The eyes of the world are on Brazil this month. Even a few Americans are paying attention. It’s time for World Cup Soccer, football, as the rest of the world calls it. Futebol is how those in the host country say the word. We’re still in the opening rounds, but defending champion Spain is already finished, the lowly regarded Team USA has won a game, and the Brazilians are very anxious about their team after a 0-0 draw with Mexico.
Most of the news from Brazil has come from the field of play, but you may know that there have been sporadic protests around the country over the billions spend to build and renovate stadiums while education and social serves for the poor lag far behind where they should be in a world-class country. Having traveled to Brazil nearly 20 times over the past fifteen years, I believe the protestors have a point.
But there’s something else going on in Brazil that neither ESPN nor the BBC know a thing about. God is at work.
Here’s just one example. Igreja Presbiteriana no Jardim America is a congregation of a couple of hundred members strategically located just on the edge of Favela da Ventosa and about 12 kilometers from Mineirão, the stadium where six World Cup games, including one of the semi-finals, are being played. Mineirão got its $300 million upgrade prior to the world cup (we visited the new stadium this past September) and it is beautiful. Favela da Ventosa, a slum neighborhood, is about the same as it was when we first visited 15 years ago. While I would not call the neighborhood beautiful, there are hundreds of beautiful children who live down the dark alleys and in the little houses of Ventosa.
While the world is focused on the World Cup (Argentina face Iran in Mineirão tomorrow afternoon), the people of Igreja Presbiteriana are focused on the children of Ventosa.
It is Vacation Bible School week at IPJA. Escola Biblica de Ferias, EBF, is a tradition at IPJA that predates our first trip, but still has all the marks of the way it was changed by a wonderful missional partnership through which God continues to work.
In 2001 Becky and I and members of our church in Western PA started to travel to Brazil every summer and EBF was the centerpiece of Park Church’s partnership with IPJA. Becky’s “energy, intelligence, imagination and love” transformed IPJA’s EBF into an amazing cross-cultural phenomena. Hundreds of kids, one year nearly 400 in a sanctuary with seats for 150, would come down the hill out of the favela and into the safe and welcoming arms of the church and her Lord. Twenty Western Pennsylvanians and fifty or more teens and adults from IPJA would be there to greet them as they arrived.
In Portuguese, English and the language of laughter and smiles we would tell the children stories of Jesus who loves them, make crafts that told them they could create beauty – a reflection of the God who created them. They would play games (grupos, anyone) and enjoy a snack which might be the best food they’d eat all day.
Unfortunately the partnership with Park Church did not continue after our departure for LPC. That’s the way things often go. But, thanks be God, IPJA still loves the children of Favela da Ventosa in lots of ways that includes EBF – this year during the World Cup school break. And though the North Americans aren’t there to help it is still this amazing phenomena that tells a story of how God can use cross-cultural, one faith, missional partnerships.
Of course, EBF pictures have been posted on Facebook, and one of my favorite is this. Jessica is on the left. Jessica was probably around ten years old during our first week of EBF in 2001. One of the kids coming down out of the favela. One of the kids whose family situation was hard and whose home was not beautiful. But one of those beautiful children loved by the church, told the stories of Jesus, who now serves Jesus as Lord and Savior. This week she’s been there at IPJA ready to welcome and love the kids who come down out of the favela for EBF.
On her Facebook page Jessica has posted #Deusémuitobom! #Godisverygood!
In the summer of 2001 we could not have imagined a world connected by Facebook and Twitter. But we could imagine children knowing the love of God. And God used that imagination for his good purposes. #Deusémuitobom!
See you Sunday!