A small group gathers around Lori’s truck when we pull into Cambuim. A tall, broad-shouldered woman with short black hair stands watching us. One eye is bright red with an infection, the other slightly closed. Soon we’re standing in a circle and she’s telling us about the favela. She tells us about the bugs, sicknesses, and things they fear most. The area around the favela looks like a garbage dump and some of the kids run around barefoot and naked. Sandals don’t help much. A little boy stands watching us, his skinny arms hanging at his sides. His toenails are cracked down the middle, broken and black. He catches me looking and smiles, his teeth still too big for his mouth.

The black haired woman, Andrea, cries as she tells us about the things they face everyday. “Rats the size of cats,” she says. “They come out at night.” She points to one of her older daughters and tells us about the time the police came, put a gun to her head and arrested her on an assumption that she had done something wrong. “They don’t respect us. They think we all must be criminals because we live in this place.” Another woman, Sucorro, joins us. She knows everyone in the favela and she’s willing to show us around. We duck under a doorway made of wood scraps. There’s a straight path of dirt leading to a small shaded area where laundry hangs drying and dishes are piled high for washing. Sucorro leads us into her house. There’s a television and a small couch shoved into the “living room.” The kitchen is neat and clean, the green pots and pans matching the green of the stove- we stare, take pictures, wonder at these attempts to make these conditions livable.

Paul is inside, taking photographs of a shirtless boy rushing to shovel rice and scraps of chicken into his mouth. Outside, they cut open coconuts and offer the milk for us to drink. The kids crowd around and Stephanie takes pictures. Lori and Patti are talking with Sucorro. There are five houses in this small space. We look for the doors. Five? Where? This little fenced in area is one family unit. They build near each other, adding new pieces of broken doors, plastic, and tarp when they need more space.

Down another path in the favela the men sit in the shade of their donkey carts. This is their primary source of income. They collect bottles and pile them into their carts to carry them into the city to redeem for money. There are areas for dumping where the bottles and cans are piled high, pressing against the makeshift walls. Heaps of garbage are dumped all around the perimeter of their homes where they pick through it, trying to find things they can salvage for shelter and for money.

A man and his wife invite Stephanie and me into their small home. Inside the door there’s a goose, two ducks, and a rooster roaming around on the dirt floor. A faded poster of a Lamborghini is tacked up by the door to the kitchen. Pieces of a broken printer and an old computer keyboard are stuck in the corner of the fenced in space. The man leads us to the back of his “yard,” his shorts hanging low on his bony hips. He wants to show us his horse, a bay gelding with a scarred faced and one ear cut off by his previous owners. His wife holds up their baby for a picture. They smile when we tell them we’ll be back.

There are so many babies here. The little kids hold them, pass them around, and hand them off to the older kids to carry. There’s a mother holding her little girl. She has a little boy, maybe two, sleeping on a bed behind her. There are flies and bugs and he’s lying there naked, sleeping in the heat.

We cross a makeshift bridge of broken boards to get to another section of the favela. Lori grabs at a small wire trying to keep her balance and then realizes she’s pulled down their electricity. We watch, worried, as a man comes to where we stand between hanging laundry and pieces of trash in someone’s backyard to fix the wires. He pulls at the two hanging wires, bending the ends to reconnect them. Soon the line is up again. No problem, they tell us. “No problem.”

Sucorro warns us to stick together as we walk. We pass by men who are drunk and high and she waves us away. Patti wants to run and grab a shirt for a lady from the truck, but she can’t go alone.

“You’re fine when you’re with us,” Sucorro says, “But you can’t go alone. It’s not safe.”

We don’t linger alone at the corner of houses. Houses with babies and mothers watching us as we walk. Corners with men sitting in the shade who don’t want their pictures taken. Places where we see people passing out dope and finding somewhere to get high. A line up of little kids follows us through the favela. They’re curious. They’re barefoot. They’re naked, faces streaked with dirt, toes infested with bichos and infections. But they smile at us as we walk, eager for any chance to strike a pose for another picture. When we finally come out the other side of the favela to head back to the truck, the guys have a contest. They show off their skills, running and flipping down the dirt hill.

At the truck, we hand out Vá Livre shirts to the small group that’s still with us. They put them on right away, pulling them over the shirts they have on, proud to be wearing something clean and new. We promise to come back with juice, sandwiches, and bibles. “Wednesday,” we tell them. “We’ll be back on Wednesday.”

During our walk through Cambuim we heard people asking about why we were there. We told them we’d be back. We heard the doubt. Some of them said we’d never be back. And rightfully so. Who has ever cared in past? Who has come in to clothe and feed and care for these kids? Where’s the evidence of compassion? Thankfully what Mark and Lori can offer them is not based on their own effort. It doesn’t depend on how strong and good and helpful they can be. It’s the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s His love in them and through them that will be different than anything else these people have ever experienced. We show up with 500 sandwiches and cold tangerine juice. We feed their hungry bellies. And we point them to Him. They thank us and tell Lori we’ve come just in time. But one hand points to the sky and other touches her heart and she tells them it’s all because of Him. All because He sees them. He loves them. We are simply the ones privileged to be His hands and feet.