In the Face of Doubt

Vinny Paiva was a good kid with a good life. Known as “Brazilian Thunder” to his friends on his soccer team, Vinny was a star on the field. Vinny was a popular high school student, but stayed away from the party scene. He always had a girl on his arm and a smile on his face.

Vinny’s life was full — not only full of success, but deep down, full of questions and doubt. Despite all his achievements, there was one thing he didn’t have and wasn’t sure he wanted: a relationship with Jesus.

But God was working and used faithful WyldLife, Young Life, and Young Life College leaders to help Vinny finally gain what he’d been missing all along.

How the journey began

Vinny was in seventh-grade in 2003 when he moved from Florida to Lexington, Ky. A friend invited him to WyldLife club and Vinny said he “immediately fell in love.”

Vinny loved WyldLife so much, he continued on to Young Life in high school. The people he met made an impact, but God was about as real to him as the man in the moon.

His freshman year, Vinny met Micah Poston — a volunteer leader for Lafayette High School — and John Bunch. John and Vinny were teammates, but off the field their lives went in different directions.

“I was wild, and he was laid back,” John admitted. “I think Vinny went to Young Life more than I did. We didn’t hang out outside of soccer. We had different groups of friends.”

Poston remembers meeting Vinny at club one night. He and his girlfriend came nearly every week. Poston developed a friendship with Vinny, but says it was superficial.

“I always suspected Vinny needed Jesus, but I saw a kind-hearted, fun-loving kid who didn’t have a whole lot of walls built up,” Poston recalled. “Some kids you really have to fight to get to know, and they always have a scowl on their face. Vinny was not like that. He was always smiling.”

Vinny’s junior year was a turning point, Poston said. Vinny signed up for a weekend camp, and that’s when Poston first saw something stir inside him.

“I saw the Holy Spirit working on Vinny during that camp,” Poston said. “After that, he would come over to our house or sit in my office and we’d talk about the Gospel. He was filling up his life with soccer, but he was starting to see if he blew his knee, everything he was investing his life in was down the toilet.

“Vinny’s always been very honest. He’s a good critical thinker, but also able to open up and admit, ‘I don’t get this.’ I remember thinking several times, ‘Vinny is about to grasp it,’ but it never happened.”

Vinny says he was curious about spiritual things, but didn’t want to be a hypocrite.

“I believed there was a God, but everything else was up in the air,” Vinny said. “I’d debate with my friends and ask them to prove it to me. I didn’t want to be the kid who came back from camp and said one thing and did something else. I needed a concrete reason to believe or I knew I wouldn’t stick with it.”

One step ahead

While Vinny waded through his doubts, God stayed one step ahead of him. The summer before Vinny attended the weekend camp, John, his teammate, signed up for a week at Rockbridge (Young Life’s camp in Virginia). There, he accepted Christ as his Savior, and his life radically changed.

John’s new lifestyle attracted the “good kid” that Vinny tried to be. The pair started hanging out more. After graduation, they both headed to the University of Kentucky and decided to room together.

“Vinny knew me before I was a Christian, and he knew what I was about coming in to rooming with me,” John said. “I wasn’t going to go in and not talk about the Gospel. That’s just not my personality. But I would do it in a gentle way.”

John jumped into Young Life College and became a volunteer leader at Bryan Station High School. At night, while studying or playing video games, the roommates’ conversation would turn from soccer and girls to God.

“Vinny always started the conversation, and it always led back to faith,” he said. “I was just making sure we built our relationship and got to know each other well. All of it led to deeper purposes. God was definitely working.”

Doubt dissolves

John didn’t want to pressure his friend into “religion,” but decided to take a chance and invite Vinny to his Young Life College Bible study.

“I really went just to hang out with those guys,” Vinny said. “I remember them being so happy. It was the one thing they had in common. I knew supposedly why, but I didn’t believe it.”

That night, the group studied John 3 and 4: Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman. Vinny said the community he saw in Young Life College coupled with the grace of God he read about in Scripture finally overwhelmed him.

“Nicodemus had to look at Christ before he would believe,” Vinny explained. “I realized I didn’t need to put God in a position to have to step out and show me a miracle for me to believe. I have a great life; everything about it is really easy. The only thing I really had was doubts.”

When they got back home, during their late-night conversation, Vinny told John he’d accepted Christ.

“I don’t know what that means,” Vinny told him, “but I’m going to try to find out.”

No ordinary faith

For six months, Vinny met weekly with Marshall Wilmhoff, director of Young Life College for the University of Kentucky, where his skepticism turned into a passion for learning about God.

Wilmhoff said Vinny’s story illustrates the importance of Young Life leaders staying faithful while letting the Holy Spirit work.

“This is a classic case of loving kids whatever their response,” Wilmhoff said. “I don’t think Micah (Vinny’s leader in high school) spent dozens of hours with Vinny; I think he was just loving and faithful to pray for him.

“This story shows the value of college-age leaders loving their friends on campus, but I also think it couldn’t happen without the Holy Spirit breaking into his life through the power of God’s Word.”

Last spring, Vinny went through leadership training and, in June, he took a cabin of high school guys to Castaway (Young Life’s camp in Minnesota).

He calls his conversion “ordinary” compared to his roommate’s radical transformation. But John knows Vinny’s story has a power all its own.

“There are tons of kids who find themselves at rock bottom, where they have to reach up,” John said. “But so many people are just on the fence, trying to figure it out.

“People need to hear that Vinny was just another person on earth, seeking purpose for his life, and he found it in Jesus. A dramatic story doesn’t make you any more of a Christian than anybody else. Some of the disciples were just fishermen. They weren’t doing anybody harm; they were just fishing. But they changed the entire world.”

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