“The giver makes the gift precious.” Anon
I had promised myself that I would never give work team members a view of Brazil that did not include Rio de Janeiro. And as I look at pictures I have of Brazil, something rises up within declaring that I was not telling you the whole story without Rio. And a partial story can be a lie. So I will plop you down in a few of the marvelous sights in Rio, pictures that tell of this city perhaps before some readers were born.
This picture is not Rio but another city on the Atlantic, nor the one below–they all look the same.
Rio is famous as a city kissed by the sun. Its gorgeous wide beaches take the shape of scallops and are made dramatic with the punctuation of mountains with rocky points pushing into the Atlantic. Copacabana is famous, then perhaps Ipanema that is highlighted in the Samba lyrics, “The girl from Ipanema.” Those beaches go on and on and on. At one time Rio was an important port for the shipment of gold, gemstones and coffee to the old world. The bay, on which much of Rio sits, is named the Bay of Guanabara. It is said to be large enough to anchor all the warships of the world—perhaps one hundred years ago.
I pick you up at your hotel that is a block away from others on the Atlantic. You’d pay double for a hotel on the beach. We leave the beach area and head towards the center of the city but part way there we veer to the right, pass the Red Beach and arrive in the neighbourhood of Urca; it is bordered on three sides by water. Our purpose is visit Sugarloaf Mountain; a cable car takes us part way up to the mountain known as the Morro da Urca. There we take another car to Sugarloaf Mountain, a 1,300 metre high piece of granite guarding the mouth of the Baia de Guanabara. The panoramic view of beaches, city, mountains, Guanabara Bay and the ocean takes a person’s breath away.
A small park on Sugarloaf shows off palm trees, a few monkeys and different birds. Now look South toward Copacabana and you will see beaches, one following the other until they fade into the distance. Then look a bit to the right. There you will see the spine of mountains that divides the beaches from the city on Guanabara Bay. The famous statue of Christ the Redeemer on one of those peaks stands guard over Rio.
Turn now towards downtown Rio so that your back is to the ocean and there is Botafogo Bay with its white sand beaches. Now multi-lane roads built on the sand dredged from the Bay follow the beaches to the business centre of Rio. Notice to the right the Santos Dumont airport jutting out into the water. We watch and as a two-engine prop plane takes off; no doubt it is a DC-3 or a Curtis Commander that was old when we arrived there in 1955. It leaves the runway at the edge of the water to fly over the bay. It is strange to see a plane pass way below us as it wings its way out over the ocean. That route lets it avoid having to lift quickly over the surrounding mountains.
Rio boasts a couple of dozen beaches but I want to tell you about the one our family visited. We lived in the South suburb of Meier so when we wished to visit a beach we travelled up over the spine of mountains and descended to a beach called the Barra de Tijuca. That beach is 18 kilometres long and we considered it Rio’s best. At that time it would be practically deserted so Doris and I with Monica and Vernon would have huge sections of white sand all to ourselves. Our children loved a day at the beach. So what better place to spend a Christmas than at this lovely place of sand, ocean and fantasy? We did that in 1962. Doris prepared lunch and we spread a blanket on the sand for our dinner table.
The Barra ended at the North end with rocks jutting out into the Atlantic and just this side of the rocks was a fresh water stream flowing into the ocean. I discovered that oyster grew in the brackish water on those rocks–that provided me with an idea. I swam across the little river with each of the children on my back, one at a time. With a tire iron, we pried the oysters from the rocks, cracked them open and ate them right there. Nothing fresher! Doris was happy to watch from the other side and if any of us wanted more fresh oysters they were for sale along the road away from the beach.
Hotels now line the Barra’s water edge and extend blocks away towards the mountains. I imagine the waves may still be stronger, the wind more brisk and the waters cooler than the other beaches we visited. I pause and I see this beach we enjoyed the most. Our family is there once more; our children are playing in the surf or building castles in the sand. But this I know–neither our family nor Rio will ever return to what it was once. Yet the city of Rio will always be what it has been–the most beautiful city in the world.
Our family came to know a lot about Rio for we were there attempting to plant a church in a suburb. We might better have put our efforts into a less affluent area or begun with a larger nucleus of folks committed to this project. Still I trust God that we blessed some lives with the Gospel message.
All is changed now in Rio. Hundreds of new churches now minister there, many reaching up the hillsides to the poor in those terrible slums. Even the national magazine O Cruzeiro wrote up the story a few years ago of the transformation these churches are bringing to Brazil. That reminds me of the Scripture that says, “If any man be in Christ he becomes a new person.”