Heads up – Pictures are forthcoming soon, as I head over to a neighbor’s tomorrow to scan a mountain of fun for ya’ll. Until then, content yourselves with the word pictures, and enjoy…
Ever have one of those days? Not bad, not tired or long – just weird? The morning flew by as if it had the wings of fly… hmm… right.
Around 3 in the afternoon I met up w/ Laura (one of my two Servant Team members) and boarded the bus on our way down to Lapa (the area of down-town “our” street children, our friends, hang out in). When we got off the bus and looked around, we saw no one except a group of construction worker putting up a chain-link fence around an overhang that forms the rain-shelter of the youth (as they call themselves). We sat there and watched for a few minutes as they welded and erected and sealed and spat and generally did what construction workers do.
“Bené!!!” I heard Thiago yell across the square, so Laura and I turned and started walking towards him. I yelled back to him a greeting, and asked “Where is everyone else?”
“Oh, they’re somewhere around… Hey! You wanna go home w/ me and meet my family? Let’s go!” With that, he was off, scarcely waiting for our feeble “OK… sounds great…” But he was so excited… (I was pretty pumped as well, as we’ve met a few relatives of some of the Lapa gang there, but hardly ever parents, and never been to one of their homes. “A breakthrough,” I thought.) =)
(A quick sidenote – as I sit here writing this, our power has just gone out… my heart’s beating a little faster from adrenaline. In the last five minutes, there’s been the most number of gunshots for the longest period of time since I’ve been here in Manguinhos. A number were right down the street… Please, as you read this, take a minute, stop, and pray – pray for Manguinhos – for the families and children who live here – for the violence that surrounds it and threatens to engulf it – and that transformation may come – that the light may shine here in the darkness… thanks. And now, back to our story…)
So we headed down the street towards his house (only a few blocks away). We rounded the corner, and I was unbelieving as we headed towards his apartment building (a modern, 20-story affair with elevators, doormen, etc.) “Why does Thiago live on the streets?” I asked myself…
As we walked through the front door of his family’s apartment, I knew why. It was nothing I hadn’t seen before – yet I wasn’t expecting such blatant poverty in a high-rise in downtown Rio. Small, crowded and dark, filled with seven people. It was not any better than a place in the favelas (however, it did have the attraction of being less violent). I thought to myself, “If I lived here, I would probably be on the street too.”
His mother was precious, but the contrast that struck me was between Thiago and his younger brother Zé. Zé, a few years younger, was preparing to go to a performance at a nearby social project he had been attending for about six months. Zé had none of the “hard-ness” that was immediately visible in Thiago that comes from living on the street.
As we walked around the project (which focused on providing artistic outlets to young people from the favelas, like dance, theater, music, painting, sculpture, graffiti, skating, circus, etc.), Zé’s excitement was contagious. He was SO proud of every aspect he had been involved in, and the joy bubble out of his eyes. It was beautiful to see.
Only later, after asking how he had come to the center, did I find out the rest of the story. He, like Thiago, lived on the street for several years. The previous year, he had been picked up and placed in a shelter, and from the shelter had been sent to this project. Since that time, Zé has been living at home, going to school, and has turned his life around. I was amazed. Seeing the difference, the pride, the life, the joy in Zé’s eyes versus the deadness, the contempt, and the weariness in Thiago’s was eye-opening.
It broke my heart for Thiago, but gave me hope for him and the others in Lapa as well. His younger brother has begun to put his life back together. He can too. My prayer is that the life and joy that awaken in Thiago will be the life of the Son breaking through.
Oh by the way – names have been changed… when I ask them, I’ll switch it, and would ask for your continued prayer for this family. thank you.
One more quick note, and then I’ll let you go. After walking Laura home on Saturday night, while I was still over at their house, the most torrential downpour I have seen in Rio snuck up on us. After a few minutes of playing on the roof in the rain, I decided to try and head home to my house. I almost didn’t make it.
As I was crossing the main road that divides their community from mine, I ran into my first obstacle. Where the road had been was no more – instead, it was a river… I found the best place to cross by watching the men pushing their stalled cars onto a side street (that unfortunately did not lead me towards my home). Crossing the first street I was almost swept away by the current several times as I lost my footing on slippery items underwater that I don’t really want to know what they were.
I was finally able to walk on the sidewalk, where the water was only halfway up to my knees… This portion went on for a good 100 yards, as my flip-flop clad feet stuck and slipped through the layers of accumulated filth and trash that coated the ground. Almost home, I then ran into my last obstacle – a 40 foot wide puddle (that again, came halfway up to my knees) to my front door (where I found that the power had been off for several hours. On the plus side, I was able to take my first shower by candle-light in a number of years as I tried to wash off the nastiness from my feet, and thanked the Lord for the dry roof over my head… Now if I could only find where I parked my boat…