What does Charleston have to do with São Paulo?

Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 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 foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.- I Corinthians 1: 20-24

The news reached São Paulo; nine people were killed in Charleston, S.C. in Emanuel African Methodist Church. They were killed by someone whom they had welcomed with open arms. They chose to see beyond racial and cultural barriers and receive him as their brother in Christ. They even told him that they enjoyed having him there. Even after all these, he turned around and murdered them in cold blood. It did not take long for this tragic event to be used as a platform for some political position. Debates about gun control were rekindled. Discourse about racial issues popped up. Statistics were used to prove each other’s point. In the midst of all this, the people who were directly involved refused to be drawn into these impersonal arguments. Instead, they showed the world what it means to live in the world and not be of the world. They reflected the true meaning of being a follower of Christ. They lifted up the Cross in their hearts. For those who are blinded by power and violence, the Cross was, perhaps, the last thing on their minds. However, for Emanuel AME Church, it was the source of their strength to overcome this absurd situation. It is absurd because no explanation can bring any logic to the situation. It was a work of a mind that is overshadowed by hatred and pain. We don’t need to venture into the mind of the killer. There is nothing interesting there. The families of the victims, on the other hand, have something powerful to show us. They have allowed the Light of the gospel to shine through their lives so much so that we are sensing their glow and warmth in our ministry in São Paulo.

The Light of the Gospel compelled Emanuel Church to welcome a complete stranger into their midst. They welcomed him because they knew that it was an opportunity to share God’s love to a complete stranger. However, each time we invite a complete strange into our community, we also take a risk. They decided that it was worth it for the sake of the gospel. They allowed the Love of God to dominate their actions. God calls His people to reach out to those who labour and are heavy laden.

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

Those who are burdened and heavy laden are not necessarily mentally balanced people. They can be people who are lost and confused. They can be people who have allowed hatred and violence to consume their soul. The message of the gospel is a message of hope and healing for these restless souls. However, it does not mean that they would receive the gospel. The death of Jesus on the Cross was an act of rejection. People rejected the love and hope that Jesus offered. They chose to murder Him mercilessly. Jesus knew the risk but it did not stop Him from showing His love to the people. He calls us to do the same. He calls us to carry the Cross.

A Church that is not willing to risk and receive anyone that walks through their door is not a church that is willing to carry the Cross.

Before this event happened, we talked about opening our home to allow the homeless teens to drop by. Igor has come several times to our home. We know that it is a matter of time before the others would drop in as well. We want them to come here. We want them to know that they are welcome into our household. However, there is always an element of risk. We don’t expect anything bad to happen, but we need to be aware that it is a possibility. We need to ask ourselves whether we want to take this risk. Most importantly, is it worth taking this risk? This is a good question to ask. The people of Emanuel African Methodist Church gave us an answer to that question. They have answered with a resounding “Yes” but not with words. Their answer was given in the powerful act of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the most powerful thing one can give. It is more powerful than any weapon. It is more powerful than any political discourse or ideas. It is so powerful that it reveals a strength that only can come from beyond. The good news is that this strength is available to all those who are willing to carry the Cross. The gospel never guaranteed that we will be be safe from danger. There is really nothing in this world that can keep us safe from violence. No guns and laws can keep us safe from danger. However, the gospel can give us the strength to forgive. Being able to forgive is a divine sign that nothing that happens in this world can destroy our soul. The message of forgiveness that these good Christians in Emanuel Church shared with the world is that they have no regrets about welcoming this violent man in their midst. They are deeply hurt by what he has done, but they have no regrets about welcoming him. They are saddened that their love was not sufficient to bring peace to his disturbed soul. This doesn’t stop them from loving him despite the fact that he took precious people of their own families and friends. Some of them were angry but even in their anger, they said that they will eventually come to forgive. Their goal is forgiveness because they know a God who is able to do exceedingly more than we can ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20)

What does Charleston have to do with our ministry in São Paulo? Well, everything basically. Emanuel AME Church has shown what it means to carry the Cross in this world. Their faithfulness and love will continue to inspire Christians all over the world to carry the Cross. When we go into the streets or even welcome some of the restless souls in our homes and hearts, we will remember the strength and love of the good people of this wonderful church. We can safely place our lives in the hands of the God and worship together with them knowing that He will always be our strength no matter what happens.



