Monthly Archives: January 2016

What’s Going On In Brazil?

“Success is a ladder, you can’t climb with your hands in your pockets.” Anon

With the upcoming Olympics, many things are going on in Brazil. But this blog is mostly about our time there and about the Christian church though I narrow it down to the evangelicals. What is happening is explosive growth. In 1970 evangelicals were 5% of the population and now number 26.3%. That is spectacular when I remember the lower numbers back in 1955 when Doris and I with our baby Monica arrived there. Many years later when travelling in the city of São Paulo a friend pointed to the huge sanctuary of the Universal Church and said that it held the largest congregation in the world. I have no stats to disprove that but this I have read that evangelicals have grown so they have been able to buy 600 TV and radio stations and the pastor of the Universal Church owns Rede Record, the 2nd largest TV company in the land.

Just days ago I was reading the sermon Pope Francis delivered to the leaders of the Brazilian Catholic Church. He insinuated in his blistering speech that they were not meeting the needs of the people. Over the years they have done well to build hospitals, churches and schools but recently it is the evangelicals that have caught the enthusiasm and emotions of this Latin culture. At the same time we need to remember there is room for all of us; we work for the betterment of the Brazilian people.

Now here’s a wow: Pedro Strazenberg from the Rio Institute of Religious Studies states “Evangelicals are increasingly shaping the national debate…” They are putting tremendous pressure on governments to clean up corruption and they speak to the issues of abortion and gay rights; they claim they represent not only their churches but mainstream opinion. Representatives of the Universal Church state, “We are on course to gain an evangelical majority in the next 25 years.” Already the evangelicals play a key role in national, state and city politics. They affirm that their vote will be crucial in the next presidential election. Already president Dilma Roussef is appealing to the “crentes” by quoting scriptures they would recognize.

Those with antipathy to religion are saying that evangelicals want to make Brazil into a theocracy. Their response is, “We want to help and build a better Brazil…” As for me, I buy into that answer for where I have seen the Gospel enter, it brings not only faith in Jesus as Saviour but encourage converts to leave their vices and build a better life for themselves and their families.

One problem that crops up again and again in politics is the endemic corruption and cronyism. Dilma Roussef may find it difficult to be re-elected for multiplied millions of Reais have been siphoned off from the state oil empire, Petrobras. The need is to establish justice and economic opportunity especially for the poor who live in shanty towns. Those “favelas” may lack water, sewage mains and electricity. Admirable reforms have been achieved though in many cities still ¼ of the people live in squalor with crime all around. I have written a story set in one of those “favelas,” picking for a title a saying common there—“A Stray Bullet Has No Address.” Why such a title? The answer? There are many gun battles by gangs and drug dealers with police at times part of the problem–the result is stray bullets kill people. 

The evangelical church is growing in part because it has been addressing the needs of people, especially the poor. I mention a school started in Monte Santo in the poor interior of the State of Bahia. This school began with 40 children, many of whom could not afford the fees, uniforms or books. I recall stories of problem children rejected by other schools but accepted in ours with the result that love and care turned their lives around. Add to that, a lunch is provided. No wonder this school has grown to almost 600 students with funding coming from our Brazilian church and donations through International Child Care.

The varied branches of the evangelicals offer an appeal to the Brazilian mindset for it allows place to their ecstatic experiences, flexible practices and emotional mysticism. I must admit I do not fit in with the Prosperity Gospel of the Universal Church but I still rejoice at the power of the message of Jesus to better lives in Brazil.

 

The River of Memories, a re-post

 

“If I can put one touch of rosy sunset into the life of any man or woman, I shall feel that I have worked with God.” George Macdonald

With the beginning of this New Year, I suppose there are some who are doing what my wife Doris and I have been doing recently. We’ve been floating down the river of memories and on that quiet voyage little wavelets have washed back to mind so many circumstances both good and bad. Perhaps for you the reader, just the passage of one year to another calls to remembrance years and experiences long past.

