If you follow my blog, you may know that at the end of last summer I went on my first mission ministry trip. This was in partnership with Downtown Cornerstone Church and Igreja do Redentor, a church plant we support in Rio de Janeiro. I have traveled overseas before to Europe many times and have been on one trip to Asia, Indonesia specifically. My trip to Rio de Janiero stands firm in my memory, not only because the reason I was going was unique among my other excursions, but because of the many wonderful and terrible things I witnessed on this trip.
Before coming to Christ, I would see people going on missionary trips and wonder why they went… So why did I want to go? Below is my answer to that question before the trip:
“I could not be more excited about this opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the underprivileged people of Rio. We will be serving them alongside Restore Brazil in any way we can. I specifically will be leading the music/worship team as we go out and interact and sing songs with the children there. As well as provide tangible needs for the families (sheets, toiletries, etc) This is something I desire to grow in and see this as a great opportunity to become more of a leader to others through song. I have seen how impactful music is in my life and so many others, and will expect it to be impactful for those we meet. We will be aiding the local churches and sharing in small groups; visiting the favelas, or slums, around the city and praying for the people; serving the children of Rio by teaching them the gospel in a Bible school setting; meeting any needs that we can of the people reaching out to better the conditions in this area. Rio has an incredible poverty rate and really poor living conditions. In this area it really is the church that is making a difference and an impact to better the lives of those who cannot on their own. We will be supporting the local churches through media, band, teaching, providing supplies and any other needs they have.”
We brought with us about 10 suitcases of supplies in the forms of toys, thousands of sanitary supply bags with soap, toothpaste and brushes, razors, we brought a guitar and case, camera and laptop to help Jay and team help others.
With that preface let’s get to the trip itself and what happened. Our first stop the “City of God.”
Our first place of visit and outreach was the infamous “city of God.” An area that is world famous because of it’s violent past and current drug lord control. This would be our first instance of seeing the broken and beautiful battling. I feel these two images capture that perfect. Shot about 100 ft from each other, the beauty of a child’s curiosity and joy in relationship with others contrasted by the brokenness of a trash dump that is a part of their home. Eric and Suzana, our guides, partners in ministry and soon to be friends, had us wait in the van in outside of the main street while they went and asked the drug lord if it was okay for us to come out and accompany them. While waiting in the van, surrounded by the loudest music playing from various homes in the area, I realized this would be different than I expected. It seems that although in the worst poverty conditions you can imagine, any amount on money received is spent on making their lives visually seem better instead of actually improving living conditions. This expressed it self in self made houses with dirt floors that had satellite discs.
When Eric and Suzana returned we walked out and through the city, making sure to stop by and say hello the the drug lord who had gold chains and watches, a MacBook Air and a wireless usb wifi. Again the contrast of this with the surroundings was mind blowing. Because of the easy access and drug lord controlled area, mothers and fathers here have a terrible addiction to drugs, leaving the children often our in the streets playing or roaming around. Now that is not true of every person in this area, but it was very common. As you can image, being that 24 hours before I was in my apartment in Seattle, this was a bit of a shock. We accompanied Eric and Suzana as they handed out photographs of the locals back to them. Sometimes we were able to find the person, other times not, but there was an immense joy that was brought to all of the people looking at these images. Possibly the only photograph of themselves they’ve ever seen. It was something they seemed very proud of. It is through simple acts like this that the people of Igreja do Redentor have been building relationships in their missional outreach, using small provisions to help earn the right to be heard and offer friendship and help.
The entire team in the middle of the “city of God.”
For the first four days, each morning and early afternoon we would go out into the various favelas, partnering with a different missional group in the city to do outreach. Each afternoon and evening we would do a bible study at the Rio des Padras church plant that Igreja De Redentor supports. The Pastor and his family and their church welcomed us in with the most open of arms. This photo is from the first night of us showing up during Pastor David’s word and then jumping right in to leading some worship music. In English or Portuguese it does not matter, these people love to worship God through song. It was an amazing and refreshing experience for me to see that the quality of the music or the quality of musicianship, show, flavor, dress, nothing matters: worship comes from a heart that longs to worship. This is something that I try to hold in tension with the demands of living in a city that expects and appreciates high quality music highly developed for worship.
Oceans by Hillsong is a song that really represented this trip both in our worship outreach and out souls. Specifically these lyrics recounting what it looks like to trust Jesus in the unknown and in all things:
“You call me out upon the water,
the great unknown, where feet may fail.
And there I find you in the mystery,
in oceans deep, my faith with stand.
I will call upon your name and keep my eyes above the waves
when oceans rise my soul with rest in your embrace.
I am yours and you are mine.”
