Monthly Archives: September 2015

The Serra do Roncador

Earl Jabay in “Search for Identity” writes, “It is not easy to face the fact that we have set up our lives in such a way that it has become necessary to hide much of it.”

The Serra do Roncador. This name translated means The Mountain Range of the Snorer. The story goes that those mountains snore, no doubt with certain winds. That has led many with strange beliefs in the spirit world to imagine supernatural visitations are occurring. In pictures I have seen of these mountains I note that some are flat-topped as if they were a sleeping giant. The Roncador attracts tourists to the area, especially those with beliefs in the activities of spirits; others believe these mountains bring UFOs to land there and they wish for a chance to see one themselves.

It is thought that a great portal exists in the Roncador that opens only when it is aligned with certain stars. Then a person is permitted entry to the center of the earth. This fits with the theory of a hollow earth and superior civilizations existing there that even have their own sun. And the Roncador is believed to be the spiritually ideal place for UFO landings.

Because of these beliefs about the Roncador the nearby city of Garças passed a law making some land near the mountain range protected as a “discoport,” a landing site for flying saucers. The mayor who pushed this protection of an airport for aliens was accused of being crazy but his was a smart move for it has added to the credibility of strange goings-on in the Snoring Mountains. With the strong Spiritualist traditions in Brazil, this has brought in more tourists with many of those being Brazilians. Catering to the tourists there are hot springs, a stature of the Christ as in Rio de Janeiro and many other natural attractions. In one picture taken from the Roncador, the vast valley area below no longer shows any jungle but only the cultivation of soy beans.

Those mountains are shrouded in mystery for another reason–a British explorer in 1925 named Percy Fawcet went to this area and with his son and a friend. None were ever seen again. Theories abound: he went on a search for the lost city of Atlantis or more likely the El Dourado—the city of gold. Fawcet was a Lt. Colonel in Britain and had years of experience travelling and exploring the jungles of South America. Much of his work had been with the Royal Geographic Society mapping jungle borders between countries and it is said he went well prepared into this adventure. So what might have happened?

There is no good answer for no trace has ever been found of Percy Fawcet though some 100 explorers have died trying to find some trace of him. It is more than probable that he died at the hands of one of the hostile Indian tribes in the area—perhaps the bellicose Chavantes. It may be he died of tropical diseases picked up in the jungle or by the wild animals of the area. Another theory is that he was seduced and died by the hand of erotic spirit sirens—you see some believe that a crystalline lake in the area has still to-day those beautiful but deadly sirens living in its depths.

I doubt that this post will encourage anyone to pack up and fly to Brazil to visit the Roncador in the state of Mato Grosso. Of course you might hear the mountains snore if you were there during the time of year when the climatic conditions were just right. However my Bible, especially the New Testament encourages us to stay away from myths and fables that veer us away from concentrating on the life-directing teachings of Jesus the Christ. I imagine the desire to plug into supernatural experiences is behind much of the thinking involved in the Serra do Roncador. My answer after three quarters of a century of doing what I can to follow Christ is that humankind has the ability to manufacture many strange kinds of spiritual experiences. Knowing the Christ as Saviour would not be one of them. If you have time for a coffee with me some day, I could explain what I mean when I speak of the Christ as Saviour.

Jesus said of himself, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”Following the truth that is in Jesus will keep us each so busy that there will be little time or interest in ethereal happenings either in Brazil or right here. St. John the Apostle advises us, “…do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God.” That seems like good advice when it comes to the “Snoring Mountains” in Brazil.

 

So You Think You’ve Seen Bad Roads

“If you will call your troubles experiences, and remember that every experience develops some latent force with you, you will grow vigorous and happy—“ John R. Miller

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

But it wasn’t that way when we went to Brazil in l955. Most of the road from the city of São Paulo, the capital of the state, to where we lived 350 Kilometers to the Northeast was dirt. Gravel wasn’t used on those roads for gravel was practically non-existent. But graders and bulldozers kept the road in fair but dusty conditions during the dry season. The red sandy soil was like brick when it was dry.

