by Juliana Barbassa
— Reviewed by David Allen Bledsoe, missionary in Brazil (IMB, SBC) in the area of training; visiting professor of missions.
Julian Barbassa, then-correspondent for The Associated Press and a native Brazilian, writes about her return to her “passport country” in 2010 to the city of Rio de Janeiro as it prepared for and hosted the 2014 World Cup. While noting past accomplishments and economic growth, she focuses on Rio’s entrenched inequalities and other perils which stood in its way to successfully showcase the games and overcome its more infamous characteristics.
Barbassa possesses certain traits which facilitated her (re)entry and research insights. First, she comes from a Brazilian family and her parents and other relatives still reside in the city. Second, she rightfully bears the title of third-culture kid (TCK)—she grew up in an expatriate family returning to Brazil for vacations and transitional periods. Last, her academic pursuits landed her in the United States, where she presently lives. Thus, she benefits from the combination of assessing Brazil as an insider and, with the experience that comes from exposure to other peoples and contexts, as an outsider.
Barbassa’s research theme centered on the changes that city and national officials aimed to implement before hosting the World Cup. She wonders if the changes would be merely a superficial veneer or, as she articulates (pg. xxiii), lead to “a transformation that would go to the core, reforming the violence and inequality that had historically hobbled the city?”
The author cites other urban maladies such as well-established drug cartels, an often-crooked and unchecked police force, an overextended infrastructure, a government racked with nepotism and corruption, as well as inefficient and insufficient public services. Barbassa unfolds the events, advances, and dramas in Rio and the nation as the population neared the start of the World Cup, as well as the disappointing finale for the Brazilian national team.
One might ask, “Why publish a book review on a Latin American city and soccer in a Christian journal of missions?” The answer reveals my motivation for recommending the book.
First, the history, interviews, and description of Rio’s people and their plight offer insights into Brazilian culture and similar urban Global South contexts; thus, Christian workers as well as those studying missiology or cultural anthropology will find the work beneficial for applied theology.
Second, Barbassa unveils some of the deep-rooted dilemmas which hinder poor and developing nations from advancing; solutions to such obstacles often are not simple and straightforward. Finally, the book gives prospective missionaries and NGO workers clues of what they will discover in comparable contexts after adequate acculturation and understanding of social structures.
After seventeen years of ministry in an urban Brazilian setting, I found Barbassa’s text applicable to his ministry and contributed further to his understanding of the Brazilian society. While not written for a Christian audience, the book will provide assistance to those who serve the Church in urban Global South contexts, particularly in Latin America.
Check these titles:
Grudem, Wayne and Barry Asmus. 2013. The Poverty of the Nations: A Sustainable Solution. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway.
LeDuff, Charlie. 2013. Detroit: An American Autopsy. New York: Penguin Press.
Perlman, Janice. 2010. Favelas: Four Decades of Living on the Edge in Rio de Janeiro. New York: Oxford.