So it’s been a while since I last posted an update and a lot has happened since. I’m really happy I came here when I did and had the experience of the 2 camps at the start of the trip. The time with the kids at the camps really helped to set a foundation and establish relationships with them – not to mention make me totally fall in love with this bunch of rascals. Back to normal schedule at Casa Semear now, I got a chance to see what the regular rhythm of the mission here is like…(btw – you can click the pics for bigger preview – FYI)
We have the kids here every day, mostly for one morning session and one afternoon session from Monday to Friday with the exception of Wednesdays which are usually our missionary meeting day. Getting to spend time with the kids daily has been amazing! The kids gather at the gates eagerly before each session, anxiously awaiting the opening of Casa Semear and storm through the doors excitedly squealing and running around. As they come in, you’re greeted by a dozen or so “oi Tio”s and pretty quickly swamped by a stampede of little arms all jousting to give you the tightest squeeze they possibly can and an accompanying “beijo” on the cheek. They’re genuinely so affectionate and glad to see you. Many of them won’t let go until they’re pried off of climbing all over you… it’s the highlight of my day! haha
We have various activities planned for them on different days which range from craft projects such as bead-keychains, to drawings, bible study lessons, singing, games, ballet, and girls and guys chat sessions. The craft sessions are great (of course all of which are worth points which they are rewarded with later for the tables and persons who complete the most) while conversing with them as your are working on the keychains. The kids are generally very happy to work on these and have a lot of fun doing it, and a few of them have given me some as gifts when they’re done. 🙂
The “papo de homem” sessions were really cool. This “guys chat” is a great time where the missionaries can sit down and have some serious one-on-one talks with the guys about various issues and also study the word together. I joined my first one with them today and it was pretty awesome. We talked about the topic “what does it mean to be a true disciple of Christ” – which lead to some good opportunities to open up on the gospel and its implications. I shared on Luke 9:23-25 – Jesus’ own call to discipleship:
“And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?”
I shared 3 main points on what does it mean: 1. to deny yourself, 2. to take up your cross daily and 3. to follow Jesus? It led to some poignant questions and self examination of whether or not we’re truly following Christ and what really makes a true Christian. I pray the Lord would use it to continue to open up their understanding to His word and the Gospel that they would be truly saved and radically transformed to His glory! Looking forward to future sessions with them. I also helped set up some computers this week that they had donated which will be used to teach the kids basic computer literacy. Outside of the normal sessions at Casa Semear, Hector and I have also gone to play football with them at the local field and Hector has had them over to watch movies also…
We also had the opportunity to do some house visits inside the favela. The favela is tightly packed together, with houses literally on top of each other – most quickly constructed and barely complete – some not so much so… The corridors and pathways are narrow to walk through and there’s a running sewer/canal through the middle of it. You could imagine the smell isn’t the most pleasant. This favela most of the houses are brick, however there are parts and other favelas where they are still mainly wood shacks. The living situations are really impoverished, usually a small house with the bare essentials and a bunch of people packed together in it. In some, as many as 14 or more can live in a space that would barely be considered a bachelor apartment. Despite the situation though, many of them find a way to get a long and make the best out of it.
When you see the conditions they come from first hand though, it is understandable their excitement to come to Casa Semear. It truly does stand out as a light in a dark place – not just in terms of a clean, safe and fun area for them to feel at ease in – but also in terms of the darkness of evil the kids face in their communities. Drugs, gangs and crime are commonplace. Even walking through we noticed a few young men who were likely gang lookouts keeping a watchful eye on us. I found out later that apparently I resembled a cop who had come into the neighbourhood and cause some trouble – which might have been why they were keeping an eye out. Many of the kids have either been directly or closely affected by the drugs and gangs in the area – some of them had been roped into being involved even before coming to Casa Semear. Many come from broken homes, where either one or both parents have either died, separated or left the kids.
This is their constant reality – their time at Casa Semear only accounts for a small fraction of their usual life – which makes the impact that the ministry has on them here all the more important. The love the missionaries show the kids, the lessons from the bible and sharing of the gospel with them really makes a difference. Favela life though is a unique thing to understand that may take a while – especially for foreigners who are unfamiliar with this coming from a prosperous western context – to get fully. Though I can somewhat relate from my own life experiences and exposure to missions in third world contexts, I wouldn’t even dare to say I understand it all. The issues are complex. It’s not just the physical conditions – the problem is deeper – to a way of thinking, community life, corruption, psychological issues, social and cultural norms, and spiritual battles. For many, this is where they were born, will hardly ever leave, and all they ever will know – so the thought of something more out there beyond the favela may not even cross their mind! I’m reminded of a line by CS Lewis, I think, that says something to the effect of: we are like children settling for playing with mud pies because we cannot imagine what is meant by an offer for a banquet on the seas.
