Monthly Archives: November 2015

Queen Iemanjá

“An atheist cannot find God for the same reason a thief cannot find a policeman.” Anon

I’ve had a story written for some years but it will not see print for that road is expensive. But I am lifting a section from it with some editing to tell you about Queen Iemanjá. This piece will help you understand one of the three groups of Spiritist religions in Brazil for one worships her as the Queen of the Sea. On New Year’s Eve the most famous of the Rio de Janeiro beaches will be crowded with her followers sending their offerings to her on the water.

In this piece of fiction senhor Vitorino calls upon this his favorite deity, to help him betray the Brazilian president over to a key political enemy. The scene begins with him kneeling on the damp sand of a beach.

“Ah, Queen Iemanjá,” Vitorino breathed in quiet ecstasy. “I see it, I see it. You, Queen of the Sea; you accept my offering.”

From the partially empty box he took a bottle of rum, a cigar, a bottle of perfume, the rest of a bouquet and laid them on the sand. “My offering to you Queen of the Sea. It’s a small price to pay for your help. You will turn my life in a new direction.” It was clear to Vitorino he had pleased Queen Iemanjá for his little boat had sailed away till it had vanished. Now she would steer his life to riches and fame.

The spirit of evil took form in Vitorino early that day as he worked with the president. That very afternoon he had boarded a flight from Brasília to Rio de Janeiro. He planned that no one would know his final destination was to be another city, the city of São Paulo. He wanted to be in Mayor Severido’s office by early morning.

Vitorino was a small man and as most Brazilians he had black hair perfectly coiffed, the usual small mustache and dressed in a dark business suit and tie. What set him apart were his darting eyes that took in everything and gave the impression that the world was his own delicious oyster.

 He had landed at Rio’s Galeão airport and then found a company to fly him by helicopter the 19 miles directly to Copacabana beach. He did not book into any of the better hotels but took a taxi to the Ave. Figueredo Magalhães where he found the hostel he wished. The bed was lumpy but he did not complain for he was in Rio not to get a rest but to wait for the evening.

From his suitcase he filled a cardboard box and then as the sun began to set, he carefully made his way to the street and then the few blocks to the water’s edge on Copacabana beach. He took from the box a small foot long boat complete with sails, dropped a few flowers from a bouquet on its deck and placed it carefully in the water. With a small shove the boat floated away from the shore. A light breeze took it out to sea towards some fishing boats barely visible on the horizon. As it disappeared he raised his arms in ecstasy, an ecstasy that continued till he stood in the mayor’s office the next morning.

 The sarcasm in mayor Severido’s voice was like a slap across Vitorino’s face.  “Help me? What can you offer?”

Vitorino kept his cool, “Very simple. As a close confidant of the President, I know all sorts of things that would be of interest to you. I know him well—sometimes he does strange things. If I were on your payroll, you’d be the first to know.”

Mayor Severido walked to the huge Macumba Spiritist candle burning in the corner of his office and sprinkled some incense on the flame. The smoke lifted in a form that suggested it might be alive.

“Interesting. A mole in the president’s office. But there could be difficulties. I wonder if it’s wise.”

“Of course it’s wise. It will benefit us both. You see, last evening on the Copacabana beach, Queen Iemanjá accepted my prayers. The little boat I sent to her sailed till I could see it no more. She received my offering. That is proof that her power will make all I do successful. We ought to work together for my success will reach to touch you.” With his speech made, he walked to the Macumba candle and as he raised his arms over it the incense circled his hands as if it were alive. Vitorino and the mayor were satisfied that the spirits had approved their plan.

As for me, often when I think of things spiritual, my thoughts go to the old hymn, “My hope is in the Lord who gave himself for me, who paid the price of all my sin at Calvary…”

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Brazilian Ladies Teach Us

“To possess ideas is to gather flowers; to think is to weave them into garlands.” Anon

I was relaxing in my swivel chair checking hundreds of pictures from work trips to Brazil when inspiration dawned. I ought to write a blog about some of the important people showing their faces on my computer. What stand out in memory are the women that Doris and I knew there. When I asked her thoughts about Brazilian women, she said, “The ladies are the key influence in their homes and often in society while letting the men think they are in charge.” My response? Silence, for I was wondering if that is also often true in our world. But no matter, I will tell you a little about a few of the ladies we knew in Brazil.

Olinda comes to mind. We met her in the interior village of Neves; in those days she worked cleaning coffee earning then about 30 cents a day. She also washed clothes for others while hauling up water by hand from a well. She always did her best to support her five children and an alcoholic husband. Before we arrived there she had begun to attend the little church of our denomination with the result that through faith in our Lord Jesus hope dawned. Through her transformed life her husband Louis experienced a life-changing conversion and later the whole family was baptized. Her husband died from longstanding TB but yet every family member has gone on to be successful. I could write a story about everyone of that family. Olinda is now reaping her Eternal reward but I shall not forget both her faith in God and her determination to bless her family.

