Monthly Archives: October 2015

Canine Capers

“Once you live a good story, you get a taste of the meaning of life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.” Donald Miller

The little Chihuahua pup took our fancy. He was so small we could tote him around in our travels in Brazil. And being a dog, Monica and Vernon would not only have a pet but perhaps—yes perhaps—learn about caring for it. We heard about the litter of Chihuahuas when visiting friends in the village of Mairiporã outside of the city of São Paulo. So the little dog became part of our family. In fact becoming family is how he got his name of Yippie for he loved to be so close to us that he’d get his little toes stepped on. Yippie was small–I’ve seen many cats twice his size.

Yippie went with us to life in Rio de Janeiro and in a way became our diminutive guard dog. Doris recalls that children passing by our enclosed yard would toss pebbles at it so that the little fellow learned to act aggressive. He wasn’t dangerous because of his size but he stood his ground at our gate. He learned to be protective—he did his job.

When we were leaving Brazil for the last time we left Yippie with our friends, the Thompsons who had children the age of ours. We heard later that Yippie escaped one day to the street and was hit by car breaking his back. But they cared for him and he recovered—and that’s the end of Yippie’s story as we know it.

Perhaps it was because of robberies and home invasion that most of the dogs I met in Brazil were nasty. While living in Rio Preto, one day I was walking through a new subdivision. There a small dog expectant with pups began to waddle behind me; she did not concern me in any way for with her belly hanging low she could hardly walk. I woke up when she grabbed me by the heel just above my shoe. You bet I kept a close on eye on her until I left the area.

While in São Paulo Doris and I were given charge of a small church group in a little hall in a back yard. We had a great laugh about one of those services with a Brazilian couple who visited us a few weeks ago. You see a stray dog, stinking with rotten meat, entered the open door and could not be shooed out. He ran around under the chairs refusing eviction so finally all thoughts of religious worship vanished and the service ended. Perhaps the dog with its stink thought those religious people might be the kindest he might find that day. In any case it wasn’t quite what he expected. The worship service wasn’t what we expected either.

A couple of more stories about a dog come out of that hall and yard for the Japanese pastor who lived in the house had a dog, a big one. Its leash ran on a clothesline that gave it liberty across the yard and from there it protected the house. One day I came to knock on the pastor’s back door. As I did the dog escaped the line and ran for me. I was able to face it as it jumped and the dog grabbed a mouth full of the jacket I was wearing. The owner heard the commotion and came running to beat off the dog. From then on I was wary of that dog for there is not much protection in such a situation.

Our mutual dislike put me on guard the day I drove up to the pastor’s house and found the front gate open. I knew the dog might be free of its leash, so for protection I grabbed a tire iron from the trunk. I no more had turned around when that dog came running through the gate with its teeth bared. As it leaped for me I swung the tire iron and hit it on the side of the head. It dropped to the dirt and for a few seconds lay there quivering. Then it scrambled to its feet and ran back through the gate. Me? I was dusting myself off for in the fear and mighty swing of that tire iron I too ended up in the dirt. I recall nothing of that meeting with the dog’s owner; all I recall is that encounter with his dog.

Doris reminded me of one more dog. When we lived in São Paulo, among our German neighbours was one we seldom saw. This older couple lived next to us with a high wall between. We supposed that they were one of the many Nazis that fled to Brazil after WWII when the Allies conquered their country. They had a vicious dog that would leap as high as it could at the gate or wall to attack. We warned our children to keep away from the wall but boys are courageous so one day this story evolved. Our son Vernon climbed the wall and was sitting on it—I suppose the presence of this young lad enraged the dog more than usual. The dog jumped higher than expected and grabbed Vernon’s arm taking out a piece of flesh below his shoulder. We took Vernon to a doctor to get the wound sewed up but as he had predicted might happen, it became infected. There is a significant scar there still today.

