Most people can’t find Manaus on the map. I couldn’t either, until I found out I’d be there for 3 weeks of my summer internship. When I found out it was in the Amazon region of Brazil I thought I would be staying under a thatched roof and hacking through the jungle with a machete.
What I found surprised me: a vibrant city of two million people with the aesthetics that rivals any European city. Being a big city, Manaus has its share of beauty and heartbreak. Cafes, upscale restaurants and theatres share the same street as prostitutes and homeless people just trying to find a warm, dry corner to sleep. My missionary host showed me the reality of Manaus, shared with Brazil as a whole: heart-wrenching poverty next door to luxury, with little ability for people to make a better life for themselves. The beauty and heartbreak are very close.
Yet, there’s more to Manaus than heartbreak. The residents of Manaus are known as having big hearts open to each other, and in my experience that was the rule rather than the exception. Whenever I walked into a church, a pastor whom I’d never met would shout a greeting and give me a bear hug.
Just before leaving Manaus, my host told me he would show me reality yet again.
After finishing lunch with our church ministry partners, we took a walk to a new part of the city. The road changed as we walked; the asphalt became sparse, eventually giving way completely to dirt and rocks. The houses, too, changed as we walked. We passed wealthy houses with tall metal fences and kept going – soon we passed houses that weren’t worth putting a fence around.
Our destination was a house owned by a family from the church we had just ministered with, and was towards the end of the road. We entered a small home with just 1.5 bedrooms for 7 people, and made our way to the small kitchen. Our missionary host introduced the father by name, and suddenly began weeping.
Juca, our missionary host, isn’t prone to outbursts of emotion. He’s a former professional athlete - very tough, and quick to make a joke. None of us knew how to handle his tears, being so out of character personally and culturally.
The reason for his emotion? The family we were visiting were his regular monthly supporters, and had been for years – despite their financial hardship. It was then that I realized what it means to be mission-minded.
"I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare." C. S. Lewis