Use bug spray, don’t go out at night alone, don’t drink the water, don’t use your phone in public, don’t get stabbed. These are just some of the warnings I was given before I left for my solo journey to Rio de Janeiro. Overall my friends and family seemed to be under the impression that Rio is an extremely dangerous place to visit, especially for a solo traveler.
This collective fear has been cultivated by the media who has spent so much time telling only part of the Rio story. Everyone has been so focused on the problems and wondering if Rio will be ready for the Olympics, that they’ve completely missed the good. Yes, there are scary parts of Rio. Yes, there are dirty parts of the city. Yes, there are parts of Brazil that have contaminated water. But the same is true of almost any major city in the world. And that is not the main story. When I arrived in Rio and really looked around I did not see fear. I did not see danger. I did not see corruption. I saw love.
I saw love in the families eating picnics in the park and along the beach. I saw it in the old men standing outside their local botecos, passionately rehashing decade old debates over cervejas. I saw it in couples holding hands as they walk along the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon. I saw it in all of the helpful and friendly and welcoming Brazilians I have had the privilege to meet. I felt love with every taste of the homemade Feijodad and Pudim made especially to welcome me to the country.
I saw the overflowing love at the birthday parties I attended. Yes, plural…..I have been here three days and have already attended two birthday parties! These parties gave me a glimpse of the real Rio. This is where families and friends get together and laugh and eat and enjoy being together celebrating life and each other.
At these birthday parties I saw love in the graciousness of the Brazilian people. Everyone at the party made me feel welcomed and included. And Even though we couldn’t always understand each other, the language of love and kindness spoke for itself. And through a strange combination of smiles, gestures, and a mix of broken Portuguese, Spanish and English, we were able to share stories, laughs and love. The desire to communicate with me even though it was difficult felt so dear and inviting. I would have been content just being a quiet observer of their festivities, but their attention and hospitality gave me a glimpse at the heart of this city.
And the soul of this heart can be best described by the city’s cultural icon. Rio’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue stands as a beacon and symbol of hope, peace and love for its city. Deemed one of the new 7 wonders of the world, this massive 124 ft statue is majestically situated at the top of the mountain peaks overlooking this unique city nestled between ocean and hills. The statue of Christ, with his outstretched arms, expresses a sense of reverence, majesty, openness and love. Just like the accepting and open people of Brazil, Jesus’ open arms extend acceptance and grace to the city below. It is awe inspiring when you look up to the mountains and you see him there standing, loving, and redeeming his city and his people.
When I first arrived the city was having an unusually foggy day. The Statue of Christ the Redeemer was hidden behind the clouds. My friends took me to a vantage point of this amazingly beautiful city. I was in awe of the beauty of the city itself. It is perfectly situated. Not only does this city have incredible beaches along its entire coast, it is also amazingly sprinkled with impressive and beautiful mountains. I was looking to the hills and suddenly the clouds moved and he was there. The statue appeared in the sky from behind the clouds and I was struck with a since of wonder and awe. As a Christian, I was brought to tears as I thought about the promise of Jesus’ return and I had chills. I know that this is just a statue and my savior is real and alive and not made of stone. But this symbol stood as a reminder to me of God’s promises and love. When you look at the statue in person you can’t help but stand in wonder and awe of God’s love for his people and his promise of redemption for those who accept his open embrace.
So, Rio is not scary. It is beautiful and warm and accepting. It really is one of the world’s hidden gems. It has its problems, but don’t we all. That is why we are in need of a Redeemer. I have really enjoyed my time here so far and I highly recommend a visit to this incredible and interesting city that is bursting with so much heart! To sum it all up, I have nothing but Love for Rio de Janeiro.
Check out my blog fillingmymap.com to see more. Also check out to WIBC.com to see other Olympic updates.