The perfect age to be a missionary

They shall still bear fruit in old age; They shall be fresh and flourishing,
To declare that the Lord is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.- Psalm 92:14-15

She was just visiting. It was her first time in Brazil and she did not speak any Portuguese. I don’t know what her home town looks like but I am sure that it is not anything like São Paulo. This city is unique. Sights that were common to us might have have seen strange to her. At our usual meeting place, there were a bunch of dubious looking men trading stolen goods. There were homeless adults literally sprawled all over the place; some were drunk and some were talking to themselves and others were just passed out. There were businessmen dressed in Armani suits walking around and skateboarders taking advantage of the smooth surface of the square to practice their stunts. Our children and teens were in the midst all these. Despite this odd scene, she appeared to be calm.. She did stand out among the team. She was in her mid-fifties and she had this grandmotherly aura about her. This was really the reason that brought her to this country. Her daughter is a missionary and having her first child. The baby was due in a week’s time. She was with us because her daughter and her husband are involved in this ministry.

It was interesting to see the reaction of the children to our visitor. They noticed her but they did not ask any questions about her. Usually they are very curious whenever we have a foreign visitor. They knew she was new and yet they treated her as if she was a regular. Mary brought some materials for manicure and some of the teenage girls wanted their nails done. Our visitor sat next to Mary and started doing the girls’ nails. Then the boys started gathering around. One of them who is usually little aggressive and disruptive asked if she would cut his nails. After she was done, he wanted the full manicure treatment. The others boys started requesting it as well. There were happy to just sit close to her. The lady interacted with them without any words and the girls and boys responded well to her presence. They did not say much but it was apparent that they just liked being near an older person. They liked the presence of a grandmother. Words were not necessary.

We have brought many volunteers to the streets but this was the first time that we saw a volunteer being accepted without any questions. The children and teens found comfort in her presence. She, on her part, decided that she was going to be who she is, a loving grandmother who travelled thousands of miles to be with her daughter. This is something most people would do for their children and grandchildren. It was nothing out of the ordinary. The only extraordinary thing was that she was sitting on the dirty floor of a city square being a grandmother to homeless orphans.

She did not come here to be a missionary to the homeless children or adults. This is not her vocation. However, there are people who are grandfathers and grandmothers who might feel the call in their hearts to serve the homeless. Some people have shared that they wished that they were younger so that they could join us in this work. Maybe the fact is that you are the perfect age to serve as a missionary and may not realize it. Certain ministries need grandfathers and grandmothers and some require sons and daughters. God has not put an age restriction on vocations. In our ministry specifically, the children and teens are looking for people who would love them unconditionally. They want people who would be consistently present in their lives. They want people to show them that their lives are special. You don’t have to be a young person to be these things to the children and teens.

Our grandmotherly visitor was a calm and flexible person. She did not allow the language barrier to hinder from doing what is important. She was not distracted by the chaotic environment around her. She was focused on one thing. She was going to be herself in the streets. On this day, the children and teens had a grandmother.

The perfect age for a missionary is the age when he or she is comfortable and secure enough to allow God’s love to flow through them. The Holy Spirit is not limited by our age. We should not limit ourselves because we are older. If we open ourselves to God, He will use us regardless of our age and limitations to become His vessel of Grace to these little ones.


In the Middle of the Night….

São Paulo after midnight is dangerous. The center where we live is notorious for criminal activities. Usually, we avoid going out late at night if we can help it. However, last Tuesday, we were walking home at three a.m. in the morning. We did not plan for it. It just happened. We had just spent six hours in the emergency room and when we were done, we could not find any taxi in sight. We had no choice but to walk home.

