To whom much is given, much is required. ~Luke 12:48
As our team prepared for a medical mission trip to Rio de Janeiro, we were told what to expect. Rio is a city of great economic inequality; citizens fell in one of two categories: the haves and have-nots. Our team would go into a slum community, a favela, to provide basic medical care to the country’s poorest citizens. Each favela was its own subculture with clearly defined borders, many under the control of a drug lord. We were designated to work in an established church with local police nearby for our safety.
Rio is a city of stark contrast where the beautiful landscape gives way to thousands of crude, ugly dwellings hugging the hillsides. The favela was much worse than I could have imagined. It resembled a war-torn area; the streets were desolate. Team members audibly gasped as the bus stopped in front of the church; hundreds of residents were already in line for medical care.
I was overwhelmed. I felt unprepared. I was out of my comfort zone. However, I quickly discovered that within those broken down buildings were warm, kind and passionate people. From my first interaction, I knew my life was going to be changed.
The local church staff and parishioners worked along side of us. While I had learned a few simple phrases of Portuguese, language was still a barrier. I discovered a smile was universal; they also communicated in hugs and loving pats on the cheek. The church ladies prepared hot meals for us each day in a kitchen the size of a closet, joyfully signing hymns above the noise of the clinic.
I learned much from the young interpreters that were part of our team; each time, the lesson brought conviction. Excited to be part of what they called a crusade, some of them traveled two hours by bus to use the English they had studied hard to master. English, one interpreter told me, was a passport to a better life; it provided opportunity to break the cycle of their family’s poverty.
When the team worshipped together on Sunday, it was powerful. Portuguese and English blended together in song. I witnessed their amazing passion and love for the Lord. While I knew of Christ’s love, they were living His redeeming love. They worshipped with sweet abandon. One particular song, A Tua Gloria, stirred my heart. Translated it means “I See the Glory.”
I left Rio with a new awareness and perspective. I realized I often live a life of indulgence and abundance. I take my education, and the opportunities it provided, for granted. My Americanized definition of provision is much different from those in the favelas. I am to be mindful of my attitude of gratitude. What I considered a sacrifice, the full-time missionaries consider a joy.
God gave me the privilege to walk among His beloved people. I wanted to bless others through my service, but I was the one who was blessed. A tua gloria. I indeed saw the glory of the Lord as I worked side-by-side and fellowshipped with His children, both Brazilian and American. I saw His glory as I looked out on the magnificent landscapes of Rio, seeing beauty where there were no riches. I saw His glory as I was embraced by the awesome peace that surpasses all understanding, even when I was the stranger in a foreign land.