Monthly Archives: November 2016

Hope for Brazil’s Children

“You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubts; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair.” Ullman

The Olympics in Brazil were a smashing success. But remember that acclaim was in spite of an economic crisis and the process of impeachment of their president. The project of “cleaning up the streets” to look good before the world had nothing to do with garbage. It was a political broom to sweep away the homeless and drug dealers. That included the many children who lived on the streets in some of the nicest neighbourhoods of Rio. Many of those children were abandoned by families that could not feed or clothe them.

We never saw anything similar to the streets of Rio when we lived in the interior of São Paulo state. We never knew about children being abandoned but we were struck hard by the poverty so many families faced. What can I write as I look back to the wonderful children we met who faced a bleak future? Our salary was barely enough to keep our own family together let alone give much to help them. Alcohol of course contributed to poverty in some homes. Again and again I’ve wondered what became of those children.

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The huge coffee fazendas earned Brazil good money on the international markets, but most workers with their children lived in poverty. Their poor housing had no running water or bathrooms. More important there was little opportunity for children to get more than a few years of schooling. The images of the Rio beaches are that everyone is happy and taken care of; but that is the big lie. I’ve read that children of 15 years of age or less did up to 30% of the work force in the coffee fields; I have no way to confirm or deny this. Schooling is free for all ages but absenteeism is a huge problem. All I know is what I saw.

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The accusation made is that we needed to work to change the social and economic structure of the country. My answer is this. I recall an American Methodist missionary who wrote in both languages about the problems he saw—his visa was not renewed to return to Brazil. And when the leftist movement became too strident, the army took over the government. However there is an answer though its healing of the problems often grinds along slowly.

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The answer we carried was the Gospel of Jesus: a new life through his grace leads to hope and often to changes in lifestyle that opens up a better life. When parents have no hope they may abandon children; when children have no hope the answer often is violence and drugs. The promise of the Gospel is that if anyone is born into the family of God, that person becomes a “new creation” with new hope and ambition. And if a person cannot escape the pain of this life, the Gospel at least offers consolation for all eternity. And that is no small thing. Indeed, it is no small thing to be sure of Eternal Life!

Whether it was a missionary or a Brazilian wishing to plant a new church, the work often began with the children. When the children were excited, the parents often came out of curiosity. The love shown by the leaders often brought help for the children who later became both community and church leaders. The Gospel song says it so well, “A Wonderful Saviour is Jesus My Lord.”

I look not to a program such as the Olympics to change Brazil, but I look to the church of Jesus Christ.


Music that Makes Me Homesick

“You may have to fight through some bad days to earn the best days of your life.”

The music from an old CD now wings me across the skies and back to the years we lived in the interior of the State of São Paulo. When I write “we” I refer to Doris and myself, our baby Monica and our son Vernon who was born there. What is the power of this music that takes me back to the fields of coffee? What is this music that transports me to where we raised of our children and did our work as missionaries?

This music I hear is known as caipira music—the folk music of the people who have suffered and loved as they worked to make Brazil what it is today. The dictionary announces that caipira means hillbilly. But it is nothing of the sort for you’ll never hear an accordion, guitars and other instruments played with more skill anywhere in this world. The CD features a men’s duet with a tenor leading the smooth harmony.  These ballads are fashioned and sung by the people in all of Brazil’s interior and speak of life’s romances and heartaches. Folk music best describe it.

Yes, this CD has to do with romance and young love. But it is so different from the love now sung in popular music. At that time in Brazil romancing was done over the gate at the front of the girl’s house. Anything more than that and a chaperone went along. One song title is: “As time goes by, I love you more.” Others: “The simplest word is, I love you,” and “A wounded heart.”My beautiful pictureTacking up a sign over a hall where we planned to have services–and sing.

So why does this move me so deeply? Just this—these are the people our family lived with and loved. As I listen I blink to keep the pieces or our past lives there from speaking through my eyes. I see the maid that we trusted, she who took our blond baby girl across the fields to visit her family. I see Guilherme who owned a rice cleaning business and who after he gave his heart to Jesus wondered if he could stay in business without a little cheating. I see a couple from a coffee farm who with a large family lived in poverty. They wished to be baptized. The folks from our small congregation raised the money for their civil wedding. That paper was necessary their witness to faith in the stream, Barra Dourada.

But the deep moving saudades, the nostalgia from those days are embedded most deeply in a book, Cantor Cristão. It is the little hymnal that we sang from in our congregations and from which our quartet sang. A quartet? We were Murdo and Isabel Campbell with Doris and I. Those were times full of God’s grace. In my mind I hear the harmony of the music and the Gospel message embedded in those songs. They built our own faith and those of the congregation. Some of those songs I cannot sing for they move me too deeply. Memories! The Campbells were older than us and were in some way supportive parents.

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Murdo and Isabel on the right, then Doris, Ross Campbell and Monica. Vernon had not yet arrived.