Since we’ve had to clean out part of our home and re-arrange other parts, we’ve come upon pictures that take us back over 60 years to when we were married. Nostalgia almost blinds my eyes with tears as we recall when and how both of our children were born. Our daughter Monica came to us in Kentucky and our son Vernon in Brazil. Do you too remember the scrapes and joys that went along with raising your children? Perhaps your days of raising a family were tight ones financially as they were for us. Now you recall how you cut corners to make ends meet and care for each other and your children.

Then there were those high points of joy as we float down this river. You’ll recall those many times it flowed along so smoothly. Scenes come to your mind of school or university graduations, perhaps the landing of a good job. Soon after the happy moments of wedding ceremonies arrive. Add to that your memories, as Doris and I do, of the birth of grandchildren. For us that now extends to great-grandchildren—would you believe four of them?

We’ve both had to sort through boxes of files that contain so much of our professional lives. It seems as if we are destroying life itself as those boxes go into the stove or out in the garbage. What am I going to do with hundreds of sermons in Portuguese? And Doris has boxes of Christian Ed stuff all in Portuguese that she prepared and used in programs for children. You no doubt know what erasing memory is like something precious full of history that has to be discarded. For us both for an instant we remember from the days in Brazil, churches we built and the people we helped. Sometimes a little current around an eddy will trigger those memories. Mostly it feels like pouring important parts of life over a precipice; we watch the waterfalls carry it all away. Ah, it is the watching that hurts.

Along that flowing river of mission work, we encountered some swift waters and some dangerous rapids. Those times come back like the dark waters of rapids to remind us of our weaknesses and hurts. My, oh my, how I wish the waves of that river might have the power to wash away the hurt of some experiences. But there is no way to escape on this river, the recalling that brings pain again to the heart. As you read you no doubt understand us and our longings; I am sure you too have been there. The fast water of that river of memories seems to drown out the ten years we spent in Brazil; at times we wonder if those years never happened.

There is no way to take our little raft down the river of memories without wondering when and where that river will end. A dark veil covers the moment it will ceases to exist. Or will that river go with us just the same as when we close our eyes on a pillow this night. The waking the next morning will be both an end and a continuation. As for me I trust in that awakening and the serene place of that new life, all in the hands of our Eternal Creator. You perhaps believe as I do that Jesus our Lord has prepared a place where we may recall past memories and build others that will flow on and on and on.

If you wish to share memories and nostalgic moments over a cup of coffee, give me a call. Since I’m long retired, I’ll have time.

Roy C. Kenny, 613-354-6929

 

Brazilian Customs You May Not Understand

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” Anon

Soccer is more than a game to many Brazilians. It takes a huge place in the papers, on TV and radio with the loyalty to a futebol team evoking great ferver. It is as if there were the citizens of a country during a time of war. I recall being at the São Paulo airport when the famous Pelé returned with his team after winning their 2nd. World cup. Police had to use truncheons to beat back the crowd that tried to invade the tarmac when the team’s plane landed. Too, businesses will even put TVs up so their workers will not stay home to watch an important game. Fans often show their support for a team’s win with fireworks. Much of that fervor carries over into following Christ and that is one reason for the strong growth by the evangelicals.

Holidays are long and frequent in Brazil. Many get 30 days paid holidays and 11 statutory days off. Vacations are very important to Brazilians and will be taken during their summer—that is during our Canadian winters. At the end of the year workers get an added month’s salary, their thirteenth. Businesses and government offices seem to adapt though I recall one of our church schools there asking for financial help to pay for the extra month.

Brazilian body language and gestures may be hard to understand. We were warned in language school never to touch the index finger to the thumb as we might here, saying that something was O.K. In Brazil that is an obscene gesture. Then there is the closed fist with the thumb poking up between the index and middle fingers but in this case it is a sign of good luck. When you visit Brazil you might even find this sign carved in wood and set behind the front door. It is calling for good luck to the home and those who come and go. A thumb-up sign is commonly used to say something is great.

Do you brush your teeth on the job? It is common in Brazil to do just that and it goes along with their penchant for cleanliness. They would not start their day without a shower and in warmer weather another one or more. But in their winters with no heat in their homes, a shower may be on the cool side though the shower head itself is wired to heat the water. Just turn on the tap and violá, warm water.

