From Gillian, a visitor:
This night was different.
Amid the open sewers, mounds of rubbish, relentless heat, roaming chickens and mangey dogs, we were welcomed in.
“Amiga! How are you?”
“I’m good, considering what happened last night…did you hear?”
“No, what happened?”
“Two guys on a motorcycle went door-to-door, robbing houses.”
I looked around the lean-to shack that we sat inside, with water that poured in when it rained. Houses?! That’s a bit of a stretch. What on earth could there be to steal from people this desperately poor?
“Were you scared?”
“Yeah. But more for my brother.”
I understood little of where mum or dad were, only that this 15-year old girl was responsible for her seven year old brother, and that she was telling the story as casually as if it were about a flat tire.
That afternoon we visited families and played with kids, but mostly what we did was listen to peoples’ stories.
Amid the filth of this bustling favela, I couldn’t help but notice the immaculately kept nails of every woman we spoke to and I was reminded that in this country, to be Brazilian is to maintain beautifully manicured fingers and toes. I could never make it as an authentic Brazilian.
We headed out for street church as the heat of the day receded and darkness settled over the city, and I observed the streets coming alive.
Kids and families were out along the beach front like it was a sunny Saturday morning, but as we drove past them and headed deeper into the city, the local families seemed to congregate less, and the roaming street dogs noticeably more.
We pulled up to a dirty water fountain surrounded mostly by street kids, the homeless and transvestites. On stepping out of the van my eyes were drawn towards an extremely skinny, Brazilian transvestite dressed in skimpy shorts and a singlet. An empty Coke bottle half filled with yellow resin hung limply from her mouth as she stood up, swayed, and sat back down again. The filth from her bare feet reached half way up her stick-like legs and she turned her head towards me.
Were it not for the glue, we might have made eye contact but instead her eyes roamed aimlessly around the street. As we walked towards the mish-mash group of homeless kids and adults surrounding the fountain, she kept her head fixed in my direction; the lights might have been on, but there was clearly no one home.
We laid a large, red sheet down on the concrete and pulled out a series of nail polishes, paper, crayons and toys. The guys we were with unpacked their guitar and we sat around the fountain, playing music and hanging out. In many other countries this might have seemed like a normal street scene, except of course, for the abject poverty.
Most of the people seemed familiar with the Shores of Grace team and within minutes I was surrounded by a group of boys, repurposed Coke bottles permanently attached to their mouths, all showing sheepish interest in our collection of nail polishes.
“Aunty, pass that one to me, I just want to look at it.”
“Aunty, I want a boys’ colour, I want blue.”
“Aunty, give me your hand, I’m going to paint your nails.”
Okay. Time to enter their world. I pushed aside my thoughts of the filthy street with its’ occasional wafts of raw sewage, scanned the ground for used needles and sat down.
My hand was picked up by a good-looking Brazilian kid that seemed about eleven, and in bad need of a bath. Before he could open his blue nail polish, he was shooed away by the skinny transvestite. One of the Shores staff recognised her.
“Andresa! What colour would you like tonight?” Andresa inhaled from her glue bottle and stared hauntingly at the Shores staff member. She swiped aimlessly at the nail polish held by the eleven year old and presented it to me.
The Shores staff member secretly handed me a bottle of nail polish remover and whispered, “keep this in your pocket”. Seemed a weird thing to be secretive about to me, but I didn’t ask questions.
Andresa presented a grimey hand, and my surf instructors words sprang to mind, “No one likes hesitation. Just commit, or you’ll miss the wave.” Okay. For tonight, this is my wave.
I held Andresa’s hand in mine like she was my six year old niece, and started to remove last weeks’ nail polish. The staff member I was with reminded me to avoid the large, weeping blister on one of Andresa’s fingers so I carefully worked around it. Hmm, life moments you don’t imagine for yourself…
After I had worked my way through each fingernail, Andresa inspected her hands and sighed. As she lifted her nails to her nostril and inhaled, I realised why the nail polish remover had to be kept hidden.
Andresa switched from inhaling her newly polished fingernails, to more glue, lay down on the street, closed her eyes and lifted a dirty foot towards my lap.
I thought of the story of the holocaust survivors who, on being rescued from concentration camps, had chosen lipstick over bread, because that was what helped them to feel human again. I looked at Andresa and wondered how human she felt. If this helps you lady, then for tonight, this is my wave.
I worked methodically through each of Andresa’s toes, my hands becoming more sticky with each one. As I finished up the polishing I wanted my hand-gel. I wanted a shower. I wanted to not be a midwife who was aware of how many communicable diseases I had just exposed myself to.
I looked at Andresa, laid out on the street with her eyes rolling into the back of her head, and got the impression the only thing Andresa wanted was to not exist at all.
What if I had been born into a favela? What did I do to deserve a priveleged life in a first world country?
As I put away Andresa’s nail polish the young boys and their glue bottles crowded in for their turn, still making excuses, “I’m not going to wear any, I just want to see yours…” Andresa sat up, consciousness returning, and swiped them aside. Making eye contact with me for the first time, which seemed to be taking considerable effort, she managed her only word for the night, before wandering off to who-knows-where.
“Obrigada” (thank you).
I held her hand in both of mine and wanted desperately to reassure her that no one deserves this kind of life, that she is human, that she deserves love and care like any other person on this planet. But all of that escaped me.
I clenched her hand in mine and returned her eye contact, “Of course. You are welcome.”
From Elaine, Shores staff member:
Every Thursday, we go to church on the streets and I can say that this experience was very special!
There was a 9-year-old girl near the guitar, singing songs with us. She asked for an opportunity to sing her own song.
One of our students was playing the guitar; he didn’t know what she was singing, but he followed the rhythm of her voice. The most incredible of all is that even with a language barrier God’s love manifests and surprises us when we are seeking Him.
She sang about nature and how we can take care of the planet, because the Father created it and it is our responsibility to take care of the planet.
I could not follow the song because I did not know the words. She smiled and said “I just created”.
We explained that when we “create” a song, in fact we are composing and we need to record it.
At that moment we began to record the spontaneous song that came from her heart. It was so powerful what she sang that God told me “this is the song that streets are can” It struck me deeply, for it brought to me the simplicity that people seek after God.
This was the song:
“I want You come to my life,
I want you come now,
You are the Lord in my life.
I want, I want you in me
My God, My Father
I want you in my life,
I want you in my house,
I want you in my family,
In all of us
My God, my Father.
From Dayane, a student:
A few weeks ago I met a girl, she is 17 years old. She lives on the street, I had a great time with her. I drew and painted her nails. On September 7th, I found her again on the streets and she was sniffing glue. I asked her if I could talk to her. She put away her glue bottle and she asked if I would pray for her mother, who uses drugs too. In that moment that she looked at me and said “Hey ‘Tia’ can you take me away from here? I don’t want stay here anymore and I can see the glow of Jesus in your eyes …” My tears came down. I could feel the mercy, love, and compassion the Father has for her.
12 years after my conversion, this was the first time someone recognized Jesus inside me and was most powerful through my eyes.
From Thamires, a student:
Every Thursday I am surprised at “Street Church”: how much God pours love in that place; how much He cares for those young children. He loves to be with them, loves to play, laugh and hear them – so many dreams and wonderful desires.
Today I got a flower from a girl who has a huge heart and loves to create songs that are beautiful.
When we go to the streets, not only do we give love, but we also receive.