Monthly Archives: December 2015

Mistakes in a New Language

“They are not dead who live in lives they leave behind; in those whom they have blessed, they live a life again…” Hugh Robert Orr

I’ll make it clear, there is no way to become fluent in a language without making many huge mistakes. A friend in Brazil recalls my version of Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son returning home when the Father prepared a feast that included the fatted calf. My version had the father serve up a fatted bug. There are many bugs in Brazil and a few that are big and fat though hardly good for a feast.

If you want to ever speak another language you must be at ease with making mistakes– many of them. So what happens when you make a mistake? You may be red-faced but it is so important to remember you are not likely to make the same mistake twice. The mistake precedes the learning and without the mistakes there will be little learning.

Learning the language of any profession is crucial to being successful in it. No doubt that is the reason I’ll never get beyond just using e-mail on my computer. More than a few years ago I recall the prof who taught pastoral care and counselling at Queens U. saying that one purpose of the course was to learn the language of spiritual and psychological healing.

Don’t despise the funny stories that flow from the mistakes. Rather, collect them for they are the history of becoming proficient in a language. Those mistakes will only happen as you face the varied circumstances of life. So don’t retreat but head into life’s experiences knowing the school of hard knocks is totalling up your learning with its rewards.

Anyone who begins to be interested in the Christian way may be put off by the language they encounter in the Christian church. That person may have no idea what the sermon is about or the hymns and testimonies that speak of spiritual experiences with God. Those long in the tooth or experienced in the Bible have over the years learned the language of the Christian Faith. No doubt the seeker encounters confusion and mistaken views till finally the salvation story makes sense. Then of course there are the mistakes and failures in Christian conduct during the learning process. But never give up. Cherish your story even when it includes mistakes.

Now something to help you whether you are learning a new language of another country or that of a particular profession. Prepare yourself for the adventures you will face. Study for the encounters you will face. As for Portuguese, I still keep handy a little dictionary that helps me go from Portuguese to English and the other direction as well. I carried that booklet on every one of our trips to Brazil for any language is a learning experience.

Now, if you wish to find your way in the Christian Way, let me recommend you refer to the Bible each day beginning your reading with the Gospel of Mark. You might add a daily reading from the Daily Bread or better yet in the foreign language you are learning. I read every day from the Pão Diário so I’m killing two birds with one stone.

It is important that you don’t get bogged down in your new language. Have fun with it. Do as well as you can but let the process cure your perfectionism. That goes for any language no matter what you are learning or experiencing.


Our Christmas in Rio de Janeiro

“Now and then it is good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.” Anon

How does a person celebrate Christmas when living in another country? What does a person do when a Christmas tree can’t be bought and presents are not distributed on Christmas day but on the day of the Magi–the day of the Wise men on the 6th. of January?

Well, there is a saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Orientation classes in language school taught us to fit in with the Brazilian culture and customs. We learned never to speak English if there was a Portuguese speaking person that could hear us. We clapped at front doors instead of knocking the way we do here.

So what were we to do at Christmas? How should we celebrate Christmas with our two children, 7 and 5? Should we try to keep Christmas the way we did in  Canada? We decided against that—but should we pick up Brazilian customs? We celebrated to go with a mixture of both.

You need to know that Christmas eve religious services in Brazil were the order of the day—whether it was Mass or a Protestant service. Since we lived in Rio just beginning a church planting project, instead of trying to have our own service, we attended one with Baptist friends. It would begin about 10:00 at night and finish after midnight. Then Brazilians went to their homes to finish preparing for their big meal; it would be held in the wee small hours of the morning, then they would get to bed at daybreak. Our children were small so in our home we all went to bed.

Since we’d had some sleep, on Christmas day we were ready for something else—let’s say different. When you think of Rio—you probably think of beaches with white sand and sun. Our children thought that beaches were what Rio was all about. At that time we lived in the South end of Rio in a suburb called Méier. A long line of mountains separated us from the beaches but we could cross over by car, part of that time through jungle forests.

