Thirty-four years ago, in the summer of 1986, I was called to be a part of the Western PA United Methodist Volunteer Mission Team to Brazil. At 17 years old, I just graduated from high school and I was being sent off to another country.
While we were in Brazil, we visited some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. We went to Sugar Loaf Mountain, visited botanical gardens and were able to spend a day on the Copacabana Beach. Wherever we were in Rio De Janeiro, we could look up and see the Christ the Redeemer Statue, a powerful image of Christ looking over the city.
After our two days of sightseeing, we had to get to our mission purpose of helping in one of the poorest neighborhoods. We spent time working in an orphanage for 10 days. The neighborhood was the total opposite of the Copacabana Beach that we were able to visit at the start of our trip.
Here, many families lived in tin or cardboard homes with no running water, and things would get very bad when the rains would come, and often mud slides would destroy parts of the community.
I had the chance to not only help paint and renovate the Ana Gonzaga Orphanage, I had time to spend with the children at the orphanage. I also had the opportunity to go into the neighborhood and spend time witnessing to others about Christ.
While working at the orphanage and going into this community, I noticed that when I looked for the Christ the Redeemer Statue, I could see it, but I was seeing the back side of it.
It made me think of the contrast of my trip. On the other side of the mountain was the Copacabana Beach where you could see the face of Jesus when looking up. In the poor neighborhood when you looked up, you saw the back side of the Christ the Redeemer Statue.
While I was out hoping to witness to others about Jesus, I was talking to a man from the community and asked him, “Do you ever feel like Jesus turned His back on you as you live in these conditions?” The man replied that Jesus never turned His back on him and the community. He then quoted from Deuteronomy 31:6:
“So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”
He reminded me that Jesus had already been to this community and we were following Him. He said those living on the other side of the mountain may look rich at the Copacabana Beach, but they are really the poor in spirit who store up their treasures on earth and not for eternity.
At times in my life, I will admit that I have tried to run ahead on my own, and found myself looking back at the face of Jesus from a distance. Those often were the times I would stumble and fall.
Even though we live in a beach community, we cannot find our value and the meaning of life in the things of the earth. We must remember where our true treasure is. The richest people I have ever met are those who have Jesus in their heart.
For the past 34 years, I have made it my life’s mission to always look to see the back of Jesus as I go through life. This way, I am to remain a Christ follower as I become a witness for him.
Dennis Devorick is the pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church at 1527 S.C. 544, Conway.