Monthly Archives: February 2015

The Cathedral in Jardim Colonia

“One can live in the shadow of an idea without grasping it.” Elizabeth Bowen


In an instant there was a transformation. I was sitting in a cathedral, not the shabby hall in a Sao Paulo slum with sorry shacks just a stone’s throw away. The only light came from the doorway and a single bulb handing from the ceiling but for me I was surrounded by liquid gold from a dozen stained glass windows. I felt I was in the presence of a great robed choir as the children and adults sang with all the volume they could muster. But the transformation was complete when a half-dozen children trooped in and played their guitars. Yes, one boy had real trouble getting his fingers on the right chord, but no matter. What I heard surpassed any pipe organ.

If you had been able to sit with me, watch and listen you would have been as amazed as I was. You see, this was happening in a small rented hall in a slum where none of these children were able to put down the money to buy their own instrument. Nor would they have been able to pay for the teacher to help them learn to play. But they were strumming—more or less together—a church song in their little corner of that favela.

It all happened this way. A small congregation called the Igreja da Aeroporto sponsored this project—not just the guitars and the teacher, but they covered the rent for the hall and a frequent distributions of food, milk and clothing. I rejoice as I think back on that simple cathedral and our experience with them. You see, the sponsoring church worked with us so we had the opportunity to load up a truck with foodstuffs and clothing to give a hand in Jardim Colonia. That would have been enough satisfaction in itself but a bit of heaven dropped down on us as we listened to their worship program. But it was the guitarists, all shy and fumbling with their guitars to get it right in front of Canadian visitors that for me truly transformed that simple block structure into a cathedral.

My experience there may have been unique but what is happening in those poor areas all across that city and others is helping boys and girls not just learn the guitar but get an education. None of the sponsoring churches are big and fancy but the beauty I saw in Jardim Colonia is repeated hundreds of times; no it is repeated so often they cannot be counted. One day I had the opportunity to visit one such school smack dab in the middle of a slum. It was providing education for pre-school children and the lower grades. As well the school gave those children a lunch every day. I found out that such schools take in problem children that other schools will not accept. But with care and love the teachers see them made over into kind and gentle boys and girls. I must write up the whole story some day of the transformative work such schools are doing.

There are a number of ways anyone can experience something of my cathedral experience. You might join a work group, perhaps from your local church and go yourself. Or you can give money for just such a project through some religious group. If that does not work for you, then contact me for a needy spot where you donation will be well spent. It may be hard to imagine what your handclasp is doing without going there yourself. In that case you may pause, say a prayer and in your imagination sit in the pew of your own special cathedral.


The Rio de Janeiro Statue of the Christ

“Choice , not chance, determine destiny.” Anon

Now comes the treat when you spend time in Rio de Janeiro—a visit to the statue of Christ the Redeemer that is perched on Corcovado mountain overlooking the city. The statue of O Cristo Redentor stands with arms outstretched as if it were embracing the city. If you will pause for a moment and recall what we know about the Christ you may easily feel that those arms are stretched out to you in love and compassion.

The mountain of Corcovado on which the statue stands rises to 2,300 feet or 690 meters over the city, the Bay of Guanabara and the city’s beaches. The meaning of Corcovado is hunchback and refers to its shape that makes it a near impossibility for climbers. The statue itself stands 100 feet on a 20 foot pedestal and weighs 700 tons. At night powerful lights transform this statue into a protective presence.

The last time I visited this statue was with a work group that we had organized to help in the construction of one of our churches. We used taxis to climb the winding road up through the Tijuca forest and that gave us the opportunity to see butterflies and birds that made their home in the jungle. As we stood looking over the city and the Sugar Loaf mountain below, in the distance a helicopter took off from some place below us and rose to circle the statue; I am sure it’s payload was tourists who wanted a quick and different  view of the city and O Cristo.

There is another way to get to Christ the Redeemer and that is to take the cogwheel train built long ago in 1885. Trains leave the Cosme Velho station every thirty minutes for the 17 minute ascent through thick vegetation. And it will also give you a good view of the Ipanema and Leblon beaches.

Still there is a different way to get to the statue of Cristo Redentor and that is to come from the South, the opposite direction from downtown Rio. We lived in Meier so the easiest route was to take the car and head in the direction of the isolated beaches away from the city. We climbed then to the ridge of mountains with its Tijuca tropical forest and took the narrow road towards O Cristo. Travelling close to the ridge’s summit we wound through the trees till through the branches and leaves above us, we could see the stature. Along the way lookout points gave us views of beaches, the Lagoa de Freitas, the Jockey club and the Emperor’s Table. It is thought this high flat rock has been the landing site for extra-terrestrials but this bit of history is true–Brazil’s last emperor Pedro II took his court there for picnics.

My mind goes beyond the variety of ways to ascend Corcovado and in memory I stand facing the stature of O Cristo Redentor . I recall the strange routes that I took to finally bend my knee to the one I call Saviour. But I must ask myself whether or not I took those strange roads all by myself, or were there guardian angels sent by the Eternal Father to overshadow and to guide? As the years go by, my conviction is this that I never searched alone for roads or walked them by myself. The same is true I am sure for you as you climb and search. There is something deeply moving within when a person stands in the city of Rio and looks upwards to the Redeemer. Ah, but there is something more magnetic yet for the Christ himself is drawing you and me even now to bow in awe at His feet.

