29 March 2021

Reflections from Brazil: Favelas

Shortly before the pandemic hit, Carolyn Lawrence visited Brazil to see at first hand the work and mission of the Methodist Church in Brazil.

The word ‘favela’ has become synonymous with Brazil and conjures up images for many people of huge slums ruled by drug gangs and full of violence.   But during my visit I learned a bit more about what they really are.  The word ‘favela’ is Portuguese for slum or shanty town and is a word used in Brazil to describe urban neighbourhoods of high density informal or unplanned housing. 

Favela tours are often marketed to tourists but there have been occasions in which a tourist has been shot on these visits which has further perpetrated the negative image!  They are often thought of as slums – some are; but many are actually just areas of poor housing, often built on hillsides.   It is estimated that around 20% of Rio’s population live in favelas.  Although there are drug lords and violence in some favelas, most people who live there are law abiding citizens working in low paid jobs.   There was a lot of controversy around favelas during the recent Rio Olympics and the Brazilian hosted World Cup as many favelas were cleared and the families evicted in order to try to make the city ‘look nicer’ for visitors.  This understandably caused a lot of bad feeling amongst many of the poorer people of the area who were left without homes for the sake of appearances. 

The first favela in Brazil was founded in Rio after the Second World War when Brazilian soldiers returning from fighting with the allies discovered that their government would not house them.  They began building their own houses and communities and the favela of Providencia was born. 

I had the privilege of being asked to preach in this favela while I was in Rio.  I was taken to a church with a growing membership of over 200 people.   I asked if it was safe and our interpreter assured us we were safer there than in our hotel because the drug gangs apparently like the church so they protect it!   I had a wonderful time of worship with these dear people who were open to the Holy Spirit and responsive to the preaching of God’s word. 

Whilst waiting to go into the church there was a little group of children and I asked if it was ok to take their photo.  The girls all squealed and ran into the toilets and I wondered what they were doing then noticed they were all checking their hair in the mirror!!  There was a little boy left standing there alone a bit bemused and wondering what was going on! 

Pastor Raphael from the favela church said that they are engaged in evangelism in the favela using cell church – people are building community through these small groups and people are coming to know the Lord.  He said that they have some gang members who have become Christians and turned their lives around.   I am so thankful to God for the privilege of seeing how he is at work in people’s lives in these areas and the faithfulness of God’s people who are reaching out to those whom society often overlooks and ignores. 

Carolyn Lawrence with Pastor Raphael from the favela church and an interpreter. 

Carolyn Lawrence, Vice-President of the Methodist Conference, 2020-21

Read other blogs in this series:

Brazilian passion

Anointing oil and Vicks!

Shade and fresh Water

Learning from church growth in Brazil

Reflections from Brazil: the Amazon mission boat

Church in the mall

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