A Day of Joy and Laughter

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”- Matt. 19:14Day of Fun and Laughter 2

We decided to take a risk. We wanted to take the children out for a day for an excursion.

We work in partnership with another mission called ABBA (not the band). ABBA has a half-way house for homeless children and teens that is due to reopen in early November. The house is different from most of the other houses. For starters, it does not look like an institution. It has a beautiful yard and swimming pool and the most important thing, it has a trampoline. The house is set up to operate as a family home. There is house mother working together with a team of missionaries. Our role is to help the children and teens who want to leave the street life to make the transition to this house. However, most of the children imagine a half-way house to have a prison-like environment. Before we could talk about leaving the street life, we needed to change their image of a half-way house. This was the purpose of the excursion. We were going to spend a day with them in this place. The risk was that we were not sure who would come and of course there is also a danger that those who actually go on this special excursion might be problematic and defiant.

We went early to the streets and most of them were sleeping. We managed to find some of the younger boys awake but these were the ones that were usually aggressive.  We decided to invite them anyway, secretly hoping that they would decline. To our surprise, they were keen on going with us. We set the ground rules first; no drugs of any kind and they need to be respectful. We loaded all five of them in the van and went away for a hour drive to the half-way house. On the way, we passed by the local international airport and immediately these young boys transformed before our very eyes from aggressive drug dealing street kids to children. It seems like God brought to us the very children that needed to go this place.

There were five boys from 10 to 15 years.  There was only one who was 15 and he is João, the very first boy we met in the streets (see post: First day, First Impressions). The rest were Jonas, Caesar, William and Gugu. William has always been a difficult boy in the streets. He always tried to provoke one of the missionaries and this missionary was the driver today. When we got to our location, they dashed out to the trampoline and everyone started going wild in a good way. They were laughing and playing. It was nice to see them behaving like children. I was going around exploring all the fruit trees and William asked me to help him pick some fruits. William got onto a swing and asked me to give a push but he wanted me to stay close. The boys asked if they could spend the night there. We told them that it was a home and not a hotel. They laughed but they understood. They understood that there was a decision to be made if they wanted to live here. Day of Fun and Laughter

The thing that touched me most was that these young children enjoyed our presence there and wanted to interact with us most of the time. For a moment, they had a glimpse  of what it means to be children in a family. William wanted the adult males to help get on and down from the trampoline even though he could easily do it without help. He wanted to have a father-like figure to help him. We were surprised how much we enjoyed being with these boys who would have been our last choice to take anyway. They were a joy to us this day.

At the end of the day, we explained to them what it means to live in this house. We told them that the reason we are in the streets daily is to help them see that it is God’s desire for them to grow up in a loving environment where they can be free to be children. When we asked them what they liked about the day, Caesar told us that it was a drug-free day and they were free to be children.

Our trip home was quiet because everyone was asleep. When we got to the red light district, William was the first to thank us and he hugged the missionary that he had always tried to provoke. Immediately after the children left the van, our friend the driver turned around and said that God surprised us.

It was miraculous day for us. We enjoyed ourselves and we enjoyed the children. We are happy that God gave us this special day. It is a day written in the pages of eternity. We pray for more days like this.

 

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Trying not to be a Pharisee in Cracolândia

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’- Luke 18:10-13

We go to “Cracolândia” once a week. I don’t think I can ever get used to this place. Each time I go there I am more aware of the filth and hopelessness that abounds there. I cannot get used to seeing people covered with dirt and completely oblivious to life. They hold to one thing that matters to them which is their tiny rocks of crack cocaine. Today, we met a young woman who had suffered a miscarriage and was bleeding as a result of this.  Yet she refused to go to the doctors because she wanted to smoke more crack. There was another young girl who had part of her intestine exposed from a previous surgery. She had lost the plastic bag that was protecting her intestine. She was in grave danger but she refused any help. She was too high to recognize her dangerous condition. People were sleeping where they went to the bathroom. No one in their right mind would want to be here. It seems like drugs have made them abandon their humanity. However, it was not just drugs, it was something else. Something had made them give up on everything. Something convinced them that they did not need anything but crack cocaine. Something made them give up their humanity. These are people who have lost something valuable and now they lose themselves in drugs. They don’t know if they can ever find their way back.

It is not hard to think that we will never be like these people. It is not hard to create a barrier between us and them. It is easy to understand why the Pharisee in the parable prayed like he did. The Pharisee was right about what he said of himself. He was different from the tax collector. We are different from the drug addicts. I think it is unrealistic to say that any one of us could be a drug addict in Cracolândia. Most of us are beyond that stage. It is more realistic to say that most of us could be like the Pharisee.

