Monthly Archives: August 2014

The Lady Who Stood Beside Me

SHE STOOD BESIDE ME

Life often lives itself over and over again in our minds. It could happen when we turn a corner in the road, hear a long-forgotten phrase or visit stories while in a half-awake sleep. For me history came alive when I was scrolling through pictures from long ago and I came upon one of my wife Doris.
There is Doris with an accordion on her shoulders standing in front of a dozen of so children. If I listen carefully I can hear the music she leads. The place is a small hall in the interior of the State of Sao Paulo in a village called Neves Paulista. What was Doris doing in this little place in the middle of this huge coffee country where some farms grew a million bushes? Why was she there in this little village where every building had a rose tint built over time by the dust stirred up from the red dirt of the streets? Why in this village where two strange Canadians were so foreign that when either of us walked down the street, conversation stopped and heads turned to follow our steps?
The obvious reason is that she was there because I was there and I was a Christian missionary. But there’s more. She was there because long before arriving at the Sao Paulo Congonhas airport she was sure that is where she wanted to spend at least part of her life. As I look at that picture I see a bigger panorama. Doris was doing more than teaching children about the Christian faith. She was a partner with me constructing something together. She had the big goal of building lives that would be successful because they were built on confidence in Jesus as Lord.
Some day I shall pull pictures from her own written story to give you the details of her ministry in Brazil. At this moment I want to tell you a bit about her talents otherwise the story will never be told. At times I wonder if I’d have been any benefit to anyone in Brazil if it had not been for her.
I’ve mentioned the accordion—well she comes from a wide family connection that is rich in music talent though her dad could not carry a tune in a bucket. We bought the first accordion after moving to the interior for we knew it would be useful. That was in spite of the fact that Doris never took a lesson on it. Oh yes, she played the little portable pump organ in church services and out on the coffee farms in open air services. There the “colonos,” the farm workers from the row of poor housing were fascinated by what they saw and heard. That itself is another story.
As well, Doris played the cowbells. Some of those bells were for cows yet the high notes were the small ones made to hang on sheep. But she never got her hands on a set of those till well into our second term in Brazil. She picked the bells up quickly—don’t mind the pun for that is how a person plays the bells. The bells were laid out on a long table in the same pattern as a piano keyboard. That was something she knew well.
Wherever she played the bells in a church or a hall, people craned their necks to see the magic. If it was on a street corner or in a park, people would crowd in with the children getting closer yet. Playing the bells is indeed a special talent even for those who know something of the piano.
But her ministry to people went beyond music. She organized Sunday School classes and mid-week programs for children. Add to those tasks a youth program as well.
One of the boys from there in the interior recalls as an adult that one of the big attractions to the youth group was the cake that Doris would bake for them. Remember this, among the poor people in the interior, a cake would be the occasion for a celebration.
Hey, I almost forgot to mention she cared for our daughter Monica who was just a few years old. Our son Vernon was born in the interior. That story includes her memory of the birth of our 10 pound boy without the benefit of even an aspirin.
But since this blog is about her ministry I must include one trip she made from Neves to Rio Preto to speak at an evening meeting for ladies. Doris got behind the wheel of the big old Ford work van and headed out alone on the one hour drive over dirt roads through the coffee fields. They were wet from a previous rain and we understood from experience that there is no mud like the red dirt gumbo after a rain. But those roads dry quickly and Doris faced the drive because of her speaking engagement. From the top of one hill he she could see a mud hole so deep cars were getting stuck. But a group of men would then help push it through, of course looking for a tip.
Doris just gunned the engine, sent the men scurrying and the mud flying. She made it through. But night descended and a rain as well before she was free to tackle the return trip. There was the fear in the air of what might happen if a person were stuck in the mud on that road. A taxi driver had been robbed and murdered just a few weeks before at an intersection. My evening work was over so as the clock ticked passed 8:00 p.m. I put the children to bed but then had nothing else to do but fuss about Doris not pulling into our yard. A couple of hours later she drove in. It was explained this way—she had started late to return and the muddy driving had slowed that old van.
But whatever reasons now come to mind for her safe arrival, this is one incident that confirmed by belief in guardian angels. During our time in Brazil those angels worked overtime. Often their tasks had something to do with Doris’ ministry or exploits—whatever you want to call them. Those were hard days for Doris there in the interior but years later I see them as some of the most satisfying. Well, at least I see them that way.
About guardian angels, all of us can remember the times and places where those same angels were present.