Believe me, the dust was incredible. To travel with windows closed not only did not keep out a fine layer of red dust, but it meant near suffocation with the heat. All of my white shirts had a pink tinge—something I didn’t much like.

Because of those dirt roads, I often took the train when traveling to the city of São Paulo. Though some dust would swirl up from the dirt rail bed, yet I could travel with the window open. But that put me in another danger. In this case since the engine was a wood burner, embers would escape and fall over the train. And some of those sparks would at times enter a window. The result? I had a number of white shirts with little holes caused by sparks. Ouch! Those sparks penetrated further than the shirts and when they did I had a good reason to remember the occasion.

But back to roads. How were those wet dirt roads during the rainy season? The roads might be greasy for only a day or two if the showers were brief. But there were those times when the rain would not let up– for perhaps 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 often leveled roads by grading the dirt to the side, piling it up where one would normally find ditches. So 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. If Alzheimer’s disease does not hit me I shall go to my grave clearly recalling that distasteful expedition. It happened that a friend of a another missionary was driving by car back to São Paulo. He had news that the roads were passable. During the rainy season that meant that a person was only risking their neck, not their life. Anyway, I arranged a ride with this family.

About a half hour of slipping and sliding on greasy roads we came to an area where vehicles were backed up. Mud ahead and no detour. The only way for us to get through that mud hole was to stay in line and wait till one by one, a bulldozer pulled each vehicle through to a higher section of mud. The driver would turn off the engine during this maneuver through the mud for the fan would distribute mud all over the engine. Believe it or not the mud holes were that deep.

That incident multiplied itself 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 mud. But that is another story all to itself. If you wish I would share that part of the story with you over a coffee.

My arrival in Sao Paulo was in the middle of the night. And I never did see my benefactor again though my emotions indicate that I not call him that. He never did look me up and since I decided to use what other means of transportation were available, I never looked him up either. It was a good way to close down that trip on Brazil’s dirt roads—that is, do my best to forget the mud and the trip.

 

 

 

So You Think You’ve Seen Bad Roads

“If you will call your troubles experiences, and remember that every experience develops some latent force with you, you will grow vigorous and happy—“ John R. Miller

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

But it wasn’t that way when we went to Brazil in l955. Most of the road from the city of São Paulo, the capital of the state, to where we lived 350 Kilometers to the Northeast was dirt. Gravel wasn’t used on those roads for gravel was practically non-existent. But graders and bulldozers kept the road in fair but dusty conditions during the dry season. The red sandy soil was like brick when it was dry.

Believe me, the dust was incredible. To travel with windows closed not only did not keep out a fine layer of red dust, but it meant near suffocation with the heat. All of my white shirts had a pink tinge—something I didn’t much like.

Because of those dirt roads, I often took the train when traveling to the city of São Paulo. Though some dust would swirl up from the dirt rail bed, yet I could travel with the window open. But that put me in another danger. In this case since the engine was a wood burner, embers would escape and fall over the train. And some of those sparks would at times enter a window. The result? I had a number of white shirts with little holes caused by sparks. Ouch! Those sparks penetrated further than the shirts and when they did I had a good reason to remember the occasion.

But back to roads. How were those wet dirt roads during the rainy season? The roads might be greasy for only a day or two if the showers were brief. But there were those times when the rain would not let up– for perhaps 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 often leveled roads by grading the dirt to the side, piling it up where one would normally find ditches. So 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. If Alzheimer’s disease does not hit me I shall go to my grave clearly recalling that distasteful expedition. It happened that a friend of a another missionary was driving by car back to São Paulo. He had news that the roads were passable. During the rainy season that meant that a person was only risking their neck, not their life. Anyway, I arranged a ride with this family.

About a half hour of slipping and sliding on greasy roads we came to an area where vehicles were backed up. Mud ahead and no detour. The only way for us to get through that mud hole was to stay in line and wait till one by one, a bulldozer pulled each vehicle through to a higher section of mud. The driver would turn off the engine during this maneuver through the mud for the fan would distribute mud all over the engine. Believe it or not the mud holes were that deep.

That incident multiplied itself 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 mud. But that is another story all to itself. If you wish I would share that part of the story with you over a coffee.

