Monthly Archives: August 2016

A Bridge that Demands a Dare

The pathway down from the road was of the same red dirt that is so common across Brazil. But this path was hard packed with the imprint of many feet. Why would a dirt trail such as this be so well used in the city of São Paulo with its 22 million people? Just this! It led down to a short suspension bridge that crossed a dirty little creek linking the suburb of São Bernardo to a ghetto. In Portuguese this slum is named a favela and is similar to many that are situated on hillsides. The poor build their shacks there where nobody else would try to anchor a dwell Sorry I Brazil 11,11,11 097   Sorry, I can’t transfer the picture in of the bridge from PowerPoint but these are children we visited. Shortly before we arrived a tropical storm filled the creek, extended up the hill and washed the bridge away. (I suppose a tropical storm would be the only kind they’d have in Brazil–it is in the tropics.) The bridge was desperately needed of course for the stream drained sewage from the hills. My own experience in getting over the creek without the bridge was similar to all the team members. We crossed the fetid water stepping carefully, so very carefully from one stone another all the while hoping not to slip into the creek.

But why were we careful to avoid touching the water from the creek? Just this. Our young son Vernon became ill with hepatitis from just such a stream when we lived in Rio. That disease is contagious and Doris then came down too with hepatitis. We certainly didn’t want any of our team to get such a bug for it might mean a long stay in a Brazilian hospital. That could be really tough on a person when he/she would be a continent away from home.

The question is, why would we even try to cross over to the favela on the other side? Well, a lady, Dna. Francisca lived there. Her home was put together with bits and pieces of wood and tin. It was from there that she ministered to the families and especially the children of that favela. She had gained the respect of the drug lord for that area and so was free to hold Christian classes for children. We as a group visited Dna. Francisca for she had arranged for us to put on a program for those same children. They scurried to us and gathered in an open area near Dna. Francisca’s place.  Adults did not join us but a number who were curious listened and watched from a distance.

I suppose that Dna. Francisca could move from this favela but one of her concerns would be losing her ministry to her neighbours. In a way, for those folks on that hillside she was and is a bridge from their superstition and misguided faith to a personal trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Why is that important for her? One reason is because she came from a chequered past, having worked as a cleaning lady in a motel. Motels there are known as places for short-term sexual encounters. Then her daughter was miraculously healed from cancer that had metastasized through her body. Doctors had sent her home from the hospital to die but the prayers of God’s people saw a total healing.

In this ghetto, Dna. Francisca shares her story of the power of the Gospel of Jesus in her life and in that of her daughter. She offers to her neighbours the greatest bridge known to mankind, the Salvation offered by Jesus. That bridge gives divine grace to escape the pollution of this world and to one day enter an eternal peace with God. What a bridge!

Extracting Rubber from a Tree

 

“Always remember you a BRAVER that you believe, STRONGER  than you seem, SMARTER than you think and twice as BEAUTIFUL as you’d ever imagined.” Anon

The last phrase might well apply to the rubber tree in Brazil. The group of which I was a part certainly thought so when by chance we noticed the typical cutting marks made on rubber trees. Since this was just a few meters from the road we could see the white rubber liquid oozing down the tree trunk. This happened as we travelled in the interior of the state of São Paulo between two places where we had lived. But as you might guess, the trees were much younger than us.

We clapped at the gate—not knocking for in Brazil that is the way we might gain entry. I think it was the caretaker that appeared. In any case we made ourselves feel at home—that was easy for Brazilians are so hospitable. He showed us how the tree bark was successively scored in a vee design to drain the rubber into a container. Then we got pictures of number of containers of the dried rubber–the latex solidifies when exposed to the air. The no doubt it ready for a factory there or another country where the processing would take away the stickiness and keep it from spoiling.

Brazil 11,11,11 159

The rubber tree is economically important because the milky latex is the source of natural rubber. In the wild the tree may grow from 100 feet to 130 feet, though in a plantation the rubber tree is smaller due to the extraction of the latex. After about thirty years each tree has diminished production and is cut down. The wood is now being used for making furniture rather than the old system of simply burning it.

The rubber boom from 1879-1912 was not only important for the peoples of the Amazon Basin but attracted the colonists looking to make a fortune. An unfortunate result of the influx of colonists was the decimation of the Indian population through disease and slavery. I read of one plantation with 50,000 Indian workers but a few years later only some 8,000 survived. It is hard to understand how humans could treat others in this way. The abuse, slavery, murder and the use of stocks for torture has been well documented.

By 1879 up to 10,000 tons of rubber was exported a year with Belem and Manaus becoming urban cities. For a time the rubber tree did not adapt well to other areas in the world but when it did cultivation spread through the British colonies and Southeast Asia. That was the end of the rubber boom in Brazil though cultivation and extraction still continue.

Many issues spring to mind as I write. The first is the question, “How could explorers and settlers with the name of Christian treat so terribly the Brazilian Indian population?” My only answer is that those immigrants were Christian in name only. The Brazilian indigenous population needs to be the subject of another blog at another time.

