Back in November of 2009, Rickie Bradshaw of the Union Baptist Association told me how influential the hip hop culture was in foreign countries. He said, “When I am on missions outside the U.S., I often get asked if I rap, simply because I am African American. There are young people dressing like, acting like and imitating American rappers in Africa, Japan, Brazil and other countries.” Any American kid could take one look at 55 year old Rickie Bradshaw and know that he is not a rapper, but others around the globe are seeking to see an American hip hopper bless them with a song.
When Mr. Bradshaw said that Sao Paulo, Brazil was calling for a hip hop missions team and he wanted me to go, I initially ignored it. I am so overwhelmed with missions here in Houston that this was a bit too much to add to my plate. However, after hearing Rickie tell me about a place called “Crackolongia” or “Crack Town,” my heart began to feel compassion for the children who were being exploited for crack in Brazil. It was then that I told God if He wanted me to go to Brazil, He’d have to provide the finances for me to get there. Not only did God provide for me, but He provided for my wife Amanda, Von Won and Gifted to take the trip. We were also joined by an assigned team leader, Coach Scoggins. This was his 6th time in Brazil, but first time in Sao Paulo.
Our First Impression of Sao Paulo
When we arrived, we were amazed at all the people, graffiti, and concrete homes there. This city has over 23 million people, slightly more than the state of Texas. Graffiti is all over buildings, homes, freeways, businesses, and even in places that the average person couldn’t reach. We assumed their graffiti artists had wings because of the odd places they would tag. All the homes seemed to be concrete, with no grass or landscape like we have here in America; it was all concrete and stone. Sao Paulo has the largest slum population in South America. Here, urban poverty is concentrated in two types of housing, favelas and corticos. We would be ministering in both during our trip.
Our Sleeping Quarters
Our rooms were in church classrooms. We had thin mats that we laid on for the 10 day stay, which was true to our mission’s expectations. I guess they were like prison beds, except they were laid directly on the floor. Our shower was in the women’s restroom, right next to the toilet which had no stall walls separating the sink, toilet and shower. We wore flip flops and did our best to keep water from landing on the toilet paper when we showered. It was a tiny, all in one restroom, shower and wash sink, but it served its purpose in keeping us clean.
The Mission Begins
From the time we arrived, we hit the ground running. We performed fourteen concerts in nine different churches during the course of our visit. Many young Christian teens were very excited to see American rappers performing live at their church. They were encouraged and amped up about sharing Jesus with their peers afterwards. It was as if we lit a fire in many of them to serve God and share Him with others. We ministered and performed at two local parks in the slums. Talk about drug dealers openly doing and selling their supply around kids, they had nothing to hide. At each park, Gifted approached the drug dealers to ask them to take their drugs away from the kids and to consider changing their own lives. Thank God we were able to avoid any trouble, and to continue speaking into the lives of the youth and the adults we encountered in the park. We witnessed a fight at one of the parks, and ministered to the youngster who was causing the conflict. We saw extreme poverty and communities over ran by drugs and gangs. But through it all, God allowed us to lead people to Christ by simply busting a few rhymes and sharing our stories of how He saved us.
Of course we had an interpreter with us, Anderson Lima, who had quite a task interpreting for five Americans who were often times in multiple places. Portuguese is the language of the Brazilians, which created a challenge for us when Anderson was not around. I had to use some of the Spanish I knew, hoping that some of the words were similar to Portuguese. To my surprise, only about 20% of the words were even close. Hand gestures and facial expressions became a part of our communication, but it was very frustrating at times because the majority of the time that didn’t work. By the middle of the trip, we picked up on a few Portuguese words and used them almost everywhere.