My arrival in Sao Paulo was in the middle of the night. And I never did see my benefactor again though my emotions indicate that I not call him that. He never did look me up and since I decided to use what other means of transportation were available, I never looked him up either. It was a good way to close down that trip on Brazil’s dirt roads—that is, do my best to forget the mud and the trip.

 

 

 

Why Did We Go to Brazil

“If you live for the next world, you get this one in the deal; but if you live only for this world, you lose them both. C.S. Lewis

To properly answer this question, “Why did we go to Brazil” would require a dozen or more postings on this blog. Life for every one of us is so unique and complicated that there is no one easy answer for the decisions we’ve made. Sometimes years must elapse for any of us to understand our motivation—hind-sight may clarify history and bring understanding. In this posting I want to tell about how the Gospel of our Lord transformed a family—a real happening that says as much about our reasons for going to Brazil as a lot of verbal jargon. I will let the oldest son in that family tell some of it in the first person. Italics are mine.

“My father was a shoemaker and very poor, his name was Luiz Tustão. Since his marriage he was an alcoholic, as well he had an addiction to smoking cigarettes and gambling at cards. Almost all the money he earned was spent on satisfying his vices. My mother took care of the home with five small children and to help support the home, she worked hard in the coffee fields earning 35 cents a day, as well as washing clothes for other families, by hand after cranking up water from a well with a windlass. It was my father’s habit, when he left work at the end of the day, to go directly to the bars to drink and then to gamble.

Since I was the oldest of the children, I often would go late at night, with my brother Valdir and my mother, to look for my dad who was always drunk in one of the bars in our small town of Neves Paulista. Neves is located in the interior of the state of São Paulo, Brazil. I was a pre-adolescent at that time and when I would go to bed to sleep after bringing my dad home drunk, I would ask myself, ‘How long can this situation last?’ I was not able see any perspective that was good in the future of my family. The greatest dream of my mother was to see my father free from his addiction to alcohol and to cards. She tried to find a cure for these terrible evils even going to the Spiritist center; however she never found a solution.

I was only eleven years old at that time but I already worked selling fruit in the streets and at the football field. The first time I heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ was when I was selling candy in the central park. It was there I heard the singing of hymns that came from that small hall used for worship and where my mother attended. The congregation sang accompanied by an instrument that I had never before seen or heard. It was a portable organ that used pedals for air. Since I had a great passion for music, I entered the hall still with my tray of candies, and sat down on the front bench and I was transfixed with all that I was seeing and hearing. There were children in the service and I remember selling candy to some of them there in the hall.

Giving attention to the appeal that night made by Rev. Campbell, I did as my mother had done some weeks before, surrendering my life to Jesus Christ. It is now over fifty years since that time and I must confess that it was the most important decision that I ever made during my years of life. My mother many times invited by father to go to the services, but he paid no attention to the invitation but continued his bad routine of work, bars and gambling.

 

However, one Wednesday night instead of him going to the bar, he decided by himself to go alone to the service to hear the preaching of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit touched his heart deeply that night, in such a way that he decided once and for all time, to accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and personal Saviour and at the same time to leave his addictions. That night my father came home sober at the same time as my mother was thinking about looking for him in the bars of our town. We were all astonished at this and when my mother asked what had happened, he said, ‘Olinda, this evening I went to a place where you never dreamed I would go. I went to that little church where you have gone and something special has happened. I accepted Jesus as my Saviour. I am a new man and I am going to leave behind all my bad habits. That is exactly what happened. With the conversion of my father everything changed in our home. He really did abandon his addictions of alcohol and tobacco, not going to the bars any more.   He left gambling at cards and drinking but he did go to church.

Luiz Roberto who recounts this story is a man of some stature. Luiz with all of his immediate family have great artistic ability and in his case it is music. He plays a mean guitar and has sung at city-wide crusades. He has also been the administrator of our FMC seminary in São Paulo and has been a businessman owning a wholesale optical company. His sister Marlene lived with us for a while after the father’s death, picking up enough music in our home to become an organist in a large Baptist church in the interior of the state of São Paulo. As well she took the necessary training and taught school for years. The story is similar for the others in the family.

