Laziness is not an Answer

But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.- Matthew 5:22

The above gospel verse was taken from the context of a discussion on the subject of murder. Jesus likens calling someone “a fool” or “raca” (which means useless or worthless) to murder. When it used as an insult, both terms imply that the person is not worth our time and energy or our compassion. Consequently, we would not care if anything happens to them or rather they cease to be considered human beings to us. If we understand murder as robbing someone of their humanity, then words are also capable of depriving someone of their humanity.

We have heard many times people say that the poor are poor because they are plain lazy. Sometimes people make the distinction by saying that there are the deserving poor and there are some who are just plain lazy. By this, they imply that these lazy poor are not worthy of compassion or mercy. In some cases, they would even consider it wrong to help the so-called lazy poor.

The paradox is that saying that the poor are lazy is actually a lazy way to identify the problem. If we are serious about being instruments of the gospel, then we should refrain from using unhelpful terms that rob people of their humanity. Calling someone lazy does not redeem anyone’s humanity and the gospel is about redemption.

No one wants to be lazy. It is in our nature to work if it helps us to get what we want in life. The incentive to work depends on whether we are motivated. Instead of calling people lazy, we should discover why aren’t people motivated to work. I am sure that sociologists or economists could come up with plethora of reasons why people aren’t motivated. We do not approach the problem from their perspective. We do it from the midst of teens and adults in homeless situations. We ask ourselves why is it hard for them to seek employment? They don’t have any motivation to work. We believe our motivation to work stems from relationships. When we believe that what we are doing is going to strengthen and secure our relationship with our family and friends, then we are motivated. Sometimes people put up with tedious and mundane work just to sustain their family. However, it is difficult to be motivated if you don’t have friends or family.

Igor is 19 years old. He has been living in the streets since he was eight. His father died when he was three and his mother was murdered when he was seven. From the tender age of eight, Igor has used drugs and lived without any adult supervision. He was detained in juvenile centers for most of his teenage years. His only experience with a disciplined life was under the threat of physical abuse in the juvenile center. When he left the juvenile center at the age of 18, he made a conscious decision not to be involved with crime or drugs.

A few weeks ago, Igor found a job. It was with a cleaning service. Unfortunately, he only worked for a week at this place before quitting. He did not find the work to be hard. He did not mind the work. Even though the pay wasn’t great, he did not mind the low salary. He quit because he found it hard to keep a regular routine. He sleeps in the streets and has no alarm clock. Besides, he is not accustomed to keeping appointments and relating to bosses and authority figures. He was afraid that he was going to fail and therefore, he quit before he got fired. We asked him if he was ever late for his work. He told us that he made sure that he was punctual for the whole week, but he knew that it wasn’t going to last. Igor quit because he was afraid that he was going to fail.

We asked him if he wanted our help in keeping a routine. He responded that he did not even know what this meant. His answer made us pause for a while. We realized that simple things such as keeping a routine and fulfilling a commitment are things that we learn in the environment of a family. These things are nurtured in us through the living examples of our parents or parental figure. We were gradually taught explicitly and implicitly to honor our responsibilities. Perhaps we were given the chance to fail and given several chances to learn the value of commitment. All these can be taught in an environment of love and forgiveness. Igor never grew up in such an environment.

Igor is legally considered an adult. However, his social skills are limited and he knows it. For him, it is frightening to make the transition from living in the streets to working in a 9 to 5 job. He is paralyzed by fear. Fear stops him from working. However, in the eyes of the world, he is just another lazy homeless teen. On the other hand, the message of gospel compels us to see beyond the superficial. Igor needs a family to help him overcome his fear of failure. He cannot do this unless he knows that there will be grace and forgiveness.

