It was a strange day. We waited on the steps of the cathedral for the children for three hours and not a single soul showed up. Usually we will spend time with at least one child but today was different. Finally, we decided that it was time to go home. We stopped at a grocery store on the way. As we came out of this store, a young lady came up to us and tried to get our attention. She did not look Brazilian: she was clearly a foreigner. We thought that she was lost and heard us speaking English and wanted to ask us for directions. Instead, her first words were: “Do you have a blog?” Her name is Michelle. She came to Brazil to discern a call to work with homeless children. Her first stop was São Paulo. She did some quick research the day before about missionary work among the homeless children here and our blog appeared among the list. Our meeting appeared to be random but we took it as an opportunity from God. We invited Michelle for lunch and she went with us to the streets. Then, Michelle decided to spend the last ten days of her trip here with us in the streets to discern her call. She met our family in the streets and it did not take long for her to become a part of it. I will let Michelle tell you about her participation in her own words.
Through the eyes of Michelle
“Michelle!” Bruno shouted across the street to me as I sat on the steps outside Praça da Sé Cathedral. We met on the steps and he gave me a warm hug and told me he had missed me. I first met him 5 weeks before when we played Uno and talked. Bruno had immediately put me at ease and welcomed me as one of the family. I was so touched that he remembered me even though I had been gone for 5 weeks. He was instantly ready to open his arms to me and include me in his day and life, even though we didn’t know each other very well. I remember one of the first things that struck me about Bruno was how kind his eyes are. I know he has been through a lot but it hasn’t extinguished his kindness.
Through staying with Stephen and Mary and going out on the streets with them I learnt a lot about what true hospitality looks like. They welcomed me into their home, supported me, and showed me love in so many ways. Likewise, the street kids I met welcomed me as soon as they met me and treated me with respect and kindness. Even though I was a stranger to them and I couldn’t speak their language well they patiently waited for me to struggle through basic sentences in Portuguese. They accepted my presence as if it was normal and treated me either like a street worker or a friend, not just a random visitor.
Their acceptance of me is a testament to the work Stephen and Mary do. They have built strong relationships with them. They are friends with them. And Stephen and Mary introduced me to them as ‘our friend from England’. Friends meeting friends. The respect the street kids have for Stephen and Mary is obvious. It’s clear that Stephen and Mary have offered them safety and proved themselves to be trustworthy. I got all the benefits of being a friend of Stephen and Mary, as the street children’s respect for them meant I was welcomed so warmly.
The safe, trusting relationships Stephen and Mary have offered the children was most evident in one moment on my last day with them. Alex was the only child with us. He turned 16 that week but he looks and acts much younger. Stephen had a children’s Bible with him and Alex wanted him to read from it. As Stephen read, Alex was very engaged and interested. Lying on his side, he edged closer to Stephen, leaning over his arm, watching the words Stephen read and looking at the picture. He was physically close to Stephen, listening and enjoying the story, completely safe. It reminded me of a child listening to his father read him a bedtime story. Alex felt safe with Stephen and Mary and it showed in his body language and interactions with them.
It was a beautiful moment of innocence and safety for a child who lives and sleeps on the street. It’s hard to reconcile it with the other experiences I had of Alex over the week, like when I saw him do drugs, or when he showed us where he had slept the night before and pointed matter-of-factly at a bundle of dirty blankets on the street in the centre of São Paulo.
I remember during the week Stephen talking about family. He said he and Mary go out on the street as a family and they invite the kids to be part of their family. When I went out with them on the first day and met Bruno we played Uno on the steps of the Cathedral and I remember that it felt like a family playing a board game in their living room. The only thing that reminded me that this wasn’t normal was that other people walking by or sitting on the steps were looking at us in confusion and trying to work out why we were together.
Every day I saw the street kids come and find Stephen and Mary on the steps. They came knowing they would be accepted. Knowing that Stephen and Mary would be happy to see them. Sometimes they just talked, or coloured. More often they wanted to play Uno and there was a lot of laughter and friendly competition. Some of the kids came by for a brief talk and a hug and kiss. Others stayed all afternoon until we left.
There is a family reunion every day on the steps of Praça da Sé. It’s an odd looking family.Sometimes it’s a big family and sometimes it’s small. It’s a family that’s not always accepted or understood by onlookers. But it’s a family nonetheless. And Jesus is sitting right in the middle.