On the inside of the cover of my Cantor Cristão are the numbers of hymns sung at different services but at the top is the note, “bells.” That certainly meant that Doris played the cow bells for a service. On the back flyleaf is a note in Doris’ handwriting that no doubt she showed me during the service, “Visitors to sign the guest book at the door.”  In Doris’ Cantor in her handwriting is a translation into Portuguese of “The Old Rugged Cross” and on another flyleaf “The Garden of Prayer.” And yet on another leaf in English this time are the words of the song, “Go ye into all the world.” Yes, we were there doing our best to obey the Lord’s command.brazil-111111-007Luiz  Roberto heard the Gospel music as a child at a hall and now sings across churches and denominations.

One gospel song we sang as a quartet is Christo te Chama—we know it as, “Calling To-day.”  One verse is, “Jesus is calling the weary to rest, calling to-day, calling to-day. Bring him thy burden and thou shalt be blessed, he will not turn thee away.” What a wonderful comfort to all followers of Jesus.





What We Learned about Communication in Brazil

My beautiful picture

Our secretary preparing a cable back to Canada

Would you know what I mean when I write, “We sent a cable to our family in Canada”? The use of a “cable” to communicate seems to go back to children playing at talking over a tight string and couple of pieces of tinfoil. A cable is similar, for when we sent a cable it referred to the message sent on a wire connecting continents under the sea.

Why send a cable? Well, few Brazilians had phones back in 1955-60 though if we had one there was some doubt about international connections. I would have no idea what such a call would have cost back then. But I do recall that the one cable—yes, the only one we ever sent from Brazil was in the range of $40.00. At that time the cost of a few words on a cable was almost half of our family’s monthly salary. We were not so hard done by for salary since the mission covered rent and utilities. Just imagine what the cost of a cable would be in currency today?

You might ask why we would send a cable that cost so much? Was it because we arrived safely in Brazil and settled into language school? No! Did we send a cable home when Vernon was born way out in Rio Preto. No, though that was an important occasion. So what was it about?

Just this. When we arrived in the interior we found public transportation difficult. We could not get to where we wanted to go—for example, out to the huge coffee farms or area villages to hold services—and get back the same day. But then the Canadian dollar exchange strengthened and I thought it would be a good time to get a vehicle. So the cable was asking for both money and permission to buy.

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Our secretary will use mail instead of a cable.


Talk about communication problems! The cable sent noted that $10,000 was needed—a big sum then. However! When the cable arrived it read, $1,000 so permission was granted. We were purchasing the car from a Christian dealer who only asked us to make a down payment. Ouch! Both the board and my dad broke their banks to get us out of that bind.

And something else! This wonderful Christian car dealer always did his best to help missionaries get the best car possible for the money. The principle of friendship is so important in Brazil for communication. A friend will do all he or she can to give aid. In this case he was a friend of a friend but the big help was that we were both followers of Jesus.

When in Brazil for a mission’s tour, for business or just tourism, a person must remember that all contacts are influenced by personal relationships. For example when a company from another continent loses their personal contact through transfer, business may come to a screeching halt till a new cordial contact is built. Good relationships are so important in Brazil for communication. We from Norte-América tend to push for action and are impatient when it does not happen. No doubt I am one of those who needed to learn some Brazilian ways.

In Brazil men greet each other with a firm handshake unless they are trusted friends. When we were in a language school for missionaries we in general were trusted right from the first contact. That meant hugs were in order for greetings. Back in 1955 hugs were unknown among most men in our Norte-Americano culture. So the hugs in Brazil took some getting use to—well, I guess a lot more than “some getting used to.”

Brazilians are such a remarkably hospitable people. Their custom is to offer a cafezinho—a drink of a small demi-tasse of strong sweet coffee to visitors or those in a gathering. Communication may depend on drinking um cafezinho but for some missionaries that meant a good bit of hacking and coughing


This is our set plus a few extras, still intact from the year 1955 in Brazil.

We were taught in our orientação classes that in Brazil we should do as the Brazilians do. So one of our first purchases was a small set of china to serve coffee. It did not take long till Doris and I began to like their coffee but Doris found at times it was too much for her system. I’ve heard that some of our friends there might say, “In your country, you have to drink a gallon of water to get a cup of coffee.”

I am not sure espresso coffee will be served in the Eternal kingdom of our Lord. But the promise to his followers is that we shall there feast together with good conversation.


My, Didn’t Rain

“It is better to learn the lessons from history than to repeat its errors.” Translated from Pão Diário

When it rained in Brazil, the tropical climate often made the rain a downpour. Though I’ve written about rain and muddy roads, Doris reminded me of another incident. You’ll understand why this story sticks in her mind.

