Monthly Archives: April 2015

Wonderful Brazilian Friends

“One of the most difficult things to give away is kindness—it is usually returned.” Court R. Flint

The people in Brazil surprised me when we landed back in 1955 at the Sao Paulo airport. We had gone there to live and work as missionaries. I suspect they might surprise you too if you ever visit that country no matter the reason. Brazil may be known for its coffee and in recent years most everyone understands it has become the 7th. largest economy in the world. Of course when Doris and I with our months-old daughter went to Brazil we had no idea of what to expect. But we soon found out that Brazilians are the kindest and friendliest people in the whole world. Well, that is our experience though I have no idea what all of the rest of the world is like.

Back then, their espresso coffee took some getting used to but their hugs taking the place of handshakes were more than acceptable. Hugs were not only delightful but were evidence of their proven track record of friendliness. Right here I should mention we struggled a little bit with the hugs for they came from both men and women. The hugs seemed almost too friendly. I recall on one of our recent work visit to Brazil that I preached one Sunday night in a church with about 350 people attending. It was a wonderful service and as I stood at the door greeting people as they left I estimate that I received about 300 hugs and another 50 with kisses added. There kindness overwhelmed me.

I would like to celebrate the many people that now come to mind and give you the details of all our contacts—but it would never fit in with this posting. Many cherished individuals are left out.

Naomi Lopes was the teacher we met when we moved to Rio de Janeiro–for us it was a new strange city; there we needed to get our children into a school. Naomi was a teacher in a private school run by her parents though her dad also served as a Baptist pastor. She received us as if we were her family and so made our children feel at home, something that was needed after we spent a year in Canada on home assignment. We were there in Rio only a couple of years but we’ve kept contact with Naomi—she even visited us once here in Canada. This gracious lady will not be forgotten.

When we look for someone who is important to the church in Brazil and has been exceptionally kind to us and who often opening her home and heart to us—then we’d need to name Dna Irene Emerenciano. She treated the rich and poor, the children and adults with exceptional kindness. She told me a story that tells of her patience and compassion. She directed a Sunday School at one time where a little boy would not stay in any class. The lad followed her everywhere hanging to her skirt. Over time with Irene’s leadership his shyness diminished and later he made his career in the Brazilian army. That may not seem a big deal till a person knows of the mother who lived almost as a prostitute in a poor, poor home with another son that did not turn out well.

Unless you have a very good map you might never find the Brazilian village of Neves Paulistas. It was there that Luiz Roberto da Silva as a young teen became interested in the music he heard from a hall used for religious services. We will not describe the poverty of this family but with a little encouragement and the determination of the mother Dna Olinda and the five children—each one has done well. Luiz with his musical talent has been the soloist in many churches and city-wide crusades. But I mention him not because of his many accomplishments but because he has been most helpful in organizing the numerous work teams we and others have led to Brazil. With his wife Cleide they meet us at the airport, open up their home, provide transportation and leadership till they leave us once again at the airport. Luiz is one of our family in everything except name.

Then there is Maria and her husband Alzenir who, every since they began to attend a church youth program—one organized by Doris. A piece of Maria’s beautiful art hands on our fireplace. Then there is Bishop Jose Ildo de Melo and his wife Cristina who not only give great leadership to the Brazilian church but been more than kind to us. On a trip there not too many years ago he invited me to address their church conference with its representatives from all of Brazil. What a privilege! I might go on and on but I already I have written too much.

As I close with these wonderful memories I try to force tears away from my eyes. It is all because of our privilege, Doris and mine, to have so many great friends. It does not matter that they are far away in Brazil.

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Our Children’s Accidents and Ailments

“We make our decisions and often our decisions then make us.” Anon

It was great to have a nurse in our family though Doris’ background in education also equipped her for the work we did in Brazil. But when I tell of some, just some of our family’s excursions into illnesses and accidents you may imagine we needed two fulltime nurses.

One of the saddest pictures I’ve ever taken was of our two children sitting on our couch in the city of Rio Preto—sad because they both had chicken pox. They had pox in their hair, over all their bodies and even on the bottom of their feet. Years later those pox scars showed on Monica’s face and no doubt they are still there. Doris was the only one that could make them as comfortable as possible —she was mom as well as a nurse. Soon I came down with the same bug. All that I recall about the chicken pox is that I was sick. Yes, I too needed that nurse.

