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.
This 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.