I have finally printed support cards and a small stack of support letters. I've been debating whether I should do a full scale mail out like I've done in the past. The letter looks great and I have wonderful friends who probably enjoy receiving a physical letter but mailing that many letters is a bit pricey and I'm trying to collect rather than spend money in this case. What to do...
I have not received notice from WMF yet as to my current funds collected. This makes me very nervous. But it's in God's hands.
To prepare for this trip I have to read and review 3 books plus have a reaction to what I'm reading in my current Bible studies. Today I sent in my responses to "Brazil: An Oxfam Country Profile." By Jan Rocha and "In the Name of Jesus" by Henri J. M. Nouwen. I was not actually able to read these books because my heavily loved and notated copies are lost in Lubbock somewhere. But I was able to read what I have written on them in the past and use my questionable memory to have new insights on the material I recall to be contained in them. And for the sake of possible commentary I'll post both of my responses here.
Thanks for reading!
Brazil by Jan Rocha
I recently read over the essay I submitted on this text three years ago and have reflected on what details have stuck with me over this time. It is evident to me that I took remembered the information that I understood experientially. I remember reading about the rural poverty in Brazil, the take over of family farms and youth leaving their families for the cities. I remember in great detail the explanations on stripping the Amazon to increase cattle grazing lands and the subsequent expansion of arid (un-farmable) lands. Growing up in a West Texas town, rural poverty and agrarian practices are simple truths. These were the concepts that I read about and could relate to directly.
Trying to reflect on the description on the urban environment, I remember very little about what Jan Rocha tries to convey. I do know that there was a section on favelas, their origins, what they are, why, and where. This background was helpful to me going into the favelas for the first time and also as I began to understand the culture of these places. Consequently, a year ago I went to a barrio in Venezuela incidentally assuming that it would be very similar to what I experienced in the favela only to be shocked by the blatant differences. I could not find a paradigm for understanding what I was seeing and being told while at the same time trying to find the similarities between the Venezuela barrios and my home in Jacarezhino.
I also remember appreciating that this book was more than a history of Rio de Janeiro, a description of politics, or social tourism. Jan Rocha tried to take an unbiased approach to describe some of the over-arching themes of what makes Brazil the place we find it to be today. Brazil is a place of booming economy (car manufacturing and vast energy sources), evolving government, and the full spectrum of poverty and wealth among its citizens.
Working in a place that has healthy and fractured elements is difficult. It can be difficult to explain to people at home that I’m not going to Brazil to find beautiful beaches but to confront some of the greatest poverty in the world. It is hard to reassure families that by going to this place of poverty that I will find the safety that I need to maintain health and sustainability. Brazil is hard to wrap your mind around, it is also hard to experience but never the less it is a place where God is at work and is beckoning me toward.
In the Name of Jesus by Henri J. M. Nouwen
"Much Christian leadership is exercised by people who do not know how to develop healthy, intimate relationships and have opted for power and control instead."
This short, easy read by Nouwen is one of my all time favorites on ministry. Nouwen assess the way Christian ministers have traditionally taken on their role and reveals through the temptations of Christ how a minister in love with Christ might lovingly take on the challenging role of ministry.
The way of this world is to move up the corporate ladder, to gain power, money, and popularity. The way of Christ is through humility, love, giving, and relationships. The way of Jesus is counter-cultural and as much as I may desire to follow the example Christ has set for my life, I struggle. I want to be a person motivated by love. I want to be a person who values healthy relationships and is not swayed by personal power or influence.
This book is broken into chapters discussing the three temptations of Christ, to be relevant, spectacular, and powerful. In relevance, I see the trends in ministry books to address culture, sub-cultures, and generations in relevant ways. Nouwen cautions against this approach because it not genuine. Altering your message and style obsessively to reach particular people is not profound and cheapens the love Christ has for all people. Ministers who are deeply in love with their savior effect people richly.
The second temptation, to be spectacular reminds me of the reaction some people have when I tell them that I am going to Rio to live and work from the favelas. They tell me I’m some kind of super-hero and I want to plug my ears and scream. People try to make their ministers heroes, better than the normal human, and in this way unattainable to the average person. I want to have some comeback to this reaction to people who want to make me other than them like saying “I slept through work one day last week and my co-workers don’t think I’m wonderful” or “I cuss when I get angry on the road” but that would not solve the cultural complication. Nouwen suggests ministers especially need to be in the habit of confession. Communities should be in the habit of confession to one another. Christian communities need to see that we are all average people but God has made us spectacular. Our lives are still full of sin but God is bigger than that and chooses to use each of us still to bring love and reconciliation to a hurting world.
In the third and final temptation, Nouwen exposes our shared temptation to be powerful. So many ministers and people of influence and leadership are corrupted by the pursuit of power. Nouwen suggests that our response to subduing the urge for power should be reflection on God theologically and contemplatively. Quite simply we are to focus our attention on the one who has the power and off of our egocentric selves.
Last time I was in Rio, I spent a lot of my unstructured time on the roof reading, being intellectual, trying to make sense of what I was experiencing. This time, going back, I want to make my priority building relationships with people that are healthy. I do not want to grow close to my Brazilian neighbors to “convert” them or for the specific task of teaching me Portuguese. I want to make friends to sharing in the joys and suffering of my neighbors, or learn and to impart, to mutually value. And perhaps God will bless these relationships and teach me to love and live a bit more like Christ.