São Paulo Mercy Ministry http://spmercyministry.com Proclaiming God's mercy in the red-light district of São Paulo, Brazil Fri, 18 Aug 2017 16:32:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.1 Faith Overcoming Barriers http://spmercyministry.com/2017/08/18/faith-overcoming-barriers/ http://spmercyministry.com/2017/08/18/faith-overcoming-barriers/#comments Fri, 18 Aug 2017 16:32:41 +0000 http://spmercyministry.com/?p=584 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” -Matthew 25:21-27

Janaina once told me that she journeys through life with a dark cloud hovering over her head. She is afraid that the people might only see the cloud and not her. I understood what she meant. I have one of my own. Neither of us put it there. It was given to us but not by God. Our life experiences are different. She was an orphan and homeless most of her life. She is 33 now. Years of discrimination and rejection have made her cloud heavy and burdensome. I did not mention to her my own experience. I did not want her to think that we carry the same weight. I have my cloud to bear but it doesn’t mean that I know how she feels. The only thing I know is that it is not her imagination or insecurity that creates this cloud. It is real. People are always going to look at the cloud first and then the person who is carrying it. It is almost inevitable. They will judge her according to it and some well intentioned people might try to pretend that they don’t see anything above her head. In a way, that makes it worse. It is better to say that there is a cloud but we also see the person who carries it. Janaina is a strong woman. No cloud is going to stop her from getting what she wants. It took her a while to discover what she wants. Now, she is going forward.

We can have many names for this cloud. It doesn’t matter what we call it as long as we don’t deny its existence. Jesus did not. He named it and in the process he used an ugly term. The gospel narrative tells us about a woman, not unlike Janaina. She was a woman who bore the label of being a Canaanite. In the land of the Jewish people her heritage was a symbolic reminder of their disobedience to God. Her society wished that the people she belonged to did not exist anymore. Despite the prejudice and hatred, she was in the presence of Jesus. She wanted charity and our Lord wasn’t in a charitable mood. The story portrays a very different Jesus. The disciples made it clear that she was not welcome among them but only Jesus could send her out. She was His visitor. He did not want her to leave and yet He kept silent. His silence was not a consent to his disciples’ request. He was waiting for the right moment to speak. Not all silence is equal. There is such a thing as a cowardly silence and there is silence that listens first before speaking out the precise word. There was something that needed to be addressed for the sake of everyone present. When He spoke, He said the words that should make our modern ears cringe and usually this is often preceded by a thoughtful silence. He called the woman a dog which was the derogative term for Gentiles. The racial slur was intentional. I have heard some commentators try to soften this text by claiming that Jesus was using it affectionately. In Jesus’ time, dogs did not occupy the place in society that they do presently. They were despised and considered to be like overgrown rats. Calling someone a dog is still an insult in these parts today. Jesus spoke quite harshly to this woman, at least in appearance. He was merely naming what was in the hearts and minds of his disciples. It was the thought of the time that her heritage did not make her worthy of God’s grace. Jesus did not say that He agreed with this. It was just the belief of the time. We may not like what Jesus said but Jesus is not obliged to act according to our preferences.The woman did not waver. She knew what she wanted and she was sure that Jesus wasn’t going to negate her plea for mercy. She was going to get what she wanted despite the huge cloud hovering above her head. Something gave her the strength to stand up against Jesus. She knew that He was the only hope for her daughter and she wasn’t about to allow verbal insults to hinder her from receiving God’s grace. She trapped Jesus in His own words. This was something that the religious leaders dreamed about doing but a lowly Canaanite woman is the only one in the all the gospels to win an argument wth Jesus.

The Jesus in this gospel story is perhaps not the kind of Jesus we want to read about. He sounds like a racist. He is actually a very realistic person. He wanted the woman to exercise her faith in a hostile context and she did. In modern times, it seems like people think that ideal circumstances are a prerequisite for efficient faith. It is not faith in an idea or doctrine or utopic imaginings. It is faith in the person of Jesus. Believing that His love is strong enough to overcome the barriers constructed by generations of hatred. Her faith was in the compassion of Jesus. She knew that His love would overlook her burdensome cloud of being a Canaanite woman. Jesus drew out her strength when she was confronted with His harsh words. Perhaps we might think that this is strange pedagogy. Well, we are not the Teacher. His method worked for her.

All our children and teens know that they are born with a cloud hanging above their heads. They can’t shake it off. They have to go through life with it and there will be many that would say that it is just their imagination. However, we cannot say anything meaningful about the gospel unless we recognize the reality of their clouds. Jesus did not pretend that his community did not consider Gentiles to be like dogs. He did not pretend that his society did not believe that they were excluded from the blessings of God. However, the story is not about the appalling attitude of the people but about the power of faith in the Love of God. This kind of Faith has the power that no political entity or social movement can achieve.

I have a cloud above my head but I am where I want to be exactly. Janaina has a tough life but she is not going to allow that to hold her back. The Canaanite woman thought that she was going to get the scraps given to dogs but Jesus gave her a honored place in the gospels. Her faith is remembered today. She is the only person in the gospels that won an argument with Jesus. Her faith overcame all the odds that society stacked up against her. Her story is the story that is going to give hope to those who are forced to carry the cloud around for the rest of their lives.

Perhaps some would say that we should find a way to remove these clouds. It is a wonderful thought but it is not realistic. Education and persuasion are not going to remove these clouds. Hatred and discrimination will always exist until the Kingdom of God is established in His plenitude. It is God’s Kingdom and He will establish it at the perfect time. For now, we know that even when things appear to be hopeless, faith is still powerful to overcome the odds.

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Walking on Hidden Waters http://spmercyministry.com/2017/08/11/walking-on-hidden-waters/ http://spmercyministry.com/2017/08/11/walking-on-hidden-waters/#comments Fri, 11 Aug 2017 23:37:10 +0000 http://spmercyministry.com/?p=578 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
Matthew 14:28-32

There is no body of water close to the old center of São Paulo. Once surrounded by rivers, the names of some of the streets reveal that there was even a tiny port. Today all we find are highways and tarred roads. The river is still there and active. We cannot see or access its resources. It is hidden underground. In a way, we are walking above the river. It is not the same as walking on it. We are not aware of the river running below our feet but it is there.

