For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.-Romans 1: 16
It has been a strange month. We have had protests in São Paulo on weekly basis and sometimes even two or three times in a week. Most of it happens right where we live. Recently we walked through a protest of almost thousand people who are squatters living in abandoned buildings in the old center. They were seeking government assistance for housing. These are mostly landless farmworkers who have earned below minimum wage all of their lives. Their wages are insufficient to pay the exorbitant rental and housing rates. Before squatting in the center, they lived in tiny crowded shacks in the outskirts of the city. They invaded the abandoned buildings in the center in order to have a stronger political presence. They want a place to live and they are willing to pay for it if it is affordable. They thought that the present left-leaning government would come to their aid, but they were mistaken. Tensions run high. We have to walk through these frustrated and angry people to work with the homeless children and teens.
Last weekend, there was another protest which has been organized every month and also known for its violent outbursts. This time it wasn’t poor landless laborers, but middle class university students and young professionals. They are protesting against the World Cup which is going to be held here in less than a month. Their grievance is that the government has been spending tons of tax-payers’ money to build stadiums and host parties for the World Cup Games while neglecting the education and health issues facing the country. The people are saying that they do not want the World Cup in their country. This is saying a lot for a country that is crazy about soccer. This group is even angrier and more violent than the landless farmworkers.
It seems like there is a growing frustration at every level of society. The sad thing is that their demands are not unreasonable, but actually quite basic. They want a better quality of life.
I am an outsider to these protests, but I am not a spectator. As we walk through this angry mob, it is hard not to be affected. We can see their faces and the frustration and desperation in their eyes. They are waiting for something to happen to make their lives better.
I am an outsider by choice and for a specific reason. I am here for the gospel. I am sent by the church for this purpose. The message of the gospel is not detached from the culture and political life of the people. It speaks within the context of our reality. It has to have something important to say in this time of turmoil.
The protestors want a better life for the future. The gospel promises Life in the here and now. However, I think most people believe the promises of the gospel are only for the afterlife. If this was true, then we have nothing to say for those who are frustrated and desperate in this life. The gospel would be inefficient for those who want to know if there is a path to happiness in the here and now. They are looking for answers in political actions and social change. Thanks be to God that the gospel is not a message for tomorrow, but it is a message for today. It is a message of abundant life for the here and now. It is not limited or restricted by powers and principalities. It is not held back by conditions or circumstances. It has the power to bring meaning to our lives when the world around us is in chaos. However, the problem is whether we believe the gospel is able to do this. This is when rational Christianity is not sufficient. The truth of the gospel must be experienced in our daily lives.
The gospel that the apostles preached was powerful even when the church faced unfavorable circumstances. It brought joy and peace to people even when they lost everything. It was sufficient for Paul in plenty and need (Philippians 4:11-13). The gospel does not need anything else added to it to become successful or appealing. It brings contentment in itself. It is this gospel that we need to rediscover to preach to those who are desperate and frustrated, whether they are the homeless children that we serve, or the landless farm laborers or the university students. They protest for a better tomorrow. The gospel offers abundant life in the here and now. We need faith to believe in the power of the gospel to fulfill what it claims.