One of our members, Matt Wells, is on a 2-week mission trip to Benevides, Brazil. Matt joined in with a team from his former church in Virgina (Reston Bible Church) to help with a summer camp that RBC puts on in a “trash dump” community each year. Matt has been there a little over a week and I wanted to share with you his email updates. If you don’t know Matt, these emails may strike you as, uh, odd sometimes! But that is Matt! We love him and his hysterical sense of humor! So, I’m going to more or less post the emails unedited. Obvious from the emails should be many things we can be praying for. This is a great opportunity, but also one that comes with an element of danger. Let’s keep Matt and the Reston team in our prayers this week.
Tuesday, June 23
After about 36 hours of travel, we arrived at the Word of Life College in Benevides. God really blessed our travel. We each had our two carry-ons, and then we were each responsible for two bags to check in. Each bag was between 50 and 70 pounds (when all was said and done we brought down about 2 tons of stuff). Reagan National was a bit tricky b/c they made us move the bags through a long line, and then after we finally got to the front we had to move the bags back to have them scanned. The teen boys were really great about helping the ladies move their bags. We were worried about getting through customs b/c of some of the items that we were bringing down. Thankfully the white powder that we were bringing for tie-dyes didn’t raise suspicions. It was an amazing endeavor, and God really blessed us throughout the trip.
This morning some of the leaders had an opportunity to go visit the Flowers Estate Community. It truly was an incredibly impoverished area. I can’t imagine that there are many worse areas. The smell was horrible. I tried to take a bunch of pictures as we were entering: I can’t wait to show everyone. As we pulled up to the missionary’s community center that she had built next to her home in the Community, kids were running and biking ahead of us, scurrying to get into the center. We got out of the vehicle and heard all of the kids cheering. Apparently they were trying to surprise welcome us. They were all so cute. Granted they were all pretty dirty and smelly (when they get to the camp one of the first things we’ll do is clean them and apply lice shampoo). But it was impossible not to embrace them and play with them. My eyes teared up as I walked up to the center, and I had a hard time holding back my emotions most of the time that I was there. Even though most of us don’t speak Portugese, we were still able to communicate quite well. I caught on that one of the boys kept lying telling me that different boys were brothers. So as we walked to the dump, everytime we saw a mangy mutt I would point to it and using the word for brother, tell him that that dog must be his brother. They don’t get much, if any, affection from their parents (especially from their fathers), so these kids are starved for attention and affection. They loved being hugged, picked up and put on your shoulders, giving “five.” They also loved getting their picture taken and then looking at the picture on the small camera screen. Even the teenagers had to get their photos and then immediately group around the camera to see themselves. I’m really looking forward to going back tomorrow, and for camp. The rest of the day I had a hard time talking about my emotions without welling up with tears. It is so hard to see these cute children in such a bad situation (I’ll go into more detail below).
The dump was of course disgusting. There were vultures everywhere and it stunk really bad. The sad thing is that the Brazilian government has designated money for the community to make a recycling center so that they wouldn’t have to scrounge through it. But the mayor has kept the funds for himself. There is apparently a lot of corruption. Lynn is working hard as their advocate to get them justice and the money that belongs to the community. It is a struggle because most of the people she is trying to help are illiterate and don’t understand their rights. They finally have an prosecutor that is bringing to light all of the mayor’s corruption, but this is extremely dangerous. In the past these types of people would be killed, and that would end their advocacy and others would be too scared to take up their cause. So definitely be praying that justice would be served, and these people would get the money that is supposed to be theirs.
The area is really dangerous. It is very rare that police are willing to go through the dump community. A lot of the wanted “bandits” live in the area. They have had a lot of violence. One father was shot in the back while carrying his 18 month old son on his shoulders and holding his 4 year old’s hand, while simply walking down the road. The 18 month old was injurred after falling to the ground, but ok. They think it was probably a drug-related crime, but it is hard to know for sure. The people responsible for the murder still walk by the man’s home all the time. The people are just too scared to step forward. Recently some of the teens kidnapped a younger girl and raped her for several days. The boys were taken into custody but broke out when one of their mothers smuggled in a file. Lynn told us that she knows of several assasins, or murderers for hire in the community.
Lynn was telling us how a 9 year old died last week when the kite he was flying hit a telephone line. She told us about how a 2 month old died and it was most likely because of malnourishment. When she went to the home to bring food for the other 7 children, she openned the fridge and the only things that were in there was a chicken skin and some bones. That’s all they had for 7 children to eat. She said she took a toddler in because the hospital refused to treat the child (the community does not get much support from the rest of the area). Lynn basically nourished the child back to health. The toddler was going to die, not because of a disease, but from malnourishment.
