Once upon a Time in São Paulo

Many things have happened since my last entry. We got our missionary visa. This started a chain of events. We bought our plane tickets on the very same day.  We frantically stuffed all our worldly possessions into four bags. Suddenly we realized that there was a lot of things to do before we left. We were exhausted by the time we got onto the plane for São Paulo. We arrived here early Wednesday and were warmly received by two missionaries. It took us a while to get our temporary lodgings due to the heavy traffic. However, we did not mind it. This is our home now. We have been praying to be here for months and it has been in our minds to return to São Paulo for years. Pollution, traffic and crime is not going to bring us down. Still, it was sobering journey home. This is now our home. 

Everything seems familiar but at the same time different.

We need to reacquaint ourselves. It was a strange feeling that we are going to be novice in a ministry which we were once leaders. The children that we once knew in the streets would be in their thirties. The street culture has changed but the problems remain the same. The children are in the streets because they have given up hope. However, now they take solace in crack cocaine and violence. Our fellow missionaries tell us that it has become harder to build relationships with them because they are high on drugs most of the time and when they are off the effects of drugs, they are robbing or begging to get more money for their next fix.

We had a meeting with the missionary team. We are working in partnership with a missionary organization called Project 242. The mission is Brazilian but our team of six has only one Brazilian member. Four are from the States (including myself even though I am Singaporean/American) and one missionary is from Germany. Our challenge as a team is to find ways to build relationships with these children. Unfortunately it is the very thing that these children are running away from because they are afraid to love and be loved.

Some of the team members are going to focus on visiting teens who are in the local reformatory. Some are considering visiting those who are formerly from the streets and are able to return to their families in the slums. Mary and I have decided that we want to focus on working in the streets directly for one primary reason. We need to know the children in their context and the children need to know us. Most importantly, we want to discover what God is doing in the streets of São Paulo so that we can participate in His work.

The team has agreed to create sacred spaces in the areas where the children hang out and use drugs. We plan to do this by setting aside certain areas in the streets as a places of prayer before we start our activities with the children. We also would close our time in prayer in the same exact location. In this way, we are symbolically consecrating spaces that are usually associated with drugs and violence. Most importantly, it would help us to look at these places with different sets of eyes.

The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness. (Luke 11:34)

This is our first step as a new team. The team has been working together for years now without us but our presence has changed the dynamics of this ministry. Together we are starting a new ministry.

Monday will be our first day in the streets. I will share our first impressions with you. Please be praying with us.

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Waiting and Hoping…Hoping and Waiting

“I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait. And in His word I do hope. My soul waits for the Lord. More than those who watch for the morning-Yes, more than those who watch for the morning.”– Ps 130:5-6

This Friday is the big day. We are going to pick up our visa for Brazil in Miami. We have been waiting for this moment for eight months. The wait is almost over but not quite yet. We are still waiting. We are waiting in hope.

“Waiting means not having and having at the same time.”– Paul Tillich

When we walk in faith in our spiritual journey, much time is spent in waiting. I don’t believe that people can wait passively for God to work unless we are waiting for something that is not of concern to us. Most of us wait actively. We try to push things along for God. I thought I knew how God should work and tried to get things going in that direction. I wasn’t successful, obviously. However, it does not mean I am not going to do it in the future. Waiting actively is a struggle of knowing what to do and what is beyond my doing. I think this is part of learning how to wait. We need to come to the point where we realize that our efforts are limited and we don’t have the final word on how things should be. Waiting on the Lord is learning to trust that He is our only Hope.

Hoping and waiting are inseparable. Those who have lost hope do not wait for anything. Some people give up hope because they do not want to wait.

“We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21)

These were words of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. They had no longer a reason to wait because they had lost hope, so much so that they failed to recognize the resurrected Messiah walking with them.