Less than a year later we moved to the dusty village of Neves that was surrounded by coffee farms. Vernon was not yet two years old when Doris discovered one evening that he had a very sore arm. She was giving him his bath and he complained when she touched it. So off to the local doctor in the village. He declared that Vernon had a fracture. This is how it happened–at least we guess this is how it was. The only thing from which a little boy might fall in our yard would be the low wall between our home and the street. No doubt that wall was mountain climbing to a little boy but he ended up with what is called a “green stick” break. No cast was necessary but Doris kept it bandaged to make it more comfortable. Another broken arm happened when we lived in Rio de Janeiro—that time the break gave him another elbow.  We have written that story up in detail in another posting.

The hepatitis Vernon picked up in Rio was of course more serious than a broken arm. We lived in a nice home and paid limited attention to the dirty creek that ran behind our lot. We had warned our son not to go near it but that was difficult to do when other boys would gather minnows from it in bottles or cans. Nothing worked to keep him away from the creek. When other boys played there—his inner logic would be, “If they can, then I can too.” The water there was especially dangerous for some of it came from a local hospital—with the result that Vernon picked up hepatitis A. The doctor we contacted had worked among the indigenous Brazilian Indians during an epidemic of hepatitis and with his experience he knew to prescribe an antibiotic that within weeks solved the sickness. I believe his help was an act of Divine care for without proper treatment hepatitis may leave severe liver damage. But it was not long before Doris picked up the hepatitis bug from Vernon. So the two of them were in bed with severely restricted activities. That was tough for an active young lad. During that time I was the nurse–does that make you smile? It should, though I did my very best.

It was there in Rio that a young lady came to our home looking for work as a maid. Since we had been in Rio only a short time, had no maid yet and being of a trusting mind we hired her. For a while we thought everything was going well till our children told us they were being mistreated when we were both absent. We learned that Vernon would sit on the top step of the stairs in our two story home anxiously waiting for us to return. That picture even now in my mind brings me to the verge of tears. At the same time we found the maid was stealing from us. She had to go.

Still there are good things that come to moms and nurses to make life easier and balance out the hard times. I’d call it Divine providence. The good side of that coin there in Rio is that both of our children enrolled in a private school run by a wonderful Baptist family. It was a delightful experience for them for the language of the school was the same as that of our children–Portuguese. I have pictures of Monica and Vernon dressed up for graduation decked out in robes and mortar boards. Just imagine–Vernon’s graduation was from Pre-Kindergarten and Monica from grade one. We are still friends with Noemi, one of their teachers. It is unfortunate for our children that our family soon moved away from Rio to Sao Paulo. That is another story, a difficult one that I may not tell about,.

A Visit to Brazil, part 2

“Choice, not chance, determine destiny.” Anon

                To-day we leave the city of Sao Paulo and wind through the towering hills to a fertile valley and the town of Mairipora. It’s so strange but the Mairipora church for a few years had a bar operating on their property. Here’s how it happened. The congregation bought a fine corner lot planning to build a church, but the lot had a bar and it took a while for the bar’s lease to expire. So the church owned the bar but of course did not operate it.

Senhor Luiz Roberto is our guide to this town in the hills—in fact we are staying in his home. He has arranged that we go to Mairipora with our arms loaded—would you believe—with diapers. There the pastor takes us across town to a senior’s residence where we deliver the diapers. We sang for them in their residence—English of course. How intriguing when one of the older gentlemen dug out his guitar and played along. A special privilege was a visit with the town’s mayor. He served us cafezinhos and the visit went on and on. The mayor was open to meet us for the local church was involved in a number of social programs in his town.

When I came to this Mairipora with a group some years previously, a lady I did not know met me at the church door. Did I remembered her? No way. So she recounted the story of how as a child I had visited their home on a coffee farm way off the beaten track in the interior of the state. That day all of this large family made faith commitments to Christ. That event changed the life of this one little girl; she grew up to be this lady and had married the pastor of this church.

