How Rio Saved Me

11/25/2016 .
Matt Smith  .  Guest Storyteller

I lived in Rio for five years between 2003 and 2008. My son, Mássimus, was born in Rio and, in many ways, I feel that I came to life there as well. Circumstances surrounding the safety and welfare of Mássimus required that I abruptly leave Rio in May, 2008. With four suitcases and a 10-month-old baby in tow, I boarded a plane back to LA, leaving everything else behind. Despite the final traumatic ending to a beautiful life abroad, Rio occupies a very special place in my heart and I will always call it my home.  

This summer, I wanted to watch some of the 2016 Olympics, not for the competition, but just to see the city that I know and love so much. One afternoon, I decided to watch the men’s swimming competition. The lead-in was an ESPN special on Michael Phelps. I had never been a Phelps fan, but I didn’t think it was going to be very long, so I let it play.

The interview highlighted Michael’s fall from his peak and the struggle that he went through to find meaning in his life during this dark period.

Michael’s interview resonated with me. It seemed we had the same affliction, wondering...what’s it all for? what’s it mean? why am I here? what’s the point? My search for something meaningful in life has led me to countless relationships, three wives, five careers, three continents and millions of frequent flyer miles, and I’ve come up with no answers.

After his second DUI, Michael checked himself into a rehab facility. Ray Lewis, a close friend of his, who played football for the Baltimore Ravens, introduced him to a book called The Purpose Driven Life; What on Earth am I Here for? When I saw how Michael’s demeanor changed when he started describing what he had read, I immediately logged onto Amazon and bought the book.  

When the book arrived, I had no idea what I was getting into. No one has ever explained purpose, worship, why I need a church family, being of service, and having a mission the way Pastor Rick does. I cried...a lot. I reflected...a lot. I felt ashamed...a lot. I felt unworthy...a lot. And I realized that while I have lived most of my life away from God, that he has always been near me. I was really happy I bought this book.

Somewhere in the midst of reading Chapter 4, I really wanted to come to Saddleback Church and check it out. I looked online, but was initially disappointed to find that it was located in south Orange County, about 60 miles away. When I scrolled down and saw a South Bay location, I was so happy there was a campus that would be easy to get to - just minutes from my house. I was excited to come and check it out! I made my first visit in late August.   

It was a little strange at first; being at church. But people were friendly and I just remembered what I had about having a church family. I also wanted a fun place where Mássimus could be exposed to good values and moral behavior. So we started coming every Sunday.

Just before I finished reading The Purpose Driven Life, I got a call from my ex-business partner in Rio who invited me down to Brasil for the launch of a program that he and I conceived eight years ago. Two days before I departed for Brasil, I attended service at Saddleback and as I entered the room, I was handed a program. On the back of the bulletin was a story called The Broken Road to Rio. As my plane touched down three days later in Rio de Janeiro, I coincidently also arrived at the final chapter of The Purpose Driven Life. Who plans this stuff? It was through my love for Rio that I found this book and here I was finishing it in Rio forty days later.  

As I entered the city, I looked up to see the outstretched arms of Cristo Redentor, Rio’s famous statue of Christ (a photo of which had accompanied that story in the bulletin), and I began to cry.  It was a reminder to me that throughout my life, despite my choices, Christ has always been watching over me. It was no longer just a cool statue, now it meant something to me.   

If not for Rio, I wouldn’t have cared about the Olympics, and I wouldn’t have seen the Michael Phelps interview. I never would have read this book or met Pastor Rick. Ultimately, my son and I would not have found this church.

I love this church. I look forward to being here on Sundays. I look forward to being in my small group on Tuesdays. I love my small group. This is all new to me and I’m sure there are many challenges ahead, but I look forward to becoming a better person and building a strong and meaningful relationship with God.

If you have not read The Purpose Driven Life, please do. It will change your life. And if there is someone you love, give this book to him or her.  And just maybe, they will find their way to this church as well.

If you have not found a church family to call home, or a small group to belong to, try Saddleback, try our small groups. It could change your life forever.

If you want to learn more about becoming part of Saddleback Church, click HERE to sign up for the next CLASS 101: Discovering Our Church Family.

If you want to learn more about small groups, click HERE.

If you want to learn more about The Purpose Driven Life, check out Pastor Rick's series "Live Your Calling".