Costa Barros is one of the most dangerous favela (shantytown) complexes in Rio de Janeiro. Pastor André Assis, 45, parked his battered Fiat in a courtyard between four buildings overlooking a river of faecal water. He leaves the car and walks down a dark dirty alley with three of his brothers all wearing neat suits and ties. It has been 10 years since Assis moved into the underworld of Rio crime where every 80 minutes a person is murdered.
The pastor, with his Bible, conquers territories into which the Brazilian state only arrives with police in armoured cars. The purpose of his visits is to pull young people out of drug abuse and trafficking, a crusade that began in prisons a decade ago. A big man with a gun at the waist and a young man in flip-flops with a rifle cuts them off. The pastor says good evening and invites them to pray. The man with the gun nods while the young man drops his gun, closes his eyes and Assis puts his hand on his head. They pray together for a couple of minutes, then say goodbye without ceremony and the boy picks up the rifle again. No one in the favela questions the presence of Pastor Assisi. He represents the only other authority, other than gang leaders, armed young people respect… and fear.
The work of the pastor is an example of the penetration of evangelical churches in Brazil. In the last 40 years, evangelicals went from being 5.2% of the population to 22.2%. The mayor of Rio, Marcelo Crivella, is a former bishop of one of these churches. In many city favelas, bleeding with upsurges of violence and severe economic crises, gas, water and Internet connections are distributed by traffickers after payment of abusive fees. Here the mail does not arrive, nor technicians from the electricity company, neither are there sufficient nurseries, nor libraries, much less any sewage treatment. There are, however, more and more evangelical churches. “Jesus was in the midst of sinners, prostitutes and bandits, and I think that’s my mission” says Assis, who has created workshops and safe places where those he rescued from the grips of Satan can earn their living lawfully.
Source: Maria Martin, El Pais
Bible Study: Psalm 80:1-3
DECEMBER PRAISE God for many evangelical pastors who, like Assis, put their lives at risk to take the love of Christ to the forgotten favelas. Ponder what it is like to go into such dangerous places each and every night and PRAY for them.