Cooking with Yuri

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. -Romans 8:5-6

Last Tuesday, all the men from the team went to visit a fifteen year old boy, Yuri, to teach him how to cook. You never know where this work in the streets might lead you. It led us to the kitchen in a poor neighborhood in the outskirts of São Paulo.

It was the first time I met Yuri even though I have heard about him for months. The team has known him since he was ten years old. His father abandoned the family at a young age. His mother remarried and her husband died suddenly which led to his mother having a nervous breakdown and disappeared. Almost all the kids in the Yuri’s family left for the streets except for their oldest sister, Suely. Yuri wasn’t always a pleasant boy in the streets and was deeply involved in theft and drug trafficking.  Eventually he ended up in the juvenile detention center where our team spent months visiting him. It was in the center where Yuri had the chance to seriously think about his life. He wanted to change. He himself admitted that he needed to change the way he thinks.

Yuri was released from the center about a month ago. His sister was able to receive him into her simple home which she shares with her husband. However,  he only stayed there for a week. Boredom got the best of him and he decided to visit his old friends. One thing led to another and Yuri almost got arrested. He did not succumbed to drug trafficking but he was with people who did. The police decided to let him go but it shook Yuri up. He got in touch with us and asked us to help him to change his ways. He returned to his sister’s house and we visited with him. We encouraged Yuri to learn how to be a contributing member of the household. We decided together that the best way he could help the family was to cook for his sister while she was at work.

My first impression of Yuri was that I could not imagine this sweet boy being involved in any crime. He cleaned the kitchen for us so that we would have a clean place to work. He was willing to learn even though it was a little awkward for him to be working in the kitchen. In his cultural environment, the women always did the cooking. We used our food preparation time to disciple Yuri.  We spoke about practical implications of changing one’s way of thinking. Yuri wanted to change but he just did not have any idea how change would come about. We told him that changes can be gradual or radical and in his situation, he might have to make a radical change from his past which includes leaving behind friends who can be bad influences. Yuri listened intently. He did not say anything but he listened. This is the first step.

It is also our first step moving into an area that requires much reflection and thought on our part. No matter how we look at it there can be no genuine change without repentance. We need to preach the message of repentance to Yuri. However, we need to know how to preach it in a way that he can act upon it. No room for generalities. We have to speak to his heart. For this, we need to spend more time cooking with Yuri.

 

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Our Visit with Veronica

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.-John 13:34

For those who do not know the story of Veronica, I wrote about her in our introductory post of this blog (see link below). However, I will give the nutshell version here; Veronica was a homeless girl whom we met about 20 years ago. She was ten years old then. She left the streets and lived in our missionary community until she became an adult. Today Veronica is 30 years old. She lives in a city called Ponta Grossa which is in the southern Brazilian State called Paraná. We travelled ten hours by bus to visit her last week.

Veronica came to this city from São Paulo with almost nothing. She worked in a Drug Rehabilitation Center for a few years and she eventually got a position as an advocate for abused and abandoned children. Veronica had firsthand knowledge of the plight and suffering of these children but she lacked any formal training in the legal matters concerning her work. A particular director of a social program saw Veronica’s potential and helped her to get scholarships for training programs.  This eventually perked her interest in Law and now she is due to completing her Law degree.

Veronica had planned a busy schedule for us in Ponta Grossa. There was a list of people she wanted us to meet. For Veronica, we are her spiritual parents and she wanted to show her parents all the good things that had happened in her life. Needless to say, we could not keep to the schedule due to time restraints. However, we saw enough to realize how God has transformed this homeless girl into a rich child of God in this city. Her treasures are where neither rust, moth or thieves could steal.

