* WARNING – THIS POST HAS GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS THAT ARE NOT SUITABLE FOR YOUNG OR SENSITIVE READERS *
Have you ever been to a meat market or super butcher? There are so many different butchers presenting their best selections of meat, the best cuts on display, it’s a wonder to the sensors. This is the only analogy that I can think to use to describe Vila Mimosa, a red-light district in Rio de Janeiro that draws around 4000 men each day. It’s in this place that Liberdade teams have been doing outreach over the past few weeks.
Why would I post about this place and be so honest? Because of the women… the men… they need us. They need Jesus and we can’t just turn away from the dark places in society. The people of Vila Mimosa need Jesus.
The outreach night started the same as the others (Night of the streets), only tonight, my team were going into Vila Mimosa. I prepared my heart and prayed with others that were about to step out into the different outreach locations. I was teamed with three other people, two girls and a guy, mighty warriors and locals of Rio. Vila Mimosa is just a street away from the prayer room, but even though it was an easy walk, as we entered the main street I felt sick in the stomach. I felt the oppression both physically and spiritually and I knew we were in for a big night.
The street was full of cars and men walking and trolling. There were many alleys coming off the street filled to overflowing. Each of the alleys were lined with bars that are also used as brothels. One bar owner is a witch and worships the black demon. Like many other places in Rio there were street venders, shops and people everywhere. It was dark, noisy and smelly.
Vila Mimosa was alive and we were there to connect with the women and invite them to a lunch at the prayer room.
The two girls in our team were fearless. They would walk straight up to the women with big smiles and engage them quickly. After a moment of conversation they would give them a small gift and an invitation to the lunch. Even when there were men in close proximity to the ladies, these girls would step in unafraid. Myself and the other male in our team would stand close, praying and watching the men around to keep our girls safe.
We entered one of the dark and dingy alleys. The music coming from the bars was so loud that my head was pulsating. Everywhere we walked there was spilt beer, cigarettes, rubbish and murky water. Honestly, it was the most disgusting and oppressive place I’ve ever been in. The men seemed entranced and they stared at the women like they were pieces of meat. They could easily be hungry men at a meat market selecting their favourite cut.
Most of the women wore very short and tight fitting clothing. Some wore only bikini g-strings and others were topless, which of course only captivated the men more. I was approached by one of woman who was trying to offer me her business. I yelled over the music that I spoke in english. She only spoke Portuguese so all she said was “2 Reis, 2 Reis” ($1 Australian) and gestured with two fingers. This was the cheapest service she could offer me. I gestured that I was there to pray and she didn’t understand. I said good-bye and moved on with our team.
There were many things that shocked me. Men moved in groups trolling the allies together. Apparently it was a group event and they would stir each other on as they watched the girls. There were also a number of teenage boys standing around in the darkness. How did this become a place where they causually hung out?
As I watched the men meander through the alley questions rolled through my mind. Who are you, why are you here, are you married? I was searching the Spirit for answers and discerning the atmosphere and the people’s stories. I was sensing many things and when I felt led, I would step out and engage someone in conversation. As far as we know this place has never been reached by ‘the church’ before and as I prayed I felt like light was going out into the darkness.
A lot of the time I felt like I was in another world or in a bad dream. At one point I began to think about my daughter Amy, and for a moment, I felt normal again in this horrible place.
After a while as we walked through the allies all I could do was smile. I smiled at the women. I smiled at the men and I smiled at the atmosphere. There was so much love inside of me and it had to come out somehow. It came out of my smile.
One young man caught my attention. He had a backpack on that had the word ‘Jesus’ printed in bold. This intrigued me so I approached him. He didn’t speak english so in my limited portuguese I told him that I was from Australia and that Jesus loved him. He seemed to understand and also accept my words. I walked back to my team member and asked if he could go and talk with him and reaffirm what I was trying to say. It turns out that it was this young man’s birthday, hence the reason he was there. He explained to my team member that he was blessed by my words and he felt that it was a sign from God that an Australian would come all the way here to tell him Jesus loved him. I continued to pray for him after we moved on.
I started saying hi to some of the men in Portuguese to see if they understood or if they were foreigners. One man didn’t look Brazilian so I greeted him. He was an Australian and we chatted briefly. I was so saddened that someone from my country would come to this place, a place mostly visited by locals. I saw this man two more times during the night and continued the conversation. I left him with the thought that God was thinking about him and I continued to pray for him too.
We passed two other foreign looking men who were walking into the street. Their body language showed their level of excitement and I could have easily mistaken them as two mates going to a sports game. They seemed as excited as Jess and I were when we went to see a World Cup game. ARGH! I wanted to run up to them and yell “Turn around, get out of here, do you know what you’re doing?!” Instead, I yelled it in my spirit and prayed for them as well.
When we got back to the prayer room our team of four prayed with a passion and fire to see God move in Vila Mimosa. I was so stirred and moved by my experience and I thank God that I was once again able to be involved. Ministry in Brazil to prostitutes and the men that pay for their services is complex. I know it will take more than one lunch invite to bring down the cultural, financial and spiritual strongholds that fuel this industry. However, change is happening one person at a time. With each invite, each smile, each prayer, each expression of love, I have faith and hope that the darkness in that street will cease.
Isaiah 40:29 – He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.