The sun had set a couple hours earlier and people were standing in their doorways, many with a glaze on their eyes that detached them from the world around them, watching our group of five walking down their streets. This was one of the few times we had been out of our compound during the week in the favelas (slums). Our host hadn’t had anything happen to any of his guests over the past twenty-three years and was very cautious about protecting us. Squatter homes housed drug dealers and prostitutes. The occasional stabbing or killing went unreported and often unnoticed. The houses we passed were clay bricks where mosquito colonies thrived within the walls. The streets we walked down had an odor that you couldn’t ignore but didn’t want to ponder the source of either. We saw many children running around, most who would stop school before third grade.
We crossed some land used as a makeshift soccer field and approached the backside of a row of squatter homes. A single light bulb lit the yard. In a circle were 28 women, a handful of children sitting on the ground, and a lone man. We were going to have church in the favelas.
That night was one of the highlights for me on our trip to Brazil. For two hours we shared life stories, shared a Bible story, and talked about it. Most of these folks were new believers. Four were leading house churches of their own. We got to pray over many of them afterwards. The fact that I got to do this with my son was tremendous. Here Brady was watching people who would never own more than the flip flops on their feet passionately praying for the salvation of their drug dealing husbands, healing of conditions they couldn’t afford medical care for, and the Holy Spirit to bring revival to a place most people would avoid.
In several ways, this is how I envision the Church looked or the way that Jesus did ministry, minus the Portuguese.
- Literacy in Israel at the time of Jesus was around 5%. People shared their own stories and the teachings of Jesus by talking about how they blended together.
- Most people lived a day-to-day existence with few creature comforts. The average street probably smelled like the ones we walked down.
- Believers’ communities knew that the transformation of lives would only come by a work of God.
After we shared the story of the paralytic being lowered through the roof, I asked one young lady share the story back to the group. She flew through it near flawlessly. Here’s what I saw. A mid-twenties year old woman with a third grade education who has been a believer for four months heard a Bible story she had never heard before twice and was able to repeat it back to a circle of friends and say she wanted to share it with her family and neighbors. That is also something I envision was a reality of the early Church, too – God’s story being naturally reproduced by those whose lives have been transformed by it.
The city of Fortaleza has a population of nearly three million, one-third of who live in the favelas like this lady does. It might be through stories like these that God might reach another drug dealer, another teenage prostitute, another begger woman, another man sitting in a squatter’s doorway.