On Saturday evening we left our ministry time in Heliopolis with a full bus load and headed toward Comunidade de Jesus’ evening church service. It was so amazing to see three little boys in one seat, all crowded around the window, pointing and talking about what they could see on what was quite possibly their first tour bus ride. The bus was full of people and noise, as we talked and laughed our way to the church.
Pastor Dirceu opened the service, welcoming everyone from Heliopolis and explaining with such a warm heart what we had been doing the past few days and affirming how much we cared about the new friends we were making. One of the women who had come with us works in the clinic in Heliopolis and has connections with many of the families in the area. She was the first person Pastor Dirceu met in Heliopolis, and is very excited about the work he wants to establish for the children and families. She has been very encouraging and instrumental in what we have been doing in this favella- she even cooked buttered cassava for our work team one afternoon!
We invited several of the young men, a few of whom are in the gang, to come forward and perform some of their rap songs for the church. These guys have a dream of making a rap CD– and what better way to reach out to them to show interest in their hearts and dreams? It was so fun to participate as guys straight from the slums gave their first rap performance in front of an enthusiastic and loving church congregation! Mary Pat even got to participate, as she rapped out the English translation of one of their songs! She then spoke to them about these words that were from their hearts, and how Jesus knows everything that is in their hearts: all their thoughts, hurts, and hopes.
Throughout Mary Pat’s message to the congregation, our team performed the Heart Skit, the Box Skit, and the rap dance/drama that we wrote to illustrate a Portuguese Christian rap song. This rap really speaks to the experiences these people face on the streets. As Mary Pat continued to share of the love and power of Jesus, the men, women, and children from Heliopolis were focused on her words. When the call was given to come forward to give their lives to Jesus, 28 of about 40 from the slum came to the front of the church and Andy led them in a prayer of salvation and renunciation. It was so clearly and undeniably a move of God as these people, hardened by the difficulties of life, opened their hearts to the love of a Heavenly Father. As Pastor Dirceu stood there with the group as they prayed, tears trickling down his cheeks, a little boy who had come forward reached up and wiped away the tears. This was a beautiful picture of the Father’s heart.
The entire night was a such a beautiful expression of God’s saving power and his ability to unify people from all different cultures and walks of life. We ended the night by giving each person, church members and guests, beaded bracelets that show the American flag and the Brazilian flag connected by the word Jesus. We feel that God has connected our hearts to these people and this country emotionally and prophetically. We told everyone that the bracelets were a gift to show our love and connection, and so that they would know that we are thinking of them even when we are back in the US. As we waved goodbye, there was such a feeling of warmth and so many smiling faces. God has indeed begun a tremendous work in our midst.