Moments captured in Rio das Pedras, our pousada, Barra beach, Complexo do Alemão, Jardim Gramacho, Cristo Redentor, and Vista Chinesa. To see more photographs, visit flickr.
There are many things I could say, but I will distill the week into two stories that remain vivid in my mind. (Bg: for those seeing/hearing this for the first time, I was one among eleven people from Downtown Cornerstone Church that traveled to Rio de Janeiro last month to partner with Restore Brazil in relief and mission work.)
On one of our first evenings, we journeyed across the city to a men’s homeless shelter situated in a neighborhood well known for its trans prostitution activity. Upon entering the shelter, at least 20 men were seated waiting for us. As we were setting up our sound equipment for a short service of testimonies and worship, I looked at each of their faces. I felt small, insignificant, and very much out of my element. We did not speak the same language and our eyes had witnessed very different worlds. And yet our hearts were the same. There was one man I noticed from the start. He was rail thin, a bit older, and very reserved, almost wary. His eyebrows were painted, his face covered in piercings. I’ll call him “S” because I did not catch his name. Sergio, the pastor of a modest Presbyterian church we had been working with in Rio das Pedras led the evening in song, in truth, in testimony. At one point he asked the men who they thought God was. Among others, “S” raised his hand to speak one word, esperança. Hope. My heart leapt. Yes, God is hope itself. This man knew it, undoubtedly better than I did, and it was beautiful to hear. We sang a few songs and two men from our team shared their stories of redemption. When Sergio began to speak again he was passionate and pleading, his message was love and hope, preaching the immense power of Christ’s sacrifice to save and redeem each and every life. 12 men knelt to give up their lives to Christ and one of them was “S”. Over the course of the night I had watched him slowly melt, not in defeat, but in a sweet desperation for the love of God that had already marked him for eternity. He was moved by his Savior. Our team was asked to go and pray with these men. We prayed in English, it didn’t matter. God hears all. Tyler and I both made our way to “S”, having been moved with the same heart for him. We knelt and cried with him and prayed peace, freedom, and hope over him. And we began to sing together. This was one of those moments where the kingdom becomes so real, so crazy and so powerful. He confessed to us afterward in earnest that he wanted to be rid of all pride and vanity in his life.
Later in the week, we visited an area called Crackland. It is just what it sounds like. Stretched along a set of live rail road tracks, this community goes on for miles and is home to many homeless and many more living in ramshackle structures built out of scrap wood and metal. These people are addicted to crack which is quite easy to get in Brazil. We joined a group called Hugs Therapy who does this weekly. They go where no one else would dare and hand out food and water, praying for the people, singing with them and informing anyone who will listen about their rehabilitation center and resources. So we entered through a hole in a cement wall, singing. It felt strange and yet the music settled over us and those listening a kind of other-worldly peace. Who just walks around singing like that and in such dangerous and hopeless places? God’s people do. I tell this story not to highlight the amazing work we were doing, or to condemn the dark brokenness we encountered but to show you what God is doing there. Yes, He was already there. He did not condemn, shame, or sweep up the place. His work was seemingly small and persistent, yet it was a powerful wooing of wretched people who had chosen death for themselves. This is always the story, with every people. And He was doing this through those sweet singing saints in yellow t-shirts, administering hugs with wide smiles, waking them up with a joyful announcement of food and water, singing and praying loudly over them, wiping away tears and telling of a deeper Hope. Esperança. They were fearless and indiscriminate in their affection. Their leader at one point had gathered us before approaching a crowd of 100 people to encourage us. Perhaps he could sense our despair and feelings of smallness. He said this, “When God proclaimed at the beginning of time, ‘Let there be light’, He had in mind this moment. He has already ordained it, that all of us would be here doing His work.” The clouds broke on us then and sun rays came streaming down on that place. I may never know what kind of an impact we made but I know this, my God’s work there is in motion and will not be thwarted. What hope and freedom to know it is God alone who moves hearts and changes lives in the end. And yet He ignites His light in us and asks that we be His hands among those He is seeking to save from destitution and from themselves.
What I have gained from these experiences is not radical fearlessness, strength, or greater motivation to do and be more to all people. I am still a sinner, weak and fearful, self-centered and self-conscious. But I have gained a greater awe for my King, a deeper hope—the lasting kind—in what He alone can do. And I have seen the power of prayer. He listens. To all things, to all people. God loves and delights to move through the prayers of His people. I didn’t know that I had become cynical in this way. Friends, do not be cynical about anything concerning God. He never fails and it does not matter if you see anything that He is doing. Rest on His promises that will never be broken. Rest on His strength that will never fail you.
If you’re interested to see or read more, we kept up a facebook page and an Instagram feed while we were there. But as always, you can also ask me. There is so much more to tell, and even more still to be done there and here and everywhere.