Yesterday I received the Bible story schedule for the next few weeks. At the after-school program I'll be working at on Thursdays, I'm responsible for telling the story and singing songs with the younger group.
When I saw the schedule, I was less than impressed. Nehemiah? That's not one of those books people tend to pick for daily devotions, much less children's stories. So I sat down at lunch today with my Bible and a notepad, ready to tackle Nehemiah, bring him into the favela culture of Rio de Janeiro in the year 2008, and see how he'd fare in the transition.
Too well, as it turns out.
You see, several of the nearby favelas are going to be receiving government funded urbanization projects in the coming years. Just yesterday, as I was going to my meeting, I saw the beginning steps: they've put down some pipes and are attempting to create a road, I think, beside the river. The lightposts have big orange signs on them declaring "CONSTRUCTION, NEXT 50 METERS. THIS IS A GOVERNMENT PROJECT. PLEASE PARDON ANY INCONVENIENCE." Which is humorous, as the inconvenience would be primarily for the pedestrians and pigs. A large specimen of the latter was, in fact, not at all concerned with the "obras" and had burrowed himself a nice little mudhole in the newly grated and smoothed dirt road.
The urbanization is supposed to better conditions in the favelas, moving many people out of their shanty-homes and into apartment buildings (still to be constructed). It will offer real services to the people who are allowed to stay: there will be real roads and no more of these tiny alleyways that barely allow a motorcycle to pass, water, electricity, etc. And it will cut down on crime.
That's where the oppressors come in.
Because it couldn't be bad enough, having to move, not knowing when and not knowing to where. Apparently, the local mafia bullies with big guns have announced that anyone who accepts the government's offer is going to face serious punishment. Maybe expulsion, which would certainly include expulsion from whatever government housing project goes up, as the community would be moved in its entirety. Possibly death.
The poorest in the favelas have miserable living conditions, few of the basic benefits of being citizens of one of the largest cities in the world, and constantly fear for their lives due to insane violence right outside their plywood doors. Now they're being told that with better possibilities around the corner, acceptance of what they long for will bring crushing consequences.
Evil, demonic oppression. I hate it. It makes me so mad I forget it's 100 degrees inside my house. I spent the whole way home on the bus coming up with outlandish scenarios on how to foment non-violent revolution among the members of our community without bringing attention to myself. My best idea? A new soap-opera. That seems to be the only way people's mentalities are changed around here.
So, with all that in the background, I open to Nehemiah.