A Rare Glimpse of American Pop-Culture

So I just spent all day hanging out w/ my neighbors here in Manguinhos. As it’s raining, they decided it would be fun to watch some TV – and since they love American music, hip/hop, rap, etc., they brought over a stack of DVD’s full of different music videos (along with a TV and a DVD player they had borrowed from someone).

As I watched with them and tried to explain some things about the US, the music video/MTV culture, and the way it is portrayed in these music videos, I had this horrific sinking sensation in my stomach… They obviously loved it, lusted after it – the lifestyle and what came with it… it was just so much more overt (possibly because the contrast was so great between the setting we are in and the lifestyle portrayed…

For them (and so many others the world over), this is the only US they know. And I see the attitudes that cause problems and difficulties here in the favelas (violence, objectification of women, focus on appearance and the outward and sex) that are being fed and nurtured by “our” exports… I was sickened. And frustrated. And appalled by the blatant presentation of the “anti-Kingdom”…

Friends, be praying – that as the Lord’s spirit continues to work here that we will know when to speak and when to listen, when to confront and when to support, and mostly how to bring more of the presence of Christ into this community… Thank you all.

ps – be sure and check out the post below this… and try it out… =)

Something to try…

Hey everyone (both of you that read this) –

I’m recommending this to ya’ll, even though I haven’t tried it out yet, cause I want to try it out. There’s this program called Skype that you download (www.skype.com) that allows you to make free phone calls to other users… From what I’ve heard from some other WMF types, it works really well (say from the US to Nepal…) So I want to see if works as well from Brazil to the US, Peru, Africa, Asia, etc. But to do this, I need you to download it, then add me to your contact list (similar to an Instant Message program) and then when we’re online, we can talk… So get it, tell me about, and then we’ll try it – and remember that my buddy name is benmichaelmiller – look forward to chatting…

ben

An Eventful Saturday

Heads up – Pictures are forthcoming soon, as I head over to a neighbor’s tomorrow to scan a mountain of fun for ya’ll. Until then, content yourselves with the word pictures, and enjoy…

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Ever have one of those days? Not bad, not tired or long – just weird? The morning flew by as if it had the wings of fly… hmm… right.

Around 3 in the afternoon I met up w/ Laura (one of my two Servant Team members) and boarded the bus on our way down to Lapa (the area of down-town “our” street children, our friends, hang out in). When we got off the bus and looked around, we saw no one except a group of construction worker putting up a chain-link fence around an overhang that forms the rain-shelter of the youth (as they call themselves). We sat there and watched for a few minutes as they welded and erected and sealed and spat and generally did what construction workers do.

“Bené!!!” I heard Thiago yell across the square, so Laura and I turned and started walking towards him. I yelled back to him a greeting, and asked “Where is everyone else?”

“Oh, they’re somewhere around… Hey! You wanna go home w/ me and meet my family? Let’s go!” With that, he was off, scarcely waiting for our feeble “OK… sounds great…” But he was so excited… (I was pretty pumped as well, as we’ve met a few relatives of some of the Lapa gang there, but hardly ever parents, and never been to one of their homes. “A breakthrough,” I thought.) =)

(A quick sidenote – as I sit here writing this, our power has just gone out… my heart’s beating a little faster from adrenaline. In the last five minutes, there’s been the most number of gunshots for the longest period of time since I’ve been here in Manguinhos. A number were right down the street… Please, as you read this, take a minute, stop, and pray – pray for Manguinhos – for the families and children who live here – for the violence that surrounds it and threatens to engulf it – and that transformation may come – that the light may shine here in the darkness… thanks. And now, back to our story…)

So we headed down the street towards his house (only a few blocks away). We rounded the corner, and I was unbelieving as we headed towards his apartment building (a modern, 20-story affair with elevators, doormen, etc.) “Why does Thiago live on the streets?” I asked myself…

As we walked through the front door of his family’s apartment, I knew why. It was nothing I hadn’t seen before – yet I wasn’t expecting such blatant poverty in a high-rise in downtown Rio. Small, crowded and dark, filled with seven people. It was not any better than a place in the favelas (however, it did have the attraction of being less violent). I thought to myself, “If I lived here, I would probably be on the street too.”

His mother was precious, but the contrast that struck me was between Thiago and his younger brother Zé. Zé, a few years younger, was preparing to go to a performance at a nearby social project he had been attending for about six months. Zé had none of the “hard-ness” that was immediately visible in Thiago that comes from living on the street.

As we walked around the project (which focused on providing artistic outlets to young people from the favelas, like dance, theater, music, painting, sculpture, graffiti, skating, circus, etc.), Zé’s excitement was contagious. He was SO proud of every aspect he had been involved in, and the joy bubble out of his eyes. It was beautiful to see.

Only later, after asking how he had come to the center, did I find out the rest of the story. He, like Thiago, lived on the street for several years. The previous year, he had been picked up and placed in a shelter, and from the shelter had been sent to this project. Since that time, Zé has been living at home, going to school, and has turned his life around. I was amazed. Seeing the difference, the pride, the life, the joy in Zé’s eyes versus the deadness, the contempt, and the weariness in Thiago’s was eye-opening.

