“You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubts; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair.” Ullman
The Olympics in Brazil were a smashing success. But remember that acclaim was in spite of an economic crisis and the process of impeachment of their president. The project of “cleaning up the streets” to look good before the world had nothing to do with garbage. It was a political broom to sweep away the homeless and drug dealers. That included the many children who lived on the streets in some of the nicest neighbourhoods of Rio. Many of those children were abandoned by families that could not feed or clothe them.
We never saw anything similar to the streets of Rio when we lived in the interior of São Paulo state. We never knew about children being abandoned but we were struck hard by the poverty so many families faced. What can I write as I look back to the wonderful children we met who faced a bleak future? Our salary was barely enough to keep our own family together let alone give much to help them. Alcohol of course contributed to poverty in some homes. Again and again I’ve wondered what became of those children.
The huge coffee fazendas earned Brazil good money on the international markets, but most workers with their children lived in poverty. Their poor housing had no running water or bathrooms. More important there was little opportunity for children to get more than a few years of schooling. The images of the Rio beaches are that everyone is happy and taken care of; but that is the big lie. I’ve read that children of 15 years of age or less did up to 30% of the work force in the coffee fields; I have no way to confirm or deny this. Schooling is free for all ages but absenteeism is a huge problem. All I know is what I saw.
The accusation made is that we needed to work to change the social and economic structure of the country. My answer is this. I recall an American Methodist missionary who wrote in both languages about the problems he saw—his visa was not renewed to return to Brazil. And when the leftist movement became too strident, the army took over the government. However there is an answer though its healing of the problems often grinds along slowly.
The answer we carried was the Gospel of Jesus: a new life through his grace leads to hope and often to changes in lifestyle that opens up a better life. When parents have no hope they may abandon children; when children have no hope the answer often is violence and drugs. The promise of the Gospel is that if anyone is born into the family of God, that person becomes a “new creation” with new hope and ambition. And if a person cannot escape the pain of this life, the Gospel at least offers consolation for all eternity. And that is no small thing. Indeed, it is no small thing to be sure of Eternal Life!
Whether it was a missionary or a Brazilian wishing to plant a new church, the work often began with the children. When the children were excited, the parents often came out of curiosity. The love shown by the leaders often brought help for the children who later became both community and church leaders. The Gospel song says it so well, “A Wonderful Saviour is Jesus My Lord.”
I look not to a program such as the Olympics to change Brazil, but I look to the church of Jesus Christ.