When I heard that my church, Intown Community, was planning a summer mission trip to Sombra Road, I jumped at the chance to go. I've been teaching in Atlanta Public Schools for seven years and was feeling stuck in a rut, like I've been an ostrich with my head stuck in the hole of public education. I am passionate about social justice, particularly within the realm of education, so I wanted to visit Rio and see how the Lord is at work in a different part of the world, to have a renewed sense of the Lord causing His kingdom to come. The trip was only scheduled for a week: while I hoped it would, I didn't expect that I or our team could really have much impact on Sombra Road's ministry or the lives of the kids Jason, Kristin, and Jeremy have developed relationships with. Mostly, I viewed it as a trip for me.
The trip, of course, was nothing like my expectations. The focus of our devotionals for the week was social justice. We talked about how social justice apart from the gospel is ultimately empty, learned about the principles that guide Sombra Road's ministry, and discussed how Jesus impacts the "victim mentality."
Psalm 97 says that justice and righteousness are the foundations of the Lord's throne. I hate poverty, but through this trip, I really came to see that ending poverty is not the solution to anyone's problem and it is not the Lord's intention as He brings his kingdom in. Showing his children their need for Him, showing them that only in Him will they find true delight are His intentions. Just as the trip was nothing like my expectations, I learned that Christ's kingdom is nothing like my expectations, but a kingdom of goodness, beauty, truth, and delight in the Lord. While it certainly can, usually, His Kingdom does not move forward by leaps and bounds, but by the daily workings of His children in the seemingly small things of their lives, doing justice and loving mercy. That is what Jeremy, Jason, and Kristin are doing in Morro dos Macacos. I believe that God hates poverty too, and I know that one day He will set all things right. Until then, Sombra Road is pushing the kingdom forward, not to end poverty in the lives of the children at CEACA, but to show them the depth of their need for him and His grace that is sufficient for their weakness.
Since returning to the States, a few people have asked me what the kids were like. I haven't known quite how to respond. They're kids. They're just like the kids whom I have taught for the last seven years. They love to laugh, play soccer, fly kites, paint their fingernails, and they want to be loved. Yet, they live in a favela, grow up in fear, may be the victims of abuse, and from a societal perspective, have little hope. And just like my students in Atlanta, they are created in the image of a loving Father and their greatest need is grace.
As we debriefed from the week Friday morning, Kristin shared something that I've continued to think about. Here came seven Americans, speaking little Portuguese, into the lives of these kids for a week. Yes, we built relationships with them, shared the gospel with them, played a lot of soccer (and lost to them in ultimate!), but more importantly, we furthered Jeremy, Jason, and Kristin's relationships with them. Our unfamiliarity and lack of language skills pushed the kids towards them. With our presence, suddenly they were the kids' old friends, their safe place. In these three, they have friends, a safe place, and people who love them and whose great desire is to show them that their greatest delight is in Christ.