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.
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.
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.