Waiting helps us to watch and see what the Lord is doing. Waiting also destroys false ideas of God. Many people give up on God because they tire of waiting for God to act. I wanted God to act in a certain way these past few months. God did everything completely different. He did not follow my timetable. He did not do things according to the way I thought things should be done. God surprised me. He showed me that He was bigger than my imagination. He was bigger than my idea of God. Waiting is allowing God to be God. It is learning to trust God for who He is and not what He can or should do for us.

I cannot see Jesus in my life and in the lives of others if I do not wait for Him. Waiting helps us to look for God. I cannot preach the gospel effectively to the homeless if I do not know how to wait. Unfortunately, no one can be an expert in waiting. It gets tougher as we grow in our faith because the stakes eventually get higher.  St. Paul tells us of one thing that is sure, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ “(Phil. 1:6).

We do not wait for God to do what we think is best for us. We wait in hope that our Father is doing a good thing in our lives even when we fail to see it. We wait and trust that God knows the best for those whom He loves. This is our hope; now we have to wait and see this in action.

Please share your thoughts.

 

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The Power of Prayer in our Lives

I recently shared about my visa anxiety. Overwhelmed and discouraged, I was feeling afraid, doubtful about myself and even my vocation. I am sure that I am not alone in feeling this way in the midst of a trying situation. My mind was cluttered with worry, too cluttered for me to even think straight. Thankfully, there were people praying for me. Something powerful happens when people pray for us; so powerful that even an agnostic friend of mine admits that when religious people pray for him he senses their positive energy. I think this is his way of saying that the power of prayer is not just a psychological phenomenon, but it does affect our environment in a concrete way.

The gospels tell us that the people were often amazed that when Jesus taught for He spoke with authority unlike the religious leaders. The gospel of John tells that the people marveled at Jesus’ authority because they knew that it did not come from education like that of the scribes. The source of Jesus’ authority was not His knowledge. The disciples knew the source of this power and they went straight to the source when they asked Jesus to teach them to pray.

Prayer is God’s special powerful gift given to us. It is not be to used as an afterthought. It is our connection to God and each other. This connection helps us to say the right thing at the right time and maybe not to say anything at all at the right time. Most importantly, people who pray know how to speak authoritatively to the souls of those for whom they praying. This is why when my mind was cluttered with worries of every shape and form in regards to the visa, those who were praying for me were able to speak to my soul and remind me that my hope and vocation is not dependent on any thing but God. It is God who brings to completion the good work He has started in us. Only people who pray for us can speak authoritatively to our souls. They make biblical verses alive while those who cite verses without prayer are like clanging cymbals.

We cannot serve among the homeless children and adults in São Paulo without the spiritual participation of those who pray for us regularly. We are feeling hopeful and reminded of our joint vocation to serve God. It is a corporate effort that can only be fulfilled through prayer.

Thank you for your prayers. Your words brought much joy and peace to our hearts. We are still waiting on our visa. We trust that it will come in God’s perfect timing.

 

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Hospitality in the Favelas (Slums) of São Paulo

Francisca invited us into home immediately after meeting us for the first time. It was tiny shack that was overcrowded with stuff she salvaged from the trash from the streets. She had a worn out sofa that was covered with a blanket and it was best not to look what was beneath it. Personally, I was overwhelmed by her hospitality and openness to   receive us into her home. I knew that I was given the privilege to be part of this person’s private life. She called out all her children and she introduced her three daughters to us. The oldest was 16 years old and the youngest was about 11. They were all studying in the public school. These girls looked happy and their faces was open and friendly. Francisca was originally from the Northeast of Brazil which is the poorest part of Brazil. She came to São Paulo with her young children and learned to survive in this harsh reality. I got in touch with Francisca when I discovered this small favela community of 30 families hidden under a highway bridge. It was about 1/2 mile away from the red light district. Francisca was considered a spokesperson of the favela and I sought her out to find out if we could start some programs for the children there. While we were sitting in this tiny shack and I noticed that there were two huge TV sets. I finally broke down and asked her why she had two TV sets. She told me that one TV had only the audio and no image whereas the other one had the image but no audio. Together they had a complete TV. These are the kind of people that lived in the slums. Hospitable and resourceful and always open to receive people into their humble homes even though they did not have much to offer. This particular slum had its share of problems. There were some drug dealers and every now and then there were gun fights. Most of the people were like Francisca. They would get up early in the morning to look for useful and recyclable trash. They return late in the evening with their so-called treasures and exchange them for cash at the recycle center for enough cash to buy dinner and maybe a packet of cigarettes. In the evening they would do everything possible to be good parents. The children would do their part as well. The little ones as young as ten would shine shoes and the older girls would prepare food at home with whatever they could scrounge. I used to make pastoral visits in the evening and pray with them. I was amazed how much I learned from them. We had many special memories with the people in the slums. My favorite was watching the World Cup Soccer game at Francisca’s house with the two TV sets. The most special moment was when we had to leave Brazil abruptly for a few years. These people got some money together and bought me a Brazilian soccer jersey so that I would remember our time together. I could never forget them.

