Until earlier this month my only experience with Brazil had been one night in the Amazon jungle. That night was spent remote, humid, quiet (except for a torrential downpour), and in a tiny village. If you’ve watched the Colombia Documentary - Esto Es Reino - you’ll know exactly what I’m referencing. The tangled, packed concrete jungle of São Paulo—the largest city, by far, in the Americas—slowly shuttles over 12 million inhabitants around. Getting anywhere, at any time day or night, is like a slow-paced adventure in hurry up and wait.
I flew all night, landed early morning, and was met by two friendly faces on the fun side of customs. We opted for the ever-so-convenient, reliably consistent over-roasted Starbucks while waiting for Ben’s flight to land. Moa (think Bob Marley meets hardcore kid) and I was catching up on how much can take place in the span of three years since last seeing each other. Only moments into our catch-up conversation we were approached by a young Brazilian man selling candy and trinkets. Moah asked the man to have a seat and purchased a pack of Halls. In Portuguese, he and “Johnny” began a discourse occasionally interrupted to fill me in. Johnny had just been released from prison for drug use and was trying to get his life back in order.
While sitting there, two thoughts came to me. The first was that Johnny had a left knee issue and the second was that he had some type of upper respiratory problem. I asked Moa to translate my thoughts to questions. Surprised, Johnny shared how before being arrested he had been scheduled for a left knee surgery which had not happened. His knee was still hurting and proving problematic. His lungs/breathing felt mostly fine in the moment though he commented about how they had bothered him in connection to drugs he had been using.
We prayed for the knee and lungs. He tested his knee and was excited to feel no pain or tightness. We began asking about his heart and whether he had a friendship with Jesus. In primarily Catholic countries nearly everyone understands the idea of Jesus at least on a religious level. We continued asking pointed questions about trusting in and following Jesus. At one point I asked what he possibly had to lose. If Jesus were who we were claiming, Johnny would know it, and his life would change. If we were not speaking truth, he’d forget us and never think twice. My line of reasoning seemed to connect with Johnny. He took our hands and invited Jesus to be his friend and savior. We asked how he felt. Brazilians are naturally expressive, and Johnny was exceptionally so. He motioned with his arms to express a lightning of a burden, the lifting of a heavy load. Then Moa translated into English what I had already understood in flailing arms.
Sometimes I wonder if Jesus opens doors for me to travel new places—or do things period—simply because He knows I’ll meet a Johnny. My prayer continues to be, “Jesus, please help me to love one person today as you would love them.” Some days I don’t see that prayer answered, but there are other days where I stand stunned at the colossal magnitude of God’s kindness.
We need not be afraid to place ourselves less comfortably than we desire. Right now there are people in our communities, churches, families, cities - desperate to experience the love of God.
Is Jesus leading you to love the unloved? Will you go to them? Fear not. Jesus has overcome political parties, world leaders, disgruntled social media posts, prison, drug addiction, weak knees, troubled breathing and souls distant like mine.
- Chad Johnson