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Dumb Mistakes In a New Language

Mistakes, mistakes! My wife Doris and I made lots of mistakes as we learned Portuguese in Brazil…well at least I did. But that was O.K. for we wanted to speak the language. Since learning and dumb mistakes are twins, we struggled on.
But it is frustrating not being able to come up with the right word at the right time. I recall dropping in on a Drogaria—a drug store shortly after we were in Campinas in language school. All I wanted was a small bottle of iodine. I had no idea what the right word might be and I did not yet have a dictionary because Doris and I had been in the country for only a few days. The clerks in the store gathered around me hoping to help. But no help there. This would be a situation common in Brazil since few are fluent in English. I left the drug store frustrated and with the clerks smiling and shaking their heads.
As well it takes time to learn the ins and outs of another culture. For example, we quickly learned that a person does not knock on a door to see someone but stands at the gate and claps. That generally works well for yards are small or non-existent with at times the front door opening directly onto the sidewalk. That reminds me of an incident that I’ll share here though it has nothing to do with the language.
Doris and I with our daughter Monica were visiting in a colleague’s home. Monica was then just a few months past her second birthday. The house had an iron front gate that was on the edge of the sidewalk, only a few feet from their front door. We had shared a meal there and were chatting while Doris fed our baby boy Vernon–he was then a few months old. She says that I spoke up having noted that Monica was not in sight. I rushed to gate and Doris says that I screamed, “Oh my God,” for Monica was standing in the middle of the street with traffic and trucks going by in both lanes. None of us could have imagined that little girl could climb that gate.
As I was checking out the details of this incident with Doris, she said, “Once again the angels were working overtime.” Me? I still vividly remember that little tyke in the middle of the street with traffic around her.
But to more pleasant matters…the language. Brazilians are extremely polite and would never embarrass a person over a mistake in Portuguese. Yet I am sure at one time or another they must have had a good many laughs at our errors.
Here is what I mean. In the Bible story of the Prodigal Son, when this son returns the father ordered a big party and the killing of a “fatted calf.” The problem is that the word for beetle sounds the same to us as calf. Calf has double RRs together where the word for beetle has only a single R. Both RRs are different from our English R—the double R is trilled or aspirated and the single is flipped–meaning the tongue touches the top gum for an instant. Both of the nouns are masculine making the distinction more difficult yet. So I am told I spoke about the father ordering killed “a fat beetle” for the party.
Just one more laugh, though when you and I share coffee someday I could add more. Mercifully I have forgotten most of my mistakes. Anyway once when speaking to a group I said, “It is a pleasure to be in your stocking.” The mistake is easily made for that word is “meia” which is like “meio” with “meio” meaning “with you.” The difference? One word has a feminine ending and the other is masculine.
If you travel in Brazil there are two things to remember. First, Brazilians will do all that is reasonably possible to avoid your embarrassment. Second, to learn a language means you jump right in and do your best while making mistakes. Just learn to smile no matter where you are trying out another language. Others certainly will.

Brazil Unravelled

YOU THINK YOU’VE SEEN BAD ROADS 

            If one of these days you find yourself in Sao Paulo, Brazil and wish to travel to the interior, you might take a bus. It will be as modern as any you’ve ever seen. And the roads are good.

            But it wasn’t that way when we went to Brazil in 1955. Most of the road was dirt from Sao Paulo to where we lived 350 Kms. to the Northeast. Gravel was not used for it was practically non-existent. But graders kept the road in fair but dusty conditions during the dry season. The red sandy soil was like brick when dry.

