Brasil the stepping stone toward a new life, it was my Declaration of Independence! I hope most of my readers have had such an experience. Most often this occurs at age 3-6ish. You have stood with your face pressed against the glass your entire life, but then you are given permission to go. Unsure of the reality of what is actually taking place you cautiously glare at the parent who is slowly opening the door and encouraging you to be—independent! They are giving you permission to explore uncharted territory’s sail to the equator, journey to the moon, climb Mt. Everest, or at least wander aimlessly around the backyard drooling and chasing a stupid red ball which is only rolling because you clumsily kick it every time you try to pick it up. But in the perspective of the young tike this is an equally important and challenging charter.
Rio seems so far away now. Like a distant memory from a deep sleep, I recall the months of hard work and dedication to a little Methodist Mission in the dirty, violent favelas of Rio de Janeiro. The weeks of swollen ankles from thousands of mosquito bites, the repetition of eating only rice and beans for weeks straight, and finally, the grimy tunnel we were forced to walk through every time we left our gated mission.
July 28th, 2010, I drag my pack upstairs, drop it in the room that I am informed is my new home and quietly Austin informs me that our home in Gamboa, is the most dangerous part of Rio de Janeiro. I can’t believe it! I knew it was poor, but the most dangerous in a city the size of New York City. How is it possible that God led us from nowhere North Carolina where we still leave our doors unlocked and our dogs run free to the poorest most dangerous slum in a city of 5.6 million people?
So this is what God has been preparing me to do. As I look back on His leading me through the past few years I realize that all was to prepare me for this. Our orphanage is supposed to be safe because the drug lords have kids that come and play and learn here, so no one is allowed to shoot around it. Also Marion is a native South Carolinian who has lived here almost fifty years and is know and respected as a good man who is not to be crossed.
As I walk past the gate and into the town dirt and grim surrounds everything, no matter what we must be back before sundown. I realize and Austin understands, no discussion is necessary, this is a silent understanding we communicate just by our glances. We take only enough money for groceries we will not carry anything that will be upsetting should it be stolen. This is real and we are no longer down on the farm.
God is protecting me, I know He is sheltering me. He is only exposing me to a little of the evils of this city at a time. I do not yet understand why, but I know that in time He will show me the strong holds which Satan has gripped the people of Rio. This area is filled with evil, poverty, and suffering, but for now I sit here comfortably, safely nestled up in my 3rd floor apartment, safely hidden from the evils being conducted in the streets below. I know God desires to reveal all things but His compassion has kept me safe and comfortable so far. I know this hurting city is more than I can at this time bear, so He reveals little by little in His time. Carefully revealing precisely what I need when I am ready, in order to prepare me for the next step in this crazy journey that I have chosen.
He has given me a new home, a new assignment, a new life. Everyday I now come home to the slums. I have never been more continent or slept more soundly, or trusted God more than I do at this moment. I see Him all around, and He reveals himself showing me His beauty when others can only see poverty and the grim covering the city. God is with me, I just have to trust Him because I do not know why I am in Brazil.
“I’ll live my life to the fullest. I’ll be happy. I will be more joyful than I have ever been. I will tell others about Christ. I will go on adventures and change the world. I will be bold and not change who I really am.”
“I will wipe away the bad memories and only remember the good. In fact that is all I remember, just good moments, I will set an example for others, I will pray for direction.” Brooke Bronkowski
I found this to be appropriate for all Christians to live by. Brooke was actually only twelve years old when she wrote this profound mission statement. After purposing to live her life in this way she gave away hundreds of Bibles before she died—at age fourteen.
As I sit on the beaches of the tranquil Carolina coastline I quietly reflect on the blessings in my life. The summer (2011) has passed so quickly. I spent time with family and friends went on an incredible “Journey”, and I discovered many things about myself. Finally, God gave me the opportunity to purchase a beautiful convertible mustang, and opened the door for me to spend an entire year travelling and working abroad. This is my last weekend in North Carolina for a very long time. These beaches will be sorely missed.
As I sit, my mind wanders back to my first week in Brasil. Out in the jungles, we spent our days completing grueling manual labor using only the most basic tools i.e. shovel, pick, and hammer. I truly have enjoyed getting to know my team members and learning character traits from each. Bob the inventor and civil engineer demonstrated leadership and determination. From Zack my fellow worker I saw Christ, I saw Him in his patience, sincerity and light-hearted personality. From Alyssa and all the Brazilians I noticed hard work and determination. Many of them going from job to job tirelessly, I felt I would give out soon, my knees and back were screaming for mercy, but I will not be a stereo-type. If they are working I will work, if they rest only then do I rest. Somehow all the work I was doing was in quiet anticipation of going back, back to my mountain.
