Brazil’s Child Sex Trade

“Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” John 8:36 NKJV

The title of the report as posted on the BBC News page, “The dark side of Brazil’s sex trade,” seems rather odd to me.  One is left wondering what the “bright side"of Brazil’s sex trade might be.    In any event, please watch the video before proceeding to read the rest of this post.  I’m sorry it isn’t available to be embedded here.

Click here to watch "The dark side of Brazil’s sex trade.”

Disturbing though they are, reports of this type help shine a light on a grim reality that is completely foreign to most of us.  It’s hard to imagine mothers prostituting their own children and little girls having sex with strangers so they can buy crack.  This is the unfortunate life of many young people in Brazil and elsewhere.

What children in the Brazilian sex trade represent is not so much the desperation of extreme poverty but the enslavement to sin that breaks down human dignity.  Having lived for a few years in Brazil and being married to a beautiful Brazilian-American woman who grew up in difficult (though not in the favela) circumstances, I can say with a fair amount of insight that children being “driven” to prostitution out of dire necessity is rare.

When extended families fail to help (or grow weary of doing so) there are still public and private entities available to provide assistance. Evening begging is an option better than the sex alternative.  It isn’t uncommon for children to hit up bakeries in the evening for leftover bread.  It isn’t ideal by any means to resort to asking people for help, but it is far better than the easy money to be made in selling a child’s innocence.

“They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” – Ephesians 4:18-19 ESV

That said, I have to insist that no body is better equipped than the church to confront the underlying societal, familial and personal ills that create these circumstances.  When I say that Brazil needs more solid Christian community development efforts, this is the sort of thing that comes to my mind.

Did you notice in the video how Patricia’s mother seemed much more concerned about the money her daughter wasn’t bringing home that with the child’s well-being?  That’s a family in complete breakdown and disarray.  A mother who needs to be called to repentance and a little girl who needs drug intervention, recovery assistance and counseling.  Who will provide that?

The women prostituting their children in broad daylight…who will summon them to justice?  Who will provide a way out and a future for the children?  Who will report the “Johns” to the authorities and then demand that the powers that be take action?  Governmental agencies need to be active and responsible, but no one can provide the moral basis for change and Good News of forgiveness and restoration that the church has in its possession.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” – 2 Corinthians 4:7 NIV

If anyone reading this knows of Christian-based community development organizations that are dealing with child prostitutions and other societal ills in Brazil, please post the information in a comment here.

For my part I continue committed to seeing educational programs, chemical recovery and other practical works of ministry fostered in poor Brazilian communities.

The image of those little girls walking the streets will haunt my waking memory, compelling me to act.

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, and that they may escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.”2 Timothy 2:24-26 NRSV

See Also:

Panel Discussion of “The New Evangelicals”

This evening I’m attending (and mobile blogging) a panel discussion hosted by the Riverside Church in NYC on Marcia Pally’s book, “The New Evangelicals.” I only learned of this gathering last night through a post Peter Heltzel made on Facebook. So glad I saw it.

Hearing people talk about prophetic ministry being done among the last, least and the lost makes my heart beat faster. This is beyond theory. It’s about real work being done.

There is a definite political angle here, particularly in the repudiation of the right-leaning ways of evangelicalism in the United States in recent decades. This has certainly not been the evangelical stance I’ve seen in Brazil, where social justice ministry has been alive and well in those circles for some time.

In her opening remarks Ms. Pally talked about a move away from “Bibles for bacon” in world missions.

“The obligation on Christians is to serve, not on recipients having to believe one way or the other.”

To be honest, for a while now I’ve harbored a lingering dread that the uptick in interest in ministry to the poor and marginalized may be just another evangelical fad, and I suspect it may still be the case. At the same time, participating in an event like this and hearing from people deeply committed to social justice gives me hope that a vibrant core of the truly committed will remain and perhaps even grow (albeit more slowly) once the popular glow around this subject fades.

Another excellent point made by Ms. Pally made was regarding the extension of separation of church and state to personal faith in the public sphere. It is as though there is a belie that perspectives that do not appeal to the divine are somehow more just. However, the history of the 20th century is one of terrible massacres perpetrated by atheistic powers. Yes, evil has been done in the name of God, but secularism has no valid claim on superiority in public discourse.

