Monthly Archives: September 2016

José and the Sete Passos Snake

“Look for something positive in each day, even if some days you have to look a little harder.” Anon

It was already dark when José was making his way home through the tall grass along a narrow pathway to his home. José worked as caretaking at our seminary but that night he needed to take care of himself. As he walked he felt a tug on his pant leg so he turned on his flashlight to see what was happening. He saw on the path a snake that had its fangs entangled in the cotton fibres of his dungarees. So what was he to do? He reacted instinctively with the right action for he had grown up in the forested hilly area of the seminary where a number of venomous snakes lived.

My beautiful picture


José reached down, grabbed the snake behind its head and with a quick twist killed it. This was no little garter snake that we might find along some waterway here in North America. This snake is called “sete passos” which means, Seven Steps. The name is supposed to accurately indicate that a person bitten by this snake will be able to take only seven steps till he drops dead. José went safely home that night to be with his family.

Another snake known as the Cascavel lived in the jungle that surrounded the seminary. One day our family came to visit at the seminary and there we heard the bad news. The two cows kept there had died with snake bites. Those cows on the seminary property provided milk for the families that lived there but the milk production ceased that day. Those cows had been grazing on a hillside that had been cleared of jungle and perhaps because it was a cool time of the year it is thought that the cows had  disturbed the snakes as they curled up in the sun for some warmth. Keep in mind this information–the Cascavels is a larger more venomous version of our North American rattler.

I’m no expert on poisonous snakes in Brazil though I’ve read about them as well as poisonous scorpions, spiders and caterpillars. You need to understand that the seminary property lay in a basin with hills rising on every side with enough jungle on those slopes to provide cover for snakes. A small stream that ran through the property had been damned up to provide a couple of lovely ponds that in themselves provided protection for snakes.

 But of this I am sure—that God sent his angels to protect the families and their children who lived at the seminary. During all the time that this seminary was in operation, not one student, nor teacher nor any of their children were ever bitten by a snake. Our own children played and roamed the property as they wished with the other children that lived there. It is not that snakes were not nearby for one of the missionaries one day discovered one near her apartment. Well, she called for José who then came, found the snake, another Sete Passos, and sent it on its way to the nether world.

I must admit that I do not understand the plans and providences of God that overshadow our lives. Nor can my human cognition come up with answers as to the work of angels. But I believe God’s promise is true about angels, “…they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” Luke 4:11. Those angels might have been working overtime providing protection for everyone at our seminary out there in the Brazilian boondocks.

More important for each of us now is that through Jesus we can call on God for daily protection and more importantly, forgiveness of sins. I am convinced His angels watch over us till the end of our lives.

P.S. I’ve taken the liberty to give the caretaker during his days at our seminary the name of José for that is the commonest name for men in Brazil. I have forgotten his real name from almost 60 years ago. The bush in the picture is the Pointsetia bush–they grow so easily in Brazil.


Before the Washing Machine

“Just because the past didn’t turn out4 like you wanted it to, doesn’t mean your future can’t be better than you ever imagined.” Anon

We found it complicated getting our clothes washed and clean in Brazil. We never did have hot water and clothes almost always went out on the line to dry. But we had to find a way to get out clothes clean, especially when living in Rio Preto. The weather there was generally hot or very hot. Living in that city in the interior of the State of São Paulo meant we often needed a change of clothes.

We had electricity but did not have a washing machine. Doris scrubbed the clothes by hand for awhile but soon needed more help. So our maid took the clothes home to wash. It was the only solution for that was what most everyone else did in “coffee country.” As Doris and I talked about the clothes washing I was not sure the pictures are of the lady who did our wash. But they tell the story.

My beautiful picture


All the roads in those days in the interior were red dirt or if it rained a slippery red gumbo. The normal result—lots of red dust in the air. So all my white shirts had a pink tinge in spite of the frequent scrubbing they received. Why use white shirts? Well, professional people in those days used white shirts on work days, on special occasions and in fact, most of the time. For me that included more than Sunday services. Some of those shirts also had small holes that were not noticeable—they came about by riding on the wood-burning trains with the open windows. Imagine those tiny sparks quickly wakening a person out of a deep sleep.

My beautiful picture

As you can imagine the “by hand” washing was hard on the clothes. Doris just said to me as I was getting my details straight, “I couldn’t put up with that.” Besides she objected to paying for every single item. So we saved from our miniscule salary to buy a washing machine, a wringer washer back then in 1957.


By the way, I’m not complaining about the salary under the Holiness Movement church. I am thankful for the leadership that did so well to support a huge mission program with a small membership. But when union came with the Free Methodists it seemed we had died and gone to heaven. During our second term in Brazil we bought an automatic washer but a gear broke in it shortly after the end of the guarantee. That is the way most guarantees work but in this case I bought the parts and was able to fix it.

The major rebuilding we did in Neves (the interior of the State) allowed for a tap for the washer. The rental house years later did not have plumbing for a washer so it found a spot in an oversized toilet in our backyard. So it was carry the baskets of clothes down a set of stairs to get to the washer. With cold water there was much soaking and scrubbing of the items that were really dirty. In any case the clothes line was close by. And if the Jobuticaba tree in the yard had fruit, a handful added to the interest in getting the clothes done. Of course if a person did not have a clothesline, then the grass served as a place to dry clothes.

When thinking of “washing” a person might recall all the ritual washing laid out in the Old Testament. The good sense of that is obvious—washing saved people from a multitude of diseases. Of course there was also the symbolism—the spiritual cleansing coming from the worship of God. But then I came across the words of St. Paul, “…he saved us, not because of the righteous things we have done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”

That washing is both a mystery and perhaps more difficult that getting those pinkish white shirts of mine washed clean. St. Paul then makes clear that this washing is offered by “Jesus Christ our Saviour.” With that addition the story of washing clothes in Brazil is complete.