The Brazilian Carnival

“There are many shadows, but remember, where there is a shadow there must be a light.” Anon

No doubt about it, the Brazilian Mardi Gras known as O Carnival is probably the most amazing in the entire world. Most Brazilian cities will have a celebracao but nothing has more glitz and decadence than the one in Rio de Janeiro. During the official days of Carnival that end the day before Lent, Samba Schools, actually neighbourhood groups, compete in parades that weave their way through the streets from sunset to dawn. Costumes are incredibly expensive and complex though that is a relative term for some hardly even exist. The highlight of the opulent parades during two nights draws top musicians, statesmen and beauty queens as well as tourists from many parts of the world.

Doris and I knew nothing about Carnival except the little bit our maid told us while we were in language school. We had rented a house that another missionary couple vacated and their maid needed work so she fit right in with us. With our limited understanding of Portuguese we were not able to grab onto every word she said. But we got this—she invited us to attend a Carnival parade through downtown Campinas for she was part of it. Doris and I attended that parade and we recall that she was wonderfully costumed. We didn’t have a baby sitter so I assume we carried Monica, our baby, along with us. The Carnival there was quiet compared to the one in Rio but in any case that was the only time during our years in Brazil we attended a Carnival.

Here’s the reason. The churches not only took a stand against the out-of-control decadence of the Carnival but they organized retreats for their people, especially the youth. Those retreats were well away from the Carnival and mostly outside the cities. The church took its stand against the Carnival for it understood so very well that it encouraged ridding oneself of any inhibitions. Carnival lured everyone to move freely and wildly to the mesmerizing Samba music of the Brazilian bands.

It is interesting that the practice sessions for the Schools of Samba go on for two months before Carnival. These Schools work on their music, dancing and the organization of their parts in the parades. Behind the scenes are the ladies who sew and prepare the costumes; often the poor among them spend their small incomes on costumes rather than putting food on their tables.  African culture plays a big role in the Carnival festivities in the states such as Bahia and cities in the North of Brazil. Added to that, many Northern Caboclinhos (hicks from the interior) dress in traditional Indian garb and bright feathers.

The Carnival seems to be the time to commit all the sins in the book for the purity demands of Lent are approaching. Lent t is considered to be the season for fasting and penitence when the sins of the flesh are to be left behind. Lent is preparation for Easter beginning on Ash Wednesday and continues for forty days to Good Friday. As believers in Christ our Saviour, we turn our backs on the festivities of the Carnival and instead turn our hearts and minds towards the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. There really is no place where the Christian faith says it is o.k. for us to throw our morals and inhibitions to the wind. The cost is too high—a cost we see every day in our world.

The Easter message is so full of historical facts that confidence builds as we ponder the scripture record. We all are ready to place our faith in something or someone if facts commend themselves to our reasoning processes. The story of Easter then becomes personal as we make it not only a matter for belief but just as important, the guide for all of life. That includes eternity. An old hymn proclaims part of that message with the words, “A Wonderful Saviour is Jesus my Lord, He taketh my burdens away…”

Going Home by Plane

“Real difficulties can be overcome; it is only the imaginary ones that are unconquerable.” Theodore Vail

The old four-engine prop plane was overloaded when we took off from the Rio de Janeiro Galeao airport. Looking back it was fortunate the International Airport was fairly new and had long runways that extended out over the water of Guanabara Bay. I may be exaggerating but that old clunker almost needed a push to get it airborne on the first leg of our trip back to Canada.

You may recall that Guanabara Bay is surrounded by mountains on which is built much of the city of Rio. It was those mountains that gave us the first firm clue the plane was severely overloaded. You see, this Columbian plane circled again and again to get enough height to get over those rocky peaks to head for its home airport. We might easily have concluded the plane carried too much weight by the baggage that crowded the aisle and between the seats. I assume many of the passengers were from Columbia and were taking advantage of reasonable prices in Brazil.

On that flight we had our children Monica and Vernon as well a friend Yoshikazo Takiya. We were helping him to find his way to a seminary in Kentucky. The flight for all of us was noisy with those old prop engines working hard—I wonder now if they were hard put to keep the plane flying. It was a long trip in comparison to what it would now be on a jet plane. In any case we landed at Medellin Columbia; reloaded and headed for Miami.

On that leg of the flight the airline stewardesses were handing out free drinks—lots of them. So the noise level from the passengers almost equalled that of the engines. Finally the pilot called for everyone to take their seats and put on their seat belts. That was not because of turbulence in the air. The turbulence was inside the plane itself. In any case we landed safely at Miami There as we were loading into a taxi I embarrassed myself by just speaking Portuguese. After our term in the interior with no English speaking people around, Portuguese had become the default language for everyone of our family.

This little story of our flight takes on tremendous importance for us since the newspapers carried bad news a week later. That the same flight crashed killing everyone. I cannot say that it was the same plane but my guess is that the airline operated with a minimum of oversight for all of their planes. In any case I’m judging from the overloading we saw at the takeoff in Rio.

So why would we choose this relatively unknown airline instead of one with an international name? A simple answer—the price of the plane fares. I am sure we could have chosen something better but with the mission we had been with, we were used to pinching pennies and cutting corners. In this case I believe that the Eternal Father had some of his angels take care of us on that flight. My assumption is that when we have made poor decisions angels give guidance around the detours we’ve arranged. In this case those angels put in a lot of overtime.