The usually busy and noisy street is silent; the streetlights cast their glow on empty sidewalks. The TV is on, and a young man dashes into the room and seats himself on a stool directly in front. His eyes are fixed intently on the screen as he quietly sings his national anthem to himself, following the example of a stadium full of fans dressed in yellow and green, belting out the same words at the top of their lungs. The music on the screen ends and the crowd crescendos into a massive roar. Suddenly, the silence outside is shattered by a series of loud pops, followed by a wall-shaking kaboom of a firework bomb. It’s game time. In Brazil. And this is the World Cup.
Passion for futebol runs deep here. While Red Sox Nation quickly fades outside of eastern New England, the Brazilian national team, a seleção, has an entire country of 200 million behind it. Victory is a source of national pride, and losing is a shameful disgrace. That passion is why I had to be here for this World Cup. The world’s greatest tournament being hosted by the greatest and most successful soccer playing country on earth. This is the World Cup of a lifetime.
I was afraid of maybe being too excited to come here; of having expectations so outrageously high that they could not possibly be met. In reality, though, this time in Brazil has been above and beyond even what I dared to hope for. In Rio, the people have been welcoming and friendly, the infrastructure and transportation excellent, the beaches gleaming and glamorous, and to top it off, the soccer this time has been thrilling, with plenty of goals and exciting upsets. We already know the Promised Land is in and around Israel, but I think I just found my garden of Eden.
Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden. The real one. They had everything they needed and everything they wanted. Then a snake came along and convinced them that they wanted more. They could have it too, it told them, if only they would disobey God. Adam and Eve did, of course, take the bait, and humanity has been paying the price ever since. I, too, seem to have everything I hoped for here in Brazil, at least during the World Cup. I can play beach soccer all night under the lights on the most famous beach in the world, stuff my face with steak and sausage and tropical fruit, and practice my Portuguese with beautiful girls who are more than happy to help. I know, though, that sooner or later, the snakes will come to my garden. They will tell me that I want more. The ‘everything is awesome’ tourist phase will fade eventually, and the money I’ve saved up won’t last forever. I don’t know what these snakes will look like, or in what form they will come. All I know is that they will come, sowing discontentment, temptation, and false promises.
So truthfully, I am a bit guarded about it all, concerned that I might take the same fruit as my ancestors, and get thrown out of the garden. One false move, and this dream come true gets stripped away, leaving behind only serious consequences. Actually, other kinds of snakes are already in this garden. The neighbourhood we stay in is crawling with transvestite prostitutes; I can see them blowing lines of cocaine in the street right outside our door. Public service billboards in English along the highways give dire warnings for potential sex tourists. A couple of nights, my sleep has been interrupted by very intense dreams. Thankfully, cross-dressing sex workers and cocaine are not a stumbling block for me personally, but they are certainly symbolic of the evil at work here in ‘the Marvellous City’.
The World Cup is awesome, and I have no doubt that this is my place for this time. God has provided the means to stay for an extended time and that time so far has been fabulous. I also have no doubt that his purposes for me here go far beyond soccer and samba, although I wouldn’t mind if they were included. As of right now, there are 6 more weeks left to my trip, and that’s if I actually decide to use the return ticket. God is much bigger than my plans, my strengths and my weaknesses. He is also much bigger than the forces of evil here. He has his people here in Brazil too. Lots and lots of them actually, and I’ll write more about my amazing time with some of them in the next letter. Please pray that the Lord will continue to bless this time here, but even more importantly, that he will bless his people and his church here, that he would restrain the forces of evil, and shine his light and glory on this amazing place. Our God is an awesome God and he will carry out his purposes to completion, regardless of any snakes that try to stand in the way. I feel incredibly blessed to be in Brazil and I am thankful for the chance to be a part of his plan, at least for this time, in this country.
“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? ” Psalm 27:1
By Ian Bridgman