In honor of World Youth Day taking place in Rio de Janeiro, here is a reflection written by lay missioner Joe Hambuchen while he was serving with his wife Julie in Brazil from 1996 to 1999.
Bible study here is a time for reflection on the coming Sunday’s gospel reading. Although at times the discussion moves too fast for me, I often take away things to reflect on later. Like the night when the group met at Dona Liberta’s house.
Her house is one of the furthest from where my wife Julie and I live, about a ten-minute walk, which puts it on “the other side of town” if one can use that expression in a community of about 650 people.
It’s dark and on this night the few streetlights of Pituba aren’t working. But that doesn’t matter because the last of the lamp posts doesn’t come close to our destination.
We arrive at Dona Liberta’s and despite the darkness her house is familiar. Most of the other houses here are made of mud bricks, or adobe, and then cement plaster is spread over the bricks to give them a smooth finish. The inside walls of Dona Liberta’s house are plastered in this way, but the outside is not, which makes hers one of the least attractive houses, but most recognizable in town.
Inside, there is a living room with three wooden stools and a folding chair. These are the only seats in the house and there are eight people who live there. The oldest of Dona Liberta’s and her husband’s 11 children now live in Sao Paulo and send a little money back to their parents when they can. The younger ones live at home but more than likely will follow their siblings to Sao Paulo when they are old enough – 16 years old or so – to find work.
Like most houses here the walls are decorated with pictures of popular saints. The concrete floor has several small pieces of thin carpet. Pillows are strewn around to accommodate the people arriving for Bible study. The kids’ TV gets turned off and they stay for Bible study, which surprises me until I realize that they probably have nowhere else to go.
We start with a song and then someone reads the Bible passage. One of the questions in the guidebook we use asks: where do we encounter the glory of God. One of the men says that we don’t have to look very far – that we encounter the glory of God right here among this small group gathered in this humble house. Then he asks me, “Isn’t that right, Joe?” I answer, “That’s right, that’s right,” convinced that if the presence and glory of God cannot be found here among these people of great faith, I am not sure where else to find it.
As Julie and I return to our home in the dark, I cannot help but continue to think that here, in a small and very remote area of Brazil the glory of God is not all that difficult to see. It can be found on the faces of the people I meet every day.
While on mission in Brazil, Joe Hambuchen coordinated Bible studies and visited small communities to help with Liturgies. He also taught and advocated for childhood nutrition. He and his family now live in Portland, Oregon.