Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, as I am sure all of you have experienced in your own context, we have been forced to ask hard questions about our priorities, what is really important, to face isolation and protect ourselves and others. The situation here in Brazil is confusing. On one hand, the president wants the country to carry on; on the other, state governors have adopted different measures, often in opposition to the president, and the people either pick one side and get into the argument, or despair.
There was never a lockdown in the same way as in the UK but the disease has not claimed as many lives here as in Europe. But people are suffering from high anxiety levels, fear about the future, and trying to find answers to some hard questions. And while it offers the church and those in mission an opportunity to engage people in a conversation about faith, this must be done extremely sensitively and generously. We need not be evangelistic vultures, just waiting for it to get even worse. The world has always been evil, and the gospel has always been good news. Nothing has changed there.
Corona has taken many lives and challenged our affluence with a reminder of our fragility. It has shocked the rich capitalist mindset which tells us, through coaching and right thinking, that we are unstoppable. Well, the lie has been exposed and the weakness of our global model revealed.
But in all honesty, only people whose lives were good before the pandemic feel everything has changed. Despair, fear and loss in uncertainty is bread and butter to those who are at the bottom of our cruel human food chain. And to them the gospel has always been good news, in that it offers radical hope. Perhaps, now, we just relate more to their sense of loss and invisibility behind our masks and closed doors. Isolation and social distancing are not new to those who have always been invisible.
Through the incarnation, God in Jesus relates to us by experiencing life from our perspective. His relating to our experience of life meant he could redeem us. Maybe this pandemic is not a missional opportunity to talk about how we believe Jesus can help people in fear right now. Maybe, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stand in someone else’s shoes. To see and experience what they see and experience and then, from the vantage point of the Cross, share God’s love from a place of true humility.
Here in our city, any activity that causes a crowd to gather has been prohibited. Churches are also discouraging any activity which, with all the best intentions, exposes people and increases the risk of spreading the virus. Lockdown will eventually end, but something has shifted in the way people think, and our volunteers have even expressed that we should not resume our activities until a vaccine or cure has been found.
So what have we done during the pandemic?
We had a great Christmas on the Streets, and continued our drop-ins as planned until the end of February. Since COVID we have not been able to offer that service. But we have paid a local business, with money from local Christians, to make a total of 200 packed lunches. Only two of us went out twice with 100 packs each time on 29/04 and 06/05 (food, drink and protective masks).
Our impression was that people were very desperate but local authorities seem to be getting some help to people who live in and from the streets. Empty streets are hardly good for beggars, and they are more exposed in all ways. Rehabs are shut down for visits and no new admissions are possible. So our charity has taken food, clothes etc. to those in need. We have also “adopted” a Venezuelan family who was on the streets. Along with a great number of generous people, we have paid for their rent for three months now, and provided furniture and food when needed.
So what now?
After long consideration, discussion with CMS about the need for restructuring of our pastoral support with our local partners, reaching the end of the first three-year stint, and the need to tend to some family needs at this time, Debora and I have decided to return to the UK in July. We feel, along with CMS and our local leadership, that this is the right thing to do and so our current service with CMS will come to a close. We believe, in the UK, we will have the space and support to discern what the next steps may be. Our time in the UK may or may not be permanent, we do not know at this time how we will be guided.
We have established a charity which now has a new director, Mariana Meira, who has journeyed with us from the very beginning. She is a local businesswoman and nutritionist, and will lead the organisation beyond this pandemic into what God has called it to be. Bruno, who has been my assistant for the past three years, will finish in June but will continue to support the charity as a volunteer.
In our time here so far we have served thousands of meals. Debora has provided a great number of haircuts. Hundreds of volunteers have been equipped. Many have been sent to rehab and we have mentored a few more. But the most precious thing has been to realise that we are loved the same. Whether we fly first class or call the pavement our home, we are loved the same. Thank God for our Humble King!
Debora and Levi, Nicolas and Olivia