Monthly Archives: April 2017

The Most Beautiful City in the World

“The giver makes the gift precious.” Anon

I had promised myself that I would never give work team members a view of Brazil that did not include Rio de Janeiro. And as I look at pictures I have of Brazil, something rises up within declaring that I was not telling you the whole story without Rio. And a partial story can be a lie. So I will plop you down in a few of the marvelous sights in Rio, pictures that tell of this city perhaps before some readers were born.

This picture is not Rio but another city on the Atlantic, nor the one below–they all look the same.

Rio is famous as a city kissed by the sun. Its gorgeous wide beaches take the shape of scallops and are made dramatic with the punctuation of mountains with rocky points pushing into the Atlantic. Copacabana is famous, then perhaps Ipanema that is highlighted in the Samba lyrics, “The girl from Ipanema.” Those beaches go on and on and on. At one time Rio was an important port for the shipment of gold, gemstones and coffee to the old world. The bay, on which much of Rio sits, is named the Bay of Guanabara. It is said to be large enough to anchor all the warships of the world—perhaps one hundred years ago.

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I pick you up at your hotel that is a block away from others on the Atlantic. You’d pay double for a hotel on the beach. We leave the beach area and head towards the center of the city but part way there we veer to the right, pass the Red Beach and arrive in the neighbourhood of Urca; it is bordered on three sides by water. Our purpose is visit Sugarloaf Mountain; a  cable car takes us part way up to the mountain known as the Morro da Urca. There we take another car to Sugarloaf Mountain, a  1,300 metre high piece of granite guarding the mouth of the Baia de Guanabara. The panoramic view of beaches, city, mountains, Guanabara Bay and the ocean takes a person’s breath away.

A small park on Sugarloaf shows off palm trees, a few monkeys and different birds. Now look South toward Copacabana and you will see beaches, one following the other until they fade into the distance. Then look a bit to the right. There you will see the spine of mountains that divides the beaches from the city on Guanabara Bay. The famous statue of Christ the Redeemer on one of those peaks stands  guard over Rio.

Turn now towards downtown Rio so that your back is to the ocean and there is Botafogo Bay with its white sand beaches. Now multi-lane roads built on the sand dredged from the Bay follow the beaches to the business centre of Rio. Notice to the right the Santos Dumont airport jutting out into the water. We watch and as a two-engine prop plane takes off; no doubt it is a DC-3 or a Curtis Commander that was old when we arrived there in 1955. It leaves the runway at the edge of the water to fly over the bay. It is strange to see a plane pass way below us as it wings its way out over the ocean.  That route lets it avoid having to lift quickly over the surrounding mountains.

Sugar Loaf is that point of rock on the left.

 

Rio boasts a couple of dozen beaches but I want to tell you about the one our family visited. We lived in the South suburb of Meier so when we wished to visit a beach we travelled up over the spine of mountains and descended to a beach called the Barra de Tijuca. That beach is 18 kilometres long and we considered it Rio’s best. At that time it would be practically deserted so Doris and I with Monica and Vernon would have huge sections of white sand all to ourselves. Our children loved a day at the beach. So what better place to spend a Christmas than at this lovely place of sand, ocean and fantasy? We did that in 1962. Doris prepared lunch and we spread a blanket on the sand for our dinner table.

The Barra ended at the North end with rocks jutting out into the Atlantic and just this side of the rocks was a fresh water stream flowing into the ocean. I discovered that oyster grew in the brackish water on those rocks–that provided me with an idea. I swam across the little river with each of the children on my back, one at a time. With a tire iron, we pried the oysters from the rocks, cracked them open and ate them right there. Nothing fresher! Doris was happy to watch from the other side and if any of us wanted more fresh oysters they were for sale along the road away from the beach.

Hotels now line the Barra’s water edge and extend blocks away towards the mountains. I imagine the waves may still be stronger, the wind more brisk and the waters cooler than the other beaches we visited. I pause and I see this beach we enjoyed the most. Our family is there once more; our children are playing in the surf or building castles in the sand. But this I know–neither our family nor Rio will ever return to what it was once. Yet the city of Rio will always be what it has been–the most beautiful city in the world.

Our family came to know a lot about Rio for we were there attempting to plant a church in a suburb. We might better have put our efforts into a less affluent area or begun with a larger nucleus of folks committed to this project. Still I trust God that we blessed some lives with the Gospel message.

All is changed now in Rio.  Hundreds of new churches now minister there, many reaching up the hillsides to the poor in those terrible slums. Even the national magazine O Cruzeiro wrote up the story a few years ago of the transformation these churches are bringing to Brazil. That reminds me of the Scripture that says, “If any man be in Christ he becomes a new person.”

 

 

She Stood Beside Me

“Things are not to be done by the effort of the moment, but by the preparation of past moments.” Cecilk

Life often lives itself over and over in my mind. Pictures may blow in when I turn a corner in the road, hear a long-forgotten phrase or visit stories while half-awake. For me history comes alive when I scroll through pictures taken in Brazil long ago. I must tell you about the stories that cascaded in with a picture of my wife Doris.