The story from the gospel is peculiar but not the part about Jesus walking on water. This shouldn’t surprise those who have faith in Him. We believe He is God incarnate. He is not dominated by nature. It is Peter’s attitude that I find to be strange. Why would anyone sane want to walk on water? He was a fisherman. He should know that the sea is a temperamental wild beast. However, Peter wasn’t thinking about this. He wanted to be like Jesus. This was his only inspiration and he also walked on water. Just a few steps though before reality sank in and his body followed suit. This is the most logical part of the story. It is something that we all can identify with him. I would panic if I was in the same situation as him. Jesus seemed a little unfair. He said that Peter had little faith when he did exactly what was normal for any human being. We were not meant to be walking on water and yet Jesus made it possible for Peter to do something that goes against his human nature.

I read this passage in the beginning of the week. The past few weeks have been chaotic for us. All the previous violent episodes had thrown us into some sort of a spiritual turmoil. I thought that perhaps I should start the week with the lectionary gospel reading to help bring things into focus. After all, the gospel is good news regardless of the circumstances. Initially I could not find all the necessary dots to connect this gospel reading with our lives.

Felipe and Tiger

The week was atypical but I could say this about every week in the streets. The children found a puppy, they fell in love with it and this love was mutual. He was their constant and happy companion. There was always someone giving it attention including us. Then, the dog took ill and the children came to us for help. The children in general are very protective over their pets. They would go without food to ensure that their dog was fed. They sensed something was seriously wrong with the dog. We told them that we would find a free vet close by and we found one on the day itself. Unfortunately, it was too late. The dog contracted a virus that attacked its nervous system and it died that very night. When we arrived to take the dog to the vet, the children were awaiting us to give us the tragic news. They shared the painful ordeal they experienced with their beloved pet. They said that they called different public vets and one said that he would see the dog if they paid him a large sum of money. The children were desperate and finally the dog had a violent convulsion and was no more. We heard the story in different versions. It was something they needed to share with someone who would understand. Felipe said that they sat down and cried when the dog died. They knew that it was part of life. We had taken a picture of Felipe with the dog a few days ago. The children were glad that at least they have a photo to remember it. They are not pet-less. They have another dog with them. It was abandoned too. They asked us if we would take it the vet just to ensure it was fine. It was really Alex’s dog because he found it. However, Alex looks like he is 12 even though he is turning 17 in a few weeks time. We needed someone from the streets who was above 18 to go with us to the vet because they only give free treatment for homeless people. We are afraid that they might take the dog from Alex thinking that he is a minor and incapable of taking care of a dog. I asked Felipe to do it. He was a little reluctant. He was emotionally exhausted but he eventually acquiesced. He knew that it was the right thing to do.

The scene was like a scene from a family. The children waited for us to share this tragic tale because we loved the dog too. It was a wonderful dog. It used to sit close to us when we did activities with the children and we certainly miss its presence. They knew that we would understand. However, it would have never crossed my mind that living the gospel would mean consoling children over the death of a dog. It would be crazy to share this at church meeting and say that we are going to another country to help children find a vet for their dogs. The gospel, however, makes us do the unexpected. Things that we used to think that are trivial or impossible become a viable means of expressing love. The children were waiting for someone who would understand their loss. They shared everything that happened. It gave them comfort to know that there was someone who was willing to understand them. The dog died and it wasn’t their fault. They did everything to save it. While it was alive, it never lacked love. They gave to the dog the unconditional love that perhaps they never experienced in their homes.

Like I said, the rivers and streams are still running through the streets where we work. Just because we don’t see it doesn’t mean Jesus is not beckoning us to walk with Him on water. It is not about doing something spectacular. It is just being willing to do something that is unusual for us. It is being willing to allow the gospel to take us to places that we don’t usually want to go or do this things that we might think are trivial. It is easy to disregard the whole incident as something banal. Thankfully, I started the week reading this gospel text. It was helped us look to the One who walks on water for wisdom instead of merely looking at circumstances and disregarding the valuable spiritual lesson hidden within.

 

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A Band of Strangers http://spmercyministry.com/2017/08/04/a-band-of-strangers/ http://spmercyministry.com/2017/08/04/a-band-of-strangers/#comments Fri, 04 Aug 2017 22:56:27 +0000 http://spmercyministry.com/?p=577 If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.-John 15:18-19

If I say that it has been a tough week, it would automatically set a precedence for this post. I have to explain what happened. I am not willing to commit to this. It would suffice to say that we experienced some unpleasant events. The details are irrelevant. They were disruptive but they did not steal anything from us. I am writing exactly what I wanted before these unfriendly interruptions. We had a special encounter with two older boys, Felipe and Wallace. It was so ordinary that it was special. I wanted to share it everyone.

Wallace wanted to know if I had some pictures. “Any picture will do,” he said. I took one of our coloring books and he chose a picture from it and took out a tattered notebook and started drawing. This was something new. Wallace never liked to draw before. His specialty was coloring and he did an excellent job of it. However, he wanted to do something new and different. Felipe took out his favorite Japanese comic book and started drawing a picture of the main character. He was drawing something for us to show to the people in the churches in Florida. Not too long ago, both these young men lacked the confidence to try anything new. Now they are challenging themselves. Mary and I decided to color. There we were, all four of us sitting in a church square doing our respective projects. Not a word was exchanged between us. Everyone who walked by was curious to see us sitting in silent harmony. It was peaceful. It was at this time that I thought about writing this post. It has been a long journey to get to this point where we can be silent with each other and yet at the same be challenged by each other’s presence to grow and develop our respective talents. Felipe felt confident in our presence and Wallace was beginning to nurture his self-esteem too. They both were doing very well in their drawings. Wallace chose a complex picture of a peacock and Felipe was having a conversation with himself on what to erase and how to make the perfect nose for his picture. Wallace completed his picture first and it was amazing. He was a natural, something he did not realize that he had in himself. Felipe was revealing his perfectionist side. Everything needed to be just right and mistakes were not allowed. Consequently, he took a longer time to complete his drawing and he divided it into sections. No one has ever taught him to anything of this sort. He did it naturally. We sat there in our quiet meditation for an hour at least and then we were briefly interrupted. This was a pleasant break. It was a homeless adult who came over with another teen from our group. She was carrying a cake. It was the adult’s birthday. We have seen him before but we do not know him. All the children and teens are friendly towards him. He wanted everyone to give him a hug. In the midst of all the hugging, I was overlooked. Felipe took a piece of cake and he wanted me to share his piece with him. He insisted and I took the piece that he broke off for me. Then he told the others that we shared the cake together. The birthday boy was obviously mentally challenged and behaved like a child even though he turned 36 on this day. I realized that our children and teens were looking out for him.