In the village I’ve mentioned in the interior of the State of São Paulo, I met a lady at church who later told her story. The background for her words was the abuse that some suffer at the hands of their husbands. She told me that just months after their marriage that he beat her. The next morning she had made up her mind–she told him that if ever again he mistreated her, she would use their axe to take it to him while he slept. When he went to bed that night she said that again and again he would doze for a bit and wake with a start. He never again mistreated her. The threat worked though with some men it might have ended differently.

Vanilda was just a slip of a girl when she with her siblings came to see the film strips I was showing in the yard of a simple home. Everyone brought their own chairs to set on the dirt facing the castor oil bush for that is where the little screen was placed. It was a battery projector with just one picture at a time accompanied by my explanation in poor Portuguese. But it was enough that Vanilda’s family was deeply moved by the story of Jesus. Vanilda, her older sister and her mother began to attend our little rented hall and were baptized. I lost track completely of her two older brothers and only later did I again meet up with Vanilda in the city of São Paul. I mention her for she developed a beautiful singing voice; it is that voice and her ministry that stands out in my memory. Later she married, moved to a suburb of the city and her ministry expanded into the church where she attended. What a wonderful story of a discovered talent that has been used to bless her countrymen.

I must not forget Senhora Irene Emerenciano for she was considered the matriarch of the church in Brazil. Irene was the wife of José who with his knowledge of English, Japanese and Portuguese was a lifesaver for our first missionaries to Brazil. Irene, as a pastor’s wife in the early days of their ministry, knew poverty. I remember her telling of turning the collars of José’s white shirts so the raggedness would not show. When she had no more collars to turn, in answer to prayer, a miraculous shower of shirts came to them. That story is somewhere on rkennysite.wordpress.com. Nobody ever had a bigger welcoming hug nor a more gracious reception for any pastors, lay people and visitors. Many times I’ve enjoyed her meals and her conversation. The last time we met was in front of her São Paulo home saying goodbye—something we both assumed would be for the last time. There were tears in both our eyes as we hugged and she said, “We’ll meet again—on heaven’s shore.”

There are so many ladies that come to mind—Senhora Cristina, wife of the present Bishop of the Brazilian FMC, is one of them. She now has a grown family but what comes to mind is a picture I have of Cristina in Ottawa near to the Parliament buildings. Her husband, Bishop José Ildo de Mello had been the guest speaker at our Canadian Conference. During the days they visited with us we took them on a whirlwind tour of Ottawa. The picture I have is of Cristina having tea with larger than life statues of Louisa McKinney and Henrietta Muir. Those women with others had worked to get the word “persons” in the law of that time changed to include “female persons.” As those Canadian women enlarged our understanding of the ladies at that time, in the same way those I have met in Brazil have made a transforming contribution to their world.

In such a short posting I have not done duty by any of those mentioned but be assured of this–they with many others have made the Christian church and society stand tall.

 

 

A Story about Tripe

“Kindness is in our power when fondness is not.” Henry James

Yes, this is a story about tripe but not a tripe story. As you follow you’ll understand the play on words. So this is where it starts…

A stranger can get into all sorts of difficulties when dropped into another country and a strange language with little knowledge of either. One of those many situations popped into my mind as I was recalling how we landed in Brazil. This is a story about Murdo who we did not know when he first visited Brazil–later on he and his family became friends.

He had only been in Brazil a few weeks when he dropped into a restaurant for a meal. Most likely Campinas was the city for a language school there taught Portuguese to missionaries. The waiter came to his table with a cardápio–a menu and he pored over it trying to find something he might recognize as edible. What I really mean is “edible for him” because he had a sensitive stomach to anything a bit different than the usual Canadian fare. But he understood little of what was written.

So, when the waiter came by to take his order, Murdo in desperation pointed out an entry not knowing what it was but assuming it would make a tasty meal.  The waiter picking up on the nervousness of the customer and did something that was common to the culture of that day. With one arm he reached behind his head to pinch the lobe of his ear on the opposite side. However Murdo was not able to interpret the action. Actually, the waiter was signing that the food pointed out on the menu was excellent. If he had only reached up to pinch the lobe of the ear on the same side as his arm, he would be saying that the food was good. The only message this customer received was the smile of the waiter—and that indicated the choice was a good one.

It was a different story when the Canadian found out the Special for the Day so generously filling his plate was actually tripe. Of course the word tripa—tripe would not be used in the menu but another flowery description. When his plate arrived he was not sure exactly what it was but he tried to cut a piece and chew it. But the tripe was too rubbery to swallow.

As for me, I never have tried a meal of tripe either in Canada or Brazil but from all that I have heard it can be tough to cut and tougher to chew. Tripe is part of the lining of the stomach of cattle—cows, oxen, sheep and goats. Just the thought of that whitish stuff on my plate and I assume I would not touch it.

