(I wrote this post last week on my way back from Brazil)
The last few weeks in Brazil have been
truly inspirational. When my good
friend Eduardo invited me to come and visit him I knew that South Africa and
Brazil had similar contexts. After
this visit I’m even more convinced of the similarities and also for the
possibility of long-term friendships that can be mutually beneficial to God’s
Within minutes of my arrival I knew that
the trip would be interesting. A
few kilometres from the airport, next to the highway, I saw my first favelas. The Brazilian authorities erected huge
barriers in order to either hide or protect the highway from these impoverished
areas. Some of these barriers
already have protest graffiti on it.
One that truly struck me was one with a pious looking praying
Jesus. I wondered if this Jesus
would go beyond the barricade and actually go into the favela?
In my home country, when you drive around the cities you will find the South African version
of the favellas, called townships or squatter camps.
This visible expression of poverty is a
deep similarity South Africa share with Brazil. In fact, our two countries have been engaged in a close
contest for the last decade (and it is not in soccer). The World Bank uses a specific coefficient
to measure the inequality between the rich and the poor. South Africa and Brazil share the
notorious title of number one and two most unequal societies in the world.
One of my observations in Brazil is that
just as in South Africa the wealthy church finds it difficult to engage with
the poor and more specifically with Jesus who inaugurated His ministry by
quoting the famous passage in Isaiah 61.
of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the
poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of
sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the
year of the Lord’s favor.” ” (Luke 4:18–19, ESV)
One evening I had a very insightful
conversation with the president of World Vision Brazil. He explained to me that the churches
that are most active in the favelas are those who became an embodied expression
of liberaion theology (of which most are Catholic) and the Pentecostal grouping
in Brazil, the assemblies of God.
The reformation churches are battling to deal with the poverty of Brazil
(another trend that is true for South Africa).
Driving around in Brazil reminded me how my
country’s disparities look to visitors.
Jesus moved into the neighbourhood (according to John 1:14) and this
neighbourhood includes the slums of the world. I am more challenged than ever to follow Jesus into the
practicalities of His incarnation. The Jesus I’m following certainly prayed like
the one in the picture, but then he entered the neighbourhood and immersed
Himself in the actualities of the people there.
It is this Jesus that I gladly (and