I found this documentary clip below on youtube that does a good job showing the favelas. However, the clip can only go so far. It cannot show the hospitality and openness of these people which prompted me to share about our experience with Francisca. The people who live in the slums are not saints and they are not sinners. They are people struggling to make sense of their lives in the midst of extreme violence and yet, through God’s grace, they do not harbor hatred and anger in their hearts. They consider themselves to be blessed because they can share what they have received.

The second clip is an interesting update report on the effects of the economic growth in the slums of Brazil.  It also shows the present challenges but most importantly, it reveals that even in the darkest places God raises up saints to be instruments of hope for the people.

 

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The Visa Process, the Sling and Mustard Seed.

It was about five years ago we returned from Brazil thinking that our time in missions was done. Our second missionary venture in Brazil was not a positive experience even though looking back now we can see many wonderful things that happened to us. However, it does not change the unpleasantness of the whole experience. The thing that made it unpleasant was the visa process. We were actually afraid to return to mission because of this. We always encounter some problems with our visa. Many times it was something beyond our control. There was always some paperwork that was lacking which no ones really knows about except for the bureaucrats. It was usually something trivial and they would treat it as if our visa application was completely dependent on it. This is the one thing that makes us nervous. We are not afraid about working in the red light district, even though it is reputed to be one of the most dangerous places in São Paulo. This does not bother us in the least bit, but we feel nervous and insecure when it comes to the visa application process. This is our Goliath. We wish we could find a David to do the battle for us. Unfortunately for us, we have to face him ourselves and God is only arming us with just a sling. I would rather go out with the full armor.

parable_of_the_mustard_seedWe are applying for a missionary visa that would be enable to stay and work in Brazil for two years and upon the second year, we can apply for permanent residence. This is our intention. This visa is only given to those who have a religious organization in Brazil to sponsor them. We have been waiting for all the necessary sponsorship documents which had taken longer than expected. Now, these documents are finally due to arrive this week. This means that sometime this week we will be heading out to Miami to apply for our visa. Even though we have all the necessary paperwork, it is still nerve-wracking. The scripture that keeps popping into my mind is Luke17:6

If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea.’ and it would obey you.”

I use mustard seeds a lot in my cooking. They are an essential ingredient in Indian food. I know that they are tiny and small but it still does not help me. It makes me doubt whether I have any faith at all. I usually handle doubts well until I need to step out in faith. I need to remind myself that I am going into a ministry where young people who are living in seemingly hopeless situations have to take the risk and trust God to face their Goliath. Their Goliath appears to be bigger than the bureaucrats that I need to face. David’s victory over Goliath set the pace for his vocation as the king of Israel. We need to face our Goliath, I need to face my Goliath. Our faith can only grow when we face him. I faced him before and even though our past experiences were unpleasant, God still carried us through them. It is not about success or failure but it is about taking the risk and garnering up our mustard seed faith to meet our fears. Please remember us in your prayers this week. God bless.

Please share your thoughts. They do encourage us.

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