However, despite the depressing conditions – the favela does function as a community. They look out for each other, help out each other and share what little they have. Even down to the local drug dealer looks out for the good of his community – and some even will go to him for help with various problems and even justice! (as strange as that sounds, it says a lot when you can get more justice out of a drug lord than the police!) They have an impressive resolve and ability to bounce back to their feet despite circumstances, and the Brasilian “jeito” or easy-going way of taking things as they come definitely comes in handy I think.
A totally different experience was going downtown to join a street team with ABBA that ministers to homeless, drug addicts and street kids. We met in front of the huge cathedral in an area where many of them hung around. Some of the missionaries brought various hygiene and cosmetic items for them to use, and also games and of course a soccer ball. While the girls redid their nails and talked to the female missionaries – the guys played soccer with them and in the process we struck up various conversations and found out how they were doing and they’re current situations. This is an ongoing work and one which is also a long term commitment. For many of them, this is not a simple in-and-out sort of thing, but it takes years of patient ministry, earning trust, and breaking down barriers to really see someone come off the streets and be transformed by the gospel. I have a lot of respect for this street team and the love and commitment they have for these people. They knew them all by name and had a long history with many of them. I’ve also been working on a devotional commentary on the book of Romans from my notes in my journaling Bible during my quiet times here. So far I’ve finished up to Chapter 10 in my journal, but I’ve transcribed and typed up to Chapter 5 here on my blog. You can access and read the commentaries here. Enjoy!
It hasn’t all been just ministry – I also had the pleasure of meeting up with a friend from north Brasil who was visiting (unfortunately for some sad reasons) – and to do some “touristando” (sight-seeing) downtown. There’s a lot to see in Sao Paulo city, many historic areas and impressive buildings – quite a difference from the favelas! Many parts of the city are very modern, and there’s a huge variety within the city of things to see and various building types and neighbourhoods.
I also got to see my first live big football (soccer) game between Sao Paulo and Cruzeiro! Sao Paulo won 1-0. It was a great experience! Crazy sound of the roar of the crowd, the various chants, songs, taunts, palavraos (bad words), and waves – I wonder what it would be like in a sold out game! The stadium seats 67,052 and is quite impressive. Brasilians are loud and animated bunch which made the experience that much more enjoyable. It was great fun with the missionaries. 🙂
We also had to say goodbye to one of the missionary volunteers here, Lukas. He went back to Switzerland this week and we will miss him dearly! He’s a crazy guy with an amazing personality and heart for the kids. He definitely added his own unique flavor to our group at Semear. We had a going away bowling and BBQ which were great! He left his mark on the Semear wall and bid farewell. It got me thinking about my own farewell which is fast coming up… I can’t believe how fast the time is flying – and I don’t know how I’m going to leave! I’ve definitely grown fond of the kids and the mission here. I believe strongly in the work they are doing, and definitely want to continue to be involved.
I’m already thinking about how I can come back sometime next year again to serve – and also what other ways I can help out. I’ve started filming here to put together a promo vid and hopefully help to raise some support and maybe even inspire some others to give of their time and join the work here. There’s a huge need for laborers! More men and women are needed who love the Lord, have a passion for the Gospel, are established in the faith and in the Word, to really invest in the lives of these kids. Financially, though Casa Semear tends to spend more than it takes in – the Lord has been faithful to provide and it’s inspiring to see the faith the missionaries have in trusting Him to continue to do so, though they have no clue how He’s done it so far! haha… I’d love to see my church get involved and hope to use the videos to see if I can rally other support as well… how awesome would it be to be able to come back next year with a team of passionate Christ-followers to help out again here… and who knows, perhaps the Lord would call one of them to make this their permanent mission field! Continue to pray for the mission here – the needs are great, but so is our God!
Thanks for reading!
“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. Brothers, pray for us.“ (1 Thessalonians 5:23-25 ESV)