Monthly Archives: June 2016

The Answer to the Favelas

“The angel fetched Peter out of prison, but it was prayer that fetched the angel.” Thomas Watson

I doubt that the families of the 21 murdered victims will ever be able to forgive the police for the  massacre in the Rio de Janeiro slum of Vigário Giral,  The police killed these innocent people as payback for the a gang’s killing of four policemen who had been shaking down the drug dealers in this favela.

The homes that make up the favelas, the shantytowns, are often dug into hills at such a steep angle, it seems they must have special finger nails to hang onto the soil. In fact disasters do occasionally strike a favela. After long periods of wet weather the foundations loosen on the side of a hill. Suddenly a whole series of homes collapse one on top of another to end up far below. Lives are lost and families are left homeless.

Generally the city supplies free electricity with a spider’s web of wires running willy-nilly across the hillside. Water is also often free but intermittent so that every home has a storage tank on its roof. Narrow pathways separate houses and provide routes that allow access to the favela. Often sewage runs beside the path in a ditch—except when it rains. You’d not want to smell that.

What can the Christian church do in this situation when the favelados—those who live in the shantytowns are trapped between the drug traffickers who recruit children and the police who respond with unreasonable force?

The answer is in the upbeat spirit of the Christian church in Brazil. This is their tactic. They plant churches and schools to counter drugs and violence. Youth and children are a special focus. They offer hope by laying out the Gospel message of forgiveness and a future of changed lives.

I recall visiting an early education school sponsored by a church where the children sang Gospel choruses. Not all the children seated on the floor of the small auditorium sang on tune but it was all done at the top of their voices. A small clinic administered by a teacher provided a minimum of medications for the children. Perhaps without it the children would get nothing at all. And then came lunch.

This program benefited the families of those children for child care allowed the adults in the family to get a job and then to meet their wider needs. These schools and churches do not provide quick answers to the drugs and violence in slums. But the presence of Jesus is the best answer. for lives are changed.

I recall driving across the city of São Paulo with the children and wife of a dentist named Tércio. She said, “I don’t know whether my husband is a dentist or a missionary. This dentist has taken teams to work in Africa, the Far East and among an Indian tribe. On top of that he is working to plant a church in the favela called Eldorado.

Little by little that small congregation has developed so that youth from the area have become involved in a team that goes to minister in other areas of the city. Tell, me isn’t that better than delivering drugs? These churches provide hope for a better future. It is a “wow” experience to visit some of these congregations that are having such a wonderful influence in their communities. The old Gospel song says it well, “Jesus Saves.”

With the Olympics soon to be in Rio de Janeiro, it is interesting to note that Rio has more than 500 favelas with at least 1.5 million slum dweller. In preparation for the Games, police and the army are doing what they can to pacify the slums. Police kill about 1,000 people a year, some of them totally innocent though the police imagine them under suspicion.

Then a different story I heard during one visit to Brazil. A dentist with help from his church had started a free dental clinic in a Rio slum. In such a situation it is necessary to be on good terms with the local drug lord. All went well till one night his little clinic was cleaned out by thieves. The dentist went to the only area authority, the drug king and asked for help. That night the dentist left the clinic unlocked. The next morning all the stolen contents had been returned.

With the work of churches all across the favelas the downtrodden and oppressed learn to sing the praises of God. They find He is always present. That is the answer to the violence, even bitterness and vengeance that occurs in a shantytown. In fact it is the answer  to needs around the world

The Girls Who Sang in the Coffee Fields

“When a person begins to think, God has the advantage.” Anon

Friends from Brazil complain about our coffee. With a big smile they say, “Up here you have to drink a gallon of water to get a cup of coffee.” And there is a certain truth to what they say for the coffee they serve in a demi-tasse cup is a good deal stronger than ours. We know it as espresso, and there is no doubt about it, their coffee is good. And it is strong.

If you were downtown in any Brazilian city, and going about your business, it would be easy to find a little coffee shop to serve you a piping-hot cup. Yes hot for the cups would be soaking in hot water till you received yours. That coffee will give you a boost for the next hour or so.