The beach was miles long with beautiful sand and on Christmas day it would be almost deserted except for the four Canadians. Great waves rolled in there, but not so big that our children could not play in them. Doris of course had a lunch prepared and as the day wore on she spread it on a tablecloth on the snd. Can you imagine anything more idyllic—the surf and the waves ahead of us, to the left the long scalloped beaches that included Copacabana. It was hard to know when one ended and another started. But there were the spines of the mountain range that came down to penetrate the ocean—those made the divisions.

On the other side, away from Rio, there were 500 or 600 miles of beaches till a person arrived in the port of Santos. Beaches are endless in Brazil, all along the coast.

There our children built sand castles and had all sorts of fun in the waves. And another interesting activity! To our left, just before the mountain came down to the sea, a small river flowed into the ocean—perhaps some 75 to 100 feet across at that point—and made salty by the waves that crashed in. Well, I discovered that there were oysters on the rocks over on the other side. So what I did was have each of our children, one at a time, hang onto my back and I swam across. There with a tire iron, I pried the oysters from the rocks, cracked them open, washed them in the salt water and there we had a ready-made lunch.   Actually, neither my family nor I developed a taste for oysters—except when they were freshly pried from the rocks.

Our celebration of Christmas in Rio was certainly different—even different than most Brazilians. But it suited our family and didn’t conflict with how our friends celebrated. I am not sure that our children, now grown, would remember much about Christmas at the beach. But they were good times—in fact I would give almost anything to be able to turn back the years and again celebrate Christmas as we did. Ah, to once again, to be with our young family, to play on a beach just outside of Rio. Then I remember that better celebrations than beaches are prepared in eternity for all Christ’s followers.


Usual Brazilian Customs

“Happiness is not a station you arrive at but a manner of travelling.” Margaret Lee Runbeck

Every culture is different. When in another country, orientation is needed or a person may do strange or offensive things. The language school we attended when first in Brazil was the school of “Portuguese e Orientação.” To Illustrate a difference—In a work related environment it is not acceptable to wear jeans—that applies to being part of a church worship service. Since I’d like to hope that some of my readers will visit my “terra” I’ll clue you in on few situations to help you fit in.

Brazilians show their friendliness by being more “touchy feeling” than most of us cool North Americans. They will give a hug while touching cheeks, not a handshake unless you are somewhat threatening. Even when you arrive at the airport, since you are a friend of a friend, you’ll be hugged. I have mentioned this in a blog—a church where I received hundreds of kisses along with many just plain hugs. They don’t mind getting close though we might consider it invading our space.

There are few finger food in Brazil. It is quite ordinary for us North Americans to pick up a leg of fried chicken with the fingers. But generally even sandwiches, hamburgers and pizzas are cut up and taken with a fork—it makes no difference if you’ve just washed your hands. You may use a serviette to pick up finger food and it often is rude to do otherwise. Remember their paper serviettes tend to be smooth.

Brazilian streets are interesting. Many small shops will put a few tables and chairs on the street so that it can be a place to stop for a sandwich and a drink. Those streets are crowded and are noisy partly because Brazilians have Latin blood that makes them gregarious. Don’t mind the noise but enjoy it. You will also run into small carts on the street that sell a variety of foods. Yes, I used to buy food from those carts but I was never sick as a result. On a warm day there is nothing better than a slice of pineapple for it would be sweeter and juicier than those shipped long distances to us here.

One of their fruits is the avocado. Of course when freshly picked they are meatier and taste better than what we buy here. For Brazilians the taste is best when in a smoothie or a mousse. Me? I like them best when I can drink one from a glass or eat it from a desert dish with a spoon. In both cases I add some vanilla and sugar. However when I prepare one for Doris I serve it up in its shell with a dollop of mayonnaise. Every taste is so different.

While on the topic of food it is a truism that Brazilians love their meats. They don’t barbecue tofu sausages or burgers. No it is steaks and ribs and chicken–anything that is meat. The word for barbecue is churrasco and their specialty restaurants are called churrascarias. When you visit Brazil, a meal there is a must.

Even small Brazilian homes will have a couple of bathrooms and larger homes will have several. In them there will be a bidet next to the toilet and they are used to wash up though perhaps they work best as a laundry basket. Oh yes, and paper does not go down the toilet but into a handy waste basket. You will need to be careful for paper might back up the system.