Igor does not have all his personal documents yet. We offered to help him apply for them. He accepted our help. We made an appointment for him and asked him to meet us at the office where these documents are issued. When we got to this building, Igor was waiting there for us. He got there fifteen minutes early. He was afraid that he was going to be late. We needed to pay for the processing fee and he vehemently refused our money. He wanted to earn the money by doing some odd jobs. Finally we convinced him to allow us to pay for it for now and he can repay us when he has a job. He reluctantly agreed. We managed to get his documents without any hassle. Before we left the place, Igor hugged us and told us that he was going to apply for another job this week. The fear is still present, but he seemed a little bit more confident. We hope that Igor will find some strength through his friendship with us to overcome his fears.


Death and a Conversation about the Resurrection and Life

Sadly, another young girl died in the streets this week. Her name is Raianne. She was nineteen. This is the third person to die in this streets this year. Mary and I never met this young girl but the team had been ministering to her since she was a young child. On Sunday, she and another girl had a fight over a trivial incident. One girl pushed the another in anger and Raianne fell and hit her head on a rock. We know the girl who was involved as well which makes it even more tragic. Raianne left behind two young toddlers.

Needless to say when we met the children in the streets they were upset and pensive. Whenever something like this happens, the question about their own mortality becomes alive. Raianne had survived many dangerous situations in the streets but it only took a misplaced rock to end her life.

Nobody wanted to talk when we arrived, but they did not ignore us as well. It seemed like they wanted us to be there but they did not know what to say to us. We stayed and waited. Then Eduardo, one of the older teens, opened up. He asked us what happens to our soul when we die. He wanted to know whether we lose our identity or does it remain intact. This started a long and serious conversation about God, life, and the resurrection. Our conversation lasted for almost an hour and it was truly a conversation and not an one-sided lecture. Personally, we were amazed at the profundity of the questions Eduardo asked.

One of the things he wanted to know was whether our memories remain with us for eternity. He especially wanted to know that if we would remember negative events and continue to bear grudges against the people that hurt us for eternity. His concern about this made sense. Eduardo’s life has not been easy. He has been in the streets since he was a young child and it was unfair circumstances that brought him here. He wants to shake all the negatives memories of his life and live a new life. He doesn’t want to continue a life of crime, but he is big and intimidating looking young man who is 19 years old. Not many people want to give someone like him a chance. He does not rob but we suspect that he deals in drugs. However, despite his tough exterior, there is a tenderness in this young man. He wanted to know if, in the afterlife, he would be free from all the baggage of this difficult life.

Speaking about the afterlife is not easy. No one can speak authoritatively about this subject. We told him that we can only speculate but we can know something about Resurrection because there is One person who resurrected from the dead. The Resurrection helped us to address the question about memory. The Resurrected Body of Jesus bore the marks of the hatred and anger, but its resurrected state changed the affects of its scars. We told him that the act of Resurrection is truly a divine act and it can only be understood by faith. Jesus believed that He was to be resurrected by God and this influenced the way He lived his life in the body. He did not succumb to hatred and anger even though he was assailed by these. Instead He chose to find His strength in the Love of God. This Love transformed the scars of hatred into symbols of victory. However, only through faith we can understand the meaning of this.

We told Eduardo that whatever he does in this life with his body will bear the mark for eternity like in the Resurrected Body of Jesus. He can decide in this life what he wants to be remembered for eternity. His past memories do not have to determine everything he becomes now. God is able to take what we have and transform it into a miracle.

Eduardo asked us how our bodies would restored if they suffer decomposition. We told him honestly that no one knows how this is going to work but it is not impossible to imagine God using these materials to create something new and wonderful. This, of course, served as a wonderful analogy of the bad childhood and rejection that Eduardo had and how God is able and willing to use all these materials to create something great. We told Eduardo that the Bible has examples of people whose histories were radically transformed; people who suffered great injustice like Joseph. God used the rejection and injustice and made it into something wonderful. Even St. Paul who persecuted Christians and the Resurrected Christ changed his history forever.

