Brazil is a country of great contrasts. It has a rapidly growing economy, which is now the sixth largest in the world, just behind Britain. I have been staying in Manaus, an increasingly prosperous city and the capital of Amazonas. The city stands where the 2 main branches of the Amazon meet, the Solimoes, with its brown water, and the Negro, with its black water. A magnificent new road bridge across the Amazon has recently been opened which is 4 miles long. Many multi-national companies have opened factories in Manaus where people are paid good wages. New luxury housing developments are being built and new shopping centres selling high quality goods. There is a general feeling of prosperity.
Yesterday, however, I went to visit a family living on a piece of ground close to the international airport. They live in a very small wooden house no bigger than a garden shed. Heavy rain had fallen that morning and the roof was not waterproof. They have 4 children aged from 18 to 6 years old. Their eldest son has malaria. They have no supply of clean water and their furniture is very simple. The husband earns small amounts of money by collecting used drink cans and selling them to the recyclers. They are very poor and daily life is hard. The children smiled as we arrived and gave them some simple gifts. They go to school, but it will be very difficult for them to escape the poverty and deprivations of their situation.
When we look at the contrasting lives of rich and poor people in this world it seems as if the rich have everything and the poor have nothing, but this is not the whole truth. The Bible says, “God has chosen those who are poor in this world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised to those who love him.” The mother of the poor family attends a small church and knows Jesus as her Saviour. Every day she prays that God will meet her needs and those of her family. God has answered her prayers. She is thankful for the daily gifts he gives her and the love of those he sends to help her and her family. She knows that one day her Saviour will return to this world in glory and all things will be made new! She is really looking forward to that day and to receiving her eternal inheritance.
This week I am writing from the city of Belém in North Brazil. I am visiting missionary friends who work in Belém amongst the hundreds of children and teenagers who live on the streets. It is heart-breaking to see these children, some as young as 5 years old, sleeping in doorways and in empty buildings with no family to care for them and no hope for the future. Each morning my friends visit the street children to give them something to eat and drink. They sit with them and listen to them. They offer practical help and tell them about God’s love for them in Jesus.
Why have these young people left comfortable lives in Britain, Canada and Germany to undertake a difficult, and sometimes dangerous, ministry amongst the street children of Brazil? The answer is that they have experienced God’s love in Jesus and their lives have been transformed. They want to tell the street children about Jesus and also to show his love in practical ways.
Shirley, who is from the north of England, and her husband Rogerio, who is from Brazil, are wonderful examples of this love in action. They have been married for one year and work in a small church outside Belém. From the moment they were married they have opened their home to a 15 year old girl, Aline. Her own family was not able to care for her and so Aline ended up on the streets, where life is very hard. Many of the young people on the streets die before they are 25 through violence or diseases they pick up on the streets. Aline now lives in a loving home and has real hope for the future.
Recently Shirley and Rogerio also opened their home to 18 year Ana and her 14 month old little girl, Adriele. Ana lived on the streets as a very young child until she went to live in a home for street girls. When she was 17 she left the home and started a relationship with a boy through whom she conceived Adriele. The relationship ended and Ana and Adriele had nowhere to go until Shirley and Rogerio invited them to live with them. Ana now has a secure base from which to provide the kind of loving home for Adriele she herself never experienced. Through Shirley and Rogerio’s love, both Aline and Ana are experiencing the wonderful love of Jesus for them.
In recent weeks the natural world around us has come into its full glory, despite the spells of unseasonably cold and wet weather. The splendour of God’s world thrills our hearts and reminds us of his great faithfulness. After the great flood, God made a wonderful promise to Noah and his family, and to all the generations which would follow, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease.” This promise has been kept throughout history. Each year we are glad to see the new life of spring and the long days of summer.
In the Western world many people do not acknowledge God’s faithfulness, and some deny it. We take for granted the order God has established and maintains in his world. Some influential people say that the laws of nature came about by pure chance and that the progress of the human race is inevitable. They have great confidence that our future is entirely in our own hands. But the continuing, and deepening economic crisis, has seriously dented future confidence. It is clear that our world leaders are not in control, nor do they have all the answers.
In good times and bad, we can put our confidence in the living God. Jesus taught his disciples not to worry about how their daily needs would be met. He said, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they are? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith.”
So every day the natural world around us teaches us important lessons about God and his faithfulness. It reminds us of his goodness and faithfulness as he feeds the birds and exquisitely clothes the flowers. As we face an unknown and uncertain future we can put our trust in him and know that, whatever happens, he will always be faithful.
The Diamond Jubilee for Queen Elizabeth II is a very special occasion. She came to the throne on 6 February 1952, at the age of 26, following the death of her father, King George VI. Her Coronation took place on 2 June 1953. Throughout the past 60 years the Queen has reigned with great dignity and wisdom. She has been a good example to her subjects. Many people around the world are glad to live under the reign of Queen Elizabeth. In addition to the UK, there are 15 Commonwealth Realms of which Elizabeth is the Queen. She is also Head of the Commonwealth of Nations which brings together 54 independent nation states. This week millions of people around the world will express their love and affection for the Queen.
Some people are, however, fiercely opposed to privilege and wealth which have not been earned. They are opposed to the monarchy and favour republicanism. They want the right to chose their leaders and, if they wish, to be able to remove them. Behind this lies the demand for autonomy, so that we are free to do anything we wish. We don’t want anyone to tell us what to do, especially if we didn’t give them that right by electing them.
There is, however, an awesome reality that all of us must face. This world and our personal lives are governed by God. He is King over all human monarchs. His rule is a great blessing to those who gladly acknowledge him. He invites us all to live under his care and protection. He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to establish a Kingdom to which people of all nations may belong. All Christians gladly confess “Jesus is Lord!”
Many early Christians died for this profession. Every citizen of the Roman Empire was required once a year to burn a pinch of incense and say, “Caesar is Lord.” Christians, who were loyal citizens and prayed for the Emperor, refused to do this because they knew only Jesus was truly Lord. They were punished very severely and many died in the arena where they faced wild animals. The spectators, seeing how the Christian men protected the women and the woman protected the children, said, “See how these Christians love one another!” In their darkest hour these Christians knew that, because Jesus really is Lord, even though they died they would live with him forever in his heavenly Kingdom.