We returned to our quiet time. Unfortunately, it did not last long. There was an incident. There were verbal intimidation. It was teens from another area and they were being disrespectful and aggressive. Felipe decided to stop drawing. The moment was gone. We decided to leave the scene. As we were leaving, Felipe reminded that I owed the birthday boy a hug. I gave him a big hug and he was pleased.

Next day, we arrived and everyone was waiting for us. The group extended from two to eight. We decided to go to another place so that we wouldn’t be interrupted like the day before. We went to the steps of the cathedral. As incredible as it sounds, we had a repeat of the same quietness and peace we had the day before. Unfortunately, we also experienced the same interruption. This time it was people of authority with their guns in their hands. They surrounded us for no apparent reason and started uttering abusive words to our children and teens especially to a young 13 year old. Their crime was that a couple of them had paint thinner in a bottle. None of them were sniffing. They knew that they were not allowed to do so in our presence. These men of authority did not care. They wanted to show their power over us. Their abuse of authority continued until almost all the teens stood up and walked away except one who stayed with us. Before they left, they said that they would be back when these people were gone. We did not want to come back there. It was a horrible experience for us all. We went home a little sad. So many interruptions and verbal violence, all we wanted is to have a quiet time with these children and teens. There is always the next day.

There was no one around when we arrived on the following day. We waited for a while and then they started showing up one by one. We told them that all the hurtful words that were said yesterday were lies. They told us that they were used to it. They always heard these words hurled at them by people in authority. This wasn’t the point, we insisted. We wanted them to know that they were all lies. Words like worthless and trash should not be used in reference to people. They understood what we were saying. They know that we don’t approve of anyone talking about them in such manner. However, we were just as powerless as they were when it happened. Those with the guns have the protection of the authorities. We were nobody just like the kids in the eyes of society. However, we were someone to the only One that matters. We sat and played a game and it was peaceful once again. There were no interruptions this day. Before we left Felipe said, “It is wonderful when we can just have these peaceful times together without any interruptions.” I don’t think that I can say anything more after these thoughtful and sincere words.

 

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A Roaring Lion Defeated http://spmercyministry.com/2017/07/28/a-roaring-lion-defeated/ http://spmercyministry.com/2017/07/28/a-roaring-lion-defeated/#comments Fri, 28 Jul 2017 22:21:24 +0000 http://spmercyministry.com/?p=575 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour- 1 Peter 5:8

On Monday, Felipe took us aside and said, “I have some bad news.” We knew the words that would follow after this. We haven’t heard them for a long time. We almost forgot that they were part of the street vocabulary. We experienced a period of tranquility and perhaps we have overlooked the fact that we still have an enemy who roams around like a roaring lion. He attacks when the opportunity strikes and this time the victim was Ruan. He was assaulted by a group of individuals who have sacrificed their humanity to the idols of hatred. They were hiding and waiting for their scapegoat. They decided to vent on any homeless person all their bitterness and abhorrence for life. Ruan unknowingly walked into their path and two of them ambushed him with their knives. Fortunately, their hurried footsteps alerted him and he was able to block the blows that were meant for his face and neck. He sustained three stab wounds in his right arm. Somehow, he found the strength to fight off these two angry individuals adults and escaped to a safe place. Ruan later said that he remembered clearly that there were three young men wearing masks. One stood and watched while the other two did the deed. They fled away. We hope that they never come back again. Probably, this was not their first time. One of our boys was killed two years ago in the same spot.

We were silent as Felipe told us what happened. Finally he said, “These things consume our hearts with sadness, don’t they?” Perfect words to sum up what we were feeling. Thankfully, Ruan did not sustain any serious physical injury but it was impossible for us to imagine his spiritual state. We went to the hospital to visit him but he was discharged before we arrived. Throughout our walk to the hospital, our minds were processing that the fact that we nearly lost a child because of hate.

We decided to visit Ruan at his home the next day. We went to his house at his insistence about a year ago. He wanted us to meet his family. We knew that it was close to the center where we work but we had forgotten the way there. We went to the streets first to ask the children for directions. They only knew the general area where he lived but nothing specific. However, it was meant for us to see the children and teens first. They were traumatized by the incident too. They were more open to us than usual. One girl asked about the letters she received a few months ago. She did not mention anything about them previously but suddenly they came relevant to her. She wanted to write a reply almost immediately. I had to hold it off with the promise that I would do it after our visit to Ruan. It wasn’t just her. The others were also renewed their enthusiasm for the letters. Perhaps, the letters helped to balance out the affect of the incident. The attack was motivated by random and gratuitous hatred. The letters were an expressions of love. They were also random and gratuitous. The children needed an extra dosage of this love at this moment to make sense of their lives.

