“Once you'd resolved to go, there was nothing to it at all.”
We have moved into our new space! Giving thanks! Especially since we have managed to go down from four services to two services, since in our new temporary home in the side hall we have more space for more people, although having said that, the services were full and we might have to add a third service. The worship band is nervous, it's a long day for them and the teaching pastor!
Since we have moved into the side hall there are some new challenges that we need to over come and of course the first weeks will be trying to resolve any issues big or small. This week we realised that the air conditioning isn't enough and that the exit is a bottle neck. These are issues we can fix, small fiddly things, our bigger problem is that in between services someone tried to break in through our back door, which is not as secure because of the building project. This alongside some beaurocratic paperwork has taken away a little from the joy of the blessing of the new space. But, ultimately the robbery attempt was simply that, an attempt and the thief left empty handed when he heard that there were still people within the building. Going forward, please be praying for us and for the young men who are helping with the building and are sleeping on the couches in the church, we pray that they are kept safe and that their joyful service is blessed. It is so beautiful to come into work in and see their smiling faces singing away, covered in sweat and dust. Ultimately, despite our challenges, we had a great service and a great time in church community, And we are all grateful to be apart of an exciting time for the church and the community!
This weekend, as well as our attention being on the first services in the new space, the church also held a weekend retreat for a group of 20+ transgender sex workers. Brazil has a reputation for prostitution, from what I understand, prostitution in itself is not illegal, although running a brothel or pimping is outlawed. This makes prostitution a viable employment option for those who have been left with little other options. Also, due the prostitution laws, exploitation of children, women and trans people is a serious problem, and as prostitution is is no way regulated (no health checks or licences) disease is rife, and violence is an every day occurrence. The history of prostitution in Brazil is as old as the country itself, when colonialist imported slaves from Africa, who were expected to be available to the slave owner in any way they desired, and so it is because of this that prostitution is widely accepted and the "unfortunate" consequences of this lifestyle are somewhat expected and there is not much love or care shown to those on the street. I am speaking, of course, in general terms, of the impression of society, but there are many organisations who are working legally, practically and spiritually to better the situation of the people who have been driven into this life. The church can play a large part in this, but so far few churches have yet recognised their role in helping those on the street and we hope to see that change in the coming years.
Igreja Rio grew out of Voz na Rua (as I explained earlier) and has had a history of working on the streets from times before they were a church, and this work continues weekly. There is a group of people who spend time on the corners building relationships and serving those who they encounter there, and once a year there is a retreat for those who wish to participate. Alberto and his wife Marilia, are the couple who head up the work on the streets, and they work tirelessly to develop the work. Tomas and I only managed to go along for part of the day on Saturday, due to other commitments (Universally, a pastor usually has four places to be at the same time on a Saturday), but already in the short time we were there (in fact, I think that we possibly spent more time in the car to get there, and back again - with no air conditioning), I was moved by the testimony of those on the retreat and their relationships with those that were serving them.
It was in that time that I realised that society has somewhat come to accept a situation in which a person is viewed as a commodity. Where their existence is accepted as being less valuable then that of others, and especially those buying from them. As Matt Chandler says, this is an Imago Dei issue, where the fact that these individuals too, were made in the image of God and have an intrinsic inherent value equal to that of any other person, has been cast aside - and they are viewed through scornful eyes, either as a necessary commodity or a shameful part of culture, to be ignored and scorned in equal measure. There is much work to be done to see people liberated from this life style, in education, in the legal system, in cultural understanding and spiritually and having experienced a small part of the stories of many of these people, I see that this need is urgent.
Some, particularly here, say that these individuals have made the choices that have put them on the streets, or that they are born with a spirit of prostitution, or that this is what they want to do, that they enjoy this. I would challenge anyone with a seed of these thoughts in their heart to talk to anyone involved in a project like this, because you will find that this not the case. The painful stories of the lives of these individuals prove otherwise, many are too harrowing to be shared on a lighthearted missions blog. One simple story I will leave you with, one of these transvestite street workers, in their mid twenties, was away at retreat, and on the first night they all sat down to supper together, and were served by the church volunteers, and she started to cry. When asked why she was crying, her response was that she had never, in her life, sat down at a table to eat with others, and never had she been served with such care. This simple act of love, made possible by the love of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit, was the beginning of transformation for this individual, and we thank God for his continued care of the downtrodden.
|My group hug at Camp.|
That Saturday morning was also my birthday, and I was embraced by each one of those on retreat, and for a person far from their family and friends, their care for me also showed Christ's love in community, and I was extremely grateful for it.
Please continue to pray for this situation, for those in harms way forced to make incredibly hard choices. Pray for understanding, and for churches to be moved to share life with those that are driven to work on the streets. Pray for governmental and educational change that could bring relief to this situation here in Brazil.
|My new place is still a mess, so here is an out of focus picture as a foretaste|
P.S. On a lighter note! As well as the big move to the new building, I have moved into my new house! I have been there exactly two days and one night. So far I came back for dinner with Carol and Tomas, as well as lunch, and will be here to look after Samuel later. So, although my new little flat is adorable and has a wonderful mid afternoon light, I am still not used to being on my own and am also blessed to be right near Tomas and Carol (as well as their unlimited Wi-Fi). I suppose that little by little I will get used to the funny noise that my fridge makes, or the barking of the dog next door, or that one window which keeps falling off its runners and feel safe and comfortable there. In any case, I have a spare bedroom! So come and visit! I would love to have you (anyone really!) and I live next to a house with some very fun American Missionaries who do magic tricks whenever they see someone new. You'd love it!