Robbed At Gunpoint In Brasil…and I’d Go There Again, Right Now!

This is a little long for a blog but you need to at least scan this.  Two weeks ago I was in the streets of wonderful Sao Paulo, Brazil.   It is a very crowded yet kind of edgy place.  A place of busy well dressed and pleasantly kind people.   I visited the University of Sao Paulo where that kindness was extended to me, many times over, by their students who guided this wandering Yankee around campus.

I toured campus with Church Planter Rob Gaschler.  During our visits to campus we met linguistic graduate students like Edson who helped us order food at the school lunch counter.  They didn’t use the easy numbering system that we’re used to at McDonald’s!  We liked Edson from the git go…just like all the students we met.  He is a believer in Christ but right now without a home church.  It is our hope that he eventually ties into the local church ministry called Zoe.  Zoe, meaning Abundant life, is the church we met with there.  They are made up of students like Edson.

During our first campus visit we met students Sergio and Rafael.  Both are language students and they play on a college rugby team.  That’s right, rugby in Brasil!  I mentioned that I had never personally seen a game so they invited us into their team practice/scrimmage the next night.  I have some video of it on YouTube. It was fun to watch the practice and to meet their coach and teammates.

The day before our return to the States we had lunch with Sergio.  Sergio told us that Brasil is a divided country, just as in the US.  They have the privileged class (the rich) and the less privileged.  People have to work alot for their pay which is often pretty low.  We had gotten to see this first hand on campus.  The teachers had received a pay raise but not the regular staff.  Therefore a strike was going on with  loudspeakers blaring from passing vehicles.  One campus cafeteria we tried to visit was closed due to the strike.

Our visit with Sergio was great.  An inexpensive lunch and cheap expresso coffee at none other than McCafe!  We parted with the hopes of one day seeing each other again and then Rob and I headed off to find the US Consulate.  We thought it would be cool to visit and to have our photos taken there.

Although the Consulate was only four blocks from our hotel, Rob and I managed to get disoriented (not totally lost).  I had previously viewed what appeared to be the US Consulate on a google map.  At some point in the walk we thought we would circle the block and discover its location.  However, what we found was a somewhat run down US Chamber of Commerce building.  Pretty unimpressive walk at that point.

Moving down the street for the final leg of our circulous jouney we heard a motorbike stop behind us.  We were now halfway down this quiet street when we heard someone yelling.   We turned and about 20 feet away was a gunman coming directly at us.  Although I could not describe him today, I sure could describe that gun!  It was a gray older looking revolver and it was pointed right at my lower chest.

The entire robbery could not have taken over 25 seconds.  With the gunman approaching, I quickly stripped off my lightweight jacket to reveal that I had no weapon.  He pointed to my front pocket so I withdrew my wallet and pulled out my cash to give him.  As he got to me, he knocked my hand away and the money (all 32 Brasilian ‘reals’) floated down like a butterfly to the ground.  I can still recall how it floated!

The thief grabbed my wallet (probably thinking I was holding tons of cash) and then waving, yelled at me to walk on down the road.  He then ran at Rob, grabbed his backpack and quickly skirted off to his bike.  The robber was really in a hurry and left Rob with his watch and wallet.  I think he figured everything important was in Rob’s backpack.   At that point I noticed the robber had an accomplice who just watched.  He showed no weapon and it seemed like he was there to just witness the event.  Maybe it was a gang initiation or he was a backup if things went poorly.   He had his own motorcycle which was parked in the street.

I have no idea why but the robber continued to yell at us in Portuguese as he zoomed off.   He was still waving his gun.  The robbers turned the corner ahead and were gone.  Dazed to say the least, I returned to gather my money and jacket and then we walked to a safe busy intersection around the corner and down the street.

At  the intersection we gathered our thoughts and met a teacher returning from school.  “Eddie” was a GREAT English speaker who called the police and stayed with us.  He said that although robbery happens quite often in the city, we were in one of the safest neighborhoods in Sao Paulo.   As Rob and Eddie spoke, I squated down to relieve my sore back from all the walking we had done.  In that moment I prayed and thanked the Lord for our safety.  I also told the Lord that I knew the wallet and backpack were gone forever but I asked Him to somehow get them back.  I told Him that I knew He had the power to do this impossible thing.  Rob needed the backpack to carry some things home to the US and of course I wanted my personal info returned.

Eddie thought the police were taking too long to arrive so he called and told them to meet us at the Consulate.  Yep, we got to the Consulate through our new friend Eddie.  It was just a few hundred feet from where we had turned down the side street…figures.

The Consulate was now closed for the day but Eddie got the Portuguese speaking guards to let us in.  We were greeted with great respect by the friendly guards and shortly thereafter by Joe, the head of security.  Joe said that Sao Paulo had 28K armed robbies in the last three months of 2009.   He did not know how many Americans but at least 2 too many now!

After a few minutes at the Consulate, the local police showed up.  Joe told us that a trip to the police station would take us about three hours to complete.  Joe also mentioned that their investigation would unlikely produce any results so we waved them off.  We decided our report to Joe was sufficient.  Joe was kind enough to call us a cab, even gave us money for the ride, and we went on our way back to the hotel.  Oh, I should also mention that while at the Consulate, I got to call my bank and block my debit card from use.  Whew!

When we returned to the hotel, Rob got his cell phone use blocked (it was in the backpack) and I got my credit card blocked too.  Neither his cell phone nor my credit card had been used following the robbery!  The whole robbery now seemed so senseless.

Returning to my room, I sat down on my bed and immediately thought about my lunch conversation with Sergio.  He had talked to me about injustice and how hard it is to forgive.   I thought about how Jesus had asked the Father to forgive those who were about to crucified him.  So I immediately went to prayer and asked the Lord to forgive my robber.  I wasn’t going to let anger or hatred hold me hostage nor did I want him to suffer future judgment by God.  Done.  I moved on.

Following my prayer for the gunman, I realized that people face robberies all over the city and in many places of the world.   I then prayed for missionaries and chaplains.  Many face the possibilities of unexpected harm but missionaries and chaplains are definately targets who need our prayers.  I now pray for them quite often.

Shortly after praying, I and a friend went across the street to have dinner at the Morumbi Mall.  We had a fairly good meal and an intreging conversation with two men from China.  One told us that he had recently been robbed in Rio…oh surprise!

As we left the mall, my friend received a call.  The call generated some excitement in his voice and he said “you have got to hear this in person”.  Our friend Melody was on the phone and informed me that my wallet and Rob’s backpack had been found and returned.  Not only did she say that my wallet had been found but that everything was still in it.  WOW!  I got everything back.  I lost nothing.  My wallet nor my money.

Even though I was frighteningly robbed, I would go to Brasil again.  The people there are friendly, have a sense of their spiritual need, and a willingness to talk about faith.  I believe that the Lord will open many hearts in Sao Paulo.  As Christians we are told to take the gospel everywhere…including Brasil.   Robberies can happen anywhere, and we can get hurt, but God goes with us and is watching over us.

Oh, we never did get a photo of being at the US Consulate!  I guess there is always PhotoShop.

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