The Riddle of Saudade

Saudade” is a Portuguese word that has intrigued most non-native Portuguese speakers. It is an untranslatable word and every attempt in translating seems to dilute the wealth of its meaning.  A superficial translation tries to convey the noun for the verb, to miss someone. However, it goes deeper than just missing someone. When someone says that they have “saudades”, they are saying that they are sensing a void in their souls that only the person or persons can fill. “Saudade” is facing the reality that our lives are incomplete without the person or person or even a certain situation like freedom. Brazilian history records instances where slaves just died from having “saudades”. “Saudade” is a strong experience that cannot be limited to an mere emotional or rational experience. It is a holistically human experience.

There is a reason why I mention this cultural phenomenon in my post today. It explains the riddle of the missing children. One of the missionaries told us that every year during the Christmas period, the children and teens disappear from the streets. Most of them return to their homes even though it might not be the best place for them. A young teenager who is in the juvenile detention center told us that he wants to sleep through Christmas day so that he would not have “saudades”. He comes from an extremely dysfunctional family of drug dealers who have no qualms sending an eight year old child to deliver drugs. It is hard to imagine that his family is gathering around Christmas tree exchanging presents and singing carols. Saudade is not creating an illusion. In fact, it does not necessarily have to be a recollection of a memory. It is a realization that something is missing. It is a reality that forces them to face the emptiness in their souls.

Many of the children battle with this emptiness. They go home hoping that their sense of emptiness might be filled. However, in the month of January, the population of the homeless children and teens increases drastically. The children go home and realize that it was their lack of family ties that drove them to the streets in the first place. Every year, the children undergo this internal battle between two harsh realities; the reality of the emptiness in their souls and their reality of their home life. Every year the children return to the streets disappointed. Those who do not go home at all during Christmas are the ones who have given up completely and just struggle with their “saudades” quietly.

“Saudade” is a beautiful word. It is a really blessing to have “saudades”. It reminds us of life. These children and teens ran away from their homes because they want to turn their backs on life. The sense of “saudade” humanizes them and reminds them that they cannot escape from love. It is the longing for love. It makes us seek for Love. It is a testimony of the Holy Spirit working within the cultural context to bring the awareness what our ancient Church Father, St Augustine, expressed aptly in the Confession:

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” 

I hope that everyone has had a Blessed Thanksgiving and our hearts are filled with saudades for our friends and families. God bless.

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Too Young to be Homeless

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”-Matthew 19:14

A couple days ago we met a girl whom we thought was the youngest homeless child we met so far until we met her mother nursing her three week old twin baby sisters. The young girl’s name is Jennifer and she is five years old.

It is impossible not be impressed with Jennifer. She is such a beautiful and lively child who is extremely extroverted. She engaged with us immediately and wanted to show us some tricks she learned using the pole of street sign. Unfortunately she was showing us what appears to be pole dancing. I chose not to be distracted by this disturbing aspect but instead I focused my attention on this child. It was amazing to see the joy and innocence of this child despite her circumstances and influences.

Jennifer wanted to play checkers with me. She had no idea how to play the game and not much aptitude for the game. However, she wanted the attention. We then decided to play a game that would involve everyone and Uno was suggested by Jonas, another homeless boy whom I have written about in my previous postings. We were quite surprised that Jennifer was able to play without any help and she even knew how to lose gracefully. She was definitely an extremely intelligent for a five year old.

Throughout our time with Jennifer, our hearts fluctuated between the joy of knowing such a wonderful girl and the sadness of her reality. At the end of our time together, Jennifer wanted to kiss us on the cheeks and thank us for our time together. We approached her mother to chat with her but she was rather reserved and suspicious of our intentions. At first we thought that she was afraid that we might take her children from her. We decided the poor woman alone but I managed to whisper a short blessing for the infants before leaving.

Later in the evening, we met up with our fellow missionary, Caetano who wasn’t with us during the day. We told him about Jennifer and her mother. He knew the family and informed us that Jennifer’s mother was indeed a drug dealer.  She occasionally sleeps in the street to manage her drug business. We were sad to know that Jennifer and her two sisters are born into a family that is steeped into the drug culture. We don’t know what the future holds for Jennifer and her twin sisters. However, God gave us a day to spend with this beautiful child. We hope that we planted a mustard seed of faith in her heart.

I would like to end with these hopeful words of another young girl, Veronica*, who was once born into self-destructive family like this one. Veronica told us that no action and words spoken to her when she was in the streets were in vain. They gave her the strength to make the right decision when the time came. She articulated it perfectly in these words which are my personal treasure:

“I met many people whose names I do not remember but their acts of kindness are permanently imprinted in my soul”

We pray that our time with Jennifer would help her in some small way to make the right decisions for her life. Please pray for Jennifer and her siblings.