There is little protection from a big savage dog and if that dog had been able to drag Vernon down off his perch I have no doubt he would have been killed. And I wonder about my own encounters with dogs as well. My only answer is that God sent his angels to watch over us—not only from dogs but in many other situations. Why I don’t know, but I am sure God’s promise in the Scriptures, Psalm 91:11,12, extended to us in those situations, “For he shall give his angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.”

 

 

Glimpses Of Our Homes–continued

“A person shows what he is by what he does with what he has.” Anon

Glimpses Of Our Homes In Brazil–continued

About the end of 1957 we moved to the village of Neves Paulista way out in the midst of coffee fields where some of those farms had a million coffee bushes. What was to become our home was purchased by the mission because of the hall on the street. But I saw the rooms behind could be changed and space added on to meet our needs—more or less—and to be our home. We moved into this two bedroom apartment when the kitchen had little in it except bare walls. After that experience Doris vowed never again to move into a house anywhere until it was finished—and I heartily agree to this reasonable idea. At the time she accepted what we had to live in for the church planting there needed our help. She, with our two young children, moved in with our meagre furniture all with good natured aplomb.

We built to one side of the house a carport that served as a roost for our parrot. The parrot was mostly green with a bit of yellow but not a big bird. However when it called at daybreak I am sure it woke our neighbours but in any case it got us up and going. It repeated what it heard most often–that was us calling our daughter Monica. Only that bird seemed to have a built-in PA system. It called M-O-N-I-C-A again and again! The parrot met a bitter end when a cat got it while we were on furlough in Canada. The lady who was keeping it for us felt so badly. Were her tears for us or the parrot? O.K. it was for both I am sure. During our second term in Brazil we had a Macaw—lovely iridescent blue and yellow. At the present time, those birds are protected but I am told there is still a black market for them.

Generally we had a maid to help with the housework for both of us were busy with services in Neves, two other cities and on the coffee farms. The first was an older lady who stayed in a small building in our yard. I recall her son Nabor, who was in his mid-twenties, had a terrible stroke I suppose from carrying those sixty kilo sacks of coffee on his head. Our next maid was a girl from a farm nearby and since she was trustworthy I recall Monica going with her to visit in her home. Even as a small child Monica adapted quickly to Portuguese and the area culture. In any case that was pretty well all our children knew. They say a child will choose to learn Portuguese over English for English is more difficult. Oh yes, our children understood English and if we wanted to be sure they got the idea, why we then used Portuguese. There is much to tell you of our life in that home but we move on.

While in Neves the mission requested we take our furlough so we packed up for Canada. After that year I picked up our stuff that had been stored in Neves. But the roofing tiles had leaked in the shed so not much was salvageable. But that was no great loss for some of what we owned I had put together out of the rough lumber from boxes that we had used. Before we had returned to Brazil, the mission group there decided we should go to Rio to plant a church. Our home there was a two story with a full basement—a nice home with marble steps up to our bedrooms. Those steps bring back memories. We naively trusted in a girl that was looking to work as a maid but after a while we found out that she was nasty with our children. Doris and I recall coming home and finding Vernon sitting sadly on the top step of those stairs holding his head in his hands with his elbows on his knees. He was waiting so anxiously for us to return to free him from his fears of this maid. It was there that Vernon and Doris both came down with hepatitis—that story I’ve already posted in some detail.

In my mind’s eye I see so clearly our front room of our home in Méier, Rio, with a friend Noble C. lying on the couch. It was a Sunday morning and he was sick with food poisoning. We had known him from the interior and he had come to preach at our rented hall during Sunday services. As a good host I had taken him to a nice Chinese restaurant the day before in the Copacabana section of Rio. I gather that meal was not their finest for we both were sick. But I was able to navigate that day but without my friend and his accordion. On a better note I see Monica practicing her piano lessons in our living room. Yes, there were good times for our family in Rio for the city was and still is the most beautiful city ever. Those many wonderful beaches make Rio known world-wide. We often frequented some of those quiet isolated beaches that are now becoming widely known. Yes, missionary work is tough.

