Moving forward towards the Goal

I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.-Philippians 3:14

Not all our work occurs in the streets. Our street work leads us to the homes and families of some of the children. Previously I have mentioned Yuri and his family and how we have been helping Yuri redefine his place in his family and life in general.

Yuri has been in the streets since he was ten years old. He has been used to dealing and using drugs. However, after his final stay at the detention center, Yuri decided that he needed a change of mind and heart; these were his own words. He asked for our help to fulfill his goal.

Yuri’s biggest problem was time. He had too much free time and he did not know what to do with it. He wanted to do something useful and yet he felt helpless. He did not like this feeling and it was this feeling that led him to the streets in the first place. He wanted to do something helpful for his family. We suggested that he cook for his family while his sister is at work.

We started with giving cooking lessons. This worked for a while but Yuri still was feeling restless. He felt that this was not enough and he was not making any real progress with his life. He finally got a vacancy in night school and he began attending classes. However, he was placed in the lowest grade possible for his age and he had lot to make up for those years spent in the streets. Fortunately, Yuri did not mind. He was going somewhere now. However, he was still free most of the time during the day. Yuri himself admitted that this was not good thing. While he was in the detention center, he told our team that he wanted to be a hairstylist. When we asked him if he was still interested in doing this, he told us that it was still one of his goals. It was something he enjoyed doing. We decided that it would be a good investment to enlist him in a hairstylist school. We decided to spilt the cost of the school among ourselves and pay for it.

Finding a hairstylist school wasn’t easy. Yuri is fifteen and he is below the regular age limit. Besides this, he does not have the necessary school grades to qualify for the course. We explained Yuri’s situation to the director of the school and pleaded for him to make a special concession. He agreed to do it. When we told Yuri this news, he was really excited and he wanted to start right away. The hairstylist school has training three times a week and it does not interfere with Yuri’s school. We had to buy professional hair trimming instruments and then Yuri was all ready for this new adventure.

It has been a month now since he started and we discovered that the school is not very good. The teachers do not actually teach the students anything. They cut hair without any orientation. The students basically teach each other. Despite this, Yuri is actually happy. He is learning new things from his fellow students. He is gaining confidence and he even injured himself while cutting a client’s hair. He is determined to complete the course. We were disappointed with school but we are glad that Yuri is not discouraged. He wants to learn and he is going to take every opportunity that is available to him. We asked Yuri if he wanted us to find another school. He told us that he wants to finish the course in this school first and then perhaps find a better school in the future.

The school is near the center where Yuri used to sleep in the streets. He does not have any desire to go back to the streets or meet up with his old friends. Instead every Thursday after his training he meets with one of the team members to talk about his faith and struggles. He has opened up tremendously with us. He recognizes the good things that he has in this life especially his older sister, Suelen, who has been with him through thick and thin. The last time we had a meeting with him, he asked if we would take his younger sister and him for an outing. He said that he wants to spend more time with us. This made us happy.

Previous posts about Yuri:
http://spmercyministry.com/2014/02/28/cooking-with-yuri/
http://spmercyministry.com/2014/03/19/cooking-with-yuri-suelis-story/

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Seems Like Reality is not Enough

Jesus called them to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.”- Luke 18:16

The FIFA World Cup began last week and consequently Brazil has been in the media spotlight for the past few weeks. There were some reports circulating in the social media that homeless children are being killed in some cities in the Northeast of Brazil. One particular news article in a famous UK newspaper (the actual name of the journal is not relevant to this post) reported that in numerous Brazilian cities prepubescent homeless girls were prostituting themselves for food. When they cannot get money for food, the homeless children resort to glue sniffing to numb their hunger pangs. The report contains many appalling stories of abuse and violence that the children face daily. In another report, there were claims that many as six thousand children are being killed by off-duty policemen hired by the local businesses. I cannot comment on the veracity of the report because I do not work in that particular city. However, I have my doubts. We work closely with many social agencies including the human rights agencies and such news, even if it occurred in another cities, would be brought to our knowledge.

Our children here sniff paint thinner and use hard drugs. They can be as young as ten and so far we have no reason to believe that any of them prostitute themselves. We also know that no one uses drugs to forget their hunger pangs. Most of the time the children are given food by the local restaurants and sometimes the children get so much food that they waste it. The news media tries to sensationalize something that is doubtful and, if it is true, it is perhaps isolated. They are trying to exploit a sad situation and sell fabricated stories. The question is why do they need to go to such extent. Isn’t the fact that there are homeless children disturbing enough? Is this just a symptom of a systemic problem of society in which people will only respond to a certain situation when it is extreme and depraved?