The reality is that we are better off than the people in Cracolândia. Well, let me say that I know that I am better off than the people who live there. If I wasn’t, then I should not be here. When we serve the poor or visit the prisoners or minister to the sick, we do it because we are better off than those to whom we minister. Maybe saying “better off” sounds arrogant and uncharitable; well, we could say that we have more than those whom we serve. This is the reality. It is not necessarily fair. There is no reason why I was given more in this life than those who lost in the midst of drugs and sickness. Some might say it is because sin and this is what the Pharisee would say. Even then there is unfairness in this; some people appear to suffer the consequences of sin more harshly than others. This is the brutal reality. Jesus reminds us of another aspect of reality which bears eternal consequences.

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”(Luke 12:48) 

The Pharisee was not wrong about the things he said of himself but his failure was that he thought that having much is synonymous with being superior. Being great in the Kingdom of God is being a servant of all. We who have been given much cannot become servants unless we understand that our God is Love. Then we know how to use the much that is given to us. Only then having more is a blessing because it becomes an opportunity to share God’s love to those who don’t have much.

Much is given to us so that we can show the mercy and love of God to those who have almost nothing. The tax collector needed mercy but the one who had much was so consumed in himself that he misunderstood his privileged position.

We only understand our blessed state when we bless those who have nothing in this life. 

Cracolândia is a disturbing place but for me, it is a place where everything I have transforms into wine. It is the place where the much that is given to me becomes a blessing to me, so that I can bring God’s hope and mercy to those who need it the most. This is a disturbing place but I am glad that I can be here. I am glad that God has given me the necessary tools to be here. Life makes sense for me here. I have been given much and now God wants me to use this to show His mercy and love to those who have nothing.

 

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Persistent Prayers

And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? – Luke 18:7

No matter what we think or say, we usually pray as if we are trying to convince God to do the right thing. He usually does and He does not need to be convinced.

Our prayers reveal more about ourselves than about God. They reveal how much we trust God. It is not uncommon to hear someone give up on their faith because God did not answer their prayers. Most of the time, these are not selfish prayers.

Our average week consists of speaking to children who are perfectly happy using drugs all the time. There is one boy in particular, Israel, whom the missionaries have never seen without a bottle of paint thinner. He has been using drugs for so long that he is having tremors. He is really a very sweet boy. We pray for him but nothing changes. He is getting worse daily. Unfortunately he is not the only one. Weekly there are more children joining their ranks. They use drugs to escape reality. We pray to help us deal with reality.

The parable of Jesus about the unrighteous judge and persistent widow is puzzling. It appears to say that our persistent prayers will eventually annoy God into action. However, we know that this is not true. We believe in a God who is constantly acting. He acts even before we pray. However, Jesus admonishes us to pray persistently. Persistent prayer does something.

The point of the parable is not that the judge gave up and did the will of the widow. It is about transformation. Prayer is not a means to manipulate God. Prayer is transformative even when the people involved are not willing to be transformed. When we pray things do not have to change but we have to change. God does not change but we change. We are transformed to understand things in His way even though we might not be willing to see things His way. Prayer opens our eyes and ears to see the Holy Spirit in action. The action of the Holy Spirit is a mystery and our sense of justice is insufficient to understand the mystery of the Holy Spirit. We need to pray to be transformed. We need to pray so that we can continue to trust in God whose mercy is never-ending.

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The Fall

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them– Gen. 1:27

I had a bad fall. I was playing volleyball with some of the teens in the streets and I was trying to hit a high ball when I realized that I was on the edge of a flight of concrete steps. I fell backwards and my back first hit the steps followed by my head. As I was falling it appeared as if everything was in slow motion. I saw the faces of all the teens filled with concern as they shouted out in fear as I fell. I wasn’t sure what was happening but I remembered thinking that these teens were genuinely concerned. Strangely, my back did not hurt and neither did my head but my wrist was hurting. I had used the palms of my hands instinctively to break the fall.  The teens begged me to sit down and rest. Some of them asked if I was hurt and they watched me intently. These teenagers are actually drug dealers. They have never really spoken to us before. For the first time they wanted us to play volleyball with them. These young people are what they call the hardened street teens. They put up a tough front to survive in their world. As I fell down the steps, they allowed their humanity to come forth.

As I sat there trying to figure out if I had broken my wrist, the children started approaching me. They wanted to play checkers with me. They did not want me to be alone. Apart from the fall, it was actually one of our best days working with these dear ones. My wrist did not swell up but it still hurt. I went home thinking about the faces of the teens. They were really children trapped in a world of drugs and violence. Inside each of them there is child who wants to love and be loved. They dropped their masks when there was an opportunity for them to show kindness and love.

The next day, my wrist stopped hurting and the missionaries were surprised that I did not hurt my back or head. I was grateful that I did not have to go to the hospital. As we went back to the same spot, the teens came up to us and greeted Mary with a kiss. The barrier has been overcome.  It seems like they knew that they can show their humanity with us. At least, we hope that we have a step together to discover God’s image in each other’s soul.