After a couple of years or so in Rio we were called back to São Paulo. Our home was in a section a half hour from the rural area where some of the missionaries lived and worked at the seminary. Monica needed bedroom furniture so we did what? Well we ordering it made locally with skilled marcineiros—carpenters. The pieces were lovely and well made but all was left behind when we returned to Canada to be posted to Haiti. We sold most everything and that was a bit sad, but the nice part was–with that cash we bought tickets for our family to visit parts of Europe, my sister Velma and her family in Egypt and some of the Holy Land. I must not forget the teenager Marlene that we took into our home during a difficult time in her young teen years. Yes, she helped us too though we accepted her as a daughter. She had a talent for music and she’d practice Monica’s piano lessons and learn them. Years later she became a lay minister and one of the organists at a big Baptist church in the interior of the State. Isn’t it interesting how small streams become huge rivers?

When we shut the door for the last time on that São Paulo home we entered a new life for we were transferred to Haiti. That is a strange story in many ways but I will not post anything at this time about our lives there. These postings will continue about Brazil with a number of re-posts that most readers have not seen. A Brazilian couple, who were almost like family, dropped by this Sunday past and our conversations with them might strike fire for some new postings. We’ll see.

Glimpses Of Our Homes In Brazil

“Fame cannot tempt the bard, who famous with his God, nor laurel him reward, who has his maker’s nod.” Thoreau

The humblest of homes we’ve lived in meant more to Doris and me than just a space where we hung our hats. You’ll understand when I say that each home still holds memories that grip us. Each place is tied up with both difficult and wonderful experiences that yet are alive, stirring up deep emotions.

I must mention one home not connected to Brazil–that was the small one bedroom with bath that we lived in Kentucky while I was finishing up my M.Div. It was a rush to get to Kentucky in time to register—so we were married on a Saturday only five days after Doris had finished her three years in residence at the Ottawa Civic Hospital. We bought a hide-a-bed for our little spot else there would have been little space beyond crowding in a couple of chairs and a small table. We cooked on a hotplate that popped the breaker when anyone else on the floor tried to do the same. Doris and I moved into that room just days after our wedding near Ottawa, for I had to be there for the next seminary semester. It was during our second year in Kentucky that our daughter Monica was born. Doris went back nursing just one month later, working nights. The rule was that no babies were allowed in this residence but our baby never cried and no other couple ever squealed on us. While Doris slept during the day I’d drop in between classes to care for our baby. “Precious memories, how they linger…”

During the summer of 1955 that I graduated, we left for Brazil. If my dad had known how poorly prepared we were for mission work he might have used one of his Irish sayings, “The Lord looks after children and fools.” We had no one to meet us there, no Brazilian money, no language and didn’t even know the location of the city where we were to go to language school. The Lord sent his angels in the form of Mennonite missionaries who after helping us through customs they paid our way to a reasonably priced hotel in the right city, a place called Campinas. The incident that sticks in our memories of that hotel is that we pulled out the bottom drawer of a chest of drawers to make a bed for our six month old daughter. They was no place to do laundry but the Mennonites took Doris in to do the necessary washing. Within days I went to the language school to register and while there I read a note of a small furnished home available for rent—an urgent call had led a missionary family to return to the States. It was easy for us to move in for all we had were a couple of suitcases.

Every place has its memories and there in Campinas I had an experience that still gives me the shivers. I had suffered with a series of throat infections and a local doctor tacked it up to infected tonsils. So I went to surgery–but it was done in the doctor’s office. I’ll not mention any details except that later when I was in bed in our little home the local freezing evaporated. I thought my throat had been cut. All I wanted was Doris to sit by my side holding my hand. But the surgery did not solve the throat problems for they returned to plague me during our first term in Brazil.