One thing for me is sure, the rubber tree is a complex organism that I believe just did not happen all by itself over the billions of years. That would be an uninformed credulity. My position is that God is the creator of the complex rubber tree and all of nature with science telling us how it was done.

The rubber trees we saw started as seeds sprouting in the ground. It needs care for a number of years and a good deal watchfulness as it produces the rubber latex. Isn’t that the way it is with the Christian life as well? The seed of the Gospel of Salvation is planted and then life springs up through the personal acceptance of Jesus as Saviour and Lord. But watchfulness and care is needed all along life’s way to preserve both faith and productivity. There the similarity ends for when we leave this old world, through Jesus we have hope of Eternal Life. Wow!

Dramatic Expressions in Brazil

“The dewdrop fulfills the Lord’s will as much as the thunderstorm.” Anon

Recently I used this expression, “If you don’t have a dog, you hunt with a cat.” It referred to watering my garden when what was needed was a big rain. This Brazilian expression and many others are full of “spice and emotion” for they communicate so vividly. They picture a people with quick minds and a good bit of humour.

We might respond to a far-out story with “You’re kidding” while Brazilians might say, “Fala sério” which means, “You’ve got to be joking.” Those words have a funny tone to them where “I can’t believe it” is more factual.

I suppose there must be hundreds of saying but I’ll mention a few that I might have used.

“A grama é sempre mais verde do lado do vizinho-The grass is always greener on your neighbor’s yard.”

“Cada macaco no seu galho—Each monkey on its own branch.”

“Um gato escaldado tem medo de agua fria—A scalded cat is afraid of cold water.”

“Deus escreve por linhas tortas—God writes straight with twisted lines.”

“Esmola demais, o santo desconfia—Too many alms and the saint is suspicious.”

And since I’ve written a couple of books, “The Death of the Jaguar I & II,” I thought this one was good, “Não cutuque a onça com vara curta—Never poke a jaguar with a short stick.

And here are a few we ought to have in English: “Jogar o verde para colher maduro—Throw out (or offer) the green fruit and pick the ripe.” The real meaning is to say something you think is half-true so that another person tells you a secret.”

Or “Descascar o abacaxí—Peel the pineapple.” It means “To solve a tough problem.” That really makes sense for in Brazil when they say, “È um abacaxí” it means something is really a bad deal or a lemon.

How about this, “Quem não chora, não mama.” The one who doesn’t cry, doesn’t suckle.”

The Brazilians have an endless number of expressions that give a quick insight to a situation. The same goes for the Christian faith for some scripture verses summarize so well the salvation that Jesus offers. As a teen, when I was sensing the great weight of sin in my life, at a church camp hope came to me through this verse, “Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.” John 6:37. I suppose I was no worse than most teens but I felt the wrath of God for my failure to live for Him. That verse gave me hope.

Then in Brazil there was a key verse that I am sure often came up in my preaching, “There is no other name under heaven by which we might be saved…” Acts 4:12. When we went to Brazil in 1955 faith often focused on other things than Jesus, the Saviour. That verse is needed worldwide to provide hope that goes beyond this life. I hope it has penetrated the Brazilian society–perhaps for some 24% of the people is now evangelical.

Then there is the verse in John 3:16 that summarizes much of the Bible. I don’t need to write it down for I suppose you may know it by heart. But here it is, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” That truth gives insight and hope that goes beyond and above any saying , no matter the country or culture.

Important Names

Names in Brazil

“Whether seventy or sixteen, there can be in every being the love of wonder…the unfailing childlike appetite for what is next, and a joy of the game of life.” Ullman

Family names tell us something about that family’s history that goes back generations. Given names, with the passage of years, recall to mind characteristics of the individual. For example, “George is a happy-go-lucky chap.” Our granddaughter Natalie who visited Ireland said the many Kenny names made her feel at home wherever she travelled. Then when Doris and I visited Newfoundland  a few years ago, we walked through a cemetery and found our family name again and again. It was a strange feeling. We felt a kinship with them and wondered about the death of so many who in the prime of life had perished at sea.

Our names here in Canada are relatively short, for example Mary Alice Jones – three makes the total. But in Brazil five or six or more are needed. Some of us may smile at a name given to one of the many independent churches or to the religious names given to little shops along a street.

In Brazil both the maiden name and the paternal name are passed along. In any case people just go by their first name and their mother’s surname. Here is an example I picked up: Evaldo Manuel Nascimento de Moura. Evaldo is the first name and we’d use it when chatting with him, Manuel is the middle one, Nascimento is the mother’s maiden name and Moura is the father’s surname.

The length of names in Brazil no doubt comes from history in Portugal for there, I am told, seven or eight names are not uncommon. Many names in Brazil have a preposition in the middle, a “de” meaning “of.” So Pedro de Oliveiro meant that Pedro belonged to slave owner Oliveiro. Many Brazilians would state that their family name goes back to Silva. It is the commonest surname in Brazil and refers to the colonizers who went interior to the forested areas.

The most popular man’s first name is José with almost 8 million and Maria has almost 14 million. By now the reader is wondering why all the chat about names. The answer is simple— in the Christian faith the name of Christian denote an important relationships. A poet writes,       “There is a name I love to hear, I love to sing its worth…the sweetest name on earth.”

