Heurelho Gomes – a changed man

Personal integrity is a precious thing in any sphere of life and especially in the pressurized world of professional sport. No-one in English football has a bad word to say about Brazilian goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, who will retire this year at the age of 38. Heurelho has spent 11 years in England playing for Tottenham Hotspur and now Watford. Previously he played in Brazil and Holland and has played for the Brazil national team. At the end of the 2015/16 season he won the Player of the Season award at Watford. Heurelho is a role model who has won people’s hearts through his enthusiasm, professionalism and personal warmth.

Heurelho is committed to helping young players from Brazil who come to England to make the transition to a new country when they have limited language skills. When he retires, he plans to help young South American footballers coming to England to settle well. In a recent interview Heurelho said his commitment to helping others comes from his commitment to Jesus. He said, “I have done this with my heart. I have done this because I love to help people. Not only in the football world but outside as well. That is my type, that is Jesus’ type. This was nothing, it was my pleasure.”

Heurelho’s Christian faith has made him the caring and compassionate man he is. Like one third of Brazilians, including many footballers, he is part of Brazil’s evangelical community and worships at the Christian Community of London, a popular church for Brazilians in England. He says, “People change a lot the way they worship God, they find the right way to do it. God is opening the minds of the people, that is why people are changing. I was a Catholic, my family is Catholic, but Jesus just grabbed me by the hand and said, ‘this is the way I want you to follow.’”

It is not the practice, but the faith itself, that Gomes says has changed his life. “Religion is not important, Jesus is important to me. People think religion will change you, Jesus will change you. It is very important to me to follow him. Some people are in church, but they are not changed. Some people take religion to hide themselves, and when they are out of church, they behave the same. If I behave on the pitch, I have to behave off the pitch as well. I have to be an example. Religion doesn’t change people. Jesus, when you accept him, will change you.”

Inspiration from the Summer Paralympics

The 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro has been a great event as disabled people from all over the world have displayed remarkable abilities. Some of the athletes have been born with disabilities and others have become disabled through an accident or illness. Some are former soldiers who have been injured in battle. The stories of many of the athletes are an inspiration to us all.

Sinna Kaastrup, from Denmark, was born without legs. At Rio Sinna, riding her horse Smarties, won a bronze medal in the International Championship test grade 1b. Sinna uses a soft, treeless saddle with two handles, and carries a dressage whip on each side, but has nothing else to help keep her in the saddle. She generates so much power using just her seat that 15-year-old Smarties responds amazingly to her commands.

Ibrahim Hamadtou, from Egypt, competed in the Men’s Singles Table Tennis competition. Ibrahim, who is now 41, lost both his arms in a train accident when he was 10 years old. He serves by flicking the ball up with his foot and hitting it with a bat held in his mouth. He didn’t win either of his matches at Rio but won a silver medal in the 2013 Egyptian Championships. For Ibrahim playing in the Paralympics was a dream come true.

When tragic events happen to us it may seem as if a fulfilling life is impossible. When Sinna was born her parents were probably devastated that she had no legs, but she has developed riding skills that are equal to, if not greater than, many able-bodied riders. Ibrahim’s parents may have felt as if their world had come to an end when he lost his arms in the train accident but, today, he is a wonderful example to us all of someone who has overcome adversity. Sinna and Ibrahim have become the people they are today through their tragic experiences.

In this life our bodies are fragile and will, one day, wear out. The Bible promises us that, because of the death and resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus, everyone in heaven will have a new body free from all weakness and disability. In his letter to the Christians at Philippi the apostle Paul wrote, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

World Cup 2014

World Cup 2014 has begun. The people of Brazil are experiencing football fever. International footballers are amongst the highest paid sportsmen in the world. One of the England players is paid £300,000 per week. Brazil has spent £7 billion on the World Cup. After the Final on 13 July the people of Brazil will return to the challenges of their normal lives.

In the days before the World Cup began there were demonstrations in at least 10 Brazilian cities. Riot police fired percussion grenades and used tear gas to subdue the demonstrators. Some of the protests are against the high cost of building new stadiums and other facilities for the World Cup. Trade union leaders have also used the occasion of the World Cup to press claims for higher wages for their members.