All the roads, for hundreds of kilometers from our home in Rio Preto, were dirt, a red clay that turned to gumbo with a rain. Late one afternoon after leaving our children with a wonderful neighbor next door, we took our car to the town of Poloni. We had begun to plant a church there and this particular time we were going to conduct another service in a rented hall.

But before we arrived in Poloni, it began to rain—one of those times when the skies opened up. We didn’t even try to hold a service nor attempt to return home. We were learning the hard way not to drive on muddy roads at night. There is another sorry tale I’ve told about muddy roads in another blog. The little hotel had a room for us but there was no way to contact our neighbor Henriqueta to let our children know they’d spend the night without us. We passed a restless few hours there in Poloni and early the next morning headed for Rio Preto.


This was not the rod mentioned but it happens with a rain.

The roads were greasy but passable until we came to what should have been a small creek. With the rain, the few planks that made up a bridge were under water. I put on the brakes for Doris had her hand on the door ready to jump out. She was taking no chances on a bridge that had partially disappeared under the flood. So she waded across on the planks as I waited to take my chances driving across. No problem at all.


But as I stopped to let Doris in we watched as the planks from that bridge took leave of their moorings and floated along with the current. The bridge was no more. No doubt the weight of the vehicle on the planks helped loosen them so they could travel downstream on their own adventure.

Neither Doris nor I recall the reaction of Monica and Vernon to passing the night without their parents. However as Doris and I discussed this incident she said that she remembers few details. She recalls her total exhaustion blanked out all her memories of everything except the high water over the little bridge.

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The group gathering for a baptism


There is another body of water, the little river of Barra Dourada that takes a higher priority in my mind than the floating bridge near Poloni. This is a small river near Neves Paulista in which we baptized those who had declared their faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Family, friends and many curious folks came to watch as we entered the water. Yes, many curious came. My recollection is that we as Canadian missionaries were quite an oddity out in coffee country. And of course the declaration of faith in Jesus as Saviour with adult baptism was quite extraordinary.100_0211

Dressed for Baptism:

I wonder at times as I look back if a person has to face some floating bridges to later on in life to be able to rejoice with believers in their assurance of heaven and an eternal home. Crossing those bridges may well lead to rewards in this life and the one to come.

Throwing Dice for One’s Life

“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” Anon

I was re-reading an old book and I came across a bookmark. It was not only pretty but a verse on its face was in Portuguese. It grabbed my heart. There was a private note on the back written to Doris by one of the world’s special ladies and a dear Brazilian friend—Dna. Irene. I had to read it and as I did it took me on a strange adventure that covered more than sixty years.

“Dearest Doris, “Many thanks for those pickled cucumbers. We are sad that you did not come. (I had gone to Brazil leading a work group.) With a few more literary flourishes Dna. Irene finishes with “Thanks for everything; a hug for you along with many nostalgic memories.”

The story is this. Doris sent a few jars of a special cucumber relish along with me in my baggage for Dna. Irene. Only her family or close friends would get a taste of that relish. Doris took a chance they would arrive safely, not spreading their contents all through my suitcases. When I thought of Doris gambling on getting those pickles to Brazil, it threw back the curtains and let in light that went back to when she graduated as a nurse.scan0071

Just days after our wedding Doris went with me to seminary in Kentucky. There she got her P.H.T. as they’d say there—Pushing Hubby Through.

The gambling ended up with her going to Brazil with me as a missionary. Think of it–we had no mission setup or friends in Brazil. Her life and future would also touch the life of our four month old daughter Monica. Remember, it is impossible to stay on a street corner in São Paulo as in any of the world’s other great cities.scan0004

When Doris and I went to Brazil we had no one to meet us nor could we say “Good Day” in Portuguese. We had no Brazilian money nor had any sure idea of the city where we were going. We were marching off the end of the world.  Strange? Yes, but I remember this. The gambling instinct is part of the greatness of every human. What we did seemed so very normal to us back then for taking chances is part of man’s God-given nature. We went to Brazil as missionaries living by faith. It was not  foolishness for we trusted in God.

We can refer to faith as gambling but of this I am sure; it is the noble instinct in man that prepares him for great adventures. To limit gambling to buying 649 tickets is to diminish life. We all have the ability for great enterprises and for that we accept the risks. Faith is stepping out into an obscure future but in this case with trust in God.

A writer penned this during WWII. “Some men die by shrapnel, and some go down in flames. But most men perish, inch by inch, who play at little games.” My dad never finished grade school but he understood the gamble he and his family faced every day. So, often in family prayers he would say, “Lord, watch over us for this is an untried day that lies before us.”

The bookmark has taken me on strange trails down multiplied memories. It tells of Doris’ gambling with me, working together in Brazil to face all those difficult circumstances that transfixed our attention from day to day. Wanted—great gamblers—those who are ready to risk something or perhaps everything on the possibility that this world was fashioned by God and works best when we live by His instructions. We gambled our lives on this life and as well as all of eternity–trusting His presence and protection.