Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Rio and traveling the same streets

On Sunday, as we watched the last few meters of the Olympic Women’s Road Race along Coco cabana Beach in Rio, memories came flooding back.

“We traveled those same streets,” Jerry said apparently having the same thoughts I was having.

I nodded. I remembered well sailing along the road that lined Coco cabana beach.

A little over ten years ago, I traveled with my daughter to Rio to work in the favelas surrounded the city.  Later, Jerry took our son in a separate trip.

Though the media has been replete with negative reports about Rio, I have precious memories, even amidst working among the poorest of the poor there.

After flying across the gargantuan Amazon rain forest with a stopover in Sao Paulo, it took us more than thirty hours to reach Rio. I was exhausted, but I have to tell you, when I first saw Christ the Redeemer statue atop the 2300 feet tall Corcovado Mountain, I had a Weekly Reader moment. For some reason, I remember a picture of the statue in the children’s educational paper, never dreaming I would actually see it. Oh, and the Coco cabana beach is just a beautiful as you might imagine.

We packed our own clothing and personal items in carry-on luggage so our checked baggage could be used for gifts for the poor. We prepared and served meals and gave out hundreds of packages as we held a Christmas party for those served by the mission. One night as I filled plates of food, I looked over to see my daughter sitting on the floor playing patty-cake with one of the little Brazilian girls. I felt my eyes grow moist.  Unable to speak each other’s language, they found a way to communicate.


Another night, I played keyboard with a Brazilian worship band. I didn’t know the song, understand the Portuguese, or have a chord chart. I just tried to change chords when they did. It probably sounded terrible, but I couldn’t help but think of the verse from Psalm 18:49, “ . . . I will praise you, Lord, among the nations . . . “

I had the privilege of leading Bible study for those on the mission trip with us, and one afternoon, I assisted in baptizing a long line of people in a pool there.

Many of the children in Rio favelas cannot attend school, because born at home, they are not allowed to attend without producing a birth certificate.  They live in houses with dirt floors constructed of whatever their parents find to provide some measure of shelter; some don’t even have outhouses.  Many of these babies live on the streets. Heartbreaking.

As we distributed clothing and other necessities among these hills, it’s like Jerry said, for a couple of weeks, the briefest of times, we did travel the same streets as these folks did. Enough so that as I am watching the Olympics, I am wondering wistfully how those we encountered are doing.

When we travel the same streets, it takes down the walls between us. We understand more about what others actually experience. That’s why when I hear all these negative reports about Brazil, I don’t buy in to everything because I’ve met the people there.

Currently, some friends and I are trying to help a family out of a homeless situation. In order to do so, we’ve had to make some trips to places not many want to visit. We have to travel the same streets as this family.

I’m thankful that I serve a God who did the same thing for us. He sent His son to travel our streets and take down the wall between us and Him.

"For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility..." (Ephesians 2:14).

As I was finishing up this post this morning,  Jerry, not knowing what I was writing about, handed me a USA today article called Let’s Lighten up on Rio, people. I love it. Read it here.

Our own Olympic experience: In 1996, when the Olympics came to Atlanta, we obtained tickets to attend a soccer game held in our town. We rounded up these cuties and off we went to see Argentina and Portugal battle it out in the semifinals. It was great.


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