My wrist is fine. I am typing this posting with it.

 

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Our New Apartment

“And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”– Luke 9:58

We had been searching for an apartment for the past few weeks. We were beginning to feel a little lost without a home.  We were not homeless but we were without a home.

Our Living room

Our Living room

It has been an interesting few weeks; being without an address. People often ask us why don’t the homeless teens and adults try to get some form of employment. There is definitely no shortage of work but without an address, you are a nobody. We have been without a phone for the past weeks because we needed an address to get a telephone. We couldn’t complete all the necessary paperwork for our Brazilian identity because we did not have a permanent address. Having an address is part of becoming a somebody. You cannot get a job in this place if you are nobody. The problem with the homeless is not that they cannot get a job. They are nobodies until they have an address.

We finally got an apartment. It was not an easy task but we have a place of our own. It is a tiny one bedroom apartment. When you rent an apartment in São Paulo, it is completely empty. There are no stoves, no refrigerator, nothing. You have to buy everything. Rent is not cheap even in the red light district. No one earning the minimum salary can afford an apartment in the red light district. Unfortunately, most of the homeless can only hope for a job that pays the minimum salary.

Our Kitchen before any appliances.

Our Kitchen before any appliances.

Jesus was not homeless but he was without a home. He knew what it means not to be somebody in society. However, Jesus was a nobody in society but He changed the world. He invites us to be like him. He did not place his hopes what He possessed. He had treasures where moth and rust cannot destroy.

Now we have an apartment but we still to remember the words of Jesus. Our identity is not in where we live. We have a small apartment. It is spartan but it has everything we need. We live in the same building as our friends. We don’t all our furniture yet but there has been laughter and serious conversations in our house. Our living room is bare and empty but it is filled with conversations. I am glad that we live in a small apartment. I am glad that it took us long to find this place. It has become a special place for us. It reminds us that our Lord gave up even having a small place so that He could be a blessing. We want to use this tiny apartment to bless and be blessed by Him. By the way, we are still waiting for our internet. It might take a while but we have a home to wait for it.

 

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The Mustard Seed and Our Sense of Inadequacy

“If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, `Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, `Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'” -Luke 17:5-10

Sometimes I feel like I cannot do a good job unless everything is perfect. Unfortunately, in the real world, there is no such thing as the perfect situation. There are no moments in our lives where we can feel secure enough to know that nothing will go wrong. Something will always go wrong eventually. Faith is not an escape from reality: it is facing reality. It is knowing that what we do does not depend on the situation but on the One who transcends all situations and circumstances. Faith demands that we take a risk and trust the One who determines what is real in this world.

Faith is recognizing that we do not have what it takes to live in this world; I mean truly live in this world. Only Jesus truly lived life to the fullest in this world. He deliberately lived in an imperfect world to show us that abundant life was a living possibility. We don’t need a perfect world to live perfect lives. We just need faith and our faith only has to be the size of a mustard seed.

Our life here is far from perfect. Everyday we are confronted with a reality that seems to be overwhelming. I have encountered men and women who are in their thirties whom I met when they were in their early teens. They are still smoking crack in the streets. We meet new children coming to the streets. We are discovering that many of these children have no where to go except the streets. I just rented an apartment and downstairs where we live there is a group of homeless people who have been sleeping in the streets for so long that our neighbors consider them as permanent fixture in the neighborhood.  It is quite sad. Many of the missionaries have doubts about their capabilities. They doubt whether they have the resources to do anything significant. Most of us feel inadequate on a deeper level as well. We feel that we might not have what it takes to be God’s servants. We might not be worthy at all to serve in the red light district. Maybe we are right but it is okay.

The most comforting part of the gospel passage above is the second part. It seems strange that the harshest part of the gospel text is the most comforting. We are not the Master. We are just His servants. It is not our role to figure out whether we are adequate to complete the task before us. We don’t have what it takes to bring anything to completion. The Master does it. We are just His servants. Servants don’t wait for the perfect condition to serve but they just serve. We serve a Master whose essence is Love. Our joy lies in serving this loving Master. He is the one who takes our mustard seed faith and transforms it into something beautiful. We just have to remember that servants just serve the Master. We have what it takes to serve Him because He has given it to us. This is really comforting. It does not matter if we feel inadequate. It only matters that we serve Him despite our inadequacy. This is our identity and our joy.

How does this translate to our lives here? Well, yesterday we went to the streets without any games and activity material. One of the children asked us what we brought with us for fun and before we could say anything, Jonas, one of the younger boys came to our defense and said that we just brought love and that was enough.

We just have to serve our Master with what He has given us.

 

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