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Friday, April 16, 2010

This mound of mud is a cemetery...

Last Wednesday, the 7th, a giant mudslide swept over a large portion of a slum community in a city on the outskirts of downtown Rio called Niteroi. This community was Morro do Bumba, and there were no survivors. On Sunday night, Christy and I along with members from the NGO, Rio de Paz, had an opportunity to mourn for the dead and cry for justice, so let me tell you my story-

After driving for an hour or so, we came to a roadblock in the road. A short Portuguese dialog took place between our Brazilian friends in the car with the guard, then he let us through but warned us to not park too close to the site. We drove up to a storefront church, got out, and started making memorial candle holders out of clear plastic cups. There were hundreds of people inside the church, hundreds outside as well. When we entered the church we were met not by "meet-and-greeters", but by a ten-foot-tall mound of donated clothes stuffed inside an innumerable amount of garbage bags. I overheard that some people had been sleeping and receiving provisions there at that church for the past eight days. Next thing I knew, a man with glasses handed me a blank white mask. Antonio, the Director of Rio de Paz, was looking for ten people wearing black shirts to don masks for the protest, and I happened to be wearing a black shirt. I hurried down to the front of the crowd to receive instructions about what to do next.


After the ten of us were prepped on what to do in the coming hour, we were handed white papers to display across our chest. Each sheet had a unique, simple statement about the situation of the many anonymous people affected by the mudslide. A few statements in Portuguese were: "INCOMPETENCE", "CITIZEN OF THE MUD", and "NEGLECT". My sign said "SHAME", in English. "SHAME" represents the dishonor they feel for being outcasts of the society and not being able to have a house that gives them dignity.
The main reason this complex fell, and their loved ones along with it, was not because of the rain but because it was built on a garbage dump. When we left the church we assembled behind a giant banner that read "Promise of housing for the poor: WHEN? WHERE? HOW?" and marched silently and slowly up to the foot of the mudslide as photographers and videographers recorded. Following closely behind was a pastor carrying a white cross and a throng of at least 300 mourners, memorial flames burning.

When we began to walk onto the mud, our police escorts herded all the media and mourners onto the sidewalk behind the barrier, but we were allowed to continue to the base of the hill. And that's when it dawned on me, I am now walking in the very mud where hundreds of people, some of them brothers and sisters in Christ, are buried. This mound of mud is a cemetery, this is where the family members of the mourners are buried. The firemen I was face-to-face with were the men that I had been watching on TV search for countless hours through the mud, crying along with the parents when they recovered their child's corpse.
A white cross was planted in the mud, at the foot of the hill- a very fitting picture. It brought to mind the hope that we have in Jesus' righteousness that cleanses us of our mud-stained lives. The same hope many of the people who were murdered by the mudslide held fast to. As friends and family members of the dead started to approach the cross one-by-one placing their candles in the mud, my eyes were fixed not on the cameras and the crowd, but on the emotion of their faces. I held back tears, disguised by the mask, that seem to rush to my eyes because of the compassion I felt for these people on so many levels. I was filled with joy that Rio de Paz was taking a stand to be a voice for these voiceless people. They are effectively advocating for a people that are being ignored. If we have an advocate for us in Christ, in order to be Christ-like we must also be advocates. It was a total victory as the Associated Press, O Globo (Brazil's biggest news broadcaster), Extra, and countless other TV stations and newspapers all showed up to broadcast the protest. The next morning it made the front page of O Globo-Rio, a page that would easily cost one million Reais (half a million Dollars).

It was definitely an experience I won't easily forget, and I hope you won't either. These people are hurting and are in desperate need, as are many other slum-dwellers that we have the privilege of working with. We pray that the poor will have a voice and the victims will be given aid immediately. If you want to give aid to flood/landslide victims NOW, please let us know. Because of the Kingdom connections God has prepared in advance, Restore Brazil is now in the place to give aid directly to the people that need it most in at least four different hard-hit slums, but resources are wearing thin. We have already distributed provisions in three different slums, one in particular that is almost impossible to send aid to because it is completely controlled by drug traffickers, and we have plans to continue working in these communities. 100% of your gift will go directly to meet the needs of the victims, so please pray and give as the Lord guides.

-G

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