TO BRAZIL AND BACK
By Heather Fitzgerald
I stepped off the plane in Brazil with three hours of sleep and a set of cankles as large as my luggage. Swollen feet and very little sleep were the common denominators among our group of eighteen from The Paradox church in Fort Worth, Texas. Once we wrestled all our luggage into
the 90% humidity, sweating profusely quickly became another.
These first impressions of Brazil quickly faded as we traveled through the sprawling city of Rio de Janeiro which cozied up to the Atlantic ocean and puddled around the base of sculpted mountains. The city itself was a jigsaw puzzle of old and new, deserted and decorated, juxtaposed on narrow, winding streets.
It was my first overseas mission trip and I was soaking it in. After years of reading missionary stories with my kids, I was finally getting to experience a mission trip in a foreign country for myself. Better yet, I was taking this journey with my husband, too!
We found ourselves the mom and pop of our group of mostly single twenty-to-thirty-somethings. This would be the fifth annual trip our church made to support our sister church in the city of Macaé, a three hour drive from Rio. Though our traveling wasn’t quite finished, we did get to rest a night in Rio and fellowship with an English/Portuguese body there.
When we left for Macaé, we had gained three interpreters to add to the one blond Mississippian- turned-Texan among us who, obviously, spoke fluent Portuguese. Our three new friends—two of whom were American—are part of Restore Brazil, an organization dedicated to seeing the gospel reach and reconcile the beautiful people of Brazil to Christ. A three hour bus ride and several silly games were all it took for twenty-one disconnected acquaintances to feel like family.
Our objective for the week was to partner with Comunidade Batiste de Macaé in their support of two different outreaches in the poorest parts of the city. A large portion of our luggage consisted of materials to use for a Vacation Bible School program that week. Each afternoon we divided up and headed to two different favelas—the poverty stricken neighborhoods run by gangs.
My job was to oversee the crafts which went along with our daily Bible lesson. I had no idea what to expect beyond using an interpreter to explain our projects. On the way to Casa de Abraço—literally the “house of hugs”—I learned that the kids here attended school for half days. One group attended in the morning and one in the afternoon. When the kids weren’t in school, they were either on their own or they spent their time at “Casa” which provided recreation, a meal, classes, and—most of all—Christian love to these kids who come from broken homes with little to no parenting.
When we arrived at Casa, a large sign had been taped to the windows reading, “Welcome back! We missed you!”. And—although I had yet to step foot inside—I knew then that this would not be my only visit to Brazil. I sensed the shared history between my Paradox friends who were returning to Casa and their Portuguese brothers and sisters that worked there. I wanted that to be a part of my history too.
Most of the kids took in our white faces and inability to communicate with shy curiosity. But it didn’t take long for the universal languages of love and smiles to foster camaraderie. By the end of the week, we were a reluctant tangle of hugging arms as we said goodbye. It was equally difficult to part with those incredible volunteers that labor with these kids every day, all year long. They are true heroes of the faith working in humble obedience out of hearts of love.
What’s been the biggest takeaway from this trip? I believe it’s a deeper understanding of what it means to be the hands and feet of Christ on a local level. Although we pray that our week in Brazil touched the lives of the kids and refreshed the spirits of the workers, it was such a small drop of cool water in comparison to the buckets of Living Water the local church is pouring into these communities. I was both encouraged and challenged by the hands-on ministry I observed with Restore Brazil and through the local church.
While we “suffered for Jesus” (not!) through a week without air conditioning (ya’ll, it was HOT!) these beautiful believers are there, boots on the ground, serving, sowing, and smiling, year after year. Their commitment to serve others makes me want to pledge both my time and resources to them, even as I pray about how I can serve on a local level here in Texas in much the same way.Tags: Brazil, Missional Living