"In Rio, peace depends on a delicate balance between the thug's ammo and the cop's corruption." -Elite Squad
Cidade de Deus, or City of God, is the name of the favela that Max and I visited today. If you've seen the movie City of God, then you know the place I'm talking about. If you aren't familiar with the term favela, they are slum towns in Brazil. During the 19th century, slaves were freed in Brazil and many had nowhere to call home. Because it was extremely difficult for slaves to find work, they were often too poor to afford housing in the city and were pushed out into the suburbs. Also, soldiers were brought from Bahia to Rio de Janeiro and left here without land ownership or homes.
Now, the favelas are the residence of more than 12 million people in Brazil. The largest favela in Rio, named Rocinha, is in walking distance from our hotel and is estimated to hold over 200,000 people. There are police guards armed with machine guns at the entrances to the favelas, and the police constantly roam through the shanty towns looking out for drug deals, sex traffickers, gang violence, and other criminal activity. Unfortunately, many of the officers are paid off by the drug lords, who are known to be rulers of the favelas. Many of the favelas are pacified, but because of the World Cup, criminal activity in the favelas has increased incredibly. Unlike my country and the American Dream, the Brazilians have little to no possibility of escaping their lives in the favelas due to the government and extreme separation between the upper and lower class. The middle class has seen growth in the past ten years, and the government and large companies have put more and more effort into resolving issues related to the favelas.
As we entered Cidade de Deus, it took less than 50 yards before we were stopped by the police, who had their guns drawn and aimed at us. We were with a pastor, and he explained in Portuguese that we were there for a Christmas party for the children. No one in the favelas own cars, they can barely afford food, so the officers probably thought we were looking for or bringing in drugs. After we explained our situation, we were allowed through without any conflict.
The favelas are incredibly dilapidated, and each house is connected to the next. They look like the slightest wind could blow them over. Most homes are one square room, and the entire family resides in this space. Max and I had the opportunity to walk into a guy's home, and it was probably around a 15 ft X 15 ft space at most. I can't try to explain what the residences look like compared to an American area because not even the poorest government housing units in the States compare to the favelas in population versus the living space. We saw a home where a two parents reside with their 8 children, and it was a bit smaller than the size of our hotel room.
The outskirts of Ciudade de Deus
When we parked our car, we were immediately greeted by some of the leadership team for the Christmas party and all of the children who were already beginning to celebrate. A tent was set up and decorated with Christmas decorations and a sound system was brought in to spread Christmas cheer through Christmas songs. A trampoline was also set up for the children, and food was plenty in the form of spaghetti and hot dogs, soda, popcorn, and popsicles. The barefoot children ran around singing songs, dancing, jumping on the trampoline, and enjoying the holiday spirit!
We met some Christians who have recently turned to Christianity because of the missionaries that have influenced the area. Paulo, a guy from the church, was telling us that they had a team residing in a house in the favela, and they built a garden to teach the children how to care for their land. Since then, they have built roads and strengthened the infrastructure of Cidade de Deus, and more importantly, they have changed the lives of the people by showing them Jesus through their service.
New brick roads and sidewalks built by the church and
Hugs between a church leader and a friend who resides in the favela
At first glance, the children appeared like every other child I've seen in my life. They might have a little more dirt on their feet and their clothes were obviously not bought at The Woodlands mall, but they were happy, adorable, and enjoying the Christmas festivities. As we began to interact with the children and communicate with them, their traumas became more evident. Max witnessed eight year old boys imitating snorting, smoking, and shooting drugs, and I had an 18 month old repeatedly punch me in the face while I played with him. Of course, children are children and it would be a lie if I were to say that none of my nieces have punched me in the face before, but these children learned their actions directly from their environment, quite possibly their parents. I know these children cannot all be put in the same category, but the majority of these children endure traumatic experiences from a young age. It's heartbreaking to hold a baby knowing that the likelihood for drug trafficking, hunger and poverty, and violence is extremely probable in the future.
After a day spent in the favelas, Max and I came back to our hotel room with our iPhones, iPad, macbook, closets full of clothes, and we ordered room service. Someone brought our food to our room, we ate, put the dishes outside of our room, and downloaded a movie from iTunes. We are so disgustingly privileged.
Our monetary wealth is a blessing, but at the end of the day, our spiritual health is most important. For these families, monetary gain is an unlikely event, but the hope that comes through Jesus gives a renewed spirit. For us, monetary gain never seems to be enough, but we know that there is only true fulfillment through the grace of Christ.
My favorite little boy <3
Soda is less expensive than water
Kids waiting in line for the trampoline
The kids got skills!
Another perspective of the newly built brick roads
This one loved a thumbs up!
Most beautiful lashes I've ever seen
Our American friend, Jay Bauman, having some fun with the kids.
Melt. My. Heart!
So in love
Can't help but think of my protective and caring older sister
Max and his boyz
All of the children watching a performance of the Christmas story!
Brother and sister
Nothin' like a little cheeky.
I don't want this post to be a dreary post about the poverty in Brazil. I focused on these aspects of the favelas because they are real and they exist, and we too often forget. At the end of the day, our focus should remain on Jesus. Full time missionaries have devoted their lives to enhancing the lives of the people in the favelas and spreading the hope that is found through Christ.
Maybe poverty and violence aren't what you face this holiday season; Maybe your difficulties revolve around depression, the first Christmas without a loved one, or loneliness. This holiday season, may we all turn to the manger. May we celebrate and rejoice in the birth of Jesus, who's life and death on the cross enables us to live eternally in heaven, free from any turmoil.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." Luke 2:9-14
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:6-7
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Corinthians 3:17