Author Archives: rkenny2014

About rkenny2014

My wife Doris and I spent ten years in Brazil as Christian missionaraies. Half of that time was in the interior of the State of Sao Paulo. We worked largely with the labourers on the coffee farms, then later in Rio and Sao Paulo. I keep in contact with friends there and handle well their Portuguese. Later we spent two years in Haiti before returning to Canada with Typhoid Fever. Those were difficult years but some of our best.

A Stop at the Falls, the “Foz de Iguaçu”

“Consider that this day ne’er dawns again.” Dante

It is special to stand beside the Iguaçu River for it divides Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. But our family needed to cross this river from the small town of Foz de Iguaçu in Brazil to Paraguay on the other side. The huge swirling eddies in the river were frightening for they might swamp any small boat; so the crossing before us appeared more than exciting—it seemed downright dangerous.

Where we wish to cross was not this bad–of course.

But let me tell about our trip so you understand what in the world we were doing in that part of the world. As you know, we were missionaries in Brazil and on this occasion we were travelling to visit another missionary family, the Huston in Asuncion, Paraguay. But since we wanted to do a bit of sightseeing we stopped part way there to see the world famous falls, the Foz de Iguaçu. The trip began at the city airport in São Paulo and we were lucky to board our first turboprop plane. It landed on a grass runway with Doris, myself and our two children; later Monica and Vernon were able stand close to the largest falls in the world.

We booked into the only hotel in town, and then took a bus out to the falls. When we stopped close by the tumbling water, we made sure we stayed close together. We kept track of our children for we were perched on a rock about halfway down to the pool where the water fell from the precipice above. From where we stood we could see not only the three Kilometres of the whole falls but the horseshoe part named the A Gargunta do Diabo—The Devil’s Throat. Actually the falls is a network of 275 individual falls, some small and others huge. The numbers might not excite any anyone reading this blog until you stand beside us, hear the roar, feel the surging clouds of spray and watch the water that cascades from the Parana River. This river is only exceeded in length by the Amazon.

When we visited, there were no catwalks or jet boats to take us over the roiling waters just below the falls. But we did see this! Boys from below where we stood were diving into the pool formed by the falling water. Me? I had no desire to dive in for I could imagine jagged rocks under that bubbling water. The boys, I assume were there just for the fun for none came to ask for a few centavos.

For the geographers I should say a word more about the Paraná River. It is so huge the Tupí Indian language for the word means, “like the sea.” The Itaipu dam and hydro electric generators on the lower Parana produce 90 % of Paraguay’s electricity, 20 % of Brazil’s power. The power produced is only superseded in size by China’s Three Gorges power plant.

But back to our family, this time at the hotel. I don’t remember much about it except that it was acceptable and in a way that was special for this frontier town. And it had a good restaurant. Perhaps the dining room was crowded for we shared a table with a handsome lady. As we chatted about what we each did, she shared her work using euphemistic words—her task was to make men happy.

It was the next morning that we descended the hill with our luggage to the Iguaçu river close by. We were apprehensive when we saw our transportation to the little backward village across the water in Paraguay.  Our only option was a wooden boat that would hold perhaps a dozen individuals. When loaded with people and a treadle sewing machine, the gunnels were about six inches above the water. That did not seem nearly enough for the half kilometer crossing on fast moving water swirling with eddies. But we had no choice. Either it was paying our fare and taking this boat or interrupting our trip. So we said our silent prayers and counted on God to post his angels to the task of getting us safe to Paraguayan soil. We made it but then we loaded on a bus for Asuncion that did not look much more promising than the boat.

The Huston family in Rio when they visited with us.

 

But we soon found out a law that governed traffic on that highway.  No traffic was allowed to move at all in any direction when it began to rain. The purpose was to preserve the integrity of the dirt road—well, sure enough it began to sprinkle. The bus pulled into a little roadside stand that we thought might provide a respite from the rock-hard seats of the bus. They did have soft drinks for sale but you can imagine how appetizing they were in a tropical climate when there was no refrigeration. But we drank it anyway and ate the little sandwiches available on stale bread. The sprinkling stopped—thanks to God’s angels—and after a while the road dried up a bit and we were on our way.

Wonderful missionaries, Ernie and Lucy Huston with a Paraguayan family.

 

Added to the complications of this trip is that we had no confirmation from the Hustons that they knew we were coming. You need to understand that communication of any kind was practically non-existent. But it all worked out well and that fits in with the New Testament promise—“All things work together for good to those who love the Lord.” The experiences of my life have proved again and again truth of that promise. You too may commit your life to Him and experience that trust.