Most people in Brazil are poor. Brazil has a thriving economy, one of the strongest in the world, but the rich are becoming richer and the poor are still poor. The richest 1% of Brazil’s population control 50% of its income. The poorest 50% of society live on just 10% of the country’s wealth, while the poorest 10% receive less than 1%!

Many people live in favelas, which are shanty towns. They have sprung up as people from the rural areas have moved into big cities and built homes on spare ground. Often there is no water supply, sanitation or legal electricity. Millions of children in Brazil live on the streets because of problems in their families. They live in abandoned buildings, parks, cardboard boxes, or on the streets themselves. Drugs, crime and sexual exploitation are a way of life for these tragic children. When the 600,000 foreign fans attending the World Cup leave Brazil little will have changed for the better for ordinary Brazilians.

How very different Jesus is! He came into our world to transform our lives for the better at great cost to himself. Paul wrote, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Jesus left all the privileges of heaven, which were rightly his, to share our life and to die on the Cross to pay the price of our sins. Because of his visit to this world, and all he did while he was here, we can experience the forgiveness of our sins and one day go to be with him in heaven.

A Vision of Heaven

Large crowds of people are demonstrating around the world. Tens of thousands of people are taking to the streets in protest about the policies of their governments. In Turkey the protest began because a large park in Istanbul is going to be turned into a shopping centre. In Egypt the protest is against the policies of the newly elected President. Sometimes the protesters have been dispersed with water cannon and tear gas.

In Brazil the people are protesting at the large sums of money being spent on hosting the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016. They want the government to address the needs of the millions of poor people, including those living in the favelas found in all the large cities of Brazil. These people live in shacks with no sewage systems or supplies of clean water. Brazil has one of the most successful economies in the world, but the people see the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer. The President of Brazil seems ready to respond to the protesters.

All of us long to find true happiness and fulfilment, and it can be found. True fulfilment is found in God, who created us. The Bible calls this eternal life, which begins here on earth and continues in heaven. In Revelation 7 there is a vision of a joyful crowd of people that no-one can count, from every nation, tribe, people and language. They are standing before God’s throne and in front of Jesus, the Lamb of God. They are wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They cry out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

These people are rejoicing because God has delivered them from all the sufferings and troubles of this life. They had not cried out to earthly rulers, but to Jesus, who is the King of kings. He heard their cry and brought them safely to heaven. “Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Rich in Faith

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.

Love in Action in Brazil

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.

Hope for the Children on the Streets of Brazil

I have just checked in for a 2 hour early morning flight from Belém, a city on the mouth of the Amazon, to Manaus, in the heart of Amazonas. Brazil is a very large country with a population of 190 million people. It has one of the fasting growing economies in the world and also one of the best football teams. In 2014 the World Cup will be held in Brazil, and already there is great excitement at the prospect. The Amazon, the greatest river in the world, contains 20% of all the fresh water in the world. Brazilian people are warm and friendly and for many there is a great optimism about the future.

I have been visiting missionaries from the UK who are working in Brazil. Some of them work with street children. It is estimated that there may be as many as 12 million children living on the streets of Brazil. Life on the streets is very hard. Violence, drug and solvent abuse, sexually transmitted diseases and the lack of access to medical care mean that many of the children will die before they reach the age of 20. Problems in the family, especially in the favelas where people live in simple wooden houses with no amenities, cause many children to run away to the streets. The scale of the problem is overwhelming.

Teams of missionaries and Brazilian Christians work on the streets of Belém to try to help the children. There is a drop-in centre which is open each day and also homes where boys and girls can begin to build a new life. The children need long term help if they are to find real stability for the future. Like us all, they also need to experience God’s love in Jesus Christ.

Last Saturday I attended the wedding of a lady missionary from the UK to a Brazilian pastor. One of the bridesmaids was Aline, a teenager they have adopted. She is a slim, gentle girl who lived on the streets. Her family were not able to care for her and she was alone. Now she belongs to this new family and is surrounded by love. Aline also knows that God is her heavenly Father, because to all who receive Jesus as their Saviour God gives the right to become his children. Now she has a sure hope for the future both in this world and the next.