I’ve seen Doris so many times with an accordion on her shoulders standing in front of a dozen children. Believe it or not, as I listen carefully I can hear the music and the children. The place might be the small hall in the interior of the State of São Paulo in a village called Neves Paulista.

What was Doris doing there in the middle of coffee country where some farms had a million bushes? And why was she there in this little village where every building had a rose tint built over time by the dust stirred up from the red dirt of the streets? She was one of the strange Canadian family who were so foreign that when one walked down the street, conversation stopped and heads turned to follow their steps?

This was a church planting project–Doris in the back row with another missionaries visiting from Paraguay. 

The obvious reason is that Doris was there because I was there. But there’s more. Her plan was to be somewhere in Brazil before arriving at the São Paulo airport. As I think of that  I see scene unfold

picture. Doris was doing more than teaching children about the Christian faith. She had the big goal of building lives that would be successful because they were grounded on confidence in Jesus as Lord.

At this moment I want to tell you a bit about her talents and work for the Kingdom of Jesus. I wonder at times if I’d have been any benefit to anyone in Brazil if it had not been for her.

I’ve mentioned the accordion—well she comes from a family connection that is rich in music talent though her dad could not carry a tune in a bucket. We bought the first accordion after moving to the interior for we—or was it I that thought it would be useful. Doris quickly learned to play it though her only lesson was from a friend who showed her middle C on her left hand.

She played the little portable pump organ in church services and out on the coffee farms in open air services. There the “colonos,” the farm workers from the rows of poor housing were fascinated by what they saw and heard. That ministry itself is another story.

 

Doris is at the little portable organ with Lucille Damon leading the children

As well Doris played the cowbells. Some of those bells were for cows yet the high notes were the small ones made to hang on sheep. But she never got her hands on a set of those till well into our second term in Brazil. She picked the bells up quickly—don’t mind the pun for that is how a person plays the bells.

This does show the bells but that is her playing them

Wherever she played the bells in a church or a hall, people craned their necks to see the magic. If it was on a street corner or in a park, people would crowd in with the children getting closer yet. Playing the bells is indeed a special talent even for those who know the piano.

Flannelgraph was old fashioned but it worked great then

But her ministry to people went beyond music. No matter where she saw children and quickly organized Sunday school classes and mid-week programs for them. When young people began to attend services, she provided a youth program. Doris would already have a program functioning perhaps about the time I might see the need.

One of the boys from there in the interior recalls as an adult that one of the big attractions to the youth group was the cake that Doris baked for them. Remember this, among the poor people having a cake would be special.

Hey, above all I must mention she was a mother and cared for our daughter Monica who was just a few years old. And our son Vernon was born in the interior. That story includes her memory of the birth of our 10 pound boy without the benefit of even an aspirin.

This is from later in Haiti. Doris is seeing our children off to Canada to avoid me and my Typhoid Fever

This was on deputation with Monica helping–but it shows Doris and her ministry

But since this blog is about her ministry I must include one trip she made to Rio Preto to speak at an evening meeting for ladies. Doris got behind the wheel of the big old Ford work van and headed out alone on the one hour drive over dirt roads through the coffee fields. Those roads were wet from a rain and we knew there is no mud like the red dirt gumbo after a rain. Since those roads dry quickly Doris faced the drive because of the speaking engagement. From one hill he she could see a mud hole so deep cars were getting stuck. Then a group of men helped push them through, of course looking for a tip.

Doris just gunned the engine, sent the men scurrying and the mud flying. She made it through. But night descended and a rain as well before she was free to tackle the return. There was the fear in the air for any person stuck in the mud on that road. A taxi driver had been robbed and murdered in the area just a few weeks before.

With my evening work over and as the clock ticked passed 8:00 p.m. I put the children to bed. Then I had nothing else to do but fuss about Doris not pulling into our yard. More than a few hours later she drove in. She explained it this way—she had started late to return and the muddy driving had slowed that old van.

But whatever reasons now come to mind for her safe arrival, this is one incident that confirmed by belief in guardian angels. During our time in Brazil those angels worked overtime for both of us. Often their tasks had something to do with Doris’ ministry or exploits—whatever you want to call them.

Though we were young, energetic and full of ambition yet those days as hard for both of us, especially Doris. Now years later I regard them as some of the most fruitful in her ministry—and may I add, in mine too.

Well, I see them that way. And I trust that at the final assize God will see it that way too.

 

 

False Fun in the Brazilian Carnival

“There are many shadows, but remember, where there is a shadow there must be a light.” Anon

The Rio de Janeiro Mardi Gras known as O Carnival is without doubt the most amazing in the world. Most Brazilian cities will have a celebração but nothing has more glitz and decadence than the one in Rio. During the days of Carnival that end the day before Lent Samba Schools, made up of neighborhood groups, compete in parades that weave their way through the streets from sunset to dawn. Costumes are incredibly expensive and complex though that is a relative term for some are very scanty. The highlight of the opulent parades during two nights draws top musicians, beauty queens and tourists from many parts of the world.