            But the dust was incredible. To travel with a vehicle’s windows closed kept out the fine red dust but it meant near suffocation from the heat. Because of those roads I often took the train when travelling to Sao Paulo. Even so dust would swirl up from the dirt rail bed, yet I could travel with my window open.

            But that put me in another danger since the locomotive was a wood burner. Embers would escape and fall over the train and some of those sparks would enter an open window. I had a number of shirts with little holes caused by sparks. Of course those sparks penetrated further than the shirt I wore and when they did I would have good reason to remember the occasion.

            But back to the roads–those roads during the wet rainy season. Then the roads might be greasy for only a day or two that is if the showers were brief. But there were times when the rain would not let up, perhaps for a week. Low areas in the road would little by little become mud holes deep enough to stop big trucks.

            But those impassable masses of sticky red gumbo and water could occur almost anywhere. You see, as the years went by the graders leveled the road by pushing dirt to the side, piling it where one would normally find ditches. Over time the roads became deeper and deeper just waiting for a big rain to make mud. Lots of mud.

            I recall one trip over that road with a friend of a friend in his car. If Alzheimer’s disease does not hit me, I shall go to my grave vividly recalling that expedition. The driver had the news that the road was impassible. That meant a person was just risking their neck, not their life. About a half hour on our way with slipping and sliding on those greasy roads we came to an area where vehicles were backed up. Mud ahead and no detour! The only way to get through that mud hole was to stay in line and wait till one by one a bulldozer pulled each vehicle through. The mud was so deep that the driver turned off the engine during this maneuver else the fan would distribute mud all over the engine.

            That incident multiplied itself again and again and again till I finally gave up in despair and took a train the rest of the way. Actually that trip was much worse than just having to face the mud. But that is another story all in itself—one I will not write about but if sometime we have coffee together, I might whisper it in your ear.

            Anyway, I arrived at a bad hour in Sao Paulo for it was the middle of the night. I never did see my benefactor again if you can call him that. During my time in the interior I did not have the courage to try that dirt road again. Enough was enough was enough.

YOU THINK YOU’VE SEEN BAD ROADS

 

            If one of these days you find yourself in Sao Paulo, Brazil and wish to travel to the interior, you might take a bus. It will be as modern as any you’ve ever seen. And the roads are good.

            But it wasn’t that way when we went to Brazil in 1955. Most of the road was dirt from Sao Paulo to where we lived 350 Kms. to the Northeast. Gravel was not used for it was practically non-existent. But graders kept the road in fair but dusty conditions during the dry season. The red sandy soil was like brick when dry.

            But the dust was incredible. To travel with a vehicle’s windows closed kept out the fine red dust but it meant near suffocation from the heat. Because of those roads I often took the train when travelling to Sao Paulo. Even so dust would swirl up from the dirt rail bed, yet I could travel with my window open.

            But that put me in another danger since the locomotive was a wood burner. Embers would escape and fall over the train and some of those sparks would enter an open window. I had a number of shirts with little holes caused by sparks. Of course those sparks penetrated further than the shirt I wore and when they did I would have good reason to remember the occasion.

            But back to the roads–those roads during the wet rainy season. Then the roads might be greasy for only a day or two that is if the showers were brief. But there were times when the rain would not let up, perhaps for a week. Low areas in the road would little by little become mud holes deep enough to stop big trucks.

            But those impassable masses of sticky red gumbo and water could occur almost anywhere. You see, as the years went by the graders leveled the road by pushing dirt to the side, piling it where one would normally find ditches. Over time the roads became deeper and deeper just waiting for a big rain to make mud. Lots of mud.