One visit that marked me was with a single mother with a two year old toddler. Veronica was the godmother of this child. Veronica met this young mother when she was about to get an abortion. Abortion is available in Brazil even though it is officially illegal (personally, I don’t how this works). Veronica had a long talk with this young woman and managed to talk her out of the abortion. The young woman herself was an adopted child of a wealthy family in the city but for some reason, she was estranged from the family. They had practically abandoned her. She was squatting in an abandoned house and had no financial resources. She was planning to use pills to effect an abortion. However, she really wanted to keep the baby but was afraid that she could not manage financially and emotionally.

Veronica used her own personal money to help this woman rent a small apartment.  She also supported her emotionally during her pregnancy. The family eventually took their adopted daughter back after the birth of the child and assumed financial responsibility for her. When we visited this young mother, she was truly happy to see Veronica and she gave all of us warm hugs. Most importantly, we saw the baby boy sleeping peacefully in his bed. This boy wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for Veronica’s willingness to be God’s instrument of compassion and love to this young woman. This was something Veronica did privately and no one knows about it, not even her husband. Veronica wanted us to see it. It was something special she wanted to share with us.

We met many people like this young woman who were blessed by Veronica’s kindness and generosity. However, the most powerful sign of her willingness to God’s instrument was the young toddler sleeping in his crib. The baby is alive because this young girl twenty years ago said “yes” to God. Veronica is forever part of this young child’s life and so are we through her. God has made us rich indeed.

Read the story of Veronica on our Introduction Post:

http://spmercyministry.com/2013/07/13/introductions/

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Thoughts on the Passing of my Father

“Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.”- Ephesians 6:2-3

One of the toughest things about being in foreign missions is leaving behind loved ones. It did not take long for me to realize that life goes on for my friends and families even when I am not there. Life waits for no one and it keeps moving on until death comes along. Death has a way of making us come to a standstill and ponder life.

Last Sunday evening, my week looked like any ordinary week. We had our ministerial work planned out for the week. I had some plans to complete reading some books so that I could start on a new one. I already had ideas about my blog postings. Then Monday morning the call came. My sister called to say that my father had suffered a heart attack and was on the way to the hospital. While she was going into the details, she received another phone call.  My father had passed away there and then. He was 86 years old. There was silence between us and a sense of emptiness.

My father was living in Singapore and I have been away from Singapore for twenty years. All these years, I have never lived in the same continent as my father. Yet it was comforting to know that he was in Singapore. He was part of my spiritual foundation. Now he is gone.

My father was a hardworking man, but not more so than the average person. He was a product of his time and culture. Outwardly, there was nothing spectacular about him that would set him apart from the others. Every night before he went to bed when he thought that all the children were asleep, my father would pray by himself quietly. I was born a night owl and I would stay awake and spy on my father praying. I observed how he prayed quietly and it sounded like he was mumbling some secret words. I waited for him to go to bed and I would mimic his actions. I would make soft mumbling sounds which I thought was the magic of prayer. Thankfully, I matured in my prayer life and learned how to pray, but my father was my first teacher.  It was my father’s quiet spirituality that thought me to be aware of God’s presence. My father never intentionally taught us about prayer. He never tried to encourage us to pray. He did it through his actions. He just lived his life and his spirituality was the foundation of all his actions.

As a committed Catholic, he went to church every Sunday even though he was not a big fan of the Roman Catholic Church. However, he always joked about leaving the Roman Church to join the Anglican Church which horrified my mother. In his humorous way, he added fuel to the fire by threatening to take me along to the Anglican tradition. I was only seven years old then. Eventually I did join the Anglican Church and it was my father who was horrified. Then I made things worse when I told him that I wanted to be an Anglican priest ( I was 20 then). He was not happy about it but he knew that it was beyond his control. Then my mother passed away from cancer. It was during this time that my father had a change of heart. He saw my vocational calling in a different light. I discerned that my priestly vocation was leading me to the mission fields in South America and my father accepted my decision without any resistance. The day I left for missions, he asked if he could go to the airport to say goodbye. My father is not one to do things like this. However, he wanted to be there so that I would know that I am going to missions with his blessing. I left Singapore in 1993 for missionary work and I knew that I wouldn’t return to live in Singapore anymore. I knew that it would be the last time I would live on the same continent as my father. My father knew this as well, even though we never spoke about it.