Everything started on Monday evening. It was supposed to be a quiet evening with some friends. I was the cook for the night. One of friends arrived early and Mary was talking to him in the living room. Then our intercom rang and Igor was at the door. This was unexpected but I thought maybe he was in the neighborhood and wanted to drop by. As he was coming up the stairs, I was thinking of ways to convince him to stay for dinner. He is little shy and needs a little persuasion to interact with new people. I went out of our apartment and waited to greet him as he came up the stairs. As soon as he saw me, I could see that something was wrong. He did not look well. He said that he had a fight with his girlfriend, Ana Paula and they decided to call it quits. On top of this, he had been feeling ill all day and he wanted to go to the hospital. He asked if I would accompany him. At this point, Mary and our friend came to our doorway and heard the whole conversation.

There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to with him but I also had some guests coming over and they were expecting dinner. I was not quite done cooking. Our friend, Paulo, volunteered to go with Mary and Igor to the hospital so that I could finish cooking and wait for the other guests to arrive. As Paulo and Mary got their stuff together to leave, Igor and I were alone in the room for a few minutes. It was at this moment that Igor started crying. He was upset that his relationship with Ana Paula had ended. He said that he decided to leave the Project because he cannot live with her anymore. It was the first time that I have seen Igor so vulnerable and lost. He expressed that he felt as if he was losing everything and he did not want to go back to the streets. I told him that we will figure something out together but for now, we need to get him to the hospital. We were concerned as there is a dengue epidemic here. He had some of the symptoms. Before he left with Mary and Paulo, he gave me a big hug and thanked me for listening. I hardly did anything except to listen to him for a few minutes.

After they left for the hospital, I prayed that God would give us wisdom to deal with this crisis. I told myself that I needed to handle one thing at a time. My friends were due to arrive soon and I prepared something quick so that they would at least have something to eat. They arrived promptly and I explained what happened. It opened an opportunity for us to talk about our work with them. They talked about Igor and his life in the streets. They became interested in getting to know him and asked how they could help. It has been some time since I had the idea of introducing this group of friends to Igor. They were slightly older than him. Most of them come from lower middle class backgrounds. They have had their fair share of struggles and life is still hard for them. They are still trying to figure out how to live their lives to fulness. They don’t have the answer but they are hopeful in finding them. They will bring some positive light into Igor’s life and I believe that they will be blessed as we are by knowing him.

Paulo came home alone about eleven o’clock. He informed me that Igor had to get some blood test for dengue fever and the results would only be out in three hours. This meant he had to wait in the emergency room until then. Mary was with him and I was to join them. I packed some food for them and got there about midnight after a forty minutes walk. Igor looked better. He was given some medication and it was taking effect. All three of us sat there and waited. There were a quite a number of people waiting just like us. Some felt well enough to strike up a conversation and Igor started talking to an elderly woman who had fallen in a bus. She received treatment for injury and was waiting until sunrise to go home. She lived alone and did not want to go home alone in the night. It was interesting to see how Igor interacted with her. He gave her his full attention and engaged her for a good part of our wait. She asked Igor who we were to him and he said that we were his relatives.

Three hours came and went and there was no sign of any results. Finally, at about 3 a.m., Igor asked if he could to come back tomorrow to get the test result. Usually, this is not allowed under Brazilian Law. They cannot release any patient suspected of serious illness to leave the medical premises without permission from the doctor. Igor had a word with the medical staff and then he came out of the room smiling. He got the permission.

The three of us walked the dangerous streets of São Paulo at 3 a.m. There was hardly anyone around. We did not feel afraid and we were talking about Igor’s future. We encouraged him to return to the Project. We told him that it was not too late if he went back right away. It was less than twenty four hours. We found out later that the Project gave people a three day grace period. Igor went back to our place for coffee and some snacks and then we paid his taxi to return to the project. It was 4.30 am.

Thankfully, Igor did not lose his space. He has still a place to stay. As for his relationship with Ana Paula, we are not sure about its future. As a rule, we respect the privacy of our young people. We do not ask anything about their relationships unless they volunteer the information. Ana Paula and Igor have been together for five years. This is a long time for teenagers/young adults living in the streets.

Igor came back the next day to our house. He picked up the test results and they were negative. He was feeling a lot better. He thanked us for going with him to the hospital. Despite the stress, we were glad that Igor came to us. In a way we signed up for this kind of stress. When we opened our hearts to these young people, we agreed to be there for them when they needed us. I am glad that Igor knows that we can be trusted to help him in his most vulnerable moments.