I’ve mentioned coffee before in this blog, so why now again? Well, I was listening to a Brazilian octet singing some wonderful Gospel songs, when a lady soloist in Portuguese took the lead with the eight men provided accompaniment. That lady’s voice with perfect harmony soared over the voices of that smooth background. It raised Goosebumps all over my body. Oh, I could not understand all the words of the song about hope in the Christian faith. But with the woman’s lilting voice it made the music totally compelling.

Memory then switched me back to two other ladies who had wonderful voices–Vanilda and Marilda. They stand out in my mind as superb soloists but when they sang together it was something to die for. One thing is for sure—Brazilians have inherited the artistic talent from their Latin background and added more yet from their New World culture.

Then my mind took me on board to travel back to the coffee fields in the interior of São Paulo state.  I picture the three girls from one family who with the dad and mother were working in the fields of coffee bushes. It is a scorching hot day and all the ladies are wearing loose clothing and hats with huge brims to protect them from the sun. And I hear the girls sing as they rake the red soil to clean up all the coffee beans and then to bag them

They were just a poor sharecropping family. That is why all the family worked the fields. But on Sunday they came to the little rented hall to worship with us. And that is where I first heard the three girls sing. Guitar accompaniment was common but this family did not use one most likely because they could not afford it. But they could sing beautifully in three part harmony—once again they were Gospel songs that reached beyond the tough work of the coffee fields to a Heavenly Father.

So many things I wonder about as I think of those girls singing in the fields. Surely the coffee from those bushes was milder and sweeter than any coffee from any other field in Brazil. Somehow I imagine that the beauty of these girls’ faith soaked into the coffee beans. More important yet the songs they sang gave hope during the long hours this family worked as sharecroppers. I have no doubt, they sang out of their faith that would lift them one day from the sun and the coffee fields to an eternal home.

So to-day as I have my 2nd. or 3rd. cup  of coffee I will lift my cup to touch the cup of those who have sung of their Christian faith over the years. In my mind I will toast with them their faith, though some now are enjoying the heavenly home about which they sang. Even the scientists tell us of a number of other dimensions beyond ours. From that number I believe in a place called Heaven where that trio of girls and other I have known will lift up their songs about our Lord Jesus. Join me in that hope, won’t you?

Children are the Gemstones in Brazil

“The mind that opens itself to a new idea will never return to its original size.” Anon

The diamond is not the most precious gem available in our world. It is valuable but the best emeralds often exceed the diamond’s value. Know why? It is because they are so rare. In Brazil the emerald is at the top of the list among the country’s many precious gems.

The emerald is the May birthstone and denotes life and love with the best found in Brazil. They were cherished by the Inca and Aztec peoples for they regarded the emerald as holy. The State of Minas Gerais–translated General Mines–produces not only the emerald but the world’s largest variety of other gemstones.

For the persons who cannot afford one of the best Brazilian gems they may purchase a slice of a geode that has been cut and polished to reveal its gorgeous hollow interior. Available as well are lovely necklaces made of stones that do not quite achieve gem quality. I cherish those stones and at times I have had them set in rings. Yet far more precious than the best of Brazil’s gemstones is the people themselves. I think especially of the children.

You see, I was looking for ideas for another blog posting when I opened a series of pictures of a small congregation in a favela, a slum named Jardim Colônia. The pictures were taken on Father’s Day and ten children were up front singing a song that celebrated their dads. Some of those dads seated on the rough benches may not have jobs that could lift their families out of hunger. But the children smile and sing to their dads with all their hearts.

I look across the small congregation and notice that most parents have children on their laps or sitting beside them. A few children have almost blond hair and a light skin while others show their African blood lines. Most of the children have black hair with chocolate shaded skin. The variety I see proclaims an incredible beauty in each eager face. There before me is a spectrum of light that can only be compared to gemstones. Each child exceeds in value any of the Brazilian gemstones you may mention: Topaz, Alexandrite, Amethysts, Aquamarine, Quarts, Onyx, Turquoise, Tourmalines and many other gems including the Emerald.

