by Michael Maw
Whao! What a day. We had a quick start this morning, joining for the 4th year with a ministry that takes food and drink and God’s love and the hope of freedom into Crackland (Cracolândia), a shanty town along a railroad track.
Many on our team were quite tired from the late night last night at the men’s homeless shelter. So, the early rise and shine was actually met with an overcast morning, with a respite from the Rio sun as we traveled on the bus to meet the ministry team who, led by a passionate and caring man named Paulino, carries food each Wednesday to the drug addicted and homeless in Crackland. Most of our group, as returnees to Brazil, had walked the muddy and trash-covered paths by the strip of plywood homes in years past.
Surprising to me were the additional shacks that had been built along the bank. This community is actually growing, which raises such senses of brokenness that is fed by the "trafficantes," or drug dealers, who set up shop near Crackland with little, brightly-colored bags of drugs for sale.
We walked behind Paulino, carrying sacks of buttered buns, juice and bananas. Only minutes prior we had cut and buttered the bread in a cramped, humid room in the neighborhood where Paulino and his group serve dozens of children each week. In addition to ministering in Crackland, they have numerous other ministries nearby, including a Rio-style "dollar store" and bargain furniture store to provide affordable items to the poor neighborhood.
Brandt Gutwein and Kenya Gutwein walked at the head of the line, sending reverberating guitar strums and sweet notes of worship to God into the shacks. We stopped briefly to pray over a gathering of drug traffickers and then descended into Crackland where we stopped twice to hand out the food to the dozens of gaunt and dirty men and women who live there. Paulino told us that his ministry has had several people come to them for rehab and help to leave Crackland.
We then drove to another smaller area along railroad tracks behind a neighborhood where more were living. This must be a newer spot for the drug addicts where perhaps a couple dozen people came for food and a few received prayer. Paulino prayed over our time there by saying that we have done our part and God will do his; we cannot see how God is working on the hearts of these men and women.
One man stood chewing on his bread, as if he was timid to ask for more. Brandt and I went up to him, asked his name and age, and offered to pray for him. He is 30 - my age. I could visibly see what his choices and Satan’s power have led him to and my heart broke for him. His name is Bruno. Pray for his freedom.
Departing Crackland we had lunch and a time for prepping for the children’s ministry in São Gonçalo. We then rode over an hour to the church where we finished preparing for the night of ministry.
Tonight our team was asked to preach the sermon at the Wednesday night church service, help lead music, share two testimonies, and lead the children’s ministry concurrently with the church gathering, which required our team to split. Nate preached, Brandt and Kenya shared their testimonies, and Brandt, Kenya, and Sam led music. The remainder of the team, accompanied by several wonderful translators from the São Gonçalo church and the Redentor church in Rio, led 40 children in learning about Paul and Silas being arrested in Acts and leading the Roman jailer to believing in Christ.
It was an awesome day of ministry; one full of wonderful moments declaring the gospel from the muddy streets of Crackland to the air-conditioned church of São Gonçalo. This was by far the best day of the trip, where we gave our full day to ministry, relying on the Holy Spirit to carry us through. Even the 2-hour traffic-jammed return to our "posada" in Rio tonight, arriving at 11:30 pm, led to some of the most encouraging and wondrous conversation among our group.
God is good. We cannot clearly see what he is doing in the hearts of the men and women in Crackland, as Paulino said, nor the children of São Gonçalo, but God is working in each one of us in the team and truly used each one of us today to accomplish our ministry.