Brazilian women seemed to wear tight jeans, high heals, and halter tops the majority of the time. Regardless of their physique, age or even location, you would likely see their belly buttons. Americans would likely turn their heads to check out the attractive one’s, but the Brazilian males acted as if they weren’t even dressed provocative. I guess because it was the daily norm for them. We were very impressed by the local pizza shops on every corner. We had our first banana pizza at the one closest to our residence, and had to go back for a second and third time later on. The foods there were kind of different, but not anything too strange. Shoestring potato sticks replaced French fries, our American hamburger had ham and egg on it instead of beef, and parmesan cheese was used on lots of foods. Kids were outside flying kites most of the time, which I loved. Instead of playing video games in the house all day, these kids were outside in the streets and parks seeing how high they could launch their tiny kites. The people of Brazil were very friendly, hospitable, and loving. We felt very welcomed in Sao Paulo.
Our first description of Sao Paulo was a place where kids were smoking crack, drug dealers sold crack, and hundreds of addicts got their fix in the open. We were sure this was an exaggeration. But on our second day after walking the streets of downtown Sao Paulo during broad daylight, we witnessed it for ourselves. However, instead of fear, we knew that we wanted to come back in the evening when Crackalongia was at its worse, to pray for these poor souls. About midway into our trip, we hooked up with Pastor Nildes, who regularly walks these streets to rescue whoever the Holy Spirit draws. Keep in mind, this is a scary and dangerous place, which is why very few Christians will go there. Pastor Nildes’s ministry is very unique. Two days a week they try to serve food from donations, amongst these crack addicts, praying and seeking the Lord to move. They’ve seen a few turn from the streets and begin serving Jesus, which keeps their hope alive. However, when missionaries have visited her ministry in the past, none of them wanted to go hands on into Crackalongia to reach out, which was discouraging for both her and her family. We didn’t know the Lord was going to use us to not only lead some to Christ, pray for the sick, and simply love on people there, but also to give Pastor Nildes’s family encouragement towards missionaries.
Crackolongia is best described as crack addicts from ages 8 & up, male and female, walking around like zombies throughout the night. Some wore black robes with hoods. I even saw one person with a “Scream” mask and black robe on. We saw children addicted, being fed drugs by the dealers who were posted up counting their money. This was all in clear view of the Sao Paulo police who were in their vehicles keeping the dazed crowd contained in a 2 block radius. We prayed for a woman who was in tears because she had sold her baby for crack. There was a couple of drug dealers that came up to us who spoke English and were interested in hearing us rap. We prayed with them and ministered to them for almost an hour, expressing to them that God has a purpose for their lives. It was an eerie and evil place that required lots of prayer and fasting before walking through. Back home, there were many people praying for us as well. We have no doubt that God’s angels were surrounding us. We were told that they would bump against us and try to take whatever we had on us, but instead our path was cleared as we walked through them rapping, singing and praying. God gave us everything we needed to lead two people in the prayer of salvation, pray for several other’s specific needs, and establish new relationships for Pastor Nildes’s team. We were told just the other day that the two drug dealers were asking about us. We are sure that many of the seeds we planted there will grow into fruitful relationships with God.
The wRAP up
Aside from the missions, we had a last minute trip to Sao Vicente, Brazil. Although it was raining, we had an opportunity to see just how beautiful Brazil was outside of Sao Paulo. Lots of trees, mountains, islands and beautiful water made Sao Vicente a tourist attraction; unfortunately we didn’t stay long because of the bad weather.
When we were set to leave the airport, four car loads of people came to wish us goodbye. A bond was created between us all. In a matter of 10 days, many of those who we ministered to and with became family. Even today we are in contact daily with them on Facebook. We are all looking forward to going back in January to continue the mission. This trip proved to be a blessing. We prayed with over 500 people, led the sinner’s prayer with over 100, discipled and encouraged over 100 youth, and proposed some strategic plans to increase the outreach in Crackolongia to various church leaders in Sao Paulo.
Since we left, we’ve been told that one of the churches we preached at went down to Crackolongia to serve food. This was encouraging for us, because our heart goes out to Crackolongia. We intend on pressing forward with our mission to see Christians serving food and love seven days a week to these lost souls in this drug ridden area. We are currently planning for our return in January 2011, Lord willing.