After a wandering about for an hour, we finally found Ruan’s house. He was resting on a couch when we arrived. When he saw us, he gave us a big smile and hugged us. He showed us his wounds and told about the whole incident with a smile on his face. It was as if he had gone through a great adventure. There was no anger or hatred in his voice as he recounted the whole experience. He was just grateful to be alive. Then he asked if I brought some games and I informed him that I actually had all the unread letters he had received with me. I thought that now was the best time to read letters to encourage him. His face lit up. He asked to see all the letters and then started showing them off to his family members. The first thing he wanted everyone to see a musical birthday card. Then he kept reminding everyone that this was from the States. You can never find anything like this here, he claimed. Everyone was impressed. He put it away in a safe place together with the other cards and souvenirs that he received from people in the States. Then he asked me to translate the letters one by one. They all ended with the almost identical phrases; “We pray for you everyday and we ask God to keep safe and protect you.” These words on another occasion would have been mere pleasant and heartwarming words, however, now they seemed to be extra powerful and even sacred. These simple words ignited something in our hearts. One of the letters shared something was especially intimate. It talked about death and how this person lost a child just a little younger than Ruan to illness. When he heard these words, I could see that it struck a cord in his heart. Death is not reserved for the old but it lingers like a silent stranger around everyone. Ruan caught a glimpse of his face. However, it wasn’t his time yet. It has been etched into his soul that death is a true reality. Throughout our time with Ruan, he was more tender and affectionate. He gathered all the letters together and showed them to his family and said, “Look! All these people are my friends whom I never met.” Mary added that everyone loves Ruan. “Well.” I said, “At least we know three people who don’t.” Ruan laughed and his face was filled with joy and peace. Hatred did not penetrate his soul. He is still full of life and love. Those three men who tried to hurt him are still wallowing in their hatred and miserable existence. They deserve our compassion and prayers too. They have succumbed to the enemy of their soul whereas hatred has failed to penetrate into Ruan’s soul. He chose to celebrate that he is still alive. Most importantly, he knows that there are more people who love him than those who hate him. With this, we can conclude that the roaring lion has been defeated for now. We are aware that he is not going to desist from venting his hatred. We also know that love is always more powerful than any of the antics of this defeated foe.

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Using God’s Name Freely http://spmercyministry.com/2017/07/21/using-gods-name-freely/ http://spmercyministry.com/2017/07/21/using-gods-name-freely/#comments Fri, 21 Jul 2017 23:08:57 +0000 http://spmercyministry.com/?p=573 So that, my beloved, as ye always obey, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, with fear and trembling your own salvation work out. Philippians 2:12

I love words, not necessarily literature or poetry or philosophy, these are all good but it is words that I find fascinating. They have the power to summon angels or demons from our past. They can inspire me to reflect on the higher things as well as down to the depths of …… I spend my days listening for the perfect word to trigger my meditation. It can come from anywhere. I usually hope that it comes from the children themselves. I don’t know why but it seems more powerful that way. Unfortunately, I am not a good listener. I should be after going on about listening for the right word. My mind tends to venture to different pastures whenever I hear an interesting word. They take me on a journey when I should be listening. It takes a while for me to get my mind back to my interlocutor and then I try my best to pretend that I have been listening all along. Most of the time, I don’t believe that I am very convincing. They can see through me my façade. The word of interest this week is “blasphemy”. It was brought up by one of our youths. It brought together several things that have haunting my thoughts for the past few weeks. It all started with this simple phrase,“Do you accept the Word of God?”

It was a woman handing me a religious tract. I kindly refused. I felt embarrassed that I rejected the “Word of God.” It is disturbed me. Not that I believe that I was rejecting it but her words accused me of doing this. The children took it without paying any attention to the woman and stuffed it into their pockets. The woman walked off feeling that she had done her part. Later I saw the “the Word of God” in the trash can. This is why I refused it. I know that I will eventually discard it too. It seems strange to throw away something scared with all our regular refuse. What else can you do? The children will do the same. Furthermore, it is not the Word of God. The Bible has 66 books that all the churches agree on. Some have more but none have less. We believe that the Holy Spirit uses these Words to reveal to us what we need to know about God. However, one or two isolated verses do not make it the Word of God. Not forgetting the fact that in our spirituality, His words are living and they are not just printed words. Besides, we attach things to God to freely. A tract is a tract. It is not the Word of God. Even the word, “God”, should be used with hesitance. We act as if He belongs to us and we can attach His Name to anything we like. I felt embarrassed saying, “no”, to this person. In reality, she should be feeling embarrassed to use “God” so liberally. My mind was just wondering off with these words muttered by this woman. I wasn’t angry with her. She is just doing what she was taught. She was a good woman doing something she believed to be good. It doesn’t mean that the name of God wasn’t trivialized. The children and teens received the “Word of God” without any concern or reverence. It wasn’t intentional on their part. They received it in the same way it was handed to them.

Throughout the week, I kept hearing God’s name being thrown about flippantly. I see worn out t-shirts with Jesus’ name, smothered with paint and filth. They will eventually end up in the trash can. Yet, we believe that Jesus is God. I decided to stop thinking about it. It was occupying too much of my thoughts. Then Felipe, out of the blue, asked what is the meaning of blasphemy. He is the most religious of the lot. He carries an old worn out Bible in his backpack all the time. He likes to read the Psalms and some of the Biblical stories. The word, blasphemy, has been on his mind. He was actually one of the boys that was there when the woman gave us the tract. However, this occurred weeks before this formidable question. I answered that it is using God’s name in a way that is not worthy of Him. I explained further that when we use God’s name as if it belongs to us, then we are being blasphemous. It is a constant habit for beggars to use God’s name to manipulate people to give. I told him that this was also blasphemy. We had a brief discussion about it. I allowed Filipe to carry the conversation as far as he wanted to go. I did not want to overburden him with an extensive answer. However, it was interesting that he asked this question. It was the very thing that has occupied my thoughts.