There were several moments of our conversation which moved Eduardo to tears. Perhaps in a strange way, Raianne’s death opened the door for us to speak about Life to Eduardo. I believe that something happened this day. We changed the nature of our relationship with these young people. They know now that we are willing to converse with them on serious and complex questions about Life without pretending to know all the answers. We don’t need to know all the answers and we don’t want to give easy answers. We can only share with them what we have and we have Hope in the Living Christ that transforms our lives in the here and now.


Beyond Right and Wrong

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.-Matthew 11:28

Two interesting things happened last week.

The first incident occurred last Monday. We usually work in the evenings on Monday. Our time began with a conversation with a drug dealer who controls an area where the homeless children usually stay. We often bothered by this dealer because some of the older teens also work for him. Besides this, he is often seen there with his wife and two little children. It makes us sad to see these two children born into this lifestyle. However, last Monday, he was alone. Usually he avoids talking to us but it was apparent that he wanted to talk to us this time. He told us that his wife got arrested recently and she was in prison. He claimed that he nearly lost both his children as they were with her when she was arrested. Since then, he managed to get his children back from social services and he believes that his wife might be in prison for some time as she is wanted for homicide. We could see that he was feeling vulnerable and we decided to stay and listen. He started opening up about his life. He shared that he got into this lifestyle because of love. He fell in love with his wife who was involved in drug trafficking. We asked him to consider seriously whether the path he is on is a good one for his children. Then the conversation took a bizarre turn. He desperately wanted to prove to us that even though he was drug dealer, he was still a good person. He claimed that once he almost killed someone for robbing what he called a hardworking civilian. He said that it was wrong to rob people of their hard earned money. He thought that dealing with drugs was not really wrong because he does not force anyone to use drugs. Needless to say, we were disturbed by his distorted ethics. It appears that he needed someone whom he considered worse than him to prove that he was indeed a good person. He wanted desperately be a good person even though he was going about it the wrong way.

The second incident occurred partly on the same night. We found our children in a nearby square and they had puppies with them. They told us that they found the puppies abandoned and they decided to adopt them. They were very excited like normal children would be when they get their first pet. The next day we found the children in the same place with the puppies. These children held the puppies close to their chest with one hand and held a bottle of paint thinner in the other. They were high but still very affectionate with the puppies. This scenery itself was surreal and then we saw a well-dressed couple approach the children and start talking with them. From a distance, we could make out that the couple were talking about the puppies. Then there was some money exchanged and the couple took all the puppies with them. They had paid $50 for each puppy and there were three. This was not a good thing because all the money would be spent on drugs. These children even said this in our presence. The couple saw them using drugs and yet they gave them the money anyway. I suppose they did not think about their actions carefully. From where we were standing, this couple thought that the puppies were more important than the children. They did not care if the children got high and died from overdose as long as the puppies were fine. It did not make sense. We were not the only ones that came to this conclusion. There were other social workers who saw this transaction and like us they too were flabbergasted. The couple went home thinking that they were better people than these children because they saved the puppies from them.

For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.-Romans 7:19

The couple and the drug dealer reveal something that is intrinsic in humans. Within us, there is a desire to do good, but having the desire alone is insufficient. Our desires do not necessarily inform us how to accomplish the good we desire to do. The drug dealer uses violence and intimidation to protect his idea of innocent victims. The couple wanted to save the lives of the puppies but they ended up contributing to the self-destruction of the children. All these people want to do good but doing what is right is not easy. The struggle is a real one. Everything seems distorted and confusing. St. Paul was right when he explained the deep inner struggle of the human soul. The good that we want to do is not what we end up doing.

No one deliberately does something evil. Most people think that they are doing something that would help them or others. Sometimes people make very bad decisions thinking that it is going to help them in the long run. Our children are in the streets because they think that this is the best thing for them. Everyone wants to do something good but not everyone knows how to discern what is right and wrong. There are many attempts to provide a foundation for this discernment. The answer does not lie in the actions itself but it has to come from something beyond these actions. The answer is not a mere theological or philosophical exercise but it is crucial for our very existence. Sometimes we hear stories from the older teens themselves that they struggle to know what is the right thing to do. They want to be good people but they just do not know how. This is the burden of being a human. We know in our innermost being that we are the happiest when we do good and our soul wanders aimlessly until we discover how to do it.

