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From future priest to agnostic to Assembly of God pastor

From the time the Rev. Eugenio Piacentini was 6 years old in his native Brazil, he planned to grow up and become a Catholic priest. Then came adolescence.

"In my teenage years, I became very agnostic," he said. "I pulled myself out of church."

But when he was 17, "I had this terrible headache, which almost killed me. I started to cry out to God. I made a deal with God: If you heal me, I'm going to read the Bible for the first time."

He lived, and he kept his part of the bargain.

"When I started to read the Bible, I started with the Gospel of Matthew. The Word just became alive to me. I saw the presence of Jesus in my room saying the Sermon of the Mount to me. After I had that experience, I had this sensation — Jesus said to me, 'I want you for my church.'"

Piacentini, 43, said he started attending a Catholic church again.

"Then one night, I went to the Assembly of God church," he said. "It was so alive. I said, if it is so alive, this is where Jesus must be. So I committed my life to Christ."

It's also where he met his wife, a missionary to Bolivia.

"She helped me grow in the Lord," he said.

Here's more information:

Family: Born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, with parents and one younger brother. His father was a manufacturing supervisor for Ford's electronic ignition system there. He came to the United States at age 26 to volunteer as an assistant pastor and to teach theology at a small church in San Jose.

His wife, Odete, is 53 and the assistant pastor at the church. His two daughters are Priscilla, 21, and Deborah, 13.

Education: Bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Guarulhos in Sao Paulo. Master's degree in engineering and a seminary degree in theology, both from Sao Paulo. Master's of divinity degree in theology in 2006 from Fuller's Theological Seminary in Pasadena.

Career: Engineer for about 15 years with a firm in Livermore. Has his own company, EPC Consultants in Salida, and works as a sales representative to sell goods and services to South America. Started church in Gustine in 1993 with seven other people. Bought property, once an old school and more recently a church, in Hilmar in 1995.

Future: "I'd like to be a seminary professor. I'm going to start my (doctorate) in fall 2008 at Fuller. I'll go down to Pasadena (weekdays) and take care of the church on weekends. I'd like to teach New Testament (with a) focus on the Gospel of John."

Greatest challenge: "To manage your time. Also, to reach people for Christ."

Greatest passion: "Love people. That's what I love the most — work with people and help them."

Personality: "I am outgoing. I am persistent. I am a funny guy. I think I can say I am very smart, too."

Spare time: "I like to play chess. I am affiliated with the U.S. Chess Federation. I won some tournaments in Los Angeles. I also like to fly. I am a private pilot (and can fly a) Cherokee Piper and Cessna."

"Leading the Way" runs twice a month and profiles faith leaders — ordained and lay — in our community. To suggest someone, send the name and contact information to Sue Nowicki, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352-5256 or e-mail snowicki@modbee.com.

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