Yes, the name referred to is Jesus. Many hymns and sermons extol the name of Jesus, for the Christian faith is built on the name of Jesus as the Christ. The name Christian goes way back to New Testament times when followers of Jesus were called Christians. That happened at the church in Antioch as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Antioch was a city noted for its vices and debauchery with the name referring to Antiochus Epiphanes. He was the bitterest enemy ever of Christians.

But in this city the followers of Christ were so well known for their pure life style that the pagan people linked them to the one they claimed to follow—the Christ.

Yet a person may take this name to themselves and be careless about the eternal things that are central to following Jesus. However when we go back to what the name originally meant, it tells us about being a follower and imitator of Christ.

To have the name of Christian is indeed to have something of the spirit and temper of our Lord, the Christ. We learn something of how the name Christian calls us to live when we look back on His life and death. We learn the same about his followers. Then we think about the Christians in Antioch who lived under constant persecution and dying in the arena for the entertainment of Antiochus Epiphane.

Among the many names that stand out for me is that of Rev. José Emílio Emerenciano. He stood by the first Free Methodist missionaries in Brazil, translating three languages for them: English, Japanese and Portuguese. A school in the poor Northeast of Brazil has his name—a school that now numbers 600 children. It began with children that could not be part of the regular school system.

The name Christian has tremendous meaning and implications. That is still true in our world today. Yes, the one who owns this name of Christian is called to be a follower of the Christ.

 

 

Metric and Other Measurements

“A year from now you’ll wish you had started today.” Karen Lamb

Switching from the Imperial measurement system to the Metric was confusing for Doris and me when we arrived in Brazil. When the DC7B landed at the São Paulo airport we immediately had to flip over to think Metric. It wasn’t miles but kilometres from the airport to the bus station. The first time we shopped for groceries we learned quickly that we could not buy a pound of butter. Everything was in kilos. Milk for our baby Monica came as a litre. Paying our language school fees was simple enough for the Cruzeiro was based on the Decimal system.

The Metric system was just one thing that we learned, each with some struggles. We did not even know how to say “hello” in Portuguese. And I learned the hard way how the number 7 is written. I had ordered reprints with the outline numbered on paper—that was because my Portuguese had not even reached the infant level. But since I had not crossed the 7, the shop read it as 1, so I had lots of pictures I did not want. Metrics was the tip of the iceberg. Everything was new, brand new to us. But there was one thing that did not change for us—our faith in God and how He had led us to Brazil.

Just when I had adapted to Metrics, I was confused to find lengths of wood being sold by the Board Foot. That old way of measuring didn’t help me for I wasn’t into carpentry. But a person quickly adapts.

There is so much in life that we can’t measure in quarts or liters for it has to do with our connections with family and friends. The hundreds of pictures I’ve checked out tell me only about relationships that we will value till life is no more. But here is one of Brazilian bishop Rev. José Ildo de Mello with his wife Christina taken in front of our home. Wonderful folks doing a good work in Brazil.

There is another system of measurements that I trust as accurate—the Bible. I trust its description of human nature when it declares we need a strong medication, in this case a Redeemer. I trust the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The fact is we have much better records of the life and ministry of Jesus than we do of Shakespeare. Recently I’ve been reading the Gospel of St. John–he often declares the trustworthiness of what he writes by saying, “I was there, I saw all this happen.”

That is so different than the way we struggled with metres and kilos in Brazil. Or the “awn” that we used in Haiti—It is about the length of a meter.

However there is a good deal of confusion about how we might understand the Biblical six days of Creation. Sixty years ago—that’s when I was studying at Asbury Seminary–conservative theologians were stating that the days of creation as recorded in Genesis could easily be interpreted as aeons of time.

On the same side of that coin scientists keep finding fossils in mountainous areas that are a kilometre down from what is now the surface. All types of dinosaurs fossils still keep being discovered . I recall visiting a park near Drumheller, Alberta where we picking up a basket of fossilized bones from those huge animals. I’ve mentioned just one of the multitude of questions being raised by scientists world-wide. I assume those hundreds of thousands of scientists are both honest and intelligent.

The problem of interpretation can be solved in the way some of us here in Canada combine the measurements of the Imperial and Metric measure. To-day I looked at the thermometer and it read 30 C. degrees. But to get a better handle on how warm this day was, I read 82 F. Neither was more accurate than the other. You may want to battle it out between Centigrade and Fahrenheit. Me I put them both together.

Francis Collins, a renowned  American scientist and geneticist is also a practicing Christian. He makes sense to me when he puts opposing viewpoints together. He states that he accepts and believes that God is the Creator while science tells us how it all happened.

The choice can be to keep both Faith and Science as measurements. It is not either or. The Christian church must simply and clearly offer a strong and sensible faith to everyone. Enough of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

So as I pick up my Bible I am able to believe in the God who is the eternal Creator. As I lay it down and pick up the National Geographic I accept the measurements of the scientists as relevant. Once again I state than we can believe in God as Creator and in science as showing us how He did it. It is as simple as combining Metric and Fahrenheit.