Yesterday afternoon the city was more agitated than usual because of a Brazilian game. Offices closed early and even the banks closed after lunch. Everyone was rushing home to catch the game at 4 p.m. We were doing our regular rounds in the streets and saw some of the children walking towards the center where there is a large screen on which the games are going to televised live. They were all sniffing paint thinner. We noticed that one of the boys was walking a little strange. We asked him what happened and he said that he dislocated his arm and possibly broke something. He was in pain but claimed that it was getting better. We insisted that he needed to go to the doctor but he refused. We are not allowed to take him to the hospital by force; only his parents can do this. The boy’s name is Diogo (10 years) and he recently came to the streets. His older brothers, Daniel (11 years) and Dreyson (12 years) have been in the streets for a few months. Their parents never once came to look for them. We strongly doubt that his parents are going to take him to the hospital. We were greatly disturbed and we kept insisting that he needed to go to the doctor but it was pointless. He was too young to understand anything that was happening to him. Yet he was in the streets. His brothers have no idea that their brother is seriously hurt. They were too high on thinner and too excited about the upcoming soccer game. They were not going to listen to us today. The World Cup is on their mind. We left them a little sad and disturbed.

We decided to go to another area where some of the children usual stay and found Vinicius and his sister, Ana Paula. These children are new to the streets. We met them about a month ago. Their mother is a squatter in one of the abandoned buildings. We are not certain but their mother gives us the impression that she is mentally challenged. She does not seem to be aware of her surroundings most of the time. Vinicius and his sister spend the whole day in the streets unsupervised. Vinicius is 10 years and his sister is only 7. Today, it was particularly worse. Their younger siblings were with them and one was two and the other was three and their mother was no where to be found. Vinicius was responsible for the three and he has no clue what he was supposed to do for them. He wanted to play with me but I had to refuse. His younger sister soiled her pants and needed to be changed. She was not wearing a diaper. The poor girl was crying. The mother was not around. The other children did know what to do and we are not allowed to do anything. We stood there with the children and waited. It was a sad scene but we were helpless. There is really nothing out there for these children that is going to make their lives better. If they were taken away from their mother, they might be separated from each other. They would not understand why they cannot be with their mother. We are not sure that the mother would understand either.

This was our day today. It was disturbing and sad. We don’t need to sensationalize the harsh reality of these children. Children of all ages should not be in the streets but they are here. We thought the numbers would decrease during the World Cup but it seems to have increased. There are more children below 13 years. They are surrounded by drugs and violence. They are vulnerable to all kinds of evil. They are not going hungry nor are they prostituting themselves but they are abandoned. I think this alone is disturbing and we don’t need to sensationalize anything.

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Talking about Sin Comfortably

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”- Romans 3:23

The meaning of the New Testament word for sin is missing the mark or target.

All of us aim for something in this life. Aristotle summed up his works on ethics with the thought that we all aim at happiness. There is a general consensus that this is true. However, we know that the world is full of unhappy people. We are not successful in getting what we want. It doesn’t matter who they are and what they have and who they know. The world is quite an unhappy place. The problem is that we don’t know what exactly constitutes happiness. We look to the wrong things to make us happy. We have a deficient idea what brings happiness to our lives. This deficiency in itself is not sin. Our sin lies in not recognizing that we have a deficiency. Sin blinds us from realizing that we are aiming at the wrong things for happiness. This failure to acknowledge our deficiency is an obstacle to happiness.

If we want to help someone to be happy, we cannot avoid talking about sin. However, it is a personal conversation just as the pursuit of happiness is a personal quest. Before out talk about sin can occur, there must be an intimate relationship. We can only talk about sin with those whom we love.

Igor, who is 21 years, is an orphan and has been in the streets since he was a young child. He can read and write because he was forced to go to school in the long periods he spent in the juvenile detention center. He got into a life of crime because he thought money would help him achieve happiness. Instead it just brought more problems and suffering. Now, he is not sure what is going to bring him happiness. He is not motivated to make a change in his life. He is not sure if it is worth the effort to try because there is no guarantee that he is going to succeed.

