The Favelas

“If I keep a green bough in my heart, the singing bird will come.

A favela is not just a shanty town; it is a city within a city and we know it as a slum. It will have its own government though more than likely the power is criminal. The ability to provide a certain amount of order comes out of the barrel of a gun. Many of the favelados–people who live there, are content to stay for the slum has most everything they need.

The story is told of a dentist from one of our churches who for a week or so provided free help in a Rio favela. One night all his equipment was stolen so the matter went to most powerful man in that slum—a drug lord. His reaction was a promise to kill the thief, but the dentist asked only that his equipment be returned. The next day the dentist found all the stolen goods had been mysteriously put in place during the night.

The way into the heart of a favela is through a sprawling maze of alleys and pathways with the result that the police and the army are shy about going in to arrest anyone. They would be an easy target. The shacks there are the homes of 11.25 million Brazilians and since land is scarce each shack seems to be built on top of those constructed at a lower level. The poorest of the favelados are forced to build high up on the hills and their places are accessible only from narrow pathways. Often those same pathways will have a little stream of putrid water flowing to a lower level.

I recall visiting a favela in Sao Paulo where a number of children were receiving aid so they could attend school . After the car was parked we walked a short distance to descend on steps carved into the red soil of the hill. The problem was that the edges of those steps had vanished with time so even though it was not raining we had to be careful. At the lowest level was a dirty stream that served to dispose of sewage. I want to tell you we were careful to step on stones and not get any of the sewage on us. We visited in a home that had enough space for a small garden. No doubt other squatters later moved in till the houses built would be so close to each other that access would be difficult.

Back at the top of the hill we clapped our hands in front of another home for we had food to deliver. The mother came carrying a small child while another older one clung to her skirt. Then she invited us down, yes down into her home for it was built on a steep incline. There on the parent’s bed was a fat little baby less than a year old. I picked her up and she began to scream. The mother explained that the child was blind from encephalitis and wore a special patch on her neck to allow her to breathe. She stated that she only picked this little girl up to feed her and change a diaper all because the baby screamed when touched. The mother looked at me accusingly as she explained the sad situation of her child.

Then I was asked to pray there by that bedside. Indeed I began but the words stuck in my throat and tears filled my eyes so that another person finished the prayer. We left the food and went on our way. But the sights and sounds of that shantytown stick with me yet.

This picture of a favela does not show the intense building of one shack upon another as us usually the case. As time goes by this favela without doubt will begin to climb higher on the mountain; then there will be little room for trees

Jesus tells us to have compassion on the poor and needy wherever we meet them. Brazilian churches do their best to help in many ways providing education, food and clothing. The key component is the Good News of the Gospel. Dramatic changes happen when the Gospel is received. There is hope in Jesus our Christ—a vibrant hope in this life and in the next.


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