It broke my heart for Thiago, but gave me hope for him and the others in Lapa as well. His younger brother has begun to put his life back together. He can too. My prayer is that the life and joy that awaken in Thiago will be the life of the Son breaking through.

Oh by the way – names have been changed… when I ask them, I’ll switch it, and would ask for your continued prayer for this family. thank you.

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One more quick note, and then I’ll let you go. After walking Laura home on Saturday night, while I was still over at their house, the most torrential downpour I have seen in Rio snuck up on us. After a few minutes of playing on the roof in the rain, I decided to try and head home to my house. I almost didn’t make it.

As I was crossing the main road that divides their community from mine, I ran into my first obstacle. Where the road had been was no more – instead, it was a river… I found the best place to cross by watching the men pushing their stalled cars onto a side street (that unfortunately did not lead me towards my home). Crossing the first street I was almost swept away by the current several times as I lost my footing on slippery items underwater that I don’t really want to know what they were.

I was finally able to walk on the sidewalk, where the water was only halfway up to my knees… This portion went on for a good 100 yards, as my flip-flop clad feet stuck and slipped through the layers of accumulated filth and trash that coated the ground. Almost home, I then ran into my last obstacle – a 40 foot wide puddle (that again, came halfway up to my knees) to my front door (where I found that the power had been off for several hours. On the plus side, I was able to take my first shower by candle-light in a number of years as I tried to wash off the nastiness from my feet, and thanked the Lord for the dry roof over my head… Now if I could only find where I parked my boat…

Fun, random story…

So three nights ago we got home late from Lapa. I walked the girls home, came back to my place, and was getting ready for bed when the phone rang. It was Jenna, and she was laughing, but she sounded like she was about to start crying too. “Ben,” she yelled, “we’re locked in our house!” “Hmmm….” (What do you say to that? “Unlock the door?”) Somehow, they couldn’t get out though.

I (in my arrogance) assumed that they were just being silly girls, and it was really something simple, so when I showed up the next morning to “let them out” I was surprised that it wasn’t something really simple. Somehow, the lock had broken and jammed while they were inside, and they were unable to get it out. It didn’t take the two seconds that I thought it would either. I finally got the door open after about forty-five minutes of messing with the lock and a variety of tools… But the lock was shot.

“Oh, that’s easy to fix,” you say. “You just need to go out and buy a new one…” That’s what I thought. After trying five stores around their house, and hearing at each one, “No, we don’t carry that… It’s way too old. Try shop X around the corner…” After about four hours of this, I finally gave up, and found a shop that said although they didn’t have that type of lock that would fit in the door, they did know of someone who could probably fix it. After another hour getting to the shop, the locksmith said it would be no problem – “Come back tomorrow.”

Anyway, long boring story made a bit shorter, he finally fixed it the next day, and I was able to put the lock back on – and now the girls once again have a fully functioning door. Yeah! Final score – Ben – 2,000,000, Door – Negative 1,000,000,000. I rule!

be good friends – and I’m working on the pictures… =) soon… I promise.

tchau-tchau…

benito

My Street in Manguinhos


My Street in Manguinhos
Originally uploaded by Lost in Rio.

And here you are, looking down my street from the roof of my house… This Saturday, the neighbors are throwing a cook-out/barbeque for us gringos to welcome us to the neighborhood. It should be a pretty fun time, and I’ll try and get some pictures of that to put up here (as well as of my actual house.

Hey ya’ll,
Sorry I’m a slacker. I just wanted to share something funny… I just got my first letter yesterday (from the phone company). Apparently, my official address is:

Ben Miller
Rua Parana 22
Close to the Soccer Field
Manguinhos, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil.

I love it… hey, but if you’re in the mood to send me things, don’t send it there. I have a PO box for stuff you want to make sure gets to me. But if you wanna try, and see if something makes it, go ahead… Assume it won’t though. Me getting it is just an extra little perk… =)

I don’t have much to say, except to ask both of you that read this to be praying for a friend of ours down in lapa. About a week ago, she got in a fight with her husband, and he threw a bottle full of paint thinner at her face. It got in her eyes. One of them healed well, but the other is painful and infected… Anyway, we’re heading to the hospital tomorrow to get it looked at, but she’s really afraid. Pray for wanda. And pray for grace as I figure out the procedure, and patience as well…

Tonight I made a new friend down in lapa – little Elena who became my best friend and taught me to dance (I can hold my own with a two year old… some of the time…) as I was leaving, she blew me a kiss… so cute. Precious little girl. Pray for her too… Ok. Good night. As soon as I send this, I’m going to make a smoothie in my blender out of bananas, yogurt, pinapple, oranges, and mangos, and then I’m going to go sit up on my roof with my guitar and drink the smoothie, play a little, and prepare for tomorrow… =) Hope you find something as restful and as beautiful…

peace,

Ben