Follow along with our group from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary as we take a two week travel seminar in Brazil in the summer of 2010.
02 July 2010
A post from Chris!
Wednesday, June 30.
Our group (nearly all of us) have managed to gather ourselves in Rio de Janeiro. For all of the student participants, this is the first time to travel to this country, and the first opportunity to struggle to make themselves understood to speakers of Portuguese.
My partner, Claudio Carvalhaes, is familiar with Brazil and has very helpful contacts in this city, even though he is from the culturally distinct metropolis to the southwest, Sao Paulo. He is steering us expertly, tending to all sorts of challnges that confront a group seeking to negotiate a new environment.
For me, this travel experience is like renewing an acquaintance with a dear and long remembered friend. Rio has grown enormously since I last lived here, as the small child of an American diplomat, for four years in the 1960s. A great many things have changed in more than 40 years. But some things remain constant. Rio is still a city of enormous passion and relaxed, friendly energy. It is still a city of startling, and stark, contrasts. It is still the urban bustle of hard work and hard play backed up against enormous towers of rock and mountain and extensive stretches of rainforest. The mountain of Corcovado is still crowned by the statue of Cristo Redentor, with outstretched arms blessing the people and their undertakings of work and leisure. The familiar peaks of the Two Brothers (Morro Dois Irmaos) still greet those who walk and play on the beach of Ipanema. The impossibly large rock called Sugar Loaf (Pao de Acucar) still overlooks the neighborhoods of the city's southern zone. This city's conspicuous affluence still abides in surprisingly close proximity to the most desperate poverty. As something like evidence of this continuity, our group can cite several recent experiences. The ride to our accommodations from the airport exposed them, at least in an initial, visual way, with the cramped favelas or slums that perch on Rio's hills, or morros, and to the separation between the more depressing and industrial northern zone and the gentrified southern zone. Our experience this afternoon touring the Igreja Crista de Ipanema, a non-denominational Protestant church with Presbyterian history and ties and a focus on social justice supplied a closer look at the contrast of rich and poor. Nestled in one of Rio's most well-off neighborhoods, the church runs a preschool that started by tending to the malnourished children of the slums that are really only a few blocks away. The church manages to harness the energy of faith, the resources of some of the socially conscious elite, as well as governmental assistance, to try to make some difference in the lives of particular children, and to bear witness to an alternative way for a society whose dominant classes have typically proved all too comfortable with disparities of wealth and the material conditions of life.
And so we begin our explorations into the complications of urban life, the culture, and the religion of this place--in so many ways distant to the North American experience that is the formative context for the majority of our group. Each of us brings her own particular questions, his own distinctive experience, and seeks to work out a deeper understanding, with others, both of Brazilian religion and culture and of the tasks of faith and ministry in our own time and place.