Monthly Archives: January 2017

Our Time in Neves Paulista

There are no famous streets in Neves

Just local names for dirt and dust it yields.

A park separates our small house, no big deal

From where the grand village church stands.

And there’s our home close by the rich coffee fields,

Though tied to the hall that was in any case

An insult to the big church where most worshipped.

Strange Canadians midst untold coffee trees!

In language, culture and aloneness struggled

Pa Craig had said, “See them again? Twill never be.”

 

We moved to Neves, to a building so forlorn

Only a rope and bucket for the well, a rough brick floor.

No cupboards, no closets, no shelves, a place not splendid

Far down from the simple homes where we were born.

There our boy slept with a mattress on the floor, till I made a bed

In our home, linked by a wall to the mission hall.

An old lady offered Doris help, but naught could she yield

Nor rice and beans to cook. She was from the coffee fields.

To entertain during services, Vernon huge beetles tended

In the offering plates till they were needed.

My beautiful picture

Our family, missionaries: Campbells and the Crawfords

 

 

So blond and light skinned, Vernon wished and dared,

With black shoe polish covering himself, no big deal.

So soap and water with scrubbing left red skin, but done with care.

And our two kids loved the little yellow mongrel

Till he died in scarcely moving traffic. Some tears.

Worse the fate of guinea pigs for a pair gave birth

In the wet and seldom cold of our interior years.

To warm and save them, a moment in the oven.

Forgotten, they were deceased. Tears–no cause for mirth.

 

How did our children survive the language and few white faces?

Yes, we moved to Neves when both were under three.

There Monica oft’ spent all day with friends, caring not for races.

Vernon too young to wander to other homes and places

Found solace with us, the maid, a parrot, guinea pigs and more.

The low wall out front–a mountain challenge to any boy.

He fell. That night in pain we found a green-stick break.

The adventures of a little boy! To heal? No great chore.

Folks there found us strange, perhaps Canadian freaks

But for the converts to Jesus, for them we were a joy

My beautiful picture

Monica with friends when we lived in Rio Preto–that was before Neves.

 

Monica was just four then, now a step down memory lane,

When in the mail, Barbie dolls came. So precious, so dear

But no sign of clothes. Doris had no time to sew that was clear.

But Mum taught her quickly at the sewing machine,

Then a complete wardrobe the little girl sewed.

Our children talked like “caboclos”, no accent discernible

So later with other missionaries, she said,

“They don’t speak very good Portuguese.”

Take time for them? From our work to rest? Who can tell

Yet they always were precious, always as a baby on our breast.

My beautiful picture

Monica with friends in a Sunday school class

 

 

T’is sure, to tell the story of Jesus, a noble project is

For there in Neves with baptisms followers grew

Saved from the lostness of their lives,

The Gospel from witness to witness flew

From coffee fields to towns. Our youthful energy seeped away,

Till exhausted one Christmas, nothing for our children.

No dinner, no toys, no fun for Monica and Vernon.

Yet there was the hope from the carols, the gift of hugs and smiles.

Both then and in eternity, it was all worthwhile.

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Travel Including a Plane Stuck in the Mud

“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” Anon

The plane taxied to the end of the runway but it never took off for it was stuck in the mud. Well, actually the problem was not so much mud but the heavy rain during the night had washed out a channel in the red soil. Since the DC-3 prop plane needed all the space available, the pilot had tried to turn right at the end of the runway . Perhaps he never noticed what had been the riverbed from the night or he thought his plane could handle anything.

But we were stuck even though he raced the engines. Finally he gave up; but there was another solution, perhaps one he’d encountered before. About half a dozen men—I suppose we might refer to them as caboclos—men of mixed ancestry who often populated the interior. They came down the runway carrying the wide-bladed hoes that were used among the coffee bushes and with them scraped away the soil that held the plane’s wheel making a ramp out of the trap.

The pilot raced the engine so that the plane escaped and we headed down that uneven dirt runway on its itinerary to the city of São Paulo. That was a 600 kilometre trip by train and though it was an overnight trip it spoiled two days. That flight was one of the few plane trips I remember for it was more costly than any other transportation. I suppose buses were available but they were a poor excuse for that long trip especially when the roads were just dirt. I do recall one trip that was so cold I thought I would perish from hypothermia. That adds to my reasons for taking that plane.