From my reading I’ve discovered that tripe is supposed to be a delicious alternative—alternative to what I am not sure. One person writes that it is “…awesome as a Chinese stir fry” and delicious when prepared in certain ways in other countries. All I can say is, “More power to them.”

Here in Canada we have a colloquial usage for the word tripe. When someone gives us a story or an excuse that does not ring true, we might say, “That is nothing but tripe” that is if we do not value the friendship. Having recently gone through an election campaign we might say we’ve heard a lot of tripe.

But back to Murdo and his reason for being in Brazil. You see, he in a way paved the way for the ten years we lived there. Our family’s time in Brazil began before we even knew of his meal of tripe for that happened during the few months he spent in Brazil checking out the possibility of mission work there under the leadership of our church group. And when he gave the go-ahead to the appointing board we exchanged a few fleeting letters and headed to Brazil. Within months Doris and I with our baby daughter landed at Congonhas, the São Paulo airport. Murdo was not there for he had returned to Canada to gather up his family to come to Brazil.

You may smile as you read about tripe being on the menu though I can never recall finding it on any cardápio. No doubt my lack of any memory of tripe is that I never ate any of it. Actually the food was always delicious in Brazil, whether we were eating in the best restaurant in São Paulo or in the poorest of homes. But there is something that makes good food even better—that is friendship for then fellowship develops. Perhaps even sharing a meal of tripe with a friend could make that food palatable.

Eating with a friend brings to mind the promise Jesus offers to his followers—that is the fellowship with Him when some day we shall eat together in his Eternal Kingdom. And it won’t be tripe.

 

 

The Intertwining of our Lives

            “What fascinates me about life is that now and then the past rises up and declares itself.” Anon

My involvement in Christian missions in Brazil and Haiti would never have happened except for one thing—Doris and I met and later married. As I think back over our years together I see how our lives have been tied together with the added spice of our time in Brazil. So I wondered if some details from my point of view might interest those who read this blog.

Our romance did not begin the evening a pretty teenager and I sat together in the parlor of my parent’s farm home. But those moments were the watershed that set the contours of our lives so those two streams would flow together. We had met a little over a year before but it was that evening I popped a strange but important question. We had been dating occasionally but that night I said, “Doris, will you go steady with me” Unclear thoughts had been forming in the back of my mind that she might be the one with whom I might spend my life. Of course all those hopes were not fully formed but I wanted to be tied close to her in some way.

I don’t recall the time or the place I asked her to marry me but of course, Doris has those details well in mind. For me, the moment that joined our lives together for more than 62 years began that night. Oh yes, we both dated others occasionally over the almost three years that followed the promise. But for me those words were a bond that I wished to maintain. There was no going back nor did I wish to.

Doris and I met in Bible School. We both came from farms though her parents lived near Manotick, a long ways from my home North of Gananoque. But I don’t believe the farm connection had much to do with our mutual interest. Doris had wanted to get into nurse’s training in Ottawa but she was too young. I’ve learned over the years that she wanted to strike out on her own so the Bible school was a fill-in option. After a year in many of the same classes, she was always on my mind–every waking hour. Infatuation? Puppy love? Perhaps, but for me I was given an injection of true love.

Within days of Doris graduating with her R.N, we married and headed off for seminary in Kentucky. Our daughter was born in Kentucky and a few years later our son in Brazil.

Doris always had a special ministry during our time in Brazil, some of those under very difficult conditions. She starting a youth group while in the interior of the State of São Paulo—the big attraction we found out years later was the cake she made for them each week. Then our transfer to Haiti! In my mind’s eye I see hundreds of our Haitian school children lined up by the porch of our home to get shots for typhoid fever and other contagious diseases. Her nursing experience fit into a plan beyond our small human understanding.

Doris has followed me around the world and encouraged me away from death’s door a couple of times. She tells of the day she watched as I was being taken from our home in Haiti to a hospital. Because of the seriousness of my illness, Dr. Bonhomme paused at the door and said to her, “I’m sure he has Typhoid Fever. But I am not sure we can save him.” During that period Doris took over the administration of the mission including all the finances and the orientation a large team from the U.S. that came to Haiti to direct a School program. Add to that she visited me every day in the hospital and brought along meals I could eat.

The story that began with, “Doris will you go steady with me” has unfolded into a marvelous adventure that has gone on for over 62 years. However I do not believe luck brought our lives together. I understand now that God had sent his angels to watch over the both of us and to direct our lives. Involvement in Christian missions became the central focus of both of our lives.

Yes, it is over 62 years since we were married. I understood years ago when I asked her to “go steady” that she was a strong person and would have her own ministry—in fact to needy people in two countries. Many in Brazil know her name and forgotten mine because of her key role in beginning and organizing a youth program for our churches. That program goes on strong still to-day.

Neither of us had any inkling what the future would hold as we sat together in my parent’s home. But I am sure of this–neither one of us ever regretted for a moment the night she said, “Yes, I’ll be your steady.”