I have mixed emotions about taxis. My tight-fisted Scottish nature recoils at the high fares. Yet the writer and conversationalist in me enjoys hearing stories – and few people have better stories to tell than Brazilian cabbies.
Of course, once the cabbie finds out I am American, the subject turns to the US, and suddenly I am the one telling the story. I don’t like this. If I am paying the exorbitant fare I feel I should get a ride and a story.
The driver of the cab I took on Tuesday morning in Fortaleza had a different approach. Once he discovered my nationality he began to hold forth on all things American. The only thing better than a Brazilian cabbie telling me about his country is a Brazilian cabbie telling me about my country. I regretted that I did not have my notebook and pencil.
“The Americans are so much more advanced than we are.” he opined. “Everything comes to the US first before it comes here.” He gave some examples that included computers and restaurant chains. What he said next surprised me. “Americans are even more advanced than we are in the spiritual realm.”
This was new. In my mind I began to think of some of America’s spiritual exports: Mormanism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, neo-Pentecostalism – not exactly a list that makes one’s chest swell with pride (unless, of course, one happens to be a Mormon, a Jehovah’s Witness, or a neo-Pentecostal).
We talked for some time about spiritual subjects. He had obviously been exposed to a virtual smorgasbord of teachings (casting out of demons, the Illuminati, etc). I tried to encourage him with some biblical points of view on the topics he brought up.
Finally, as we were getting close to my destination, he looked at me and said “I don’t know if you are Catholic or not, and I don’t want you to be offended.”
(Let me pause here to mention that I have no idea, based on our conversation to that point, how he could possibly have thought I was Catholic. Not only that, but I was wearing a shirt that was given to me at a youth rally with “Pastor André” emblazoned on the chest! Seriously, does nobody pay attention to visual cues?)
He continued. “It’s just that I think the Baptists have the right idea.”
Of course I had to agree with him. When I asked him what contact he had with Baptists, he mentioned that he was attending a church called Philemon Baptist. At that point I almost fell out of the cab. This is one of our churches, pastored by a good friend of mine.
In a city of over two million people, and a veritable “Heinz 57 varieties” of churches, what were the odds that the cabbie who picked me up would be a spiritually curious guy who was attending one of our churches?
By this time we were in front of the building where I was staying. I identified myself as a Baptist missionary and seminary prof. I told him that the church he was attending was a good one, and the pastor a friend. The cabbie was as astonished as I was at the coincidence. I told him I did not believe in coincidences, and gave him my contact information.
And for once the Scotsman who lives in my head was silent as I payed the fare.
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