 

* I wrote about Veronica in my first posting Introductions which can be found using the search engine of the blog.

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Looking for the Lost Sheep

What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying?-Matthew 18:12

The past couple of weeks we have been having a hard time finding the children in the streets. We are not the only ones having this problem. Several social agencies have reported the same problem. The children are there. There are about 300 homeless children and teens in the old center of São Paulo. This is a recent count. This number excludes those who are squatting with their families in the abandoned buildings. This would increase the number drastically. The children are in the streets but we cannot find them. So, we have to look for them. We spend hours seeking them in the red light district. We do find one or two and we spend quality time with these but where are the others?

The process of seeking the children is very much part of this ministry. It is not a ministry where we sit and wait for people to come to us. Many times it is the monotony of seeking that discourages people in this work. Many things go through our minds when we do not find the children. We wonder whether we are doing anything worthwhile. We wonder if our presence here is worth the time and effort. These questions are important and it is only human to have these questions. However, the answer can only be found when we discover the what the Holy Spirit is doing in our midst. We are not here to prove the worth of our existence or the validity of the ministry. We are here to participate in what the Holy Spirit is doing. When we discover this, then the other questions are subtly answered.

Jesus tells us that the Good Shepherd seeks the one lost sheep. The mindset of the world is to write off the one sheep as a loss and concentrate on the 99 sheep. A bird in hand is worth two in the bush so to speak but the Good Shepherd thinks differently.

It might appear foolish to risk the 99 sheep and look for the lost one. There is lots of foolishness in the Bible. A devout Muslim once told me that he though it was foolish that God would become Man. He is right, it is foolish. It is even more foolish that He would die on the Cross. It is foolish that God would even bother with humanity. It appears foolish that God would love those who hate him as St. Paul states Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” This is the epitome of all foolish actions, to love those who hate you.

Foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom.-1Corinthians1:25.  

This divine foolishness can only be understood when we allow the love of God to overflow in our hearts and mind. Divine foolishness opens eyes to see a new wisdom. A wisdom that is greater than the philosophies of this world. The wisdom brings a fresh understanding why we need to seek those who are hiding and afraid to receive God’s love.

The parable of the lost sheep spoke to the shepherds in Jesus’ time. They knew that finding one lost frightened sheep in the wilderness is not an easy task and not to mention a dangerous one. They also knew the joy involved in finding the one that was lost and bringing it back safely home.

Many in this city would prefer if the children would disappear altogether (not in a good way). Many of the parents of these children are not even seeking them. Either they have given up on these children or they never cared and maybe a little of both. Only the Holy Spirit seeks these children. Only the Holy Spirit knows their worth and value to God the Father. When we participate in the ministry of the Holy Spirit we begin to see and understand the Love of the father for His lost sheep. We learn by knowing and experiencing that the Father did the same for us. It is His love for us that motivates us to seek the ones whom He loves deeply.

These children need to know that even if they are lost in the world of drugs and despair, they are not forgotten. They are trying to flee away from something but they can never escape from God’s love. As long as the Holy Spirit is seeking the lost sheep, we are going to walk for miles and find the lost sheep so that he or she will know that God does not give up on anyone.

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The Mystery of the Resurrection and the Reality of Life in the Streets

Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”- Luke 20:34-36

This week I met the nicest boy living in the streets.His name is Luzival and he is 11 years old. He is relatively new to the streets; he has been homeless for two months at least.

Luzival wanted to play a game of badminton. He noticed that Mary and I did not participate because it was a game for four people. He did not want us to be left out and asked if there was a game where everyone could participate. Throughout our time together, we saw that Luzival was always making sure that no one was neglected and showed concern for those around him. When I asked him about his home, he just said that it was far away. He did not want to say anything else about his home. This made me think why a sweet boy like him would leave his home and live in the dangerous streets. I think Luzival believes that living in the streets was the best option for him. He was too nice and kind to be in the streets but it was the best option his reality presented to him.

Every Sunday, most churches in the world will hear the above gospel text read during the liturgy. Many will hear their ministers making this text alive and relevant in the context of their congregation. Luzival is a member of my congregation. The Hope of the Resurrection must speak to him in his context.