I recall Luiz Roberto telling me in later years that without the help we gave, their family might have starved. Add to that the transformation of his dad through the Gospel of Jesus Christ and you will understand a bit of why we were missionaries in Brazil. As I look back over the years I imagine our lives would have been worthwhile it we had done nothing else but helped this family.

The Favelas in Brazil

“With public sentiment nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.” Abraham Lincoln

If for a moment you could drop in on one of the favelas in Brazil, you would be moved with pity and wish to see changes. That is how I feel as once again I mention the favelas–that is the shantytowns or slums of Brazil’s major cities. As I write I wish that I knew how to share with you some of the fotos I have of these hillsides covered with shacks. Perhaps somebody reading this will show me how to put pictures in my postings—till now I’ve had no luck. The issue is not just the shacks but the families who live there and suffer with the privations; for example in Rio 19% live in these desperate conditions. The favelas are one reason that Brazil has one of the highest murder rates anywhere.

Let me describe for you a picture—it is taken on a steep hillside for that is where apparently nobody else wants to live except the poor. In the right foreground is something I would not even call a shack–my first reaction is that it would not keep out the rain or any of the vira-latas—the stray dogs whose popular name translated would be “can turners.” The wall that I see has a series of short irregular boards besides some sort of a door but both leave large uneven spaces under the roof. Then more of the same boards with a flat piece of something making up the rest of the wall that is about ten feet wide. I would hate to be in that shack during a rain for the tin roof is a patchwork of pieces that not only do not fit together but have no fall to run off any water. But it is a home for a woman and her daughter for they pose next to it.

At the back corner of this shelter a few clothes hang, a couple of pairs of jeans and something yellow—perhaps a dress. Starting up the hill are some dark pieces of poles that might tell of a shack that fell down or was partially demolished. To the right are some more pieces of roofing tin over poles with some vines growing over it that might mean somebody had lived there or were still getting some shelter. The same story continues up the hill with no sign of a trail that would allow people to find their way—one shack so close to the others that one roof seems to overhang the next. Then I can see the top part of a shack that is made of a red tile in a block form so somebody is getting away from the bits of board and tin.

Often the city will allow an electrical transformer to be placed close by so the favelados—the slum dwellers can hook up as they wish. Such transformers look like a bird’s nest with wires running everywhere. As for water some favelas may have a water main nearby but often pipes from it lack pressure to get the water up to where it is needed. People carry water—a job generally given to the ladies who do it with a pail balanced on their head with a piece of twisted rag for a cushion. As for sewage it often just runs down between their dwellings.

My memory tells me that with time these makeshift shelters give way to cement blocks, tile and properly fitting roofs. Even so one can imagine that with the crowding, heat and lack of sanitation that any slum is not a nice place to live. Diseases are rampant and infant mortality is high partly because neither the mothers nor the children get proper nourishing food. I’ve read the stats that 200,000 children die each year in Brazil before the age of five. When we lived in Rio de Janeiro our son Vernon who was of Kindergarten age, picked up hepatitis by playing in a stream nearby. That stream did not come through a favela but still was contaminated. Mind you he wasn’t because we allowed him to go there—in any case Doris then picked it up from him. But that is another story.

The posting is not just about the housing or living conditions in a favela, it is about the people who live there. A picture before me shows five boys with ages no doubt between six to nine, everyone with a big smile for the camera. Four of them have white T-shirts with lettering and the littlest guy a red shirt. They all have a light chocolate coloured skin with black hair—as handsome as any boy in the whole world. Give them each an education and the orientation of the Christian faith and they could be executives in any business anywhere. If you were there you’d want to hug them each one and no doubt bring one home with you. But with the violence and drugs in the slums—something I haven’t mentioned—one or more of those boys may well die before leaving their teen years. But it will be hard for any of us to grieve over that death for we never knew any one of them. We’ve never seen an internet foto of one of them in the macabre position in which they died.

