Meet Thiago Oliveira: From Brazil to the Berkshires, with a God-given opportunity
Accents: The voices of our immigrant neighbors in the Berkshires
The Brazilian community in the Berkshires used to be larger. Thiago Oliveira recalls 75 or 80 worshippers at Sunday services in the Assembly of God Brazilian church in Pittsfield. The 2008 financial crisis caused many of them to leave. Oliveira says, “They returned to Brazil or moved to larger cities in the United States.”
Oliveira became pastor of the congregation when church founders Marcelo de Santiago and his wife, Albertina, moved back to Sao Paulo.
Oliveira and his wife, Fabiana, also run F&T Cleaning Services.
“For Fabiana and Thiago,” he explains the business name. “She cleans houses and I do windows, power washing, I clean the gutters, anything.”
He does that in the afternoon.
Mornings, he opens up Guido’s Fresh Marketplace on South Street and works there in the produce department. But in the large storefront space at 55 McKay St. that houses his church, it becomes clear quickly that he sees his ministry as his most important job.
“I don’t do it for money,” he says about his pastoring. “It’s a very emotional thing, just to try to help anybody that I can help. I am very honored that God gave me this opportunity to do what I love.”
These days, about 25 people attend Sunday services in the church diagonally in back of the Beacon Cinema building. Simultaneous translation makes Oliveira’s sermons accessible to non-Portuguese speakers. A shiny red drum kit stands to the right of his lectern.
“We don’t have a drummer right now,” Oliveira, 33, says. “I’ve tried to play it, but it is very difficult.”
His aunt, Marcia, was one of the Brazilians who left the area. She was the reason that then 20-year-old Thiago came to Pittsfield in 2004. He had a good job in a print shop in Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s sixth largest city.
“But I end up hanging out with the wrong people,” he says. “I ended up in a position that I had to leave.”
Nothing really serious, he explains. Something with a motorcycle and an insurance issue. Marcia encouraged him to come to the Berkshires: “She told me, ‘Come over and try something different. If you like it, we can try to have you stay. If not you can always go back.’”
He arrived in December. His first impression wasn’t that good.
“All the trees, they looked like they were all dead,” he says. “In Brazil, the trees always have flowers and leaves. And then the darkness. It already got to be dark at 4 in the afternoon.”
In the Accents podcast on berkshireeagle.com, he describes the 2-by-3-foot sized room off of Tyler Street where he lived. His mattress blocked his dresser drawer from opening. A small TV on top of the radiator and a kitchen chair were his only other furnishings. He had no friends and he didn’t speak English. He cleaned a daycare center at night and worked at Dunkin Donuts in the morning.
He got depressed, but didn’t have money to go back home. He prayed and feels that God heard him. At first sitting shyly in the back row of the Brazilian church, he became more and more involved. He took English as a Second Language classes.
And then on a Tuesday morning, he met Fabiana.
“A friend of mine in Framingham was having a baby. So I went to visit him and I didn’t know it, but she was his cousin. And we started talking and we talked for eight months,” he remembers.
“And then she came to Pittsfield in April. The church was getting together a birthday surprise for me. I asked her if she wanted to be my girlfriend, and then we dated and we got married.
“That’s now nine years together. We have two children: Matheus is 5 and Davi is 2. And we’ve been happy since then,” the Rev. Thiago Oliveira says.
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