My beautiful picture

The little village of Neves

But why would I go to the big city especially since I’d leave Doris and the children alone, isolated in a small village in the middle of coffee plantations? You see, São Paulo was the only reasonable place to change money. Then in the city there were a number of places that exchanged money but one especially that would always take personal cheques. That ended in them going bankrupt. The story is that men from the U.S. began to supposedly invest in Brazil till they were trusted, then huge NSF cheques bounced.

On top of that errand I’d check on our car that had been kept in customs in the port of Santos. That involved a trip from the plateau where São Paulo is located, down the mountains to see our despachante. Nothing could be accomplished in the government bureaucracy without a despachante for he was an agent who knew how to get things done. Often that time in Santos meant another night in a hotel. By the way, we never did get that 1955 Plymouth out of customs till during our next term in Brazil.

My beautiful picture

The new car and was old when we got it out of customs.

 

On the return trip we took the train back to Rio Preto and by bus to Neves where Doris was holding the fort. She took on my responsibilities in ministry, as well as those of our family and the preaching points we’d started.

My beautiful picture

Doris with her accordion with a layman speaking in a home.

 

To us both at that time, this seemed a normal pattern of life. Of course we were young then and had lots of energy. But looking back now, I am sure we had more ambition than good sense. In any case the fruit of our ministry made it all worthwhile—even being in a plane that got stuck in the mud.

SHARING–a repost with pictures this time

“It is a great thing to do little things well.” Anonslides-atv-etc-brazil-048

slides-atv-etc-brazil-0451st picture–a sample of food to be given to one family, with pastor Dorivaldo Masson, a layman and myself.  The 2nd–the pastor  shows some of the food prepared for the congregation in Jardim Colônia.

A lady held back from the others lined up at the little hall that is used as a church in Jardim Colônia. They were chatting while waiting patiently to collect milk, food and clothing from our truck. It was not that others were crushing in to get their share that held her back. Nor was it the São Paulo city police car that was parked about a half-block away with two officers in it. They watched carefully all that was happening and I found out nothing more when I went to chat with them. Not even a pleasant greeting of “boa tarde.” Since Brazilians no matter who, are always courteous I wondered who they were watching and why. Was it the woman I had in mind or just the fact of food and clothing being given away in one of São Paulo’s poorest slums?

I got an answer to my question about the lady who stood apart from the others. The response came from the local woman who was overseeing the distribution, “This woman you’re asking about. She not only faces poverty but she has three small children. ‘A sua vida e dura.’  Her life is very hard.”

I approached her as she stood with her three small children holding tightly to her skirt. Now each had a hand on the bags that had just been given her.

I suppose she was in her late twenties but she looked so much older. Her hair was straight and long, and with her high cheek bones I guessed she was from the local tribe of Indians. Her dress was more tidy and clean than one might expect in her situation. She was stocky of build but what really caught my eye was her sadness.

One of the leaders from the church explained, “As the city expanded, most of her tribe has been pushed out and their land taken over by squatters. That’s the way it is in the big cities. Not even government, private or Indian lands can be protected from the squatters. Better to say impossible.”

I approached her as she stood by herself, waiting as if she needed to be there a bit longer. The story she told sticks with me still and I can see her there by herself preparing to go home—wherever and to whatever that might be.

She began with the part of the story that was, I quickly came to believe, was behind her sad eyes and face. “My husband couldn’t find work here. So he told me he had decided to go down to the port city of Santos. He said there would be work in that city. He promised to send money to support me and my children.”

I asked, “And has he been helping out? With money I mean?”

“No money ever came. Not a centavo even after three years.”

She said, “Ele me abandonou. He abandoned me. He left me with three children to care for. Perhaps starve.”

I later inquired and found that this situation is quite common among the poor in Brazil. A man with children will find a younger woman with no dependents and that woman is often ready to hook up with him. There is a good chance of getting some money. The older woman with children is forgotten.

During those three long years she was dependent only on handouts. There must have been tough times. She said to me, “I’m going to share my food with a neighbor lady. She’s got children but has no food in the house. I’ll divide up what I’ve got. It’s important to keep that house, those children from going hungry.”

What I heard seemed unbelievable—a hungry family sharing with another family that is also hungry. She would understand clearly that perhaps a week or two away and she’d be hungry again. The way I see it is that those who suffer the pangs of hunger understand the best of anyone, the hunger pain of their neighbors.

slides-atv-etc-brazil-071A single mother that is part of this church planting.