A Missionary Afraid of an Anesthetic–an edited repost


“Keep your head up. God gives his hardest battles to his strongest soldiers.” Anon

It was unbelievable. My blood was squirting from my mouth and staining the white apron before me. How could this happen to me? In Brazil? Oh I knew right well why and how it was occurring but in such frightening circumstances unbelief seems to take over. There in the surgeon’s chair I wondered if it was for real or was it some nightmare? My only consolation was the warm presence of my wife Doris with me in that small room. The whole scenario had an aura of comfort about it for she was there.

This is what was happening– I was having my tonsils out in a doctor’s office under a local anesthetic. I did not know if the lady assisting the surgeon was a nurse or if there was a backup surgeon if anything went wrong. Doris is a nurse but she had no part in the surgery except to comfort me. No anestheologist for the surgeon took care of that by puncturing my throat with shots of a deadening pain killer.

I was counting on my own private nurse to be there but she had to argue her way in. The surgeon did not think Doris had the stomach for a Brazilian tonsillectomy. She explained, however, there would be no problem for she was a Registered Nurse. Now I think back on that situation and many others in life where Doris was a key saving factor. I believe that there was more to our marriage than two young people falling in love. I am sure that God with all of his foresight was part of the long range plan so that we could be together in that surgeon’s office.

One part I recall of that surgery is that I was scared of drowning in my own blood for it was hard to suction it away fast enough. The helper was doing her job the way a dentist’s assistant in Canada might. But that was no comfort to me.

In any case, the surgery ended and Doris led the way to the streetcar stop where we could get transportation across the city. But it did not stop near our door but at the top of hill some distance from our front door. But I could handle most anything at that point for the freezing had not disappeared. Soon in our bedroom of our small home, the pain came with a vengeance and I recall feeling as if my throat was cut. Of course that was true to some extent.

With the intense pain I wanted nothing more than to have Doris sit on the bed beside me and hold my hand. The only relief I could get was from a cold drink of water though that created another problem—swallowing. It took a number of days before I graduated from cold liquids to food made into mush.

But I never did explain the why of the surgery. For some time I had recurrent throat infections and my doctor in Brazil thought the problem was my tonsils. But nothing improved after that ordeal and it was yeas later that a doctor in Ontario hit on the solution. Another question? Why surgery in such Spartan conditions? Well, the custom then in Brazil was to have all such surgery to be done in the doctor’s office.

And that reminds me other another tonsillectomy. When we lived in the interior of São Paulo state, a lady from the church asked me to go with her young son who was having a tonsillectomy using as usual a local freezing. Well, I was in pretty good shape accompanying the young lad till the blood began to flow. My stomach would not stand it and I left to sit with the mom and dad in the waiting room. Oh yes, the young lad recovered and on a trip to Brazil years later I met him once again as well as his mother.

We can say, “All’s well that ends well.” But as I look back over my experience in that doctor’s office I am sure the good Lord with his angels were doing their part. While that surgery was back in 1956, I am still thankful to God for his grace and mercy in my surviving that tonsillectomy.

im000477Not only did I live through that experience but with survival I was able to see years later our own great-grandchildren. There now are five. The picture shows Doris and I with Olivia who is now ten years old. A smart child but what else can one expect? God is good or what?


Verbs in Portuguese that Sound Like Mistakes

You would have heard a strange conversation if you had dropped in on our mission group in Brazil. No doubt about it–totally confusing. Most of it would have been a mixture of English and Portuguese. Generally we used our native tongue, English. But the language made no difference for we would use whatever word said it best. As an outsider you might be left in the dark but it made communication clear and easy for us.

Living in the interior we used no English except with our children—even then part of the time we spoke Portuguese for they were more fluent in it than English. So it soon became easy for us to retrieve strange verbs and other words from our memory banks. One of the strange facts of life was the subjunctive conjugations. The subjunctive covered the past, present, the future and it had to be memorized because of the different verb endings. Did you ever hear of the Pluperfect Subjunctive?

It is impossible to learn another language without making mistakes that are both strange and funny. Portuguese is no exception. The year we spent in language school just gave us the basics. Fluency took years. Here is one reason. They have some verbs we don’t have in English. It is true that those verbs and other words and phrases say it better than our English.

Now to those verbs. One is ventar meaning to wind and based on vento—wind. So we would say in Portuguese, “It is winding today.” Or “It winded a lot yesterday.”  Sounds strange but really easy.

Then there is anoitecer with connection to the word noite meaning night. This is not the darkness of a storm but this is night closing in. So we’d say to our children, “Time to come in. It is nighting.” It seems so reasonable in Portuguese.

Then there is the verb almoçar meaning to lunch. So we’d say, “I lunched in this great restaurant.” We would not say we “had lunch” but “we lunched.”

So much to learn during the first months and years in Brazil! During those discouraging times we no doubt remembered God’s promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” When there was not one person from our Canadian church to encourage us and no congregation to rely on, the words of the old Gospel song might have lifted us, “Where could I go but to the Lord?”

They say that “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Necessity also forces a person to work at learning a language. I still sense the frustration of not being able to answer questions when going from door to door passing out invitations to our church planting project. But later in the village of Neves Paulista, Portuguese became our first language.

By the way, Neves Paulista was smack dab in the middle of coffee farms, with some of those farms having up to a million coffee bushes. Usually sweet, strong, hot coffee was the social drink served to visitors. But I do remember being in a very poor home when the lady of the house went outside to pick some wild mint to make tea.

scan0001This picture of coffee bushes may remind you of the language we had to learn—and also remind you to say a prayer for the work of the Christian church in Brazil.