When you visit Brazil you will quickly understand that they are very emotional and affectionate. Families are important and close knit with gatherings for every anniversary or birthday. Hugs and kisses are the order of the day though most kisses are to the air when they touch cheeks. It took me a little getting used to for me to receive these tokens of affection from other men. There may also be a bit more touching during a conversation than we practice here. And it is not considered rude to interrupt during a conversation.

Women are generally expected to take care of the work around the house though in recent years men are helping out. I recall riding on a street car while I was in language school and a few fellows noting that I was a foreigner had a great laugh at my expense. They talked about me changing a diaper and washing the dishes.

I quickly found out in Brazil that when I made some blunder they were very forgiving. They understood the difficulty I faced in adapting to their language and ways . I cannot imagine any people more understanding of me when I was murdering their Portuguese. Within the fellowship of the church, Brazilians will do most anything to keep you from being offended. At times it is hard to get the truth for they consider it might hurt.

Though they do have some customs different than ours, there is nothing to scare you away from travelling there. We’ve taken a number of teams to visit our churches in Brazil and team members found that the folks there would love you to death. For example Stephanie who was part of our team had a birthday there. The young people put on a huge party with many gifts for they opened their arms to her as part of the family of crentes—believers. Who knows, if you travel to our church in Brazil they might throw that kind of a party for you.

A Bicycle and a Girl

“Duty makes us do things well, but love makes us do them beautifully.” Anon

The door is always open in our world for anyone that wishes to lend a hand to the poor and needy. That truth hit us between the eyes as we went to Brazil as missionaries; often someone needed help but help was hard to find. At times a person or a whole class of people searched for a lift or a caring smile and it never appeared. This post tell a story not only of a girl who cared for those of her age and area but how others cared for her.

Her name is Raquelzinha with the “inha” on the end of her name telling us that she was small. Perhaps it was because of her age but more likely that she was just a small girl. She tells this story about offerings sent from Canada that helped her out of a difficult situation. Pastor Uilton from the church that she attended began a new church plant in a city nearby called Uiraúna in the interior of the State of Paraiba.

Pastor Uilton saw the need of reaching out to adults with a mid-week program in the city of Uirauna. At the same time he was burdened with the understanding that so many of the children he saw needed a program as well. But this would be only possible on Saturdays or Sundays and that only during the day. But pastor Uilton had neither the time nor the money for gasoline to make the trip. But Raquelzinha, saw the need of a ministry for the children, so she prepared to travel and work there on her free days, her Saturdays. She went once a week providing a church school program for them that was similar to our Sunday school or Vacation Bible School.

She writes, “It was very difficult for me for I had to walk two hours one way on the round trip; I was alone and plodded along on a dirt road heavy with dust. I began to pray and God saw my need and you began to send money to help. During two months I did what I could to save something so it was last Tuesday we were able to buy a bicycle. That was an emotional and exciting moment for me. I am using it now to get back and forth to Uiraúna.” My comment? When she mentions “you began to send money” I wonder if it was someone else rather than us.

My wife Doris and I understand what she meant by “a dirt road heavy with dust.” You see when we lived in the interior of the State of São Paulo, we pushed a baby carriage with our two small children in it up a dirt road, with the fine dirt or dust coming almost halfway up the wheels of the carriage. And we understand the purpose of pastor Uilton and Raquelzinha—that was to minister to the needs of people in a section of the city where we lived.

The story I’ve passed on about Raquelzinha could be repeated hundreds of times in the churches across Brazil. Doris and I recall the help given us by some young ladies much like Raquelzinha who after being involved in their own church came to help us establish a Sunday School on Sunday afternoons. Help is also given by many through the International Child Care program for it reaches to needy children in Brazil. If anyone would wish to funnel funds to help in similar situations I’ve mentioned it can be done through ICCM. Or our friends in Brazil can personally work out the details of a gift. It might happen that you’d get a letter such as the one I’ve translated from Raquelzinha.