For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.-Matthew 18:20
It seems like we walked into an intense discussion and without missing a beat, Caio turned around and asked us whether it is more important to know what is in-between the covers of the Bible than to have a pristine Bible. It was a strange question. Then it became clearer when we saw a worn-out Bible without any cover in his hands. He found it in the streets. I am sure that the tattered Bible had a story to tell which may never be known. I told him that he was right; it was more beneficial to know that the content of the Bible than to have a beautiful unread Bible. His face lit up with a bright victorious smile. I did not know that my word would settle this whole argument. Caio then turned his attention to us. He wanted to show his find. He pointed out that the Bible included a hymnal. He then started singing some of the hymns. I must admit that Caio is a strange fellow but in a good way. He is 21 and he has been in the streets since he turned fifteen. We hardly know anything about his family. Occasionally I ask him about whether he has siblings and he never replies although he still manages to be polite about his reticence.
Over the past few months, we noticed Caio’s growing interest in all things religious. His tattered Bible is not his first by any chance. He has had several ones in the past. He confided in us that whenever he sniffs paint thinner, he tends to lose them. He thinks that there is something spiritual about this. He also once shared that his favorite book was the Psalms. He thought that it addresses the real issues of life and it was full of hope and peace. He told us that he does not have any systematic way to read the Bible. He just opens it up and reads whatever text that is before him. He is not bothered by the fact that he does not comprehend everything he reads. According to him, the Bible makes him feel connected to something greater than what he sees with his eyes. It is interesting that he never mentioned anything about leaving the streets or having hope to have a better life. These things are not his concern. Caio is happy to be connected to something greater than him. For him, this alone is joyful and sufficient. I can’t help but think about the people who think that the poor find religion appealing because of its false promises. Here we have a young man who is interested in the Bible solely because it speaks about God and nothing else.
From one of our many conversations, Caio found out that I was a parish priest before I started working in this ministry. He wanted to know if I was pastoring a church in the city. I explained that I gave up parish work so that I can put all my energy into the street work. He turned around and said that this was not true. I was a little taken aback by his answer. He looked me in the eye and said, “we are your church now.”
Caio is very sensitive to the movement of the Holy Spirit. I have seen him listening to crazy street preachers who jump up and down and shout curses at those whom they think are condemned to hell. Most people avoid them or just sit there and stare in disbelief at their behavior. I am somewhere in between depending on my mood. Caio actually sits and listens attentively to these preachers. Then he is able to decipher from all the craziness something profound and good. He admits that most of the time he does not know what these preachers are yelling about but occasionally he hears something that makes his heart burn with joy. It is not the crazy yelling and hellfire threats but it is something true and joyful. Caio takes whatever he learns and shares it with the other children.
Caio hungers to know the Truth. Jesus said that He will send the Spirit to guide and reveal the Truth to us. However, Jesus also said that we need to be a like a little child in order to enter the Kingdom of God. As adults, we tend to restrict the source of our truth. We only listen to people who think and act like us. Even when we think about the children Jesus is talking about, we tend to picture nice and well behaved middle class children. However, Jesus took a child from his circumstances and said this is the kind of child that we should strive to become. God has place us among children. We are surrounded by little children in all shapes and sizes. None of them are naive or innocent like children of our imagination. Our children are street smart. They have experienced some things that most adults fear. They have seen things that no one should see. They are able to discern who wants to help them or who is going to be detrimental to them. They know who is sincere and honest. Caio does not want to be like those preachers. However, he knows that the Truth can be spoken by whomever the Holy Spirt wishes to inspire. We don’t dictate how the Holy Spirit should work. Caio opened himself to listen to the Truth and he heard it. He saw an old Bible without covers thrown into the streets. For most of us, it would be just trash. He saw it as an opportunity to read and know about the Truth. He was able to see in us a new way God is bringing the church into streets.
The thing that Caio said is what we sense in our spirit is taking shape in the streets. God wants us to be a church. We don’t have to build any buildings. We don’t have to operate like we operate in a regular church. We have to learn to be a church in the streets. In the same, Caio is learning to discern the Truth while living in the streets. We need to discern what it means to be a church in the streets. The first step of this discernment process is prayer. St Peter, in Acts 10:9-16, was praying on the roof when the Holy Spirit revealed to him a new way of being a church. He realized that the gospel is not just a Jewish gospel, but it was for all those who hear and respond to the Holy Spirit. This revelation changed the way the apostles understood the meaning of the gospel. In the same way, our understanding of the new things God is doing must begin with prayer. Prayer guides us to be in a place spiritually to receive and understand the Holy Spirit’s movement in our midst.
A Church is a spiritual community. It is a family brought together by the Holy Spirit. It is a community that must be first willing to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit before acting. When I saw Caio with the tattered bible, I could have bought him a brand new Bible. I had the money in my pocket. However, he did not want a new Bible from me. He was quite happy with the one he found. He wanted to know if the Truth is still relevant even though it came from a Bible without covers. He wants to know how to discover the Truth for himself. He wants to be part of a Church that would teach how to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit. This perhaps would be most powerful thing that we can offer to Caio.