I wanted to get onto the computer earlier today when the stories were fresher, but didn’t have time, so all of this probably seems a little disjointed and without a lot of detail (I am also really tired so that doesn’t help).
The college where we are staying is gated and has guards. However, last week the guards were held at gunpoint, and the robbers stole someone’s car. The do “let the dogs out” between 11:30 pm and 12 am. They have a german shepherd that helps the guard patrol. They had to let the rottweiler go because he was a pushover, and these other very large dogs they had ate too much!
Be praying for the camp next week (this camp is so wonderful for these children. Lynn said that the kids have been excited for it all year) and for our safety. I am also hoping to connect with some of the teens that came down from RBC, and invest in them a bit. This week is relatively low key as we prepare for camp. We were going to do work projects in the community, but we weren’t able to do them b/c our ultimately goal is to put on the camp, and we don’t want to leave work unfinished. Chris hopes to bring his whole family back down in September for a construction trip. I will see if anyone from out church wants to come down to help. Lynn wants to add a floor and an extension to the community center, and fix her fence, among other things. He’d probably be down for about 3 weeks. To make it worthwhile, people would need to come down for at least 10 days.
I wish I was better at describing the children. Hopefully when I am able to show the pictures, it will be more powerful.
One thing I forgot to add: Holly had put together our pictures with a little description about us. She had a picture of me with madeline. Under it she said that my favorite color was pink and that I really love to dance. The kids had fun looking at our pictures and figuring out which one was us. i told them that someone was joking with me and that my favorite color was Carolina blue. Holly also put a picture up of Lucy (their super-ugly bulldog) in front of the same Brazilian flag backdrop she used to take the other team members’ pictures (she couldn’t with me b/c I didn’t get to go to any of the meetings).
Please forward on this stuff to our small group and church. Our church really stepped up too. Debbie said that she brought down everything I gave her. She said it was great b/c people really gave us great things, and mostly got stuff from the donations list, so it was stuff we definitely needed. I was really proud of our church, and know that everyone who gave will really be blessed.
Wednesday, June 24
Last night Chris and Debbie Smith went to Lynn’s for a little while. While they were there two guys (one with a machete) tried to get in through her gate. Lynn tried to hold the gate closed with her shoulder, but they bullied through. Lynn and Bete went into the street and started making a lot of noise to get everyone’s attention. Debbie quickly ran into a room and closed the door. They hit Chris above his eye with the back side of the machete. He told them they could take whatever they wanted. He thought one of them had a gun so we didn’t try to do anything. They stole his blackberry and that was about it. Everyone was of course bit shaken up, but Chris and Debbie have had a great attitude about the whole thing. Today we went to the dump and some of the teenagers told Lynn who it was. This is a big step b/c they usually don’t want to get involved, but some of these guys are starting to see Lynn’s love for them and responding to Christ’s love. They got the police to come and we’ll see what happens. She knows who they are and wanted to go to their house but we thought better. We had a good time with the kids. One lady rode up on her bike with a little boy and made him get off and come hug me. There is a deaf boy and I tried being friendly with him by looking at his bracelet and giving him the “ok” sign while saying “wow!” Apparently the ok sign is the equivalent of saying A-hole, so I was extremely embarassed, felt bad, and there was nothing we could do b/c we totally couldn’t communicate (he doesn’t even know sign language). We later played and I think all if ok…and I mean that in the american way of saying ok :). There was a little girl, Gabby, who was absolutely adorable. We were playing a little game but then I think I scared her b/c I snuck up on her and she was away from her pack, so she started crying. so I decided to stick to just slapping hands, arm wrestling, and putting kids on my shoulders. I tell the kids here that my name is Vin Diesel. It’s funny hearing them call me that. i have also learned that when you don’t speak a language, it doesn’t matter how slow you say it, it still won’t be understood (I am saying this b/c these poor kids are trying to talk to me, and being so patient, but I barely understand anything). We do a lot of hand motions. I’ll let you know how my time with Chris going into town to get some supplies goes if anything exciting happens. Glad to hear you and the kids are having a great time. It’s definitely tough being around all of these kids without mine. I wonder how ours would do with all of them. I don’t think I would bring mine down here for awhile, but I think they would actually have a really fun time. One of the girls brought her 8 month old baby. Kids were kicking a soccer ball around, and she was totally unfazed by the potential dangers. It is so funny b/c if this were america, we’d be constantly telling the kids not to do things for their safety, but these kids are so tough, that we don’t really put many restrictions on them. That may change at camp though. matt
Wednesday, June 24
So today after lunch Chris and I went with Lynn to run some errands. She needed a bunch of chairs and was going to buy some. Chris and I helped out and we were able to get 24 plastic chairs for her. It was awesome. Then we got Joe Hussa, a guy named Eric, and one other leader to go with us to her house to drop them off b/c it was nighttime. We were on high alert, but when we got there there were a bunch of the kids, and of course they wanted to play. I was keeping watch when all of a sudden someone jumped on my back. It scared the crap out of me. It was just a little kid trying to get a piggy-back. Thought I had just been attacked. I realized that I don’t make the best lookout. We were then standing around by the van and I decided to rip one. One of the teens made some hand signals and asked what it was in English. So we were able to teach them the word “fart.” Here were Christian missionaries teaching impoverished Brazilian kids the word Fart. I would say, “fart.” Then they would repeat back, “fart.” It was good fun. Hopefully their parents will let them come back. I mean, I don’t even let my kids say fart. But for whatever reason, it just didn’t feel right to teach them the word “toot.” Just didn’t feel cool enough for street kids to be using toot.
