Fear is part of life in Brazil. People are always looking over their shoulders. When a set of traffic lights goes red, your car will inevitably be approached by someone begging, selling or offering something. When eating out, it is common for famished beggars to approach your table, rudely bursting our middle-class bubbles. Sometimes though, people approach, not to beg or sell, but rather to steal. It happens all the time, so people are often afraid when approached. Since arriving in Brazil, we have been approached by at least two people each time we’ve been out. Thankfully, we haven’t been robbed but, each time we are approached, the fear that is so clearly present kicks in.
Fear, at least here in Brazil, normally arises when one is approached by someone who looks rough. We don’t like to talk about this, but the reality is that the appearance of the person who approaches is normally how we judge whether we are safe or not. The reality is that people who are marginalised are often despised and avoided in society firstly because of their appearance. However, as Christians, we cannot follow this trend. We cannot avoid or despise the marginalised, precisely because we believe in the Despised one. The One who became despised, so we could be accepted.
Today the verse of the day in my Bible App was Isaiah 53v3:
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
Isaiah, writing hundreds of years before Jesus was crucified on a hill outside Jerusalem, describes the suffering Messiah as rejected and despised. Someone from whom people hide their faces. If our Lord and Saviour, was despised and rejected for our sake, we should love and care for those who are despised and rejected in our neighbourhoods and cities. In Matthew 25, we read that whenever we feed the hungry, help the poor and extend hospitality to strangers we are doing it for Jesus:
“34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
Today, as I was leaving church after the midweek evening service, I was approached by a young man asking for some change. As he approached, I could feel that fear bubbling up and sense my stereotypes kicking in. However, in that moment, I knew I had to deal with that situation as Jesus would have done. So I decided to at least listen to what he had to say. As he asked for money, I told him that I do not have the habit of giving cash and that I usually don’t carry cash on me, but that if he told me what he needed I may be able to help in some way. So he went on to tell me that he had been walking the whole day and that he had had no food since the day before. So I offered to take him to Walmart and buy him something to eat. He could hardly wait.
Walmart was just across the road, opposite the church. As we crossed I started asking him questions about his life etc. He told me his name: Rodrigo. He is 20, and from a city in North East Brazil, Sao Luis. He has been in Goiania for a month and has been living on the streets for the past 2 years. He was abused, his sister was abused, and then, after a difficult childhood, and turning to drugs, he was kicked out of home at 18. He has been wandering ever since. As we talked and as he opened up so readily about his story, I felt privileged to be able to spend time with him.
As we paid for some food, a drink, and a box of chocolate, we talked about the prejudice he suffers, and how people look through him or cross the road when they see him coming along the pavement. Like Jesus, people also hide their faces from him. He told me how he is afraid someone will set him on fire whilst he is asleep, like a few others in the city have (a disgusting act that has often made the news in Goiania). We talked almost as old friends and I told him about what I came here to do and that I would love to meet him again. He said he would like to come to church on Sunday.
As we parted I told him he is not rejected or despised, and that because of Jesus we are loved and accepted. I told him God has a plan for his life and that I would pray for him. He smiled and as I stretched my hand for a good handshake, he grabbed me and gave me a hug. He must have held me in that hug for at least 30 seconds, and as he held me tightly, the following thought from the Holy Spirit entered my mind:
“Levi, you met Jesus today. His name is Rodrigo.”