Winters in that part of Brazil can be cold and wet and our first winter in Brazil was just that. Homes of course had no heat so we were dismayed that our clothes and books molded after a month or so. A navy suit began to switch colours. We both have wonderful memories of that home for Monica, our baby began to walk and it always seemed whatever she did it was with a smile. She took everything in stride and I suppose it was because as a baby that was all she knew. Or who knows—perhaps it was because she thought she had great parents.

Our next home was in the hot Northwest interior of the State of São Paulo in the city of Rio Preto. It was a brick two bedroom house with an eight foot yard, a low wall and gate that separated it from a street with the name, Jorge Tibiriçá. Vernon was born in Rio Preto and I’ve posted that dramatic story on my blog. Before we moved from that home both or our children came down with chicken pox. They were so very sick with pox showing up in their hair and all over their bodies to the bottom of their feet. Out of pure kindness they passed the bug on to me and I was as they say, “sick as a dog.” I don’t recall why we once took Vernon to a doctor but the medicine made him agitated so that he cried much of the following night and we spent the hours walking the floor with him. Our time in Rio Preto was busy for I was still learning to converse and preach in Portuguese while doing all the work related to planting a new church. But our home with our two children was my refuge—a refuge for Doris and myself.

While in that Rio Preto home we became good friends with a family right behind our home. Dna. Henriqueta Mendes gave us an interesting insight into Christian living for Doris and I had both come from very conservative church backgrounds. She was about as stylish as any lady ever, but I recall her fervor in serving the Lord evidenced with her giving out Gospel tracts in the streets of the city during special celebrations. One day they took us out to a small acreage and there we picked oranges with us bringing home half a bag full. It was a great experience for we had never before picked oranges. Through her we got to know another family that lived nearby and that was important for that lady taught me more of the Portuguese language and corrected my sermons. From our home we walked about half a Kilometer downhill to a market. It was tougher getting home with the groceries with Monica about two years old and Vernon just a baby. With no air conditioning in our home, I recall this: the weather was always somewhere between very warm and hot.

To continue another time

Chilled to the Bone in Brazil–a Repost with changes

“The most important thought I ever had was that of my individual responsibility to God.” Daniel Webster

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 close to freezing. There was little we could do except hug each other for warmth since 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 were 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 happen to 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. We were stuck far enough from anyone that our presence was unknown.

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 did not know. The previous evening the battery 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, 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.

 

FILLING IN THE STORY

Here’s how we came to be stuck in the mud there in the interior of the State of São Paulo. We had travelled that afternoon over the very same road to a village where we planned to hold a service—part of what was involved in planting a new church.

But we had no sooner arrived than the rain began to fall. We wasted no time in turning around for home. Why? It was the roads. All the interior roads were dirt so that when it rained the road’s surface turned to slippery red gumbo. Besides that they were graded with a high crown so it was the most natural thing for a car was to wish to visit the ditch.

That same muddy road was reason we had a flat battery—for travelling so carefully and slowly, the old style generator could not handle the load of the lights. In the darkness of that moonless night, as far as we knew, our only neighbors were the millions of coffee bushes.

Our predicament also affected two laymen from our congregation. We had let them off at very simple home close by the roadside. There a number of children came running out from the house, across the dirt yard to meet our van. They were excited to meet the two men for they had come to hold a service in their home. There would be a story for the children and in any case just having visitors out in the country was a big event. The plan was for us to pick up these two men on our way back home.

But when we did not appear our men slept on the floor. Why on the floor? These country homes were small and so poor that even the children there often slept crossways in one bed. There were no extra blankets in this home to soften the feel of the typical brick floor. I imagine that next morning the men were feeling cold and their bones must have been aching.

What did these two stranded men have to say to us when we arrived? Certainly no words of criticism. Instead these men shared their story of being able to complete their mission of telling the story of Jesus. I am sure it touched their lives for those who led the service were similar in many ways to those who listened.