Brazil has the reputation of being a dangerous place though in our years there we never had a problem. I recall one young Brazilian woman saying she had been robbed three times, once on a bus. In any case it is important not to go wandering alone in any big city or to be squeezed together in a crowd on a busy street. If you are going to speak English—keep it low. And though you may be a tourist do not be flamboyant in your clothing. Be conservative and be part of the crowd where your friends take you.

Inserting the thumb between your middle and index finger in some countries would be rude but in Brazil it is a sign of good luck. You may see carvings of that signal in homes; I’ve seen it hidden behind the front door.

Something similar—rubbing two index fingers together indicates a close friendship

The issue in visiting another country is to fit in as well as you can for you are not there to change their customs but to enjoy their way of life. There is another side to that. When you read your New Testament you find that the follower of Jesus does not fit in 100% with the predominate culture of any country. The Christian’s home country is beyond this world’s final shore. Be ready then for those situations where you really do not fit. With that in mind enjoy yourself in Brazil.


Wisdom Seeds from Sixty-two Years

“We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Just a few months ago Doris and I celebrated our 62nd. wedding anniversary. If you and I ever sit down to have a coffee together I’ll explain why people look at us and say, “Not possible—unless it was a child marriage.” I assure everyone we tied the knot when we were 23 and 22. Now my lovely wife Doris lets it be known that her energy harks back to the fact she is younger than I—by six months. But in this note, I want to sow some lessons that have sprouted and grown in those 62 years.

During the time we’ve navigated along the river of life we hung on to our marriage vows. And those vows forged bonds to hold us together. During all our ups and downs we found security in the pledges we had made to each other. When the going was tough we didn’t give up. We found the reward at the end of this obstacle race was the prize of a mature happiness and contentment. We assumed it was true that it is not love that sustains the promise; it is the promise that sustains the love. We built our togetherness on promises made.

It is with all sincerity that I declare: I value, appreciate and love my wife more now during our mature years than ever before. Ever since I have known her, she had her own place and ministry. She developed her wonderful music and teaching talents so they contributed to whatever success I ever had. How terrible it would have been if when facing the rapids in the river to quit paddling and give up on our marriage. We would have lost all the sense of accomplishment in all that we have done together. If you wish to read something more of her life with me in Brazil, look up some past postings on my blog:

There were no exceptions to our sticking together but you may have your own compelling list for tearing apart your marriage. Mental illness, physical abuse of any kind or verbal abuse for it can be just as damaging, some kinds of criminal activity, infidelity—and the list goes on. As for us, we never let statements such as these escape our lips: “We don’t love each other anymore” or “We see so many things differently now” or “I’ve found another love.” Don’t give up on that marriage or whatever relationship in which you find yourself. Hang in there. Someone has said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Tough it out. The sun will shine and the world you see will be more spectacular than during any previous day.

Books by the experts state that opposites marry and I think that may be true. But we never allowed our differences to dominate our lives. For example it is true I used to like to fish and I’ll share this little secret. Doris doesn’t like the water, the boats or fishing. Perhaps the reason is that I almost scared her to death on a lake one day shortly after we were married. You see, the outboard motor began to miss and we were a long way from our cottage–I wasn’t too happy about our predicament either. Anyway, just this evening I cooked up salmon for dinner and we had a wonderful meal. Doris also had some fish—but I needed to promise her she’d find no bones. Her piece was clear and we both smiled.

As I was writing this, Doris shared her insight that our common interest in mission work in Brazil united us even during difficult times. More—our common allegiance to Jesus was a powerful adhesive to help in those tough times. I agree with her about our uphill battle to learn Portuguese and endure the near poverty conditions in which we lived while in the interior of the State of São Paulo. But in some ways we did not recognize then, those struggles were a common battle; we persevered and the challenges bound us together.

Perhaps one truism applied to our marriage is more important than others and it can be a wonderful glue to bind any couple together, “Fall in love over and over again, always with the same person.” Barbara de Angelos said this about marriage, “Marriage is not a noun, it is a verb. It isn’t something you get, it is something you do. It is the way you love your partner every day.” Sixty-two years together have been great but now with those quotes on paper, I’ve stirred up enough challenges in my own heart to keep me busy the rest of my days.