            I recall one trip over that road with a friend of a friend in his car. If Alzheimer’s disease does not hit me, I shall go to my grave vividly recalling that expedition. The driver had the news that the road was impassible. That meant a person was just risking their neck, not their life. About a half hour on our way with slipping and sliding on those greasy roads we came to an area where vehicles were backed up. Mud ahead and no detour! The only way to get through that mud hole was to stay in line and wait till one by one a bulldozer pulled each vehicle through. The mud was so deep that the driver turned off the engine during this maneuver; else the fan would distribute mud all over the engine.

            That incident multiplied itself again and again and again till I finally gave up in despair and took a train the rest of the way. Actually that trip was much worse than just having to face the mud. But that is another story all in itself—one I will not write about but if sometime we have coffee together, I might whisper it in your ear.

            Anyway, I arrived at a bad hour in Sao Paulo for it was the middle of the night. I never did see my benefactor again if you can call him that. During my time in the interior I did not have the courage to try that dirt road again. Enough was enough was enough.

Brazil Unravelled

CHILLED TO THE BONE IN BRAZIL As our van shuddered to a stop in the mud, we looked out to see the coffee bushes standing sentinel-like in the semi-darkness. They were black under a moonless sky little more than an arm’s length away. Our vehicle sat tilted in the muddy ditch that ran parallel to an impassible road. The place–the middle of Brazilian coffee country. Doris and I soon felt cold, very cold that winter night even though the temperature was nowhere chose to freezing. There was little we could do except hug each other for warmth for the van had no heater and if it had it would have been useless for the battery had gone flat and unable to start the stalled engine. There was no hope of that changing for there was no way to get ourselves out of the mud. We felt chilled to bone for Doris and I were used to the heat of the tropics. And counting on hot weather that afternoon, we had worn nothing but the lightest of summer clothes. So the only way to keep warm that night was to hug each other–closely. Even so we shivered and wished the long hours would quickly pass. But the time dragged slowly. We were alone and isolated out in middle of coffee fields with only the coffee bushes to watch over us. There was another chill that reached us that had nothing to do with the weather. It was the chill of worry. In our case we had left our two children, one three and the other five, in the care of a local girl in our home in the village of Neves. Our promise had been to be back home about 9:00 p.m. Would the baby sitter consider her job done at a certain hour and go to her own home leaving our children alone? What could happen if the house were left unlocked all that night? Of course we loved our children but that night they were exceedingly more precious. We had no idea what danger might confront them—or even us alone on a distant road. And yet another chill. The local papers had carried the news of the murder of a taxi driver, one night at a crossroads not far from where we lived. Though Brazilians are normally kind and considerate, yet criminals may be exceedingly violent. They often murder when robbing someone for that takes care of witnesses. Were we stuck far enough from anyone so that our presence was unknown? We had no idea. And still yet another chill nagging at our minds during the night. The van had a flat battery. There would be no mechanics or batteries available for miles beyond those coffee fields. And then we were in a muddy ditch with no idea who might help us or even how or what vehicle would be available to pull us back onto the road. After an all-night of hugs, we were delighted to see the sun rise over the coffee fields. Little by little I could make out the row housing used by the workers on that particular farm. Then a little later I could make out in the distance a group of men, workers no doubt, waiting for the day’s orders. Could they help us? I had no idea but that is where I headed. I explained my predicament and they offered a hand. What could a few men do? This was their solution, no doubt quite obvious to them but not to me. They came with their wide hoes they used to clean around the coffee bushes and with them they scraped the mud away from the wheels of the car so the tires might have traction. But I understood something they might not have known. The battery the previous evening would not turn the engine. But as I switched on the ignition this time, the starter growled and the engine turned over so slowly. Then I heard the engine fire on a couple of cylinders and then start. I was able then to drive out of the ditch and head for home. So how did we find our children and the baby sitter? They were all asleep when we arrived home. I suppose they felt there was no use staying awake just because the parents were away somewhere. Chilled to the bone? Yes. Yes, in more ways than one. But so much more could have gone wrong than just getting stuck in the mud. How do Doris and I explain it? We are sure that guardian angels were on the job, obeying the orders of the eternal King, our God.