It is sometimes hard for us to believe that we have been in Brazil for nearly 2 years. This has been, hands down, the greatest challenge and adventure that we have been on. At times, we have been so tired and overwhelmed that we wanted to run back to the green and lush Chiltern Hills. At other times, we have been on mountain tops, feeling so privileged to be here.
The greatest challenge in this time, other than the human aspects of an international move with two small children, has been the challenge of working with people who are seen and see themselves as being beyond help. The fact is public policies, good will and lots of hard work cannot make someone leave the streets. The streets are addictive. Good and logical arguments, lots of encouragement and a good amount of emotional appeals will not change a person’s heart. In the era of TED Talks, the empowerment of the self, and where Life Coaches and Mentors are in vogue, we are still fairly powerless when we meet someone who seems to be beyond help. But is anyone beyond help?
From a Christian view point the answer is no, no-one is beyond help. Not because we have within us everything we need to succeed but because, if I dare say, we still believe in miracles. In life we will sometimes meet people that seem to be beyond help, but then suddenly something happens and they are transformed. The Bible is full of such moments. These “and then suddenly” moments, are actually the moments that make The Word of God the special book it is. In those moments God displays his unique ability to transform lives. And then suddenly the sea was open, manna fell from the skies, the leper was healed, the widow’s son came back to life, metal floated, the sun stood still, and the Messiah comes back to life. The problem is, the hardest miracle is the transformation of a heart.
Saul was a persecutor of Christians, a man with murderous thoughts towards those who associated with the Crucified Man. He was there when Stephen was stoned to death, and he wished to see many more go the same way. He was beyond help… and then suddenly, in Acts 9:1-4, we read:
‘Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”'
Sometimes, people who are beyond help need a Damascus road experience through which their journey through life is redirected towards the One who can truly change them. I should imagine there are many men and women on the streets of Goiania who need such an encounter. Many Sauls that need to have their names changed, so that many Pauls are raised in this generation. And this is our hope, that through our ministry here we will see many people have their purpose and journey reassigned.
Our work is very simple. We are trying to help the local church understand its role in this society. We are training people to be like Jesus on that road to Damascus, so they can shine a light on those who most need it. We do this mainly through coffee walks, when we approach homeless people with our coffee flask and offer friendship. We also run monthly events: in those we offer haircuts, basic medical assistance, food, worship and a lot of love. Through all these contacts we also offer the opportunity for people to seek help and go to rehab. Our dream, from October, is to open a weekly drop-in centre in the church building (IV Baptist, our host church). This will offer all the things we already do, plus showers, dental care and express counselling. In time we would love to see what we are doing in one church replicated in many other churches.
However, we cannot do what we do without the belief that God still performs miracles. We are hoping for many “and then suddenly” moments. Where Sauls become Pauls. Where light shines in darkness. Where the destination is changed, and people are set free. We are counting on you to believe in miracles with us! We are in this together and cannot wait to see you all on 7th July when we visit St Michael’s and All Angels Church!
Levi and Deborah Santana