five teens from his church, in hopes of sparking in them a desire to be missionaries), by contemplating: “As Mother Teresa said about herself, when I meet the Lord and the Lord ‘opens me up’, I want there to be nothing left – I want to have given my totality to the Lord.”
“Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I, send me.” Isaiah 6:8