Then I notice a handsome young couple with the mother holding a three month old baby to her breasts. A family of the highest cut and quality! But I wonder if either of that couple have jobs. Do they have to travel a couple of hours each way to earn a survival wage? Will another baby arrive soon to this family, and then another and another. Will it happen one day that the father burdened and tired with his work give up and in despair leave his family? I pray for God’s help to be given them.

In one row there are ten people seated. But six of them are children. In yet another row I notice a couple of balding heads that belong no doubt to grandpas, again interspersed with children. They are clapping at the performance of the children at the front. I think of every child there as an uncut gem. Ah, they could one day flash with a brilliant color—that is if they were cut and polished. You see, so many gems can easily be mistaken for just stones till the cutting and polishing takes place. People will “oh” and “ah” at the beauty of a ring or a necklace when the process of manufacturing is complete. But what chance do these children have?

I get a hint of how this cutting and polishing is happening in this small rented hall. On the far side is standing a young man who is opening his Bible. I suppose that when the children have finished their presentation he will tell a story from his Bible. That story, for some child or perhaps an adult, will have the power to begin the cutting and the polishing. Those children may catch a glimpse of what their Saviour, Jesus of Calvary, can do to shape their lives into something truly astounding. Yes, one day there will be gemstones of rarest beauty so that even heaven will be amazed.

You don’t need to visit a Brazilian jewelry store to find beauty. That hall in this slum has more beauty there than those millionaire shops. You don’t think it is possible? Believe me I could so easily erase your doubts! Again and again I’ve watched the message of Jesus cut and polish lives till lives become jewels of remarkable beauty. If you have doubts about those gemstones, give me a call or contact me on my blog. I dare you.

Roy C. Kenny – rkennysite.wordpress.com

A Stranger at the Door

“Hard work pays of in the future. Laziness pays off now.” Anon

I met a man at the door of pastor Antonio’s home in São José do Rio Preto. He appeared just a few minutes before the pastor was ready to take me to catch the bus for the 6 hour ride from Rio Preto back to the city of São Paulo. This stranger had searched for me during our team’s visit to this city in the interior of the State of São Paulo. Such a pity he showed up when we had only a few minutes to chat.

This man said to me, “I know you.” But I could not remember the man.    .

The visitor said, “You were a missionary here.”

He was on target about us being missionaries there in Rio Preto but again I could not recall the name or the face of the man. Was my memory faulty or was it his?

But I remember quite well so many other incidents from my days with our family in the city of Rio Preto. You see, that is where Doris and I went with our year-and-a-half-old daughter Monica. Our son Vernon was born there. That move to Rio Preto followed our year in language school in another city. Our purpose was to plant a church.  The year was 1956 and the task was nearly impossible for we were still learning the language.

My memory in some ways is sharp for those were difficult days learning a new language, and fitting in with a new culture. Those were tasks for which we were not well prepared. I remember canvassing from door to door with invitations to attend services in the small rented hall. I recall especially the embarrassment of not having enough Portuguese to be able to respond to questions.

So how and why would this stranger remember me? To answer that I must ask another question that will shed some light on my encounter with him. What do missionaries do? They sow seed and spread it widely, the seed of the Gospel of Jesus. Some of that planting happened as I canvassed from door to door. Another time when we were attempting to plant a church in the town of Poloni, a friend offered the used of his little plane. There above this town we threw leaflets from the plane’s window. I suppose once again that was sowing seed.

The whole idea of scattering seed goes back to the words of Jesus in Matthew 13:8-9. The farmer in the story was no doubt an old hand at sowing. He knew that much of the seed would be lost and with the loss, the loss too of his hard work. He might well have been discouraged and certainly tired.

That’s always been the way of the church of Jesus—sowing widely. The farmer knew all the while that a lot of seed would be lost. However both the farmer and the church know something else. Some seed brings up to 100 fold. That’s the promise of this story.

With that in mind let’s go back at the pastor’s home with the visitor. He continued, “You baptized me and my whole family.”