Listening to the author and the various commentators, I’m gaining a new appreciation for why the conservative political turn took place. People had sincere concerns about what they perceived as hand-out programs, a moral slippage and the legalization of abortion. In their eyes (and I can’t blame them) it looked like the house was on fire.

One of the panelists talked about the false goal of helping “poor black and brown folks” become better consumers. She stated doubt that this is what someone like Mother Teresa had in mind, as though the suburban white middle class lifestyle in the United States is what God wants of us all now. To me, the challenge is in figuring out what ministry to the poor is if it doesn’t include helping them out of poverty. How to do it without promoting more consumerism?

An important clarification provided by the author is that by saying “new evangelicals” she isn’t suggesting that there are or were “old evangelicals.” With 500 years of history and so many sub-movements within the larger movement, “old evangelicals” doesn’t make any sense. She uses “new evangelicals” because it is a term already in use among evangelicals, and she narrowly identifies a distinct group with it.

The book sounds very interesting, telling the stories of “new evangelicals” throughout the country. I hope to be able to read and review it in the coming month.

Teen Pregnancy in Brazil

Last night my wife and I watched an episode of Profissão Reporter that focused on teen pregnancy in Brazil.  The stories of several young ladies were featured, but I’d like to share just three of them here.

The first is a 15-year-old who had just given birth as the report began. The pregnancy was unplanned, but she commented that she wasn’t sorry because “everything has a reason.”  This quasi-fatalist view is fairly common in Brazil, in my experience. Natural disaster or human error takes place and someone says “God has a reason for everything.”  Every time I hear it my blood boils, because it simply isn’t true. Although we can say that God has at times brought tragedy or suffering for a purpose, no one can say authoritatively in our times when this is the case.  Furthermore, saying something like this really shifts the blame back to God, when in fact it is often sin that has brought the pain.  This girl got pregnant because she had sex without adequate protection and the sperm made it to her awaiting egg. However, God most certainly can bring good out of a bad situation, something I have seen time and again in my own life, and the child that’s born is not guilty of the parents’ fault.

The second case that caught my attention was a 13-year-old “married” (I’m not sure about the legality of it) to a 23-year-old man. The pregnancy was wanted, as it provided a means for the young lady to get out of her mother’s house. Living just down the street from her mother in the same community, her husband is building the house around them (something that is very common in Brazil). They have very simple circumstances, including not having a refrigerator, but they are making do.

Most disturbing of all was the third example I’ll share, an 11-year-old girl who is pregnant. She lives with her mother, who has no intention of letting her move out. This little girl explains in very childlike terms that she thought about making a baby and decided to do it. At her age and with her explanation, I really doubt sexual desire was involved in the process, at least on her part. The father? He’s 14.

In all these situations the young mothers are from poor families with limited education. Although of course teen pregnancy can and does happen to those in the middle and upper classes, it seems statistically more common for this to occur with those of lower socio-economic standing.  One factor in why many – though certainly not all – teens in northern Brazil in particular become pregnant really surprised me: to gain status.

Apparently in the generally poor northern regions of Brazil girls see no particular advantage to remaining children, and are said to become mothers to be respected or at least treated better. It can be a means to leave  parental authority.

Whether  the motivation is rooted in poverty, sexual desire or a strange (to me) attempt at a better quality of life, the answer to this situation seems relatively clear to me, although not simple. Faith-based, youth-focused community development projects that involve both vocational training and individualized mentoring can go a long way towards helping young people to set their sights higher in life. If a genuine way out of poverty can be shown, the discipline and the self-respect to practice abstinence imparted, many teenagers would be able to realize their potential in life, rather than be trapped in perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

Just recently I was very encouraged to read in The Christian Chronicle about a partnership between the local government and the Church of Christ in Vitória, Brazil that has resulted in a job training program that includes lessons in morality and results in internships for young people. You see, Brazilians don’t have quite the allergy to church-state cooperation that afflicts U.S. citizens and others. This is precisely the sort of program that can help make a real difference in the lives of Brazilian youth.

Now, am I picking on Brazil? By no means. I’m discussing what I saw in a Brazilian news journal, and this is a problem in the United States and in other countries as well. It’s simply that my heart is with Brazil and my aim is to help.

If you are able to understand Portuguese, the full episode I’ve discussed here is available in the two videos below.

