Claudio Oliver: Turning Grease into Gospel
One small bar of soap can spark many reflections—spiritual, sociologic, entropologic and ecologic—according to Claudio Oliver, who has spent 20 years working with the urban poor, and on community development, dental and medical projects, team equipping, and teaching in Curitiba, Brazil. Over the past five years, interviewer Spencer Burke has developed a friendship with Claudio and recently, Spencer visited Claudio in Brazil to see first-hand his innovative, provocative and practical ministry. They walk viewers through the process of making soap out of used cooking oil, telling viewers, “All this got started because we were talking about holiness.”
Claudio shares the problem of used oil being poured down drains, where it goes on to pollute the community’s water. The center of community at his church has been collecting used oil from homes and small businesses in the neighborhood and using it to make soap, which is then wrapped in recycled newspaper and sold. Claudio uses this soap instead of commercially-made soap for all his washing needs—dishes, clothes, body—an example of how something that would have caused damage to nature is remade into something useful. He also gives a tour of his recycling barrels that store glass, plastic, paper, and other materials that come from people’s garbage. Two families come weekly to collect the garbage and from it are bettering their lives. One family has moved from being homeless, to the slums, to a poor neighborhood—all starting with the garbage collected at Claudio’s center of community.
But back to holiness: to be holy is to be used for a specific purpose. Oil, when it starts out, is used for a specific purpose—to cook food. But once it is used, it is damaged and it doesn’t matter what you do with it—put it in the sink, put it somewhere else—it’s going to cause problems in the nature around it. But if you clean the oil, mix it with caustic soda, and pass it through fire, it is transformed and can be used without damage. This, says Claudio, is a reflection of the Jesus-process in our lives. There is an outside intervention that cleans, and not only cleans but changes our nature, transforms us. You can’t change the soap back into oil, and similarly we are permanently transformed from something that causes problems to people and the world around us into something that can be used without damage. And so, cooking oil and soap are the modern-day metaphors for redemption in Claudio’s world . . . and possibly ours. To find out more about Claudio’s community, visit his website www.docaminho.com.br.
- How do you help create change in your community that brings life instead of damage?
- Just like with an integrated soap-making process, with an integrated gospel—all the products and byproducts give life. What does your gospel produce?
- On a personal level, what simple habits can you embrace to care for your environment?
Small or Ministry Group Questions
- In your community, what could be a local metaphor for redemption?
- Does your gospel “provoke problems” or “produce life?”
- This week’s episode airs during the week of Earth Day. How can we awaken our consciousness to integrate a holistic gospel—including the environment?