Igor is not waiting for government help. He does not want handouts. He does not even think that things are going to get better for him. He wants to know if there is a reason for him to hope for happiness in this life. I think that it is impossible to answer any of his questions without a meaningful conversation about sin. However, we cannot talk to Igor comfortably about sin if we do not genuinely care for his well-being.

So, what gives us the authority to speak about sin? This is an important question we ask ourselves constantly. Before we have this conversation with him, we need to know for ourselves whether we are aiming at the right target. Jesus warned us,

“Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”-Matthew 7:5

Perhaps we feel uncomfortable talking about sin because it requires constant self-examination. We cannot talk about sin in terms of us and them. We need to talk about sin including ourselves in the mix. Sin is very much part of our lives. We have a deficient idea of happiness as well and we in ourselves cannot claim to know where to aim.

Talking about sin makes us aware that we need to help finding the target. Who can help us find this target? Who can point to us the path of Happiness? The best we can do is to point to the person of Jesus Christ. Many do not think that Jesus has something to offer. However, for those who realize that our vision of happiness is deficient, Jesus can open our eyes to see a new reality in the Cross. This is our hope for Igor, but first we need to talk to him about sin.

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The Feast of Pentecost: The Birthday of Missions

But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.-Acts 1:8

Not all churches commemorated Pentecost Sunday in Brazil. There is a strong anti-catholic sentiment among the evangelical Christians and they avoid anything that bears any resemblance to the Catholic Church. This, unfortunately, means that traditional feast days are mostly ignored in the evangelical churches. Consequently, it has impoverished them. We need to reflect on the important events of our spirituality. It reminds us of our spiritual vocation. Our team is made up of mainly evangelical Christians but we did not allow this day to past without reflecting on its meaning in our ministry. The presence of the Holy Spirit is crucial in our ministry. It gives our ministry a purpose and most important of all, it is a reminder of what it means to work in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In São Paulo, most people have grown accustomed to the presence of the homeless children and teens. A good Christian man who was not afraid to be honest and politically incorrect told me that most people in São Paulo are more disturbed to see stray dogs in the streets than to see children. He said that homeless children have always been there whereas stray dogs are something new.

None of us, including the only Brazilian in our team, are from the city of São Paulo. We are sent and supported by churches outside the city and country. Sometimes we feel like we need to justify ( this is perhaps a feeling just in our hearts) why we are serving in a place that has nothing to do with the reality of our sending churches. Why invest time and money in a Catholic nation where there are ample churches both Protestant and Catholic? Sometimes we feel like we need to justify our presence here and then it hits us. We are here because of Pentecost Sunday.

“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.”-Acts 2: 4-6

We cannot separate the speaking of different languages from the coming of the Holy Spirit. In some churches, the gospel is read in many different languages on this day. It is an important symbolic act to show that the Holy Spirit changed the way the first disciples understood the message of the gospel. God’s favor was no longer restricted to one people, but His Spirit is upon all peoples. The presence of the Holy Spirit has been with the Jewish people always, but now it is poured out to the world. The word for “Spirit” in Hebrew could mean “breath” or “wind” with which Jesus symbolically describes the movement of the Spirit in His conversation with Nicodemus. It is an appropriate symbol. We cannot domesticate or control the wind or air. It is free to go where it pleases. The church is only truly a church when it is willing to allow the wind of the Spirit to carry it to places and people to testify to the power of the gospel.

We cannot understand the reason for missionary work if we do not understand the power that comes from the Hoy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has only one purpose according to Jesus. The power of the Holy Spirit lies in this role. Our power comes from recognizing the work of the Holy Spirit.

He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.- John 16:14-15

Our power comes from recognizing the presence of Jesus in our midst. This is the only thing that makes the church relevant. If we allow ourselves to be distracted with other tasks, then we lose our authority and power in this world. If we make power our goal, then we lose all authority. Our goal is to testify to the work of the Holy Spirit.

The feast of Pentecost reminds us of this. The New Testament writings after the gospels are about recognizing the presence of Jesus in this world through the Holy Spirit. The apostles never wrote about doctrines; they just testified to the living presence of Jesus. The doctrines become alive and living testimony of the gospel’s power when we use them to recognize the presence of Jesus. They become dull and lifeless if they are end unto themselves.