Felipe, despite being very spiritual, hardly says anything about God. However, whenever he asks something about the Bible, it is always meaningful and relevant. Then we have some of our youth who use His name freely, they are the manipulative ones. I had to stop a teen once, not because he was using vulgarities or talking about inappropriate subjects; he used the words of Jesus to manipulate someone to give him a bottle of water. The person was walking into the church. She had her reasons for holding onto her drink. We might wonder why she did not give it. This is not the point. The disturbing fact that one of our youths had no qualms using our Lord’s words for his own personal gain. He learned it by just looking around. People have no longer any qualms about using God’s name to meet their own needs.
We have come a long way from the time of Jesus and apostles. Our faith is founded on Jewish traditions. However, we don’t need to just look at the Jewish community. We can pick any religious group at random and observe that they never use and abuse their sacred writings as Christians have done. I have a good Jewish friend who identifies himself as an agnostic in his present journey. He always uses G_d whenever he argues about His existence or non-existence. He shows respect and reverence for a deity that he may or may not believe in. Yet, we don’t seem to mind printing Jesus’ name on things that we discard in the most disgracing manner. Our children and teens look to us to see how we revere the Name of God. They follow our actions. They listen to our words. However, if we use His Name as freely as if it was our personal property, then we cannot expect them to think that God’s Name is sacred. Using God’s Name in vain is not just swearing. I think the greatest blasphemy of this age is that we use His name in a flippant manner. We have used His Name to get and do things to the point that no one feels the true weight of the word, God. We should not hesitate to use the word but only when it is appropriate. The word, God, should be used in the way Jesus used it. He described God’s living and active presence in our midst. Jesus used it with authority because His words followed His actions. His actions revealed the workings of the Father. Jesus took time to reflect and listen to God before proclaiming His words. We are asked to do nothing less. Giving out tracts and attaching God’s name to it won’t suffice. Using and saying, “Lord, lord……(Matthew 7:22)” won’t do especially for Jesus. God’s name must always be accompanied with an action that brings glory to His name. Something brings glory to God’s name when it reveals the essence of His being which is revealed as Love. Only then we can use His Name. However, it must be used with reverence. It must be used with fear and trembling.

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Faraway, So Close http://spmercyministry.com/2017/07/14/faraway-so-close/ http://spmercyministry.com/2017/07/14/faraway-so-close/#comments Fri, 14 Jul 2017 23:30:41 +0000 http://spmercyministry.com/?p=570 One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. Psalm 27:4

The question came up on two different occasions. Ruan was the first to ask it and the other was a recent arrival to the streets. The question left me feeling a little awkward. It was nothing complex. In fact, it was one of the most common questions often asked by strangers or acquaintances. Usually I would be able to answer it without any hesitation. The response is usually satisfactory and succinct when it comes to complete strangers. It is mere curious enquiry with them, whereas Ruan and the other teen were not curious. They want an answer that would give them a deeper insight into the kind of people we are. It is a desire to know us more intimately.

The question was none other than this; “Why did you choose to be with us?”

Mary felt the complexity of the answer too. She turned around and said, “Stephen can answer it better than me.” This was not true. I was paralyzed for a moment which made me frustrated. I should be able to handle this one being a priest and all that. Unfortunately, I found myself fumbling around to find the appropriate words. The standard reply would not do. With a complete stranger, we talk in general and neutral terms. Ruan and the other teen want an answer spoken at our level of friendship. The words have to contain affection and understanding. I made a mistake. I used the word, “vocation” and suddenly I felt a little embarrassed. It is not because this was not true. It is a genuine answer but, for them, the word is more religious jargon. The word has no meaning to our children. Both teens momentarily lost interest in the answer when I said this. Vocation does not exist in their world. It is not that they are atheists or agnostic. Quite the contrary, our children believe in God despite all the harsh experiences life has dished out to them. They don’t blame God for any of their misfortune. They just think that God is far away. They believe that He watches over them from His mountain. No matter what the metaphor they use, God is always at a distance. They think that they perhaps they are too small for Him to take interest in their lives. It is not their fault that they believe this. Whenever they go to churches that their families frequent, they hear people standing in the front proclaiming victories, testimonies of the things that God has done for them. No one talks about the struggles and neglect that they know too well. It is natural that they come to the conclusion that God is not doing anything for them because He is too far away from their reality. It is better than the alternative which is that God doesn’t care for them at all. They want to keep their faith in God but they have reconciled themselves to the idea that they are beyond His reach. They are not bitter about this. Perhaps they blame themselves for this distance.

The word, “vocation”, is for those who believe that God is near.This is a word that is not in their vocabulary. I had to find the words that would make sense. If I explained to Ruan that God is doing something here and we want to be part of it, he would not understand. He is not at a place where he can understand God’s active presence in his midst. I could say that we are here because the church sent us out as a missionaries. This would be a simple answer but it would be meaningless. He is not a church goer. He doesn’t understand why a church would take interest in these children. Besides, he wanted an answer that would bring him closer to us. This is why he chose to ask the question when no one was around. It was the same case with the other teen. The answer has to be a door into our hearts.

We were playing a game of cards when Ruan asked this question. It was his turn to play which meant I had some time to think about the answer. Finally, I gave it. It was clear and stripped of all religiosity. I told him that we are here because we want to be here. Ruan was winning the game and his mind was on his victory. He had already forgotten the question. It was fine. The answer was not for him. It was for us. Perhaps it was a question that God was asking us through the teens. Our answer was really a commitment to God. Ruan and the other teen have inadvertently challenged us to think about our presence here. We are here because we rather be here than anywhere else in the world. It took us almost four years to come to this point. I am sure that this question will come again and again. Each time we answer the question, it will be a renewal of our commitment to God’s presence here.

 

 

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Washing Unpleasant Feet http://spmercyministry.com/2017/07/07/washing-unpleasant-feet/ http://spmercyministry.com/2017/07/07/washing-unpleasant-feet/#comments Sat, 08 Jul 2017 00:46:33 +0000 http://spmercyministry.com/?p=568 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. John 13:8-11

I heard the above reading on a Maundy Thursday and it did not move me then. Despite all the liturgical washing of feet and subsequent coverage of the Pope washing the feet of random people, I did not get much from the text then. I came across this text again recently in my daily reading. This time, the passage has riveted me. I could not move on to the next chapter. There were so many things to learn. Suddenly it became the most practical text I have read for sometime. I need to discipline myself for this post. I can only focus on one thing here. I chose to highlight the reference to Judas. It is actually the only one in the four gospels that mentions Judas’ presence in the most intimate moments of the apostles with their master. Jesus washed Judas’ feet. He served Judas from His plate. All these gestures are reserved only for the most intimate companions. John makes it clear that Jesus was always aware who Judas was and yet, there was never a change in His love towards His friend who would betray Him. John was the youngest apostle and he remembered clearly how Jesus treated Judas. He thought that it was important that the world knew this.