There needed to be a break in the tight schedule so one day we travelled down to the port area of Santos. As we leave the plateau of Sao Paulo we descend through the mountains on a highway where the jungle rises up on each side. At times we get a glimpse through the trees of the other two lanes that take traffic up to Sao Paulo. We are fortunate to-day for there is no fog; on such an occasion a vehicle from the DOH would lead us slowly down to sea level. Sometimes during bad weather or when there is an accident the flow of traffic can be reversed or two lanes can accommodate vehicles in both directions. Or the highway is completely closed

Father Anchieta years ago travelled these mountains ministering in churches and homes. Later the highway took his name. To-day as we come down to sea level we pass by the city of Cubatao with its two dozen heavy industries. We take note of the huge flumes that bring water down through the mountains from the plateau above us to a generation station. Now the water provides power for the millions in Sao Paulo city and the area’s huge industries.

To-day our interest takes us past the beaches of Santos to the island of Guaruja. There we dip our toes in the Atlantic Ocean on a beach that is kilometres long. Guaruja lives off its tourism with many from the city above us owning condos constructed just city blocks from the lovely sand beaches. But if you look in another direction you see slums creeping up the side of the hills—hills so steep they appear to be mountains. How sad for the people who live there.

There is so much more we checked out; an aquarium and then later a lookout on a mountain high above the beaches.  Instead of returning the way we came, we take a ferry across to the highway that leads us back up through the mountains. We are travelling as dusk approaches but we still can see the flowering bushes that border Via Achieta. Since we have our own transportation we stop and get some close-up pictures.

As the dusk deepens into night we suddenly feel tired. A few of our group are sleeping slumped in their seats. We are glad to return to our lodging and a hot dinner. We’ve been in Brazil less than the two weeks we’ve planned but I imagine that most of the group is beginning to long for home. Tired yes. A busy schedule, a different culture and so much to see and to do! All the while we’ve been working to understand English with a Brazilian accent. It is remarkable what Senhor Luiz and many others are doing to meet the needs of the people we have met. We’ve done the same and we’re happy with all we’ve accomplished so far. I know something you may not know yet. Such a trip is tiring but if you have been there, you’d go back in a minute.

 

Learning to Drive a Jeep

“You have not lived to-day until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” John Bunyan

A friend’s Jeep proved that I had never learned to drive, at the minimum to drive it–better said, to conquer it. In a way it was an unequal contest for I had never driven a Jeep before.

That confrontation occurred when friends of ours, the Kaspersons, drove that Jeep all the way from the interior of State of Parana over twelve hundred Kilometres to visit up. That was a long hard trip for most of the road at that time was just red dirt. When it was dry it kicked up dust into a person’s face through that open Jeep. Or when wet it became a gumbo that threatened to drag the Jeep into the nearest ditch. What a trip for Bob, Ruth and their two children. Oh there were a few Kilometres of paved road near the city of Sao Paulo but beyond that, all the way to the interior village of Neves Paulista where we lived, all was dirt.

But first a few memories before we get into telling of my confrontation with their Jeep. The Kasperson family were Lutheran missionaries in the frontier city of Maringa and we were friends for we had a lot in common—huge coffee farms in both areas with up to a million bushes. And each of our families sensed the isolation of living a day’s drive from the nearest English speaking person. Close by the Kasperson home in the State of Parana, coffee or corn grew between the logs and stumps of trees that had been cut. Their home was made of rough cut lumber from some of those trees for it was the cheapest material available. Their home never measured up to ours for our homes in Neves was made of brick. Now an aside: it is sad to remember those logs rotting away or being eaten up by termites for the wonderful wood from those logs now would be worth a fortune on the world market.

Although Bob was shorter than I yet people who knew us both would confuse our names. I suppose the reason is that we both had blond hair and light complexions that told of our parent’s roots in North European countries. Ruth had striking red hair that no doubt indicating her forebears were from a Scandinavian country. What mattered for us was their visit—it relieved some our loneliness. In any case Bob knew how to handle that Jeep so when he offered it to me to drive one night, I suppose he assumed I could dominate its cantankerousness. That was something I could not do.

I happened like this. We had a mid-week evening service in our little church, one of those services that brought poor families in from the coffee farms. One of those families, including children  needed to walk the couple of kilometres back to their home. When I wondering about giving them a ride, Bob suggested I use his Jeep. My thought was, “A great idea. You see the walk would be in the dark for they didn’t even have a flashlight for that trail. Even though the road was rough the Jeep would provide some extra comfort for that trip.”

We loaded up the Jeep and were doing fairly well considering the ruts and holes. But I had no idea just how bad one hole was. Nor did I know how stiff the springs were on that Jeep. I was quite obviously going too fast so when I hit that one deep hole the Jeep jumped from it right into the ditch. Nobody was hurt—well except my self-respect. My friends walked the rest of their way home and I walked in the dark back to my home to get Bob. Well, Bob had influence with that unpredictable Jeep so without too much more trouble he tamed it and drove back to our home.

A year or so before the Kasperson’s visit we dropped in on them in their home in Maringa. And during that time they took us to see more of their State of Parana—all in their Jeep. But I never had to get behind the wheel and of course looking back we all could be thankful for that. My confrontation with that Jeep triggers all sorts of poignant memories of our connection with the Kaspersons. Some of those I’ve shared in this post–perhaps I’ll share others as time passes. That may happen if my memory does not pass on as well.

 

We Found Sapphires in Brazil

“The farther you can look back, the further you can look ahead.” Winston Churchill

We don’t know how or when but during our first term in Brazil a pearl was lost from Doris’s heirloom ring. What could we do to repair the ring? Certainly something had to be done–the history of that ring demanded action. You see, that ring came into the family when Doris’ great-grandfather McEwen gave it to his wife back in the 1870s—no doubt at their wedding. Now and aside from Doris, “My great-grandmother was born in the USA but since she was loyal to the English crown—a U.E.L—arrangements were made for her to flee to Canada into the arms of John McEwen. He met her in Cornwall, Ontario after she crossed the St. Lawrence River during the winter travelling on the ice with a horse and cutter.”

The ring was then passed down to their daughter Harriet who married Samuel Craig. But since the ring was small he had it cut and refitted into a larger band that would fit the finger of his wife—she was known as Hattie. Then since Doris was the oldest of her granddaughters, Hattie walked the long lane on Doris’ parent’s farm to place it on her finger just days before our wedding. The timing was significant for Doris had graduated that Monday and we were being married on the following Saturday. Now our daughter Monica has the ring—but that was not on our minds there in Brazil—all we wanted was the ring be repaired.

We were not long in Brazil till we came to know that the majority of the world’s semi-precious stones were mined in Brazil. I smile when I think back that we were looking for a pearl—why? Well Brazil is not noted for pearls. But in our search for repairs we ended up in a Sao Paulo skyscraper where each door we passed through on that floor was locked behind us. Then a kindly gentleman placed a small leather bag on a counter and poured out handfuls of beautiful cut stones. But no pearls of course. No matter; we chose two sapphires to replace what had been matching pearls.

Those sapphires are a real treasure for they remind us not only of Brazil but of the vast industry in such stones. For us it is important to remember that the sapphire is the next hardest stone after the diamond. Then comes the topaz and then I know little of the hardness of the hundred and more of other stones that are mined, cut and polished in Brazil.

The diamond given as an engagement ring testifies to the security of love in that relationship. And I suppose many other stones given along life’s way say something similar. What a choice is available in these mysterious children of Mother Nature! All those colours of spring flowers are arranged by Brazilians into combinations of incredible jewels that only an artist can imagine. Brazil has been famous in the past for its aquamarine stones for they come in 35 shades of blue though many prefer the blue topaz. Back in 1910 there was found in Minas Gerais—that is where most of those stones come from—an aquamarine weighing in at 244 pounds. Now that would make quite a ring wouldn’t it?

If you should wish to buy unmounted stones, the best place to buy them is in the city of Cristalina in Minas Gerais. Translated the State’s name is “General Mines” and that tells you about not only the mines but the cutting and polishing—often work done in home workshops. A few years ago I brought home some lovely stones but the gold here and the labour involved in mounting them made it more sensible to buy them finished in Brazil.

You might be enthralled with those Brazilians stones and wish to bring a handful home. Ah but there is a discovery that we made over the years both in Brazil and Canada. It is this–every person has more value than the best of Brazil’s jewelry. The summary of that great value is in the words of Jesus, “For God so love the world…” I believe God was not thinking of continents and oceans or even Brazilian jewels. He was talking about you and me. The lost pearl in the heirloom ring may say something about our own sense of lostness. But remember this; the Master Jeweller has the ability to not only to make repairs but as well to make changes that dramatically increase our value.