God had giving me a fantastic week. Upon completion of our 3 days of intense labor, we began a two day VBS for the local children. They are fantastic and very anxious to practice their English with me. Much to their surprise I do play volleyball at their level. As I dove into the sand bloodying my knee and setting the ball smoothly into the air for an easy spike I earned their respect. “The gringo is here to play.”
After a full day of fellowship and broken communication we sat by a bonfire. One of the locals began to play his guitar, and as music tickled our ears the flame enticed our vision. I sat quietly nestled warmly in my coat listening to Rick play love songs from past decades and watched as the flames tried to lick the stars above.
It is so cold there in the mountains at night, the mosquitoes though painfully abundant during the day are nowhere to be found after sunset. I was so thankful to my sister for encouraging me to bring my pea coat. I was saddened to think that tomorrow would be my last day here in the mountains. I was however, quit excited at the thought of catching a bus back to the favela, my home. I will begin my work, and language studies, I will begin immersing myself in the culture and becoming a world traveler.
There I was ankles swollen from mosquito bites, muscles aching from working and chasing children, but somehow perfectly relaxed, perfectly at peace, perfectly ready to begin my new mission.
Sunlight, it is a fascinating thing when it is being gently strained through the tropical canopy of the Brasilian forests. The entire area seems to come alive for just a fleeting moment as nocturnal creatures return to their homes, and diurnal animals arouse from their sleep. As I hiked through those woods, observing all the many creatures, the transition is a fantastic thing to observe.
Life had taken me down, Rio de Janeiro, the land of Sun, Fun, and Samba! God provided a place for us to live and work, which despite not getting paid, we did to our fullest. In return we were provided with room and board. I knew I was exactly where God wanted me for the moment. Here in the mountains, with a group of U.S. Methodist missionaries, repairing churches in the countryside. Safely tucked away from the noise and distractions in the city of Rio de Janeiro, I was several hours inland in the mountains.
The previous night I had sat atop a bald mountain top starring in wonder at the constellations. I had seen them my whole life, leisurely taking note of different stars and their positions. That night, I saw them for the first time upside down. My favorite, the Southern Cross, sits so perfectly and quietly just over the horizon, safely hidden from the entire northern hemisphere. This experience was a stark realization of how far from home I actually am and how uncertain my new life will be. This is not a vacation this is my new home. God has given me one week in the mountains as a gift, a retreat, but the time here was not to be squandered frivolously, I must take every advantage of this time in order to be prepared for the work ahead.
As the Sunlight now piercing strongly through the trees, my position is exposed and some very loud birds proudly announce my presence. All the forest creatures are driven away and I rush down the mountain knowing breakfast is waiting and I am not to be late. I spend the day working very hard, and counting the hours. Secretly desiring more than anything to rush back to this mountain in anticipation of seeing the new birds, frogs, snacks, and stars which will certainly come out to dance again tonight!
”The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
~Ancient Chinese Proverb.
Welcome to Taipei. This is me standing in front of the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in the capital and largest city of Taiwan, an independent island nation off the coast of China. Things eastern can seem very foreign to a world traveler from the western hemisphere, travelling east for the first time. Being in Asia is very different from life in the west. The food, language, and culture seem so foreign. How I got here seems so surreal looking back, the transformation, the heartbreak, the turning of events all worked together to bring me here for some purpose that I may never come to realize.
My name is Jared. I am twenty-five, and have my entire life lived in North Carolina. I was so ambitious once. I graduated high school with honors then even earned my bachelor’s degree from Campbell University, also in NC. I made good grades and took a job in the capital city, Raleigh, NC. I had a beautiful girl friend, who everyone ‘knew’ would soon be my wife. Then we would have a few children and I would have ‘arrived’. Yes, I was soon to realize the American Dream.
Just before my twenty-fourth birthday, I said No! I woke up and realized that the American dream was not my dream. I realized that I could be satisfied with the mundane existence of work, wife, mortgage, kids, and church. I offered my employer a 30 day notice of resignation despite concerns by my parents, family members, and financial advisor. I was standing against the establishment. Standing against the establishment in the middle of the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, I had surely lost my mind.
There is a way that you should do the things you are “supposed to do”. Good things: go to church, pray, work hard, save for retirement, get married, have kids. The good things that are clearly the way life is supposed to be lived out, somehow began to get more and more blurry. As I refocused I noticed something out of the ordinary. Many of the things I was “supposed to do”, I wasn’t and many things I “wasn’t”, well those were the very things that I was.
My life was turning south—literally. I didn’t know how far south it was taking me exactly, but with a one-way direct flight out of the Queen City, Charlotte, NC, to Rio de Janeiro, Brasil life was definitely taking me south! I was twenty-four and running from everything known, everything safe, everything stable, everything me! The only problem was I literally, did not know where I was headed, or how I would get there. They say if you don’t know where your going you might end up somewhere else, ironically enough, I was quit welcoming of this possibility.
“The world is a book, and those who never travel read only one page.”~Mark Twain