When we speak of the Resurrection, it is usually in the context of the afterlife. However, in the New Testament, the Hope of the Resurrection transformed the life of the apostles in the here and now. It is the hope that brings a new reality into our limited perspective of life. The Sadducees thought that the concept of resurrection was ludicrous because they were trying fit the Resurrection in their limited view of reality. The Resurrection is about New Reality. You cannot pour new wine in old wineskins (Mark 2:22). When Jesus said that we will become like angels, popular culture has distorted this important symbol and made it into something silly like people having wings and harps. Angels live in a richer dimension of reality and they pursue higher goals than we who are trapped in this materialistic aspect of reality. Angels in the Bible are purveyors of God’s presence in this world. We will become like angels means that our understanding of reality will be transformed. In the resurrected Christ, we see that the reality of the resurrection is so powerful that it is able to take the tragedies of life like the torture and crucifixion of Jesus and transform them into marks of eternal blessing. Most importantly, the power of the resurrection is not something we can induce but it is something that flows from the loving heart of our Father. It is a new reality that transcends all the limitations of the life. It is new reality that is present in the here and now and is able to take the tragedies of this life and transform them into opportunities of eternal blessings.

Luzival and the others like him do not want a better reality (better is not the same as new). Their reality is so bad that the streets are an improvement. They don’t need something better but they need a new reality. We do not have the capability to give them this new reality. Angels do not change our reality. They just point us to the One who is able.

How do we experience the Hope of the Resurrection? The reality of the Resurrection is a mystery. It cannot be explained. Jesus never explained it n the text above. Instead He pointed out to the Sadducees that God is not experienced in the afterlife but He is experienced in the present, or in the here and now. The power of the Resurrected Christ is not a theory we expect to experience after death. It is reality that comes with a true encounter with our God.

Every encounter with the resurrected Christ makes the new reality our only reality. Luzival should not be in the streets. None of these children and teens should be in the streets. However, their reality has brought them here and reality of street life is slowly destroying their innocence. We are the children of the resurrection. It is our role to bring the message of the new reality to these little ones. First we need to conform ourselves to this new reality and only then our lives can guide them to the Resurrected One who truly transforms their tragic stories into eternal victories in the here and now.

 

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Introducing the Team

The past few weeks I have been mentioning various missionaries in my blog post and now is the time to introduce my co-workers in this ministry. We are a team of six and represent at least four different nations. We also each represent different missionary agencies and churches but we work under the auspices of Project 242, a Brazilian evangelical mission and church in the red light district. Below is a recent picture of the team but the dog whose name is Tango is not part of the team. He just wanted to be in the picture.

Left to Right Top:Mary, Stephen, Tim and Becky Left to right bottom: Melanie, Caetano and Tango the Dog

Left to Right Top:Mary, Stephen, Tim and Becky
Left to right bottom: Melanie, Caetano and Tango the Dog

I will start with the couple next me in the photo. Tim and Becky are from California and they are sent by an missionary organization called Solidarity which works mainly with the urban poor. Solidarity works mainly in the States and Tim is one of the first missionaries to be sent overseas. Tim worked in this ministry for almost seven years and Becky joined after they got married two years ago. Becky has a specific calling to work with victims of human trafficking and this coming year she plans to start a home for young female victims in the city of São Paulo.

The young lady sitting down in front of Mary is Melanie. Melanie is originally from Germany. She has been working in this ministry for six years or so. She is a missionary sent by Steiger Mission which works primarily in Europe. Melanie left her nursing career to answer this call and she is a great help in “Cracolandia” when we do first aid. She handles the complex cases and helps us look like we know what we are doing.

The young man next to Melanie is Caetano. Caetano is the only Brazilian in the team and he leads the team. He has been working in the streets for almost nine years and he is going to be a father for the first time in December. Caetano is presently in his final year of theological studies.

We work from Monday to Friday in the streets. The children are usually active after lunch and we usually go to the areas where they tend to congregate at some point during the day. For the time being we interact with the children and teens through games. Caetano and Tim are more athletic  and they tend to play volleyball, soccer and sometimes badminton with the teens. I usually play checkers or some other board games and sometimes venture out to play a little badminton. Sometimes the young girls like their nails to be painted and Mary and Melanie tend to excel at this more than the guys. All these activities serve one purpose only and that is to help us to build a deeper relationship with these little ones. It provides an non-threatening environment for them to interact with us comfortably or even not interact with us if they choose to do.

We would like to evolve in our interactions with them. Playing games is helpful in breaking the ice but we need identify ways to build stronger bonds with the children and teens. We have brought some of the children for a brief excursion to different places of interest. Usually only those who feel comfortable with us are open to going on these short excursions. Each time we are with the children we discover something about them. Sometimes it is something apparently insignificant to the rest of the world but it means something to them when they share with us. One of the boys, Israel, shared with us one day that he entered a Roman Catholic Church and saw an image of Jesus in the tomb. He was quite amazed by it. It was actually one of the few times he was lucid and looked alive. Something touched his soul. I believe that we will see and understand what it meant to him eventually. We have to be patient and persevere. God has sent us as healers but those who are sick need to recognize their illness first. This takes patience. These young children are proud and they need to trust us before they can reveal their illness to us. For now, we are waiting for God to teach us and guide us so that we can become effective instruments of His healing.

 

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