Every week, I write about our encounters with children and teens in the streets. I share positive experiences we have with the children because I want people to think positively about them. However, this is not the complete story. There is no negative side but there are the other children and teens. These are ones that are broken to the point that they can’t perceive human relationship in a loving manner. They function in chaos and destruction and they like to provoke and cause destruction. These are the ones that the media likes to put in the spotlight. They remove the word “children” and substitute “delinquents” to promote disgust and repulsion. I don’t usually write about these children and teens. Now is a good time to start. They are the difficult ones. Sometimes it is easy to think that they are a lost cause. However, this is not for us to decide. Jesus never tells us to go into the world and share His good news to those who have a fifty percent or more chance of being saved. We are asked to go to people of sorts and condition and share the Love that God freely pours out into this world.

Our contact with these children and teens increases on a daily basis. They approach us, but not because they want to have contact with us. They are jealous that the others interact with us and sometimes they disrupt our activities. Sometimes, they do this because they are bored. It doesn’t matter why they come to us. They are there and Jesus wants us to wash their feet in the same way He washed Judas’ feet. He wants us to share our bread with them in the same way He broke bread with Judas. He wants us to allow them to kiss us and perhaps even betray us in the same way that He allowed Judas to do the same. This is why the gospel is annoying and disturbing. It goes against our nature. We just want to work with the nice children. Alas, Jesus thinks otherwise;

“if you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:46-48

Jesus lived what He preached. If we say that Jesus is our salvation, then the way He lived His life will save us from the hatred and destruction of this world. It means changing the way we think. It doesn’t mean that we become passive and allow broken and manipulative people to take advantage of us. It doesn’t mean that we think positively about everyone and believe that they are all great and wonderful. Jesus advises us to be wise like serpents. He knew what Judas was going to do but it did not disqualify him from receiving God’s compassion and love. We need to know that there are some children and teens who suffered so much pain and destruction in their lives that they don’t know what is good and bad anymore. Perhaps, these are like the one that strayed from the flock and the Good Shepherd left the ninety-nine and went to look for this self-destructive sheep.

Thankfully they are not many. Like the parable, they are one in a hundred. These are the ones that have mental issues coupled with neglect and abuse that have given them a distorted view of life. However, regardless who they are, God invites them. Jesus would not hesitate to have them at His Table. Not to do what they please but to remind them that despite of what they want or choose to do, Love is still available to them.

It is important for our own souls that we learn to wash the feet of these children and teens. I have to confess that it is not something that I would do voluntarily. This is why Jesus made it clear. If we follow Him, then we have to learn how to wash the feet of those who are not pleasant or grateful. They can even be destructive. However, they cannot destroy what God is doing. The apostle John saw how Jesus treated Judas. It is not a coincidence that he was the apostle most impressed by God’s compassion and love. We may not be able to do much for these wounded children and teens, but then again, maybe God will do something though us to help them. We will never know. However, the others are watching. They want to know how to treat these unlikeable and destructive people around them. The world reacts with violence. Jesus responds by washing and feeding Judas. The choice is clear and the eyes of the children are upon us.

God, please give us the grace and strength to do the right thing.

 

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Day of Violence http://spmercyministry.com/2017/06/30/day-of-violence/ http://spmercyministry.com/2017/06/30/day-of-violence/#comments Fri, 30 Jun 2017 22:46:25 +0000 http://spmercyministry.com/?p=565 You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:38-42

A group of protesters walked past us. They were mostly the poorest of the poor. They were protesting a recent violent episode involving the police in their shanty-town like community. A young unarmed teen was shot in an enclosed shack while being interrogated. His mother was standing outside when this happened. She assured minutes before by the police that it was just a formal questioning. She had nothing to worry about until she heard the gunshot. It was something that happened too frequently. The people were peaceful as they passed by. However, their faces revealed a deep sadness and a sense of hopelessness.

Just a few minutes before, we witnessed a violent altercation. It was over something trivial that is not even worth mentioning. It seems like it does not take much to start fight. It involved a homeless adult and one of our most fragile teens, Alex. The adult started physically attacking the boy. A complete stranger and I had to get involved to curb things from escalating any further. Thankfully everything ended with minimum damage. The stranger was with his wife and children. They had come to streets to distribute blankets to the homeless. Perhaps the father wanted his children to develop a sense of compassion for the homeless. Instead, they witnessed an act of violence. If they had come today, it would have been completely different. There was laughter and camaraderie but they came on a day of violence. It was truly that kind of day. Maybe it was the perfect day to learn about compassion.

In reality, everyday is a day of violence. I wish it was just my opinion but all our news sources tell us that this is the way of the world. Ever since Cain, violence has become part and parcel of our human nature. Since I don’t have access to anyone’s personal thoughts except my own, I can only speak for myself. I consider myself to be against any form of violence but it still has a hold on me. I have my personal group that I dislike. In my mind, I have justifiable reasons to dislike them. I believe that they are the cause of all the violence in this world. I like talking about how bad they are. I will never admit it but I would find it hard to be compassionate if something violent happens to this group to disrupt their activities. I might imagine this kind of violence justified because it serves to nullify a greater evil. Unfortunately, every violent act is founded on this idea. Everyone who commits violence thinks that they are doing something necessary to avoid a greater evil, even criminals think this way. I have heard and believed in theologians and philosophers who made convincing arguments about so-called just use of violence. I read them and used to believe in them. Now, I find the gospel to be saying something else. It is in the light of gospel where I have to judge the validity of their arguments. Jesus did not make any exceptions in His teachings against violence. Since He comes before all theologians, only His words have to be taken into serious consideration. He addresses violence systemically beginning with verbal violence and summing up with the admonition to love those who we are usually taught to despise. His message goes against our human nature. This is why we ignore it so easily. After reading these tough words of Jesus, I have become more aware of my own violent tendencies.