Tomorrow we are going to the girls home and then they are coming back here to hang with us for a little while. I’m looking forward to it.
Pray also for Curtis Goodnight, Kevin, and Bobby (Ross). They are traveling tomorrow. There are a lot of logistics for them as we are needing more supplies, and they have to go through what we did, but just the three of them.
love you. matt
Friday, June 26
Today we went to the girls home. It was a great time. They have a really neat ministry. They work to take girls between the ages of 12 and 18 off the streets. Their ultimate goal is to get them back with their families. They befriend them and pour into them and then try to find their families and evaluate if it would best for them to return to their families. If not, then they let them stay at the girls home. At the girls home they of course work to lead them to Christ, and then to also love on them and teach them skills to eventually allow them to go off on their own. There was one blind girl there and she had such a sweet spirit. We went around and had them give us their prayer requests. Most of them prayed for their families. Some of them are learning to try to love their families even though their families are really bad in many ways. The blind girl has been learning to get to the bus, take the bus to school and other places, and overall become more independent. They joked that when they first started trying to get her to do it she fought them over it. Now she understands why they pushed her. I was talking to one of the ladies that heads the ministry and she said that they are really strict about the girls following the rules. Only because they want what is best for them. She said when they break it, the worst torture for them is to have to discuss why they did it.
We then brought them back to the campus and played in the pool with them. I was excited to meet the two girls that the Smith’s originally tried to adopt. they have had some difficult times as other adoptions have fallen through, but they seemed to still have a great spirit. Debbie told me about how one Christmas they brought down gifts and gave a doll to this young girl. They then saw her sitting with it, cradling it, and hitting it. It was so unlike her to behave that way, which goes to show how deep some of the abuse is for some of these girls. The plan to expand the ministry and add a boys group soon. They are just praying for more workers as the harvest is full.
The team really gets along well. This is a great group of teens that we brought along. They are all really responsible, and we haven’t had any “issues.” The only issue is that they are all really competitive and have a hard time not playing sports against the college students here when challenged. I’m hoping that that doesn’t take away our energy for next week. It is definitely going to be a tough week as we are with the kids 24 hours a day. These kids are not used to authority or being told what they can or cannot do. I’m a little nervous having to be the only leader with the older kids. Honestly they intimidate me a little bit.
Also be praying for our health. A lot of the kids are getting sick. Hopefully it will pass over soon.
Sunday, June 28th
We just found out some difficult news. There were some teenagers that were involved in that rape scenario we discussed. One of their mom’s smuggled a file into the jail and they escaped. They are now “hiding out” in the dump community. While they were encarcerated there was some peace and quiet in the area, but since their escape there has been some tension. There is also an issue with the mayor closing down the dump b/c of politics, and now the people in the community do not have any source of income. The kids look forward to the camp all year, but with our presence comes tension. People will be aware that we are bringing “stuff” for the kids and family. About a week and a half ago, William (a boy that was once with a bad group, but now has really been transformed through Lynne’s ministry and is really trying to live a Christ-like life) and his family’s house was invaded. They were roughed up and robbed. They were told that if they reported it they would be hurt. Then last night they were invaded again. They are fearful for their lives. As a result, William is concerned with coming to camp b/c it would mean leaving the rest of his family alone. Another family was invaded a day or two ago, and lost a lot of their property. They are trying to find a new place to live, but that will be difficult. A lot of the kids and families may be scared now, and with them out of their houses, it puts their families in danger. Pray that their families will be safe, their stuff protected, and that they will not be paralyzed by fear.
Also continue to pray for justice in Chris’s assault. They know who it is, but it is a matter of getting the police to get involved. The community is an easy target b/c everyone is afraid to get involved. They need to know that they can’t get away with this stuff.
William is supposed to be in my group. I met him the two times I was out there and he is a really great guy.
Today we had a church service with the leaders. It is really neat (and emotional) to see the young leaders who have come through Lynne’s ministry who were being ministered to, now desiring to share Christ’s love with their community.
I’ll hopefully give you more later. matt