Rio de Janeiro is a city of color. From the piercing blues of the sky and lush greens of the treetops to the seemingly Crayola crayon box inspired rooftops of the favelas (Brazilian slums), one’s eyes are constantly overwhelmed by the richness all around them. I guess that’s what makes Rio so vibrant and its people so full of life, simply because no matter the circumstances or standard of living it is not possible to look around at the natural surroundings without a smile on your face.
It shocks me that we have been here for four days already, yet every morning it seems as if I am a newborn again exploring the sense of sight for the first time. The magic of this city though, and a mission trip in general, is that we are able to hone in on what we are seeing and doing in order to fully appreciate what we may otherwise overlook.
On Saturday, we got the unique opportunity to bring the joy of color to someone else’s world by painting the courtyard of the school that we worked with the previous day. Along with the Campinho church members, we aimed to transform the walls of peeling paint and graffiti to a fresh arrangement of blues and white. By uplifting the exterior of the school building, an interior transformation of hope can occur within the students and surrounding neighborhood.
Unfortunately tackling an entire courtyard of a school is not handprints and face paint, people. In mere minutes, clothes were dirtied, blue-speckled became a new skin color, and a language barrier had never seemed so literal. Trying to communicate in a weird mix of English and Portuguese that tape should be placed on the walls before one is going to try to paint a straight line is a very difficult task indeed.
However, despite the hours of work and weeding of the courtyard’s garden, our team was able to bond with the church members and each other as well. Sure, singing Taylor Swift’s “22” at the top of your lungs during a paint break or making sure our new friend “Bad News Benny” paints inside the lines correctly may not seem exactly necessary but the end was a success. Hearing how grateful the church leaders were for our dedication and work to the school and community as a whole brought new meaning to the power of paint.
Being an entire hemisphere away from home on Mother’s Day can be difficult for both parties involved, but our group was able to make the most of it by attending a Mother’s Day service at Campinho church, home to the volunteers we had been working with for the past couple of days. Donning our Sunday best, we approached the simple, yet modern building unsure of how a Brazilian Sunday service would operate.
All fears were immediately dismissed when we caught sight of the cookie and cake feast prepared by the church members for our “breakfast.” Our team loves food therefore they won our hearts.
I am pretty sure most of us did not understand a word of the two hour service, but at that moment language did not matter. Looking at the smiling faces of the families by our sides and listening to the songs that sounded so unknown yet so familiar, I knew that we were meant to be here, in the heart of Rio de Janeiro, at that exact moment. After the children of the church performed a short skit and the service concluded, the people still lingered. Hugs of gratitude and cheek to cheek kisses were exchanged from American to Brazilian, extending love between strangers that have known each other for such a short period of time.
My favorite part of the day personally was when the mothers of the congregation gathered us in a room to express with glossy eyes how much we were truly appreciated. They explained that they were on a personal mission to better the lives and conditions of the surrounding neighborhoods, a task that seemed at first improbable, but that we were an integral part of the beginning of something great. They asked for prayers and to remember their church when we return home, and I am certain that their pleas will not be forgotten.
We ended the night with a traditional Brazilian barbecue hosted by the man we will be working with for the next couple of days, Bruno. We were able to relax and celebrate the last couple of days’ successes by enjoying Bruno’s mother’s dance moves and trying local delicacies such as chicken hearts (chewy, yet tasty). In our downtime, I was able to reflect on everything we have experienced thus far, and I have realized that I put way more emphasis on the ability to change lives. In truth, Brazil is actually shaping and changing us from guarded individuals with eyes closed, to leaders with hearts wide open. God meant for us to be in this place for a reason and like a camera being focused for precision, it seems that our purpose is only getting clearer each day.