My beautiful picture

Doris and I knew nothing about Carnival except the little bit our maid told us while we were in language school.  With our limited Portuguese we were not able

A beautiful picture if the hears had not change colors.

to grab onto her every word. But we got this—she invited us to attend a Carnival parade through downtown Campinas for she was part of it. Doris and I attended while carrying Monica, our little baby. We hardly recognized our maid for she was wonderfully costumed. The Campinas Carnival was quiet compared to the one in Rio though we never ever attended another anywhere.

Time to rest–um descanço              

Here’s the reason. The churches not only took a stand against the out-of-control decadence of the Carnival but they organized retreats for their people, especially the youth. The church took its stand against the Carnival for it encouraged ridding oneself  of any inhibitions. Carnival lured everyone to more freely and wildly to the mesmerizing music of the Samba bands.

The Carnival promotes the freedom to commit any sin with the purity demands of Lent approaching just days and hours away. Lent is considered to be the season for fasting and penitence when the sins of the flesh are to be left behind. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and continues for forty days to Good Friday. As believers in Christ our Saviour, we turn our backs on the festivities of the Carnival and instead turn our hearts and minds towards the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. There really is no place where the Christian faith says it is o.k. for us to throw our morals and inhibitions to the wind. The cost is too high.

It is interesting that the practice sessions for the schools of Samba go on during two months before Carnival. These schools work on their music, dancing and the organization of their parts in the parades. Behind the scenes are the ladies who sew and prepare the costumes; often the poor among them spend their small incomes on costumers rather than putting food on the table. African culture plays a big role in the Carnival festivities in the cities in the North of Brazil. And many Northern Caboclos (hicks from the interior) dress in traditional Indian garb and bright feathers.

A baptism during a retreat with Rev. Harold Ryckman reading the scripture.

The Easter message is based on historical facts so that as we ponder the scripture record, confidence builds in the Salvation Jesus offers. History commends itself to our reasoning processes so the story of Easter becomes personal and we make it the guide for all of life. That includes eternity. An old hymn proclaims part of that message with the words, “A Wonderful Saviour is Jesus my Lord, He taketh my burdens away…”

Does God Heal?

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

My answer to the question I’ve raised is, “Yes!” But the story is more complex than that. However I’m not going to try to answer a lot of questions but to raise your faith with what I’ve seen and known first hand.

You might have wondered if God could work in the rustic place where we gathered for prayer. This was in 1957 or ’58 and occurred in Rio Preto in a rented hall that we used for services; you see we hoped to plant a church. This hall was little more than a shelter. There was no ceiling and just wooden doors to cover the openings that served as windows. And for pews we had some rough-cut planks that might give some unwanted slivers.

At that time I was still struggling with Portuguese so that if someone asked me a question outside of my small range of Portuguese, I was stumped. Yet blundering on was our only option. Yet how could prayer be answered in those circumstances?

This is the story. One evening at the weekly prayer meetings in this hall, Dna Maria brought a relative to this service for prayer. Dna Maria had been part of the Spiritist religion but after professing her faith in Jesus, she no longer felt she could take this lady to one of their séances for their ritual. So that evening a small group knelt to pray around this woman at that rough front bench.

This lady had come into Rio Preto because of a tumor in her abdomen. In fact she was scheduled for surgery the next day to have this grapefruit-sized growth removed. On schedule she was at the hospital, prepped and ready for surgery. But the surgeons never picked up a scalpel. After an initial examination they could find no sign of a tumour. Whatever answers to this event you may bring up, I saw every reason to believe in God’s healing.

A picture of the lady I’ve mentioned never has turned up, but I have a note on the picture below, “The lady in the middle had a wonderful experience of divine healing.” But the details of the story escape me.

My comments are: first, it seems that God at times provides extra help and healing for those who find themselves sick with few medical open doors. Second, this lady with this story on her lips, as she returned to the roça–this country area–she was a powerful influenced for Jesus.

Something similar happened in the village of Poloni. It began with an invitation from a man to hold a service and show film strips in his yard. Interest was high with families crowding in to watch and hear about the life of Christ.

Then one day a message was relayed to me that one of those families wished me to come to their home and pray for them. I found that the children in this home had what may have been pink eye, though I have no medical studies to say what it was. In any case I believed the problem could only be cured with an antibiotic. So it was with little faith that we prayed together there, asking for God’s healing mercy and intervention in the eyes of these suffering children.

 

A week later when I returned for the gathering in the back yard, the children were there but with no sign of eye problems. Though I have no medical background, I have heard that often such a malady disappears after a week or two. The problem is that the conditions in these poor homes often re-infect the family again and again. In any case we thanked God for his mercy that brought this family once again to hear the story of Jesus.

The next chapter in this story of our work  Poloni is that we were able to rent a small hall and hold services there every week. The story I’ve just told may have made that possible. I suspect it did.