Jesus tells us not to resist our enemies. He wants us to turn the other cheek. No matter how much we try, we cannot interpret this text to make violence excusable in some situations. Jesus lived what He preached. He did not resist His enemies. He prayed that God does not take into account their cruelty towards Him. I am not usually a violent person but I am definitely prideful. This is not a confession but just a fact. Like many men and women, I suppose, I don’t want anyone to think that I am weak, especially my enemies. For this reason, when I read this verse, I feel uncomfortable. I want to resist a little bit just enough to show that I am not weak. Unfortunately, Jesus is not allowing any room for my pride. He doesn’t think that it is necessary for us to convince anyone of our strength with violence. He proved it with His own life. The standards are clear and the choice is a tough one. It is either we live in this world and speak the language of Jesus or we just become part of the world. The latter operates on a vocabulary of violence.

After the protest passed us, the children and teens began talking about the altercation with the homeless adult. Everyone’s adrenaline was pumping. The conversation was about violence. They were talking about retaliation. They thought a grave injustice has been committed. No homeless adult should physically hit a young teen. In their minds, the wrong can only be corrected through violence. Finally, I told them to stop the discussion. I said that we have seen and heard enough violence for one day. We don’t need to prolong it. They acquiesced. It was almost as if they wanted to have the permission to stop the violent talk. Then I saw the stranger and his family walking past us. They had given out all the blankets. He smiled at me but his wife and two daughters looked a little nervous and frightened. Understandably they were shaken up. I hope that this would not stop them from being compassionate. On the other hand, it is to this violent world that Jesus calls us to serve.

Jesus faced all the harsh realities of His time and yet never used the language of this world. Violence was not part of his vocabulary. The world could not understand Him. His words did not resonate with the way the world operated. They tried to mold Him into their way of thinking. He did not resist them because the only way to resist them is through violence. He preferred to suffer death than speak their language. He preferred humiliation rather than revenge or justice. He spoke to them in another language. It was a heavenly one. It would be a great mistake to think that his message is about non-violence. Non-violence could be used as a tool to resist your enemies. Jesus was and is taking everything to higher level. His message is about Love where hatred and violence have been eliminated from its vocabulary. It is not a message that the world wants to hear and this is why we will never be at home in this world.

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Our Missionary Journey http://spmercyministry.com/2017/06/23/our-missionary-journey/ http://spmercyministry.com/2017/06/23/our-missionary-journey/#comments Fri, 23 Jun 2017 22:50:15 +0000 http://spmercyministry.com/?p=563 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken…..Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” Acts 2:4-13

When God poured His Holy Spirit upon all peoples, some mocked the disciples and said that they were drunk. This was not the only occasion that people failed to recognize His audible voice. Prior to the Passion, God spoke to Jesus in an audible manner. Some just heard thunder. Some thought an angel spoke. Only a few heard God’s voice (John 12:29). These were not special people. They were just people whose hearts were ready to listen to God. The Holy Spirit changed radically how the first disciples understood God and faith. God was no longer a property of a specific group or culture. He was, in a way, liberated to be who He is truly; a gracious and merciful God of all languages and peoples. He became truly impartial in the hearts and minds of the disciples. All languages contained the capability and concepts to express the divine mystery of God’s grace. In other words, God revealed that He was and is speaking and working among all peoples. Our missionary task is to discern His presence among them.

I have been a missionary in three different seasons of my life. I started out as a lone ranger missionary. It wasn’t because I thought that I did not need anybody. I just allowed my zeal and enthusiasm dominate my actions. I wasn’t necessarily foolish. Maybe I was a little impatient. I was only 23 then. I had an idealistic view of missions. I left for the missionary field thinking that it was a lifetime call and I was never going to return to my land of origin. This actually turned out to be true. I remember saying goodbye to my father at the airport. It was the last time I ever lived in the same place as he did.

In my first missionary experience, I went out with the intention to bring the gospel to people who have not heard the gospel message. I went to the Amazon first. It sounds cliché but I thought it would be a good place to start my missionary journey. It was a complete failure, at least from my perspective. However, it did help me realize that I am diehard urban citizen. I only felt truly at home in a concrete jungle. Any city under 4 million habitants was a small town for me. It became obvious that I should retry my missionary efforts in São Paulo. I left for São Paulo from the Amazon as I was turning 25 and started working with the homeless children and teens immediately. I loved it. It was like coming home to a place where I never knew existed. I always felt close to God where a normal human being would want to flee. Not because it was dangerous. It was the unforgiving stench. It would be obscene to try to describe it. We are still not immune to it but we won’t trade places for anything. It is the place where God meets us. He meets us in the strangest place. It was here where I met my wife and we became one unit in ministry. People now cannot imagine a time when we weren’t together. Things were going great until we had to leave against our will. It was an issue with our visa to stay in Brazil. We moved to the States and worked on returning to missions. We managed to do it but it was a failure. Well, perhaps at this point, it would be appropriate to mention that there is really no such thing as failure in God’s economy. It is all part of our personal maturity. A true failure would be giving up completely. We almost did this but something gave us the strength to move forward. Before we could do this, we needed to understand why the failures were pivotal in our understanding of missions.

During our first missionary experience in the streets, the Holy Spirit opened our eyes to see that these children needed to be connected with the church. Our second trip we tried to create this connection according to our own understanding and wisdom and thankfully, it was a disaster. This is our third return to missions to the same place. This time we realized that missionary work is not our task. We don’t make things happen. It starts and ends with the Holy Spirit. It started on the day when God poured His Spirit on all peoples. The gifts He bestowed upon His disciples were to help them discern and participate in His work. We don’t bring God to these places or peoples. God is already there, about a million steps ahead of us. He calls us to do something simple. He did say that His yoke is easy. He calls us to listen and testify to His Voice of Grace and Mercy that is always actively present wherever people are present.