21st Century Third World Gehenna

“Serpents! brood of vipers! how may ye escape from the judgment of the gehenna? Because of this, lo, I send to you prophets, and wise men, and scribes, and of them ye will kill and crucify, and of them ye will scourge in your synagogues, and will pursue from city to city; that on you may come all the righteous blood being poured out on the earth from the blood of Abel the righteous, unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the sanctuary and the altar: verily I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation.” Matthew 23:33-36 (Young’s Literal Translation)

Gehenna is a real place that exists in our world. It’s a valley located south of old Jerusalem’s walls. This, “the valley of the son of Hinnom,” was where Israelite children were sacrificed to the god Moloch. That was centuries before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. In the days of Jesus it was a garbage dump. It seems dead animals and even the corpses of disreputable criminals were thrown there, where smoke was constantly rising and worms devoured corrupt things.

Throughout his life, Jesus warned those in power and all who failed to embrace his way of peace that their end would be Gehenna. In the nearly two millennia since those days his words have been reinterpreted to be speaking of another place, a “hell” in the afterlife. Although certainly the Bible does teach consequences and judgment beyond death, as well as speaking of an end of this present age and the inauguration of a new one, this was not the point of what Jesus had to say.

Gehenna, first a place of cruel sacrifice and then a fetid, smoky dump, was to be the resting place for the cadavers of those who rejected the way of non-violent resistance. Those in power who stirred up the masses against not only the Roman oppressors but also any who refused to go down their bloody path could expect, according to Jesus, only to be consigned to the shameful landfill of history.

There are still Gehennas in our days. In more affluent countries, like the United States, it is practically unheard of for people to find their way into landfills to make a living. In other countries, particularly those of the Third World, one can go to virtually any dump and find people eking out a living. They search the garbage for recyclable materials to sell and anything of value that may have been tossed out carelessly. Yes, they even look for food.

One year while I lived in Brazil I read about a teenager who got up every morning well before sunrise to meet the trash trucks as they arrived at the landfill. He would search the garbage for food and take what he found back home to his mother. He didn’t want his younger siblings to find out where their food came from. If you watched the video above, you know that this is an experience shared by others throughout the world. In the movie Slumdog Millionaire there is a scene in a dump in India that bears further testimony to this sad international reality.

People around the world are surviving, barely, on the margins. A naive North American might suggest that the solution would be a big fence, sort of like the one they are trying to build to keep people from crossing the northern Mexican border into the United States. The thinking would be that if people were kept out of the dumps, the problem would be solved. Actually, a lot of people would die. As the video above points out, a sweatshop would be a definite step up from a filthy hell. Think about how unimaginably bad a step down would be!

In the eyes of the rest of society, those scraping bottom to survive appear damned, but they are not the truly accursed. The wicked are those in power who are complicit with systemic evil. Corrupt systems and complicit powers put the poor and weak in the garbage and Jesus on the cross. This latter was to their own undoing:

“And you, being dead through your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, you, I say, did he make alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses; having blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us: and he hath taken it out that way, nailing it to the cross; having despoiled the principalities and the powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” Colossians 2:13-15 (American Standard Version)

Through his death and resurrection Jesus exposed the powers for what they really were (and are) and overcame them. The ultimate tool of the tyrant is death, and once Jesus faced that and came out the other side into new life, there was no more cause for fear.

“Since therefore the children partake of blood and flesh, he also, in like manner, took part in the same, that through death he might annul him who has the might of death, that is, the devil; and might set free all those who through fear of death through the whole of their life were subject to bondage.” Hebrews 2:14-15 (Darby Translation)

In his appearing at the conclusion of this present age, the New Testament Scriptures testify that tables will be turned. Those who have engaged in persecution and oppression will be thrown to the bottom, overturned and obliterated by fire from the presence of God:

“…if so be that it is righteous thing with God to recompense affliction to them that afflict you, and to you that are afflicted rest with us, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of his power in flaming fire, rendering vengeance to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus: who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be marvelled at in all them that believed (because our testimony unto you was believed) in that day.” 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 (American Standard Version)

The task of followers of Jesus in our times is one that has never gained wide acceptance, even though it is found throughout both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. We are called seek out the marginalized and stand with them. A sweatshop may be better than a garbage dump, and a garbage dump preferred over death, but disciples must not, cannot, leave human beings in those conditions without help and without hope. Acrid smoke and bitter anguish is better suited to the corrupt powers than the world’s poor and weak.

“Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:11-12 (American Standard Version)

A Week of Service in Jamaica

For just over a week in November – Thanksgiving week in the United States – it was my privilege to be part of a 17-member team sent out by HOPE worldwide – Central Jersey Chapter to Jamaica. Although mission in Brazil remains my first calling and priority, Jamaica is not far behind.

In the not-so-distant past HOPE worldwide had a strong presence and ministry to the poor in Jamaica, especially through a clinic. Last December the clinic closes due to insufficient funds on the part of the international organization, and there has been some question about what the future holds. There is a certain expectation that through the efforts of the Central Jersey Chapter there will be both more volunteer mission trips and greater involvement from Jamaican-based volunteers.

Our group this past week was the first of what we hope will be many to head to Jamaica to help out. In many ways it was really a calibration trip, measuring the opportunities to serve and sorting out the best way forward. That makes repeat volunteers all the more important for the knowledge they’ve gained and can utilize in further trips.

Our main focus over our few days of service was loving and caring for children in a “place of safety.” This location is a sort of foster home, supported by the Jamaican government, that takes in both children without parents (true orphans) as well as those whose parents have lost custody for a period of time due to alleged abuse, neglect or incarceration.

At this children’s home we really mostly held and played with small children who rarely receive much individual attention. The staff is caring and provides for the children, but with so many children (around 60) it is difficult for them to do much more than feed, bathe and clothe the little ones. Our role was to provide semi-structured social interaction…and a lot of hugs.

Although we were originally to spend four days at the home, we ended up going on Friday as well. Shortly after we left the facility on Thursday night there was a fire in the adolescent girls’ dorm. The fire brigade responded quickly but in the chaos several girls fled and a few of the small children were missing for a few hours. All the preschoolers were eventually returned, and it seems that one in particular was the motivation of the fire. Some girls set the blaze to create a distraction so that they could remove a baby from the nursery and take him to his mother. They grabbed the wrong kid, though, and brought him back later.

In order to be there for the children and staff, we dropped our plans to go site-seeing and went back for a fourth day at the home. We’re all very glad we did. It was a chance to see the children again and also to show our solidarity with the staff.

It it my hope that next year I’ll be able to return to Jamaica and further assist in the efforts of HOPE worldwide to minister to the poor and marginalized in that country.

Related news (videos):



The Value of the Diaconate

About that time, while the number of disciples continued to increase, a complaint arose. Greek-speaking disciples accused the Aramaic-speaking disciples because their widows were being overlooked in the daily food service. The Twelve called a meeting of all the disciples and said, “It isn’t right for us to set aside proclamation of God’s word in order to serve tables. Brothers and sisters, carefully choose seven well-respected men from among you. They must be well-respected and endowed by the Spirit with exceptional wisdom. We will put them in charge of this concern. As for us, we will devote ourselves to prayer and the service of proclaiming the word.” This proposal pleased the entire community. They selected Stephen, a man endowed by the Holy Spirit with exceptional faith, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. The community presented these seven to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. (Acts 6:1-6 CEB)

As I write this I’m in Jamaica on a volunteer trip with HOPE worldwide. Something that’s been on my mind for a while but is becoming clearer is the importance of churches seeking to have a healthy diaconate that does more than pass communion and possibly run the benevolence ministry. Deacons and deaconesses can be and do so much more.

Many Christian Churches and Churches of Christ value having “biblical” leadership – elders in particular – but treat the role of deacon as secondary and somehow a step before the eldership. I disagree.

Deacons and deaconesses are servants who minister to the needs of the church first, and then the wider community. To prepare them and discern the best leaders for this role, what could be better than look to volunteers working with a ministry like HOPE worldwide?

More on this later.

International Day of Giving 2011

November 20, 2011 has been designated as this year’s “International Day of Giving.” This is a time for churches and individuals to contribute to the ongoing work of HOPE worldwide. Although much is done through chapters and with other funding sources, administrative and logistic expenses need to be covered as well to keep operations going around the world. Watch the video below and click here for more about HOPE worldwide and the International Day of Giving.

By the way, in just a few short days I’ll be flying to Jamaica on a trip with the HOPE worldwide Central Jersey Chapter. For those of you who pray, please pray for me, the team I’m going with and the children we’ll be serving in an orphanage there.