by Michael Maw
Sleeping off the pizza from the night before presented some challenges for the next morning of hiking with the young adults of Jay Bauman’s church plant, Redeemer Church. A large group of Brazilians and Americans gathered at our pousada’s common area to drive up to a natural reserve outside of Rio for several hours of hiking and fellowship. Rising from sea level, the van wound around the curvy roads ascending a mountain. We arrived at the gates of lush and green foliage that stretched over the roads to form an inviting canopy for exploring the wild outdoors.
Pulling into a parking lot, we exited the van to see that we were in an incredibly cooler environment and surrounded by the clouds. The Brazilians opened a tablecloth on a concrete table and laid out a spread of so many snacks for everyone to enjoy. Josh Z. then gave a short sermonette (devotional) to everyone, with translation. He encouraged everyone to seek Christ and to not be discontent with the many unmet goals, dreams or hopes that we have. Listening to Josh’s devo was difficult as the enticing spread of food lay before us all. Matteus, one of the church leaders from Redeemer, picked up the guitar and led us in worshipping in the open air surrounded by fellow hikers and God’s creation. Several others coming off the trails listened in to our devo and music ‑ did they know the Creator as they explore the Creation? Of note, this natural reserve is mostly unused by the poor of Rio, and only the affluent of the city and the surrounding mountain towns along the highway utilize the mountain.
After scarfing down some sweets and snacks, we gathered at the trailhead for a short, but beautiful hike (as Eric described it). The trail switchbacks took us farther into the clouds and along a mountain ridge to the top of a semi-bald mountain with large boulders at the top. Several of the group clamored up to the top of the house-size boulders to conquer the hike. The clouds wrapped around us and obscured any potential view at 2,400 feet above sea level, unfortunately. It was a feeling I have not had prior - totally surrounded by fog. The climb was strenuous and a great workout for the day. The fellowship of the Brazilians was a wonderful addition to our party of Believers as we easily enjoyed worship and play together.
Upon returning to the parking lot, we loaded up in the van and sped down the winding roads back to Rio and on to the City of God favela. Two years ago, a previous Karis team to Brazil served in the same streets that we drove into today. Several of us who were a part of the previous team in 2013 were quite excited to revisit this part of the favela. This part looked completely different from the area where our current team served earlier this week. The road into the community was lined with rubble from old destroyed houses, and small wooden shacks acting as houses for some forgotten families.
The afternoon took a completely different turn from the morning’s adventures. The van stopped only a couple of streets into the edge of the community, but I immediately noticed differences in the streets and houses from two years prior. The government apparently had come in and knocked down a few streets of shacks and laid bricks for sidewalks - a visible difference from the muddy, junked streets previously here. But the little house where we had done ministry was still there, and the dirt courtyard was now paved over and made for a seemingly pleasant place for potential future ministry in the neighborhood. But little really has changed. Paved sidewalks do nothing for the starving and drug-filled families that are forgotten and marginalized.
Children immediately gathered. A ball was found. Laughter and chasing ensued. And we waited for Eric’s now-doctor fiancée, Suzana, to ask the drug lords of the neighborhood if we could walk the streets. After 10 minutes, Suzana returned to say it was OK, and we strolled into the courtyard to talk and plan with the kids. A quick skit on the love of God and how it causes us to love our brother drew in the 25 children.
From there we walked through the streets as several of the children followed close behind. We stopped at several houses to greet and pray with families that Redeemer Church and Restore Brazil have been helping. Drug traffickers lined the streets with colorfully-wrapped bags of drugs and drove by in their cars - almost the only cars moving through the streets. Openly and with smiles, the shirtless men watched us as we watched them, even as the children and moms swirled around us and greeted Eric and Suzana with joyful kisses and hugs.
Children eventually ended up on our shoulders, and a baby ended up in Jessica’s arms for a time. The one girl who asked me to pick her up was quite content to be in my arms, either on the left or right side, for the greater part of 20 minutes, as her dark curls bounced as I swirled her around and sang her my made-up nonsensical lyrics.
The little girl patted my shoulders and asked to be hoisted-up. I swung her around in my hands and lifted her onto my shoulders to make her happy. I continued to sing as we walked back towards the van a couple of streets away. Directly in our view was a large, forested mountain rising in the horizon, and I told her in my broken Portuguese what a beautiful mountain that was before us.
Every day that mountain sits there for everyone in the City of God to see. It could have been the mountain that we climbed in the morning.