Sunday, July 18, 2010

no. 31: brazil

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


  1. Gosh, I know so what you mean. It is such a humbling, shattering experience to understand what insane wealth we live in, even in what is considered poverty here in our first world nation... how to make sense of it, and how it could be the way that it is... The gap is unthinkable, and the breakdown in such basic human quality of life is something I question daily. Then the questions get deeper and the whole system we seem to be locked into just doesn't make any sense. Where to even begin! I wish I knew the answer to your question. I have asked myself the same, and where at times it felt that I should be out there doing something, changing things, moving things, it seems instead that I've become quieter and quieter in my life... perhaps expressing peace and simply loving all life is where we should be, where we should be going. In some ways, it's hard to know what else to do.

    Thank you both for expressing your impressions and posing some heartfelt questions. I appreciate your depth and tenderness.

  2. it looks like your trip was incredible.
    these photos are full of emotions, especially the last

    glad you guys made it back ok!

  3. whenever i get depressed about the amount of poverty in the world and wonder "why me? why was i allowed to be born in america instead of some third world country?" i just remember that it is part of God's plan. He has given me so much so that He can use me to give to others. it's part of our job as His beloved to show His love.

    thank you for sharing your photos and stories. this post has really been a blessing.

  4. These images are stunning! Thanks for sharing such a life changing experience.

  5. Thanks for sharing some of your experience. I think about this often - that I am so undeserving of the privilege I've been born into. I am a white, middle-class female in a wealthy country. I am healthy, I am loved. I didn't earn these things, they are just part of my life, and yet I know that they make me a very privileged person. I suppose the question is - what can we do with our privilege to help others who don't have it?

  6. i have struggled with these same thoughts. how do i live with so many blessings in a world where people have so little? and i've come to the conclusion that i do it by giving. by loving. by always being willing for the sacrifice. just by going on this amazing journey you're finding the balance.

    thank you for giving us a peak at this experience. the pictures require no elaboration.

  7. I understand your feelings. You two are very thoughtful, humble beings. I know that people were touched by your work there. Don't feel burdened by all of your blessings while others lack. All you can do is keep living righteous lives giving to others in any way you can.

    Please share more of your photos and thoughts when you have time. They are always bright stars in my day.

  8. so is that it?! i miss your posts and check back all the time!!

  9. Thank you for sharing these precious God moments of lives of others.

  10. I just read all your post. I really love this blog, the photo's, how you write about each other, makes me dream. you have a new follower

  11. I just found your blog this morning. Your blog have lots of beautiful, interesting pictures. Very pretty and has story.
    I like that. will come visit again.
    Thank you for sharing your world.