This summer we came upon an incredible opportunity to travel to Brazil for the first time, at an extremely low airfare; less than half what it normally costs. We were able to bring our music presentation to the streets of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. All I can say is “wow!”. It is another huge country that we look forward to returning to in the future. So much opportunity. Most of us have become fluent in Portuguese now, by God’s marvelous grace, and we are able to communicate at 100%. One of the highlights of our trip was when we were asked to perform at a large prison/hospital facility for mentally handicapped men and women…
I remember jogging along a suburban sidewalk, in the States, repeating the strange-sounding phrases I heard in my ear. It was so boring and tedious I didn’t know if I could ever learn Portuguese, of if it would even be worth the effort. Where would my brain put all this new, funky information? Why do all the words sound like “daa gee”? More than a year later, standing on Copacabana beach, fluently conversing with individuals in their native language concerning in the gospel, I realize those long boring jogs were more valuable than I could have ever imagined.
There was no one waiting for us. No one expecting our arrival. Just one of the largest cities in the world in a culture that might as well have been ancient Greece to us. But truth be told, there is nothing more exciting to my family than being totally out of our element with the expectation of great hope and adventure. There is something deep within all of us that longs for something new, a challenge to go beyond what we have done before. So many times, things don’t work out, or worse, we wimp out when it comes down to it. But clicking that simple button “book it” lead to great things for our family and many others. It also lead us to the realization that carrying hundreds of pounds of equipment around gigantic metropolitan areas can be unbelievable exhausting after a few weeks, but that’s for another story.
Running on the rooftops of a famed “Favela”, coming down and running into the Pope (almost literally), spending the afternoon dancing on the cities plazas and the evening feeling the ocean spray on the rocks of Ipanema was quite a day. But that’s also for another post (hopefully soon). This post I will touch on a day, that for me, was the highlight of our trip.
Through a long line of connections, a director of a prison for the mentally handicapped heard of our presentation and asked us to come to his facility as apart of their celebration of their National Health Day, 2013. They picked us up bright and early and were almost on time (which is nearly a miracle in Latin countries). We drove a few hours into the beautiful country side of rural Brazil. We arrived at this gigantic facility and taken right to them main area where they had some snacks (yummy) waiting for us while we talked about the logistics of the event. The director expressed some serious concerns for our safety and was trying to arrange security as we would be going into a “patio” of several hundred mentally handicapped prisoners. We explained to him our experience with such a situation and our ability to deal with anything that would come up. A few more details and we were on our way in.
You know, you’re nervous and wondering what to expect, what are we gonna do, how is this all gonna work, until you’re there. When you see their faces, shake their hands and touch their hearts, suddenly all anxiety is gone. Some of them were nearly “gone”, lost into their own sad worlds; others seemed compelled normal but just beyond the surface were issues of complex tragedy they didn’t understand. Each one of these men and women had stories you could film documentary about. In the hours we spent in that facility, I can only hope and pray that we touched them as much they touched us. Having worked in dozen of prisons and desperate situations, it’s hard to see a worse level of living than we had already seen somewhere else. Well, this was worse. Not in the facility or lack of care but just the tragedy of such predicaments of these precious individuals.
We performed in a number of the separate patios for both men and women and were able to reach all of the several hundred inmates. Our magic, funny routines and dance choreography’s seemed to be as “cirque du solei” to these guys. But it was the simple things, the personal touch, the relating of their stories and just our bringing the love of Jesus to them, that meant the most. It took great care and work to share the gospel in a way that would accurate and helpful to such individuals. We were so blessed to see the Holy Spirit meet us with profound wisdom in such a unique situation. While it might be unique to us, Jesus is surely no stranger to such a situation. Surely He dealt with many such individuals as He touched multitudes of poor and desperate people. We felt so privileged to be His hand of love to people He cared about loving.
Many of the individuals that ran the facility were exceptional care givers, others seemed to simply be going through the motions. I cannot fathom the work and commitment it takes to run such a facility. It’s so interesting as we go into so many places, how many levels there are of caring. From school directors to prison guards, the people can make such a difference in even the worst of places. Even the poorest and most desperate facility can be an environment of hope and love if there are people there with a “spark” to go that extra mile. Likewise the opposite is also true. We see the choice we must individually and as a family make to not “go through the motions” but do everything we can to tap greater depths of sincerity.
One of the leaders of this particular place was unique as young guy making an all out effort to care about complete strangers. He was learning to be a clown so he could bring laughter in such a sad place. He expressed to us how much it meant to him to see us and what we were doing. He realized the potential he has as an individual, and if he would tap the marvelous life that God offers, to change the lives of many.
After the events, we bid tearful goodbyes and headed out back to the urban jungle. We had a decent few hours of daylight left so we decided to perform for a bit in one of the plaza’s down town São Paulo. We ended up in a place we hardly wanted to be… or did we? We didn’t realize it right away but it was one of the plaza’s where most the homeless people lived. The place stunk like you wouldn’t believe (I’ll spare you the details). A couple of times we had to stop to try to calm down a few shouting matches between some near by drunks. But believe it or not, the worst part of it all was these tiny little bugs, hundreds of them, that were all over everything. Apparently we were under their tree and they didn’t like it (Lol). Sounds minute, but they were really annoying little suckers. All in all, we were right where we should have been. Sure, the crowd was full of the homeless and desperate, many of them addicts or drunks or the such. But who needs what we offer more? Is there not love, hope, redemption and forgiveness even for these guys? Certainly. In another set of the wrong circumstances, any of us could go down that same road and be in the same place. We realized yet again, as we often do, it’s not about us, but God using us to reach those HE wants to reach.
The day was exhausting but Divinely rewarding. We can’t help but just stop and constantly marvel at the tremendous privileged we have to do such things.
*We will be adding more about our trip to Brazil, as soon as we can get a chance.