We have found it hard to tell people about our trip to Brazil. Words can seem too limited to describe a one-week experience in a different country. Summarizing the experience feels impossible. "It was great." or "It was powerful." or "It was eye-opening." These sentences feel like an oversimplification... the right adjective being hard to find. When trying to explain our trip, we find ourselves describing details and individual experiences--a shanty town, an encounter with an angry, intoxicated Brazilian man, the kids who lived in the slums.
Believe us when we write to you that we wish we could share it all with you... every photo, every memory, every person, every town, every prayer, every thought... all of it.
So for the time being, we'll stick to those moments that have impressed themselves in our minds, those individual experiences that add up to create the feeling of a place.
So, just for a moment, imagine that you're there... ready, set, go.
But first, an introduction. We went to Brazil with a group of twelve from our church. We spent about a week in Rio de Janeiro and partnered with a local Evangelical church to put on a vacation bible school in two of Rio's favelas (slums). We also had time to visit beaches and tour the city. Rio is a beautiful place. We would spend a day in a favela, surrounded by poverty, and then take a cable car up to a mountain top that provided a breath-taking view of the coast and surrounding mountains. Witnessing the contrasts was jarring: mansion-sized beach homes blocks away from shanty towns, streets littered with trash nestled between jutting mountains and beautiful beaches.
One experience that has stayed with us was walking through the City of God (Cidade de Deus in Portuguese), one of the oldest favelas in Rio. We had never witnessed the poverty that exists in the City of God. Houses, which are more like shanties, were made out of scrap wood and corrugated metal. The paths that led through the slum were littered with trash, the slum having been built on a dirt-covered trash heap. Kids came out of their homes to see who we were and follow us through the neighborhood. Many of them had bloated bellies and smelled of trash. But they were beautiful and would hold our hands as we walked.
We had to keep reminding ourselves that people actually lived in these shanties. It just felt like a movie or a series of photos from National Geographic. To imagine living day to day in this slum was impossible. People lived in these shanties, with no running water and heavy rain threatening to wash them down the hillside. Many favelas in Rio have been leveled by the recent rainy season. In some cases, whole neighborhoods have washed down the hillside, one instance killing 200 people. Most of the favelas are built on hills too steep for people with money to build their homes on, or on covered trash heaps that offer no solid foundation when the rains come.
Most of all, the faces that we know and love from our trip have left a permanent mark on our hearts. The smiling child shaking a plastic bottle full of coke tabs, their only toy made from the remains of trash piled near their home. The loneliness etched on a woman's face as she described her decision to move to the city alone in hopes of finding work and the sadness she felt as she left her children behind.
The deepest of love on a father's face as he holds his fourteen day old baby and asks us to pray for his wife who was suffering from the labor. These faces bring emotions that leave us wondering...
It is impossible to imagine living with so little or in such uncertainty. We think of our attic apartment as a very humble home. But it is filled to the brim with our stuff and stays put despite the weather. We are so blessed. We kept thinking, "What kept me from being born into this poverty? How do I deserve the comfortable life I have been given?" We don't deserve this life of wealth, comfort, and ease. And we don't think we'll ever be able to answer those questions.
So where do we go from here?
-Luke + natalie