The pathway down from the road was of the same red dirt that is so common across Brazil. But this path was hard packed with the imprint of many feet. Why would a dirt trail such as this be so well used in the city of São Paulo with its 22 million people? Just this! It led down to a short suspension bridge that crossed a dirty little creek linking the suburb of São Bernardo to a ghetto. In Portuguese this slum is named a favela and is similar to many that are situated on hillsides. The poor build their shacks there where nobody else would try to anchor a dwell Sorry I Sorry, I can’t transfer the picture in of the bridge from PowerPoint but these are children we visited. Shortly before we arrived a tropical storm filled the creek, extended up the hill and washed the bridge away. (I suppose a tropical storm would be the only kind they’d have in Brazil–it is in the tropics.) The bridge was desperately needed of course for the stream drained sewage from the hills. My own experience in getting over the creek without the bridge was similar to all the team members. We crossed the fetid water stepping carefully, so very carefully from one stone another all the while hoping not to slip into the creek.
But why were we careful to avoid touching the water from the creek? Just this. Our young son Vernon became ill with hepatitis from just such a stream when we lived in Rio. That disease is contagious and Doris then came down too with hepatitis. We certainly didn’t want any of our team to get such a bug for it might mean a long stay in a Brazilian hospital. That could be really tough on a person when he/she would be a continent away from home.
The question is, why would we even try to cross over to the favela on the other side? Well, a lady, Dna. Francisca lived there. Her home was put together with bits and pieces of wood and tin. It was from there that she ministered to the families and especially the children of that favela. She had gained the respect of the drug lord for that area and so was free to hold Christian classes for children. We as a group visited Dna. Francisca for she had arranged for us to put on a program for those same children. They scurried to us and gathered in an open area near Dna. Francisca’s place. Adults did not join us but a number who were curious listened and watched from a distance.
I suppose that Dna. Francisca could move from this favela but one of her concerns would be losing her ministry to her neighbours. In a way, for those folks on that hillside she was and is a bridge from their superstition and misguided faith to a personal trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Why is that important for her? One reason is because she came from a chequered past, having worked as a cleaning lady in a motel. Motels there are known as places for short-term sexual encounters. Then her daughter was miraculously healed from cancer that had metastasized through her body. Doctors had sent her home from the hospital to die but the prayers of God’s people saw a total healing.
In this ghetto, Dna. Francisca shares her story of the power of the Gospel of Jesus in her life and in that of her daughter. She offers to her neighbours the greatest bridge known to mankind, the Salvation offered by Jesus. That bridge gives divine grace to escape the pollution of this world and to one day enter an eternal peace with God. What a bridge!