ARCA project: Belém, Brazil
I flew from London Heathrow on 18 September and arrived safely the following day in Belém in the north of Brazil. After twenty-four hours of travelling, I was met at the airport by Mo and Shirley (two UFM missionaries in Belém).
Not knowing anyone before I went, I was a bit apprehensive. Going in to a different environment and culture could have potentially been quite hard. However, Mo, Shirley and Kelly, as well as the Brazilians, made me feel so welcomed and loved, I settled in very quickly.
The needs of street children in Brazil are overwhelming and so ARCA (Assistance and Recuperation for the Child and Adolescent) is a UFM project, set up fourteen years ago, that works with some of these children. They are from dysfunctional homes and, for numerous reasons, have made the street their home. They are all involved in crime, including drug-taking and prostitution and the majority have been abused. They survive day-to-day by stealing and begging.
There are currently three main branches to the work: the drop-in centre, the girls’ home in Benevides and the boys’ home in St Isabel.
I spent my first week at the drop-in centre in the city centre of Belém. I went out with the ‘street team’ giving out bread rolls and coffee, and told the children about the ARCA centre where they can come every day to have a shower, get fed, do some activities, and hear the gospel.
I also spent a couple of weeks in the girls’ home with Shirley and the girls, and at the boys’ home where Kelly works. These homes offer the children a chance to build a new life in a safe environment where they can learn about our Saviour.
There’s so much I could say, but I’ll just pick a few things out which impacted me during my stay.
Thankfulness to God
‘Always have reason to thank the Lord, even in trial’ (Joel Beeke).
There is so much that we have to be thankful for! I think our culture in the UK is quite a complaining culture, always dissatisfied with our lot and always wanting more.
From the time I started with ARCA, I was struck by how much I have: my loving family, a church that preaches the gospel every week and cares and looks out for one another, good solid friends, a home, food every day… the list is endless, and yet we complain! God’s mercies are new every morning and so we should give thanks to Him each day.
Trusting in God
During my first week in Belém, we visited a girl called Marcia. Marcia is nineteen-years-old and she lives with her boyfriend, Daniel, and her baby girl, Mikayli. They live in a tiny wooden shack in a dangerous favela in filthy conditions, with absolutely nothing – its desperate poverty. ARCA visit to give much needed practical help and support.
On one occasion whilst driving in to the favela, we were stopped at gunpoint for money and valuables. Praise the Lord we were not harmed. In a strange way I was thankful for this event. It seriously shook me up, but it also made me realise the importance of the need to rely on Him, who is in total control, and to bring each day before Him in prayer. When God is our focus then everything else is put into perspective, and as a child of God I had comfort in knowing that the ‘good hand of my God was upon me’ (Neh. 2:8).
Openness to the gospel
Generally, the Brazilian people are very open to the gospel. The people I met all knew the same Christian songs and many street children could recite large chunks of the Bible. Whilst doing Bible studies with the children, they agreed with what was being said and they didn’t object; but most of them did not know our Saviour for themselves and didn’t see the urgency to be saved. This scared me, because they know so much of the Bible and yet are not saved; it’s a dangerous position to be in. But God is merciful in letting each child that comes to ARCA hear the gospel every day and they are much prayed for by the workers.
I spent a lot of my time in the girls’ home in Benevides, doing crafts, cooking, English lessons and Bible studies. I got to know the girls and loved them all. They have all known abuse and neglect that I cannot comprehend. One child, Rosie is fourteen-years-old and she is pregnant with her third child. She is such a bubbly character and very fun-loving. Whilst I was there she professed faith – praise the Lord! Please pray for her that fruit would show and through her others in the home would come to know the Saviour.
Spreading the gospel
‘Move men through God by prayer alone’ (Hudson Taylor).
Anderson lives in St Isabel where the boys’ home is. His family threw him out of his home when they discovered he had AIDS, and so he was taken in by ARCA and to God’s glory was born again! Since his salvation he has been bursting to go and tell his family and friends of the wonderful Saviour he has found. One afternoon we went to visit Anderson’s home. When we arrived, about thirty people were waiting to hear what was being said. Anderson gave his testimony and then a friend from his church gave a short message. The family and friends were so receptive to hearing the gospel and so open to what was preached. God opened this door and we need to pray that He will provide many more opportunities like this to spread the good news and that He will do a mighty work in that village.
Our lives are so short and it seems we live for the next thing that we want and always want more. During my time with ARCA, I saw how the children I met had absolutely nothing in life. I kept thinking that even though it’s nice to have nice things, this is not what matters the most. It doesn’t matter what we have in this life, it’s knowing Christ and serving Him that counts. ‘Only one life will soon be passed, only what’s done for Christ will last’.
I am so thankful for the opportunity I had to help in the ARCA project. It really opened my eyes to how much we have in every aspect of life. God is doing a great work through the missionaries in Belém. Please pray that through ARCA more children would be able to have a life off the streets and that ultimately souls would be saved to give all glory to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Rhian Roberts is a member of Heath Evangelical Church, Cardiff.