His voice connects us with each other. The church is defined by those who listen and heed the voice of the Holy Spirit. We took us many years to realize that any effective ministry begins by listening to the Holy Spirit. We listened and listened. Then our eyes were opened to see what God is doing. However, we still can’t see the whole picture. It is not necessary. God does not burden us with all the details. He gives us what we can handle. There is injustice and violence and pain and suffering where we work. We don’t know the answer to all these problems. However, we can love despite not having the solutions. Then God showed us that love cannot be separated by space and language. He is able to connect those who listen to His voice even if they are thousands of miles apart. We testify to this truth. It is amazing that a boy who can hardly read or write can say complex foreign names like Nancy and Jenny or Kat perfectly when these names are usually difficult in his native tongue. It is because they are no longer strange names. They are people who have become part of their lives. We thought that it was up to us to connect the church with the children. In reality, God was already doing it. Sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers who write to these children were not inspired by us to do so. They are people whom God has prepared for this task. It doesn’t mean that those who do not do this aren’t listening to His Spirit. It only means that God has another project for them. He is doing something among all peoples. Mission work is learning to listen and discern God’s project in our midst

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A Closed Book http://spmercyministry.com/2017/06/16/a-closed-book/ http://spmercyministry.com/2017/06/16/a-closed-book/#comments Fri, 16 Jun 2017 22:26:26 +0000 http://spmercyministry.com/?p=560 Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. John 12:24

I just finished a book. It has kept me up for two nights. Thankfully, yesterday was a public holiday and I could afford a late night of reading. It was one of those books that demands a second reading. For now, it will return to its place on my book shelf. I am beginning to have a small library. It seems like I am always rebuilding my personal library. It coincides with the new phases of my life. This one is four years old just like our ministry here. I noticed that I am reading books that I never thought that I would read in another time. Before, I was more indiscriminate in my reading. Maybe it is a sign that I am getting old. I remember a pastor whose sermon I can no longer recall but I remember one small digression he made in his discourse. He observed that when he was young, he had tons of friends. Now he is older, he only has friends that he can count with one hand. Perhaps it is this way with everything. As we mature, we realize that it is not quantity but quality that really counts.

Some reading this might remember that I used to write frequently about Igor. Much of our reflections centered on our interactions with him then. I haven’t written much about him lately. For those who are not familiar with him I will give a brief introduction. He was a homeless young man who had lived in the streets since he was 8. For a short period, we were his parents and he was our son. I think this best describes our relationship. Thankfully, he is no longer in the streets. He managed to find his way out. He has not found a completely stable situation but he is at a stage where the streets no longer hold any appeal to him. He used to come by our house time and time again, kept us up to date with the ups and downs of his life. However, it has been a while since we heard from him. The last time was a phone call in the beginning of this year. The conversation was different. He called and then he was silent. It wasn’t a worrisome silence. It was a silence that informed our souls that things have changed. We live in different worlds now but it was good while we existed in the same one. I think that he just wanted to see if things have really changed. Perhaps, this was the reason for the call.

I had to bring up subjects to talk about. I spoke about Janaina. Now, I have to say something about her. Not everyone might know her. Well, the most succinct way to do this is to say that she was someone we knew when she was a homeless child 20 years ago. Today she is a mother of a beautiful child and a caregiver in a group home for mentally-ill adults. We never thought that we would be in contact with her again. Now, she comes to our house on a regular basis. Igor has met her once. I commented that she came by our house and was doing well. Then, he asked, “Does she have Jesus in her heart?” I have heard this question so many times but it was strange hearing it from Igor. He is part of a Pentecostal Church. It is his spiritual home presently. He has adopted its culture and mannerisms. The church divides people into two categories; those with Jesus in their hearts and those without. I understood his question but I don’t believe in its simple mathematics. I am an Anglican. We don’t open windows into people’s souls. I told him that Janaina is very concerned about doing what is right in God’s eyes. I hope it answered his question. He did not say much. He changed the subject and talked about his church activities. He is helping his pastor in the church and working with the pastor. The conversation ended soon after this.

Igor has moved on. He is detached himself from the street life. We are still connected to it. It is the place where we are going to be staying for a long time, God willing. It means that he has to let us go. If not, his link with the street will be sustained through us. It is not a positive connection for him now. He needs to move forward and forget everything that was behind him in order to reach his goal. Unfortunately, we are intrinsically part of his past. Perhaps this was the nature of our last conversation. It was a realization that our time together has come to end. It was time to let things die. We understand. He needs to grow and discover for himself what it means for him to be a child of God in this world. We discovered that our place is in the streets. He has different books to read. We were glad that we were a chapter in his life. Now, I can close this chapter and put it on the shelf. We would like to read this book again, maybe sometime in the future.

Janaina was a closed book for a long time. One day the Holy Spirt blew the dust off the cover and loaned this precious book to us again. We get to read another chapter with her. She is studying English with Mary and, afterwards, we usually have lunch together. It is interesting that when we knew her in the streets, we never imagined this present scenery occurring. The English language was the bridge that connected us to Igor. It was the first thing he wanted to learn from us. We had regular English lessons with him in the streets and this was how our relationship grew. Perhaps one day 20 years from now, Igor will be having lunch with us on a weekly basis.

Igor is gone from our lives for now. Unfortunately Igor is not a book that belongs to my library. He belongs to God. We just had the privilege to read his book for a brief moment. Perhaps God will allow us another glimpse at it. I hope so.

Do we consider Igor a success story? Well, there is no such thing as success or failure in what we do. There are just blessings. It was a blessing to know him and it is an extra blessing that God has brought Janaina back into our lives. To call it a success would be reducing this wonderful thing into something trivial. I like the idea of books. They invite me into their world and I leave being deeply enriched. It was a wonderful gift from God to read a chapter in the life of our dear friend and one-time son, Igor.

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