Still I could not recall either the man or the baptism. Why not? Because there is no sower that remembers every seed that is sown. It is just weeks ago that seeds were planted in my garden. Those carrot seeds were so small and so many sown on the soil of the same color that I have a job remembering which row is what, let alone remember each seed.

But my memory is good for many of those seed planting times in Rio Preto so many years ago. The colored slides taken then of course jog my memory about scattering seed.

Was this stranger at the door one of those folks who came to see the Gospel film strips we showed in the back yard of a lady we knew as Dna, Zenaide. We put the screen up in front of a big castor oil bush in her yard that had no grass, only well-swept red dirt.. There was no electricity in that area—but I had made a battery powered projector. The neighbors came for this was a novelty.

A number of families were deeply touched with the message given through those film strips. Lives were changed. Was this stranger at the door one of those influenced with the words about Jesus in that yard?

Or did this stranger attend the services in the little hall? Or was it a contact made a few years later when with the help of other missionaries we held a city-wide crusade in Rio Preto.

I wish I had been able to chat a little longer with this stranger at the door. Then it might have happened that he would jog my deficient memory so that suddenly years of memory would come alive.

Now I return to Jesus story about sowing seed. He encouraged us to sow widely during our lives and in our churches. That is the message I took away from the encounter with a stranger at the home of pastor Antonio. Though much seed is lost the message is clear; some seed will yield good results. Remember, some seed will produce a harvest.

Brazilian Families and Religion

Grandpa’s Wisdom: “Too many couples marry for better, or for worse, but not for good.” Anon

The traditional family in Brazil still consists of a couple and their children. It is that family type that is the central glue that holds the Brazilian culture together. It is still true to-day though with the changes in the last three decades many families look different.

Recent statistics indicate that 1/5 of all Brazilians families live in poverty. We might describe that poverty as extreme. Yet in this the woman is often the one that maintains the continuance of her family. Many work as housemaids travelling long city distances for a minimal salary. With the roles of women in the family changing, many men find it uncomfortable and simply leave not to return. I vividly remember a woman in a church-planting project. Three children hung to her disordered skirt as she told me that her husband had left three years previously, ostensibly to find work in another city. She heard nothing more from him. If he had work somewhere, it is likely that a younger woman with no children would move in with him. So sad.

But more to the topic for to-day– the positive place of religion in homes, especially in the stable development of the children. A friend had this excerpt in his blog—here it is “Religiously aware adolescents who feel connected to a higher power are 40 percent less likely to abuse substances, 68 percent less likely to battle depression, and 80 percent less likely to engage in at-risk sexual behavior.” The statistics come from the work of Lisa Miller at Columbia University. It is interesting that this research is absolutely neutral as to the religion and of course that makes it more relevant to everyone.

Thinking of those stats I am sure that many parents wishing for successful children might consider having their children attend a church where they can get religious instruction. However leaving the teaching of religion to a church is only part of the work that is so necessary. The parents need also to be involved. What children see day after day in their home tends to be the pattern followed in life. You recall the old cliché, “Monkey see, monkey do.”

Brazil was colonized by the Portuguese who brought not only their language but their religion so that Brazil has a larger number of Catholics than any other country in the world. The Catholic church has 10,218 parishes and encourages traditional family life.

The colonists brought in untold numbers of Africans to be slaves and in the 20th century that included immigration to Brazil of Europeans and Asian populations, especially the Japanese. However these other groupings promoted a solid family life. Confused family life goes back to the slaves and the Conquistadores—the conquering colonialists—who often raised children from Indian and slave woman. Family life was disrupted often with slavery.

Known in Brazil as the “evangelicos” these protestant churches emphasize a family as a married man and woman with children. These churches provide instruction not only in church dogma but in successful living as well. Add to that the natural cohesion of “crente” (believing) Brazilian families and their home/family religion and one has a strong force for stability. Remember too that “evangelicos” now number 22.2% of the population.

I have no idea how well the Columbia University study about the power of religion on children would apply to Brazil. My own experience and knowledge of our churches and families there tell me that the “evangelicos” have a profound effect on society for good. Brazilian parents find it worthwhile leading their children to a deep faith in God. Could we learn from them?