Me? I have no idea what real hunger is like. I left this woman and Jardim Colônia wishing we might all remember her example. I know that I was one of those people who planned to do better in sharing what I have–with God being my helper!

 

 

She Stole My Heart Away

Have courage for the great sorrow of life, and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.” Victor Hugo

            The woman stole my heart away and I remember how strange, strange that was. It was her sorrow that drew me to understand Christmas better than ever before. Yet I have no escape from thinking of her no matter the time of year. Let me tell you of that day in São Paulo, Brazil. It was hot and I met her in the “Jardim das Fontes” a slum where sewage rose to sting my nose. Forgive my imagination; in any case this is how I remember that hour. You might guess that I’ve seen poverty in Brazil but that does not lessen the power of this poor woman over me.slides-atv-etc-brazil-090This is not the picture I looked for but the story is about the same.

We stood side by the side at a dirty bed with my friends around, down on the third level of a shack that seemed to have been thrown at the red dirt of the hill and stuck there. The woman was so thin her every bone declared sad years of hunger and the four children born to her during her twenty-one years.

She shrugged towards the full-sized bed and the baby, and then whispered her misery of why she had gathered us together. “She’s past a year now and she whimpers all the time unless it happens as you’ve done—picked her up. Then she screams.”

The woman glanced accusingly at me.

Dark desperation filled the room as she said, “Encephalitis at just a few months old. That thing in her throat is what the doctors did to her. She breathes with it but she might better be dead. She’s blind from the attack on her brain.”

One of the group by the bed stifled a sob. She saw as we all did that the baby was fat and we knew why. Her bottle had nothing but starch and water. We heard the gurgling in her throat and when questioned the woman said, “The pump the clinic gave me doesn’t work. Nothing I can do. We leave her alone except to change a diaper or give a bottle. Touch her and she screams.”

Lord Almighty, how my constricted throat stifled my own sadness from breaking out in verbal self defense. To me she said, “When you picked up my baby, she screamed. That’s the way it is. Always. So we leave her alone.”

Her voice trailed off in another “Alone.” I wondered if she was speaking not just for her baby but for herself and three other hungry children. Unkept hair moved with her bowed head as she looked at us by the bed. She bound us tight with sunken eyes. She was silent but her look preached that it was not right what was happening to her. The whole world was in the wrong.

Her low voice, her suffering body and her eyes spoke the truth. And the truth I had always prized as important, but it now became a traitor for in her weak hands it pummeled my every sense. Then Emília, who had brought us and a load of food to this home, asked me to pray. How could I pray?

I began, “O merciful Father in Heaven” but tears and sobs strangled my throat so that I was dumb. Pity rose up like a monster to take control so that Emília picked up my prayer and continued

But the woman did not cry. Perhaps she had no tears left but for me something strange happened. It was as if the room was sprinkled with flashing shards of glass. There was another presence there. If we believe that God is everywhere, then surely, surely He was with us down in that bedroom. Something special was happening.

I wondered if this suffering woman was the same peasant woman Mary who had given birth in Bethlehem. Then it was a baby born in a stable and that followed up with suffering for most of the mother’s life. Was this baby wheezing its life away to an early death somehow similar to that of Jesus? Did both this human and the divine family share the same suffering as the whole world? And does our God and His angels not come to walk with us along the road of pain?

I have only weak answers to the suffering in this world. But that experience in the “Jardim das Fontes” did something to me. A woman whose name I do not know tampered with my heart. I sensed the presence of the Eternal One for He was there for her, for us. Is not the Christ there for all the suffering, the hungry, the jobless, the addicted and those who weep? This poor woman tampered with my heart so that I could see into the spirit dimension. Angels came down to us just the same as during Mary’s birth pain in a stinking stable. There angel wings touched Mary’s cheek. And it happened in that home in that slum. Yes, it did.slides-atv-etc-brazil-089Pastor Dorivaldo Masson reaches with love to the congregation at a preaching point sponsored by his home church.

We join with that woman in that home in her pain to celebrate the presence of the Christ. When He is present a bit of heaven comes down to earth. The Christ with His angels at times comes to us all, no matter where we live. It was true in that shack. Surely it is true in the whole world. Not one of us is ever alone.