This is a photo of the live train tracks that run next to “crackoland” a name that while unfortunate describes it accurately. I have never seen so many people, in one place, addicted to a drug. This stretch was miles long and was filled with lil shacks built of found objects. The brokenness in this area seemed to be unbelievably overwhelming yet the team we partnered with that day was unbelievable. They come here all the time and enter singing songs offering water and bread, as well as the bread of life Jesus Christ. They offer help and access to a shelter that will enable someone to get off the street and have a chance of becoming clean. We met some of the most striking individuals here and formed some of my strongest memories of the trip. We saw 9 year old boys that were addicted to crack shoeless because they had sold everything they have for drugs, we met a man who had accepted Jesus and was no longer addicted but was there looking for his family who he has since lost contact with. The stories of hope seem so small in the vast amount of poverty and addiction, but our God is bigger and able to do far more than we can think or ask.
Edward embracing Fabiola after offering to pray for her. This was one of the most touching moments I was able to witness. Standing next to them playing the guitar, seeing a women allow herself to be truly vulnerable with a man who does not speak her language and who’s prayers are being translated, yet she wanted something we all long for acceptance and forgiveness from the Lord.
Worshipping with in the walls of “crackoland” with team and the people who live there.
Outside the walls of the live train tracks that run through “crackoland”.
As we were driving to the last stop to minister in “crackoland” I prayed that God would give me an ability to see who He would like me to pray for. To give me favor and the ability to discern who would be receptive to prayer and the help we are offering. When we got out of the van, I immediately was drawn to Fabio, the man imaged above. I offered him food and drink and asked him some simple questions with the help of translation. We found out that he was living on the streets because of his addiction, and that he was tired of fighting with his wife. He choose to live on the streets rather than to quit drugs and try to reconcile. I felt this was who God wanted me to pray for, so I did. I felt that I made no real difference as he did not react in much of a way at all. However, a day later at dinner we found out that Fabio, and Sebastian not pictured actually left “crackoland” and went to the shelter to seek help. It was many things of this magnitude that made this trip unbelievable. God working through strangers who speak different languages and offering hope, help, restoration and reconciliation.
These photos are from Jardim Gramacho which is basically a trash dump that is no longer active. The people who live here used to sort through the dump and sell things or recycle etc to make money. Now that it is no longer active, it’s since been bought to farm the methane gas from the ground, they are having to try and find another way to make money.
The children in all of the favelas caused me the most heartache. They have no say in where or how they live, and they have so much reason to be sad. But they are kids and kids have a way of turning a trash dump into a playground and making the most terrible of situation seem fun. I truly enjoyed spending time with the children from our outreach and in our time at the Vocation Bible School in Rio Des Padras.
On one of our final days, we traveled what felt like an eternity across the city to visit an orphanage. Here I am with one of the children. It was so touching being able to play with them and deliver suitcases of toys and supplies. This particular girl seemed to be drawn to me from the moment I was there. She had one of our guides write a note to me in English saying that she is so happy we came to visit them. I had him translate so I could write her a note in Portuguese to give back to her. Heartbreakingly, she handed it back to me and said that she could not read it. So I read it aloud and gave it back to her. To see that young teens are not even able to read because they have never had the love of a parent to help and teach them growing up is devastating. Only God can restore that kind of hurt, and I pray so deeply that He does in this part and all of this world.
So what did I learn? How was the trip through my eyes? For this answer I’d like to borrow Edward Sumner’s words from the DCC Brazil Facebook page.
“An industry of oppression surrounds Rio, at the same time we can’t help but believe that the small things, the small people, are being mended. Through every triumphant smile that exploded from ancient and fresh faces alike, every tear that was shed by hurting people over whom we prayed the promises of Christ, there is no doubt another brick of His Kingdom is being cemented into place. I can understand why people give their lives to places like this. Places where the least of these live and whom we have given our lives to for these past few days. Grace is like water and pools up at the low places, and we have been to the lowest here in Rio. And God is at work, and the Gospel is being preached, and the city is being transformed, one life, and one moment at a time.” You can see the good work Edward is doing here in Seattle by checking out REST, Real Escape from the Sex Trade. On this trip him and I grew very close and I am proud to have him as my friend.
So where do I go now? Was my heart radically changed? Should I be out in the streets doing this at home? Am I supposed to keep on working my 50hr a week job and living in a nice apartment with stuff or do I quit and try to serve the people who need it here in Seattle? I believe the answer to that is both. God has shown me that my calling to minister to people may very well happen in the workplace, but that I can also reach out and run after those who have addictions and are homeless here in Seattle. This is something that over the past few months I have not done well, but feel both convicted and encouraged to strive for. I have seen and believe that God works through and answers prayers. Very specific prayers. I believe that we alone are not able to combat a world of brokenness but that Jesus Christ died for there to be an opportunity of reconciliation for those who want it, and that one day all of this brokenness will be taken away and the world will be how it was meant to be: without pain or sin. And so we go out and offer that to others: we aim to meet their tangible, physical needs and allow God to meet their eternal spiritual needs.
I want to thank all who supported me and this trip. We could not have done it with out you. Your money and your prayers were stewarded wisely and they made a difference! So thank you. Please pray for Jay and his team at Igreja do Redentor, Restore Brazil, Acts 29 Brazil and all the other mercy ministry in this city. It is making a difference, one life and one moment at a time.
If you have any questions about the trip, my time there, or how you can help please contact me.