The things that I remember most of my father now are those things that reflect his quiet spirituality. He was compassionate person. He had a strong sense of justice and he did not hold a grudge against anyone. He lived during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore. He was traumatized by the cruelty that he had witnessed. Yet, he was not bitter against anyone. I attributed all this to the quiet time he spent in prayer. He did not ask God to change his situation or circumstances. My father prayed to be aware of God’s presence in his life. This is the legacy I received from my father. I pray everyday to be aware of God’s presence where I serve.

Francis Dass    September 1,1927-February 10, 2014

 

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Better than Silver and Gold

Then Peter said, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.-Acts 3:6-8

Today a young girl named Ana Paula asked us what we have to offer to help her leave the streets.  We were little taken aback when we heard this, not because of the question. It is just that Ana Paula rarely engages in any conversation with us. We were surprised that she asked us this decisive question.

Ana Paula is a young adult who had spent most of her childhood in the streets. She does not have any family except for her boyfriend. Igor, her boyfriend, is also an orphan and had spent his childhood in the streets. He has been in and out of the juvenile detention center for several years. Recently, he seemed to have stopped all criminal activities. He even tried to find a job as a cleaner. Perhaps together they have been seriously thinking about finding a way out of the street life. Henceforth, Ana Paula wanted to know what we have to offer.

There are so many social agencies working in the streets. Each group has something different to offer, perhaps a special program to help those living in the streets. It is only natural for Ana Paula to think that we are just like them. She thought that we must have something different to offer as well. Unlike us, most of the non-governmental organizations have silver and gold backing up their programs. We don’t have a social program nor the silver or gold to start one. Nevertheless, we still have something to offer. We do not go to the streets empty handed. The story from the biblical text above is rich in meaning and I believe that gives us a strong foundation for any Christian missionary work, local or otherwise.

Peter has seen this beggar many times. At this particular moment when Peter passed him, the beggar was expecting something from Peter. Perhaps he was asking the same question with his look as Ana Paula asked, “What have you to offer to help me?” Peter gave him the answer. The answer marks the difference between Christian missionary work and social work. We need silver and gold to be successful in social work but Christian missionary work can only be successful if we understand Peter’s answer.

Many things can be said about this healing incident. I have to limit myself here. Today we have a very superficial understanding of healing. Our understanding of healing is  limited to physical healing. We have doctors today to do this. However, doctors cannot heal the soul. The gospel heals the soul. Critics of our work tell us that social workers are more qualified to do our work. They are right if we are trying to do social work. However, we are here to offer the one thing that social workers cannot offer. We are here to offer what we have received. We are recipients of God’s healing. God’s healing has a name and His Name is Jesus. We present the Healer that brings wholeness to our lives has a Name. This Name is only powerful to those who have experienced His healing power in their own lives. If you think that this healing is purely spiritual and has nothing to do with practical life, then you have not experienced the healing power of Jesus. The man healed by the words of Peter was transformed completely. He could no longer return to his old way of living. Healing that the gospel proclaims changes our practical life. It cannot be the gospel if it does not do this.

We gave Ana Paula an answer. His Name is Jesus. We did not preach to her. We did not bring her to a church. Neither did we try to convince her to read the Bible. We told her why we were in the streets. We don’t have silver and gold. Silver and gold did not bring us to where we are today. We have one thing to offer and it is better than anything the world has to offer to her.

Ana Paula did understand what we were offering. She knew that she could not take advantage of all the social programs available for her if she was not healed first. Many of the social agencies have good things to offer but Ana Paula does not believe that she is worthy or capable of achieving any success in this life. She needs to be healed. She needs what we have to offer. We can only offer what we have received. Silver and gold cannot match what we have received from God.

 

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