I am proud of what those of the Christian faith are doing to help the favelados, especially the church of which our family were a part when in Brazil. That same work continues to-day; a wonderful effort by dedicated Christians. It happen again and again—and I know the process continues unabated to-day. When the Gospel of Jesus Christ is accepted, lives are transformed and dramatically changed for the better. I recall one of those ladies who lives in such a favela—she gives her life to minister to her neighbours. A while back a tree crashed into her shack and it had to be rebuilt but she continues to be part of that community.

I’ve never even suggested this before—but if anyone would like to help one of the children such as we’ve mentioned, contact me and we’ll get you in touch with International Child Care Ministries. Or if you wish to read a piece of fiction based in a São Paulo favela I have done some re-editing of a manuscript with the title coming from a saying in those slums—“A Stray Bullet Has No Address.” I can send it on Word but you would need to be prepared for a reality that brings heartache.

The Schools our Children Encountered

“The possibilities of any child are the most intriguing and stimulating in all creation.” Ray Lyman Wilbur

I suppose dreams are forever but at times those dreams may die while still in the heart of a child. I’ve seen some dreams never revive for a child has been dropped into another country and language without proper preparation. There is a struggle. They feel lost not being able to communicate well or keep up with a strange language in a strange school. Stories surfaces of a child’s life warped by the inability to cope. On the other hand some children, when given encouragement, their experiences help make them more successful in later years. In this post, I’ll only touch on our own family and the reason for that I suppose is that I’m trying to hold on to days long past.

Our children grew up having Portuguese as their first language. Without doubt they spoke it with less of an accent and with fewer grammatical errors than either of us as parents. While we lived in Rio de Janeiro they had a wonderful private school—all in Portuguese of course. But when we moved to Sao Paulo our only option where we lived was to send them to a Brazilian school. Monica transferred into grade 2 but Vernon was not accepted because of different age requirement. So when Monica entered grade 3 Vernon was starting grade 1. That alone really wasn’t too much of a problem.

Right away Vernon faced some difficulties in school for I imagine his Portuguese had become a bit rusty after a year out of school. Much worse, his teacher had no patience with her class. She taught her students with a ruler under her arm and Vernon quickly learned that no answer or a wrong answer earned him a rap on his knuckles. For a while we were unaware of the situation and then we didn’t know how to cope with it. The problem surfaced at home when we would ask our children something from the Bible story we read to them every day. Vernon would freeze up, was scared to death of any question and be unable to answer even though he knew the answer. The pattern had been set at his school. The two of our children used to walk the kilometre to school each day with Vernon apparently taking courage from his sister. How so? Well, if Monica was sick at home, there was no way to get Vernon to go to school alone. He simply refused and we would not push the issue.

The city school in Sao Paulo was tough, at least according to our standards. Monica in her 2nd. year needed to know the names of the different bones of the human head—some twenty-two of them. . Vernon was required to learn long division that first year. One time we discovered that Monica had a rash so we were off to the medico. He suggested that when her exams were over that without doubt it would disappear. And it did.

As I discussed this bit of history with Doris she raised the question we’ve pondered more than once, “What else could we do?” Oh, I suppose then there were options or we can now put together in our imagination; but in our situation none of them looked acceptable. A committee had placed us in that exact home with a church planting project in mind for that part of the city. To even think of bucking the system never entered our minds. Oh there was an excellent American school that taught in English but it was not a possibility for it was on the far side of the city of São Paulo. I recall with sadness the words of James Mannoia who had his PhD in education. He said, “The difficulties in school here in Brazil may make education tougher later in life.”

I will say this that our children adapted not only to the school system in Brazil but later as well when were transferred to Haiti. The transition was tough for Doris and me but it no doubt was more difficult for our children. But the school in Haiti was a Godsend—teachers of top quality and all in English.

As I remember and write, I’ve given you a bit about the education equation our children encountered. The travel experiences, other languages and schooling systems all expanded the horizons of our children so that in many ways they looked at life with wider horizons than some who lived all their time in Canada. Only God has the answer to this puzzle. Some of those answers will come as the song says, “Bye and bye when the morning comes…” Perhaps what I’m doing is trying to relive days gone but that of course cannot be done. Now we all do the best with the cards we’ve been dealt, trusting our loving Father to make the changes so that in the end everything turns out right.