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.- Matthew 11:27-30

Jesus does not give us a formula or a doctrine. He just points to Himself. He is the answer to knowing what is right or wrong. This is why that no matter how open we are as Christians we cannot succumb to saying that all religions are the same. As Christians, our existence is define through the person of Jesus. The person of Jesus Christ informs our ethical decisions. It is not the doctrine of Jesus but the person of Jesus. It is not a historic person named Jesus but a living person that is experienced through the Holy Spirit by faith. Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Faith is a not a blind leap. It an invitation to an experience to know the One who is able to give us the understanding between right and wrong.

We prayed for the couple and the drug dealer and we also prayed for ourselves. We too need to be constantly renewed in our understanding of what is right and wrong through the living presence of Jesus Christ.


Prince Harry visits Cracolândia

There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.-1 Corinthians 12: 4-6

The World Cup fever hits royalty as well. Prince Harry was here to support the English Team and for a short state visit. This is not his first time in Brazil but it was his first time touring São Paulo on an official visit. He wanted to visit Cracolândia. For those unfamiliar with our postings about this place, you can read about it from the links below. Cracolândia is a nickname given to a place in São Paulo where all the crack addicts go to waste their lives away by smoking crack. It is a dirty and disease-ridden place. The number of the homeless here varies but on the average there are about a thousand people that live in the streets here. Cracolândia is in the center where we live and Prince Harry was in our neighborhood last week.

This visit was anything but spontaneous. There have been some activities in Cracolândia on the part of the mayor’s office since the beginning of this year. They have been systematically cleaning up the area. By this, I mean to say that the local government has been trying to solve the problem of the homeless crack addicts. I always believe that we should give credit where credit is due and the mayor took a commendable approach to solving the problem. The previous path of action would have been one of violence. The mayor would send in the police armed to the teeth and force the homeless to disperse. This time the present mayor, Fernando Haddad, engaged the help of some social agencies and they came up with a plan to provide jobs in exchange for housing and food together with a little pocket money. The jobs were mainly working with sanitation department. Participation in this program was voluntary and many of the addicts enlisted in this program. It goes without saying that the opponents of the mayor predicted that this program would fail. This is just politics. From our perspective, it is too early to tell whether it is going to be success in the long run. However, we do see many positive things happening. The jobs and temporary housing are helping some of the addicts regain their dignity. They like working and having a clean place to sleep. Most of them admit that they use all their earned income on drugs, but they have stopped engaging in illicit activities to finance their drug habit. The program also offers drug rehabilitation services. Perhaps some of them will move towards this direction.

I am sure that local mayor is doing this because of political motives but it does not matter. It only matters that God is using this to reach out to these forgotten people. Prince Harry’s visit restores a greater sense of dignity to these people. The prince got a sanitized version of Cracolândia. The cleaning crew made sure everything looked presentable for the visit. The Prince just wanted to meet some of the people who slept in the streets and he did. We saw some of the footage and he spoke to some people with whom we have good relationship.

My father told me that one of his favorite memories was the visit of Queen Elizabeth to Singapore in 1972. She chose to visit the poorest neighborhoods then and she wanted to visit families in their homes. The visit marked the hearts and minds of the poor then and many like my father have fond memories of her visit. Royalty in some strange strikes a cord in our spirituality. To have royalty visit the poorest of the poor is like something you read in a fairy tale. Prince Harry followed the footsteps of the Queen and visited the poorest of the poor. Whether consciously or unconsciously, he was an instrument of God’s grace for the people in Cracolândia. Some people might say that he made drug addicts into celebrities. I think he just made them feel human and worthy of a royal visit. This is all he did and I think it was a good thing.

* The clip above is a brief report on Cracolândia shown on British television prior to the visit of Prince Harry.

Previous Posts on Cracolândia: