Monthly Archives: August 2015

Some Tag Ends About Brazil

“The same sun that melts the wax hardens the clay.” Ano

Did you ever wonder where the name for Brazil came from? The secret: “Pau Brazil” is a famous wood from the rain forest and so important at one time it lent its name to the country. The wood is red-orange in colour and was sought after in Europe for the die extracted. That has changed but not the demand. It is coveted for making classical music instruments especially violin bows.

“Pau Brazil” in instruments allows for better timbre and high music volume. Some refer to it as “the music tree” but that quality has pushed this tree to near extinction and can only be cut with a permit. But illegal cutting continues where it is not policed or where inspectors can be bought.

Some things don’t change in Brazil—the sweet “expresso” coffee in a demitasse cup that does not give a person the jolt they might expect. You see it is roasted darker than the coffee we get here and so much of the caffeine is gone. Then there is the staple food of “arroz e feijao” which is rice and beans. Our family always liked rice and beans no matter whether it was in an uppity restaurant or the poorest of homes. It was always so well seasoned (not hot with pepper) and delicious.

Something up to date. Auditors for the preparations for the games in Rio are wondering if the subway to the Olympic Park could be ready. They stated, “No more delays.” The goal of Brazil in the games is to finish among the top three countries in medals earned. It could happen. Remember Brazil is the 5th largest country in the world and 7th in economy. Now a WOW! How about this? Brazil was first in medals in the Pan American games in Toronto for disabled persons. I feel as good about that as if Canada were at the top.

And I note that Brazil is the 2nd country in the world for sending Christian missionaries to other lands. They not only plant churches but start schools and clinics. That is remarkable for back in 1955 when we went to Brazil, I did not know of any such endeavors. But I’ve always said that Brazil has the potential to be the number one missionary-sending nation in the world.

If that interests you here are some other stats about religion. The country is Catholic, at least nominally so, with over 15% protestant with another 10% attending Spiritist centers. At the same time Spiritism influence penetrates to other religious expressions and lives with them in peaceful coexistence. One branch of Spiritism is akin to Bantu/voodoo and is supposed to have less than one percent of Brazilians as followers. My own evaluation is that this brand holds the hearts of many Brazilians and even influences the practice of Christianity.

Then I should mention another type of Spiritism—Rationalismo Cristao. I accepted an invitation once and attended their séance while living in Neves in the interior of the state of São Paulo. One medium in a trance declared that I had travelled the whole world looking for peace and was finding it there. Not quite! This I know, it was a very important religious influence in that village.

Add to that the Allan Kardek Spiritism. It is the more traditional type so when we in North America think of Spiritism, it is this particular brand. One writer notes that Brazilian Spiritism even influences psychiatric practices. Nobody can really understand religious life in Brazil without some knowledge of the three varieties of Spiritism; this movement in Brazil is considered to be the largest in the world. A world-famous promoter and practitioner is Joao de Deus–John of God.

Perhaps you’ve heard of him. He is a medium and psychic surgeon who is fervently believed to provide miraculous healings among his followers. He does up to 1,000 operations a day, much of it with a blunt kitchen knife and is believed to cure everything from a common cold to cancer. There are books written about him and his “faith healing” and tourists guides will get you to meet him. Google has all sorts of information about him with even Oprah having visited him. You can even watch videos of surgeries and testimonials. Make of him what you will but know this—he is an important Spiritist presence in Brazil.

So I’ve offered bit and pieces about Brazil and its religions. As for Spiritist healings they may indeed happen but I would not touch them with a ten-foot pole. An old hymn says it for me, “My hope is in the Lord who gave himself for me, who paid the price of all my sin at Calvary.” I understand that there is so much more to The Christian Faith than healing of the body.



How Brazilian Hugs and Kisses Fit In

Did you ever wonder if there could ever be an excess of hugs and kisses delivered to you? Probably not especially if they were given as a greeting. If you were visiting friends in Brazil or were part of a group that was known and accepted then a hug would be in order. Depending on the social connection no doubt even a kiss would be fine. But that kiss would not be on the lips but on the cheeks for the meaning is entirely different depending where the kiss landed.

We attended a language school in Brazil with many new missionaries years ago and most of us found it difficult at first to fit in with the hugs given by men—with cheeks touching. Of course those hugs were a social greeting that said something of the Brazilian’s appreciation for new workers among their churches.

I should mention this before going further. Brazilians appreciate so much a few words of greeting in Portuguese—even if you murder their language. So start with “bom dia” meaning a good day or a good morning. “Boa tarde” refers to the afternoon or evening and “boa noite” to the evening or night hours. Your group leader or a booklet will have a list of other words and sentences that will smooth your relationships in Brazil. Take the time—learn some of the most-used words. With a bit of Portuguese you will find it hard to really be lost.

Back to the hugs. Women will hug and kiss each other on the left cheek and then alternate. Hugs and kisses are normally reserved where a relationship has been established. If not then a handshake is in order allowing the Brazilian to extend their hand first. That will avoid you being considered too pushy.

When I get to talking about the closeness involved with hugs and kisses let me emphasize that the people there value cleanliness and hygiene. Leaving home without a shower is unheard of and it makes sense in a tropical climate. Appearances do matter and in that regard remember any carelessness means you will not be taken seriously. It all makes sense when it comes to hugs.

Now a little story that was humorous because our Brazilian friends were bending over backwards to be kind. Our group had spent all day in construction and were waiting in a home to get our rides to different places. One of the older persons may not have had a bath over a few days and with the heat and sweating our group and friends there repeatedly urged this person to take a shower while we waited. No way. There were knowing smiles all round.

Fitting in with the culture is so very important. In Canada most of us expect visitors and immigrants to fit in with our culture. We say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” If you are taking gifts to boys in Brazil, forget about our favourite sports and take a gift of a soccer ball. Remember learn about Brazil and its people before you travel there. And be sensitive to their way of doing things—especially when and where hugs and kisses are fitting.

When I was leading a “work” group in Brazil I was invited to speak on a Sunday night to one of our São Paulo churches. About 300 packed out the church but most interestingly—the pastors often warned their people that if they attended worship in the morning, they ought to stay at home at night to allow space for other folks. Surprisingly the evening service is always the largest. It was a long service approaching two hours but with never a dull moment for different groups reported on their church/mission work and sang—yes, they are great at singing and playing their instruments.

The pastors invited me go with them to greet people at the door of the church as the congregants left. I was not expecting the greetings I received but I suppose the service established a good understanding of our relationship. Still I could not believe it: some 200 hugs and kisses (or more) with 100 hugs (or more). In a way we were all part of the same family blood line—followers of Jesus Christ.

Along that line I remember how two lady tourists in South America had no contact with the people they were to meet. As they walked through a market they sang a hymn—it was recognized by someone in the market. The problem was solved through a Christian relationship that no doubt ended with a hug and kiss. Remember this–don’t underestimate the value of being a follower of Jesus. The proof of that came to me just to-day. That is another story.


Tarantula Spiders


During the ten years we lived in Brazil we never encountered spiders that were anything like the tarantulas we met in Haiti. The reason of course was that we did not live or work in the Brazilian rain forest. But we met the tarantula when we lived in Haiti and I wondered if readers might overlook our jumping from one country to another all because I wanted to tell you about tarantulas. So please forgive me changing horses in the middle of the stream of posting on my blog.

We had heard about tarantulas in Haiti but never were much concerned till one day I found Vernon and a Haitian friend crouched beside a small hole in our yard. It was just a few metres away from our home. Beside them was a small container of water and they were pouring water down this hole. We had a short lesson about tarantulas and learned they are burrowers that live in the ground. The tarantula spider is part of a large family of hairy spiders that subdivides into 900 species. I was a bit concerned that tarantulas are known to be venomous and if it came from its hole there might be some danger. But I was told in creole that there was little danger from that tarantula and they, the boys, were there to tease it out of its hole and then get it to jump. At them no less. Its bite may not be worse than the sting of a bee so I left them to their entertainment. Since I had other things on the go, I left the boys to their little game and I don’t remember how it all turned out.

Then an incident in our shower. We did not have modern plumbing so the drain for the shower went straight outside the building pouring the water on the ground. There must not have been a trap in the plumbing for one day one of our children saw the legs of a tarantula being poked up through the holes in the drain. That was a bit of a scary experience but was quickly taken care of with a kettle of boiling water. I don’t recall changing the plumbing for it was easier to heat a kettle of water to just clean any animals out of the drain.

Perhaps the scariest of incidents is when a tarantula was discovered in Monica’s bedroom. No matter how one slices up such an incident, to say the least it is not nice to find a tarantula in one’s home, especially a bedroom. No doubt it was the lady who did the cleaning that found the tarantula and the information from her is that they come in pairs. That was essential news. So the search began in and under the bed and anywhere a tarantula might hide. They found it—I wasn’t part of this excitement—but it was discovered in the clothes’ closet in a hidden corner behind some stuff. And so ends the story of that pair of tarantulas.

Some species of tarantulas can be as large as a dinner plate but any we encountered were little more than four to five inches. Some of these spiders are able to kill animals as large as lizards, mice, birds and small snakes but there is no record of any humans ever dying from a bite.

There were many other things that were more difficult and dangerous for us than a few tarantulas that no doubt were more scared of us than we of them. But for the larger picture I am a firm believer that the Eternal one often sends his angels to protect his children. I am thankful to God for that protection more than that none of us were ever bitten by a tarantula.