It was about three years ago last month that God brought one of the most incredible women I’ve ever met right to our front door.
It was dark out and we were settling down into our wooden home at the end of a crumbling road in a crumbling society. We opened the door with hesitation and anticipation. We didn’t know anyone in this small town and, as the new foreign family in town, we were targets for scammers. Our guards were cautiously up. She introduced herself as Rosa (pronounced “Hoh-za”) and her daughter as Vandrena.
I tried in my broken Portuguese to understand and be understood as she told us her story and we shared a bit of ours. And so a friendship was born.
The timing of this meeting wasn’t by chance at all. We had only recently died to some pretty big dreams and were doggy-paddling our way to whatever it was God had for us next.
We didn’t know the Kingdom was already on this street. His Body was alive here. And He would allow us to be a part, to find our place.
We began pouring ourselves out. Our doors stayed open. Our table stayed full. Our hearts stayed broken. Rosa showed us the ropes of working among the poor. We learned from her unconditional love and she learned from our unwillingness to give in to pressures from the naysayers.
I’ll never forget when we were sitting in our kitchen floor chatting one day about life and she was talking about her middle son coming back home. He had been away for about a year and she was telling him about us.
“He asked what you guys were like. I told him you guys were simple people, just like us...”
She went on to say other things that I don’t remember now and had no idea that she had just spoken words of hope and life into my heart. Because that’s exactly what we wanted her to see. That we are her peers, her equals. The white man didn’t come here to save, but rather to serve.
We walked an almost two year journey together with Rosa on that street and watched and loved and served and taught and gave and cried and laughed and lived. A house was constructed that would bring more children to the feet of Jesus. More bellies were fed and neighbors loved. Drunks were picked up out of the streets and Pharisees sneered. We invited in the rejected and those hooligan BMX kids. We built water systems and funded small business endeavors. I learned to scale fish (earning the nickname “mermaid”) and how to cut a whole chicken. I encouraged and listened, gave and received.
And so many seeds were planted during those trial-filled years. And by God’s glory we get to watch some of the flowers already blooming and even some fruit starting to grow.
Rosa is now the Director of Grace House Amazon which is home to four children: Cairara, Mariclea, Frankie, and Michele. We have been able to expand her influence exponentially by empowering her and speaking words of truth into her life. She continues to pursue what God called her to twenty years ago and what she was already doing, and God has used us to facilitate that in new ways. The feeding program is well underway, feeding 10-15 street kids Monday-Friday. Many kids are being tutored in math and reading in the afternoons.
Rosa’s oldest son, Boboco, whom Richard taught small business skills and discipled, is investing in the lives of young boys through soccer ministry every week. Her middle son, Pepeco, whom Richard discipled for a year and a half and is one of his closest friends, is pastoring the kids at Grace House as well as his own family as they face trials and struggles on a daily basis.
Our former neighbor on that street, Aurilene, is now the Assistant Director of Grace House and serves these kids selflessly every week. She has come so far from the shy, introvert that we first met as she now boldly stands up for what is good and right in a society of critics. She and her husband took in her niece and began raising her as their own. Then they took in his nephew. They know that there is joy in sacrifice. They've seen it with their own eyes.
There is something so beautiful when we recognize that this thing isn’t ours at all. We are a small part of a big Body. We each have a role to play and it’s an important one. But it’s no more important than any other part. When we humbly submit to one another in love. When we are quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. When we esteem the other as better than ourselves. When we trust God’s timing. When we accept that God not only created different cultures, He is glorified in those cultures. When we realize His ways are not our ways.
When we truly DIE to ourselves.
That’s when we get a little glimpse of what Christ meant when He prayed, “May Your Kingdom come. May Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” All of His followers, walking in unity just as He commands, for His glory and the edification of His Body. And the world watches and wonders at it all. And we invite them in, too.
And man, is the journey breathtakingly beautiful.
“I assure you: Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces a large crop. The one who loves his life will lose it, and the one who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me. Where I am, there My servant also will be. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” –John 12.24-26