The feast of Pentecost reminds us that it was the Holy Spirit who brought us to the red light district of São Paulo. None of us ever imagined spending the prime of our adult life walking through trash and filth to find homeless children and teens who might be too drugged out to talk to us. However, we wouldn’t be anywhere but here because the Holy Spirit brought us. This is the only reason we need to be here. We need to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost to remind ourselves of this Truth.

We are here for the sole purpose of testifying to the transformative presence of Jesus. Every encounter with the living presence of Jesus is transformative. This is why our power lies in recognizing His presence in this world.

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The Gospel in a Time of Turmoil Part 2

For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks a foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.- 1 Corinthians 1:21-22

Since my last post, the protests have gone from a weekly phenomenon to a daily event. The protest are organized by diverse groups. There are liberals, conservatives, the landless laborers, university students, teachers, and even architects. However, the homeless children and teens are absent from all these protests. In a way, they are just like us. They are outsiders. We are outsiders because of the gospel. They are outsiders because they have lost hope. The people who engage in the protests still believe in a better tomorrow. The homeless children don’t even think about tomorrow. I am not sure if they know what to do with their lives in the present. They watch the protests go by like us but they are oblivious to the fact that they are not part of anything happening in this city. They are here but their presence does not make an impact in society. They live in this city and yet they do not belong to it in a real way. These children and teens are lost in the midst of this turmoil.

I sympathize with the protesters in the city. I think that it is good that they are exercising their citizenship. They believe that they are doing something. I don’t know all their demands. There are too many groups frustrated and angry with the government. They share one thing in common. They believe that political reform will bring positive changes to society.

Jesus lived in a time of frustration and anguish. People wanted a political leader who would change everything. They hoped that Jesus was this leader. They wanted a change. Jesus brought change to this world. However, it was not the change the people were expecting. It was the change to which only the lost or the little ones in His society responded positively. It was a change welcomed by those who lived in the margins, which is the meaning of the gospel term for little ones. They had no impact in society similar to little children.

The question is why did only these little ones respond to the person of Jesus and not the rest of society?

Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”- Mark 2:17

The little ones in the Bible were the tax collectors, prostitutes, the sick, the lame, the very poor, the prisoners and the lepers. They were outsiders. They did not expect much from the established authorities because they had lost hope in the system. They did not believe in the established religion. They did not believe that political change would benefit them. Perhaps they exploited the situation to survive which made them more despicable to society and irrelevant. Nevertheless, the little ones were not expecting anything positive from political or social reforms. Perhaps this was why they were ready for the gospel. They did not have any illusionary hope that the government would help them.

In São Paulo, people predominately from the poor and middle class are marching in the streets because they believe that their happiness in some shape or form will come through political and social reforms. The homeless or the poorest of the poor do not entertain such illusions. They have lost faith in the idols of society. Not because they are wiser than the rest. It is just that they don’t have the resources to believe in these idols. Idols don’t come cheap and they are not accessible to everyone. The middle class still holds on these idols. The middle and upper class are religious, but in the conventional sense. God is one of the ingredients of life. He is not the only One. They believe that a happy life includes having God and…… You fill in the blanks. It could be wealth, family or power. None of these are accessible to the homeless. These are things beyond their reach. It does not make them more virtuous but it makes them open to believing that perhaps having just God alone can help them walk towards a happy and complete life.

It is quite uncomfortable to think this way; mainly because many will accuse me of being simplistic saying that I am spiritualizing the problems of the poor and society in general. However, I think it is very simplistic to think that political reforms can change society. It is even more simplistic and arrogant to think that this generation is going to be the one to do it. It is simplistic to think that we can solve the problems of humanity when a casual look in the mirror will make us realize that we are indeed very complex beings. I don’t claim to know the answer to society’s problems because I don’t think that there is an answer. However, we can point to the One who looks for those who are lost in this world. We don’t have a formula to solve the world’s problems but we know a person that can change the way we understand reality. He helps us see hope in a hopeless reality. This is the message of the gospel, a person and not reforms or theories, but a person.

The rest of society is marching and protesting and hoping that their false gods will answer them. They might not think that the gospel can bring the happiness that they seek. They might think that we are simpletons. However, for those who are lost in this society, they might be ready to receive and experience the healing touch of the Good Shepherd. The gospel is foolish to those who think that they are wise but it is power to those who receive it. We are outsiders because of the power of the gospel. I don’t disagree with the protesters and what they are doing. However, I think the Church in this time of turmoil has something more powerful to offer, not to mention more enduring.

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