LASTING VALUES VERSUS PHYSICAL PROWESS

“I must be measured by my soul; the mind’s the standard of the man.” Isaac Watts

I’ve always been glad that success or failure in life did not depend on my physical abilities. You see, even though I stood six feet tall yet I was not especially coordinated. Perhaps behind the scenes the angels planned for me to be deficient in that area so that I would have to depend on studies, books and the manoeuvrings of the mind. Now as usual, the spark for writing this blog is the memories that take me on the journey back to my family during our time in Brazil.

I quote from my writing years ago. “…I’ve been glad that success or failure did not depend on physical abilities.” Doris and I both found out in Brazil that it really made little difference how well we had performed on any athletic field. Those talents wouldn’t amount to much in learning Portuguese or accomplished the work to which we felt God calling us. Doris remembers the comment of our pre-school daughter Monica who learned Portuguese among the children in the interior. After visiting some other missionaries in a big city she said, “They don’t speak very good Portuguese.” Monica learned it easily for children have that ability. As parents however, the language was difficult.  We succeeded for we depended on our fluency in Portuguese to survive our isolation out in coffee country.

Miss Cummings, our excellent director in language school She was trained in phonetics–that helped us.

 

I wonder at the value our world places on physical abilities especially in sports. I recall arriving at the Congonhas airport in São Paulo when the Brazilian soccer team came home after winning their 2nd. international championship two years in a row. When their plane landed police used truncheons to beat back the crowd that tried to get to the plane on the runway. We all rejoiced at the win; Pelé was part of the team and the world’s most famous scorer. Their physical superiority in Soccer racked up salaries into the millions. But I wonder how much good each person’s fame and fortune will mean a hundred years from now. I believe the physical is the least important part of the man.

A service in a home in S.P. interior. The light came from a bulb powered by a 6 Volt battery–that also powered the projector. I trust God that the Gospel seed grew.

After our family left Brazil for the last time we found a story about the legacy we left to our children. Monica was not yet ten and Vernon almost eight but they wanted to see the Catacombs during our visit to Rome. We had included that city on our trip to Egypt where my sister Velma and family lived as missionaries. So in Rome we made it a point to descend down into the underground rooms and pathways of the Catacombs under the city. Our children saw where the persecuted Christians lived and were buried. We also went with them to the Appian Way where it is thought that the footprints of Peter exist in the stone roadway as he fled persecution. There he is believed to have encountered the Christ who said to him, “Quo vadis?” At that question, Peter returned to a martyrs death.

Keeping the Appian Way clean

Why would our children want to visit these places? It was not because either Peter or the martyrs who were buried in the Catacombs were sports heroes. I understand that our children had heard about the faithfulness of these Christians who followed the Lord even to death. In Peter’s case he died crucified head down for he did not consider himself worthy to die as his Master had.

I may consider physical values of little importance since I never was great at horseshoes or softball or soccer, though it is never fun to be ridiculed for being inept. But I feel good as I look back on many things Doris and I accomplished in Brazil. There was a teen whose parents and siblings we helped in some small way. Though I had no idea the value of that help yet now he refers to me as poppa. I am hoping he will be able to speak at my funeral.

A Sunday School group in Rio Preto in which folks from the Presbyterian church gave great help. This work had value that extends into eternity. The lad at the back right became a church leader later in life. 

 

So I could not care less that I have scored low in any sport. There are other values in this life that rank higher—much higher. Isn’t that the way it should be for all us at any moment in life? Keeping the eternal in mind helps every one of us to focus our lives on lasting values. It is Jesus who states that during our time here, we are to lay up treasures in heaven.

More About Putting Down Roots in Rio Preto

“Restoration always seems to bring joy.” Anon

                The street on which we lived was made of cobblestone—of course many of the other streets in town were similar. Asphalt paving was scarce for Brazilians then imported most of their petroleum products. Fear of the foreign oil companies was palpable. The cry in the 50s and later years by leftist politicians and most newspapers was, “O Oleo e Nosso,” that is, “The Oil is Ours.” Now Brazil is energy independent. That explains why then, a street from our home to the edge of town was just red dirt.

Imagine us carrying our little daughter Monica and pushing a carriage with our baby Vernon up a street—yes it was up–to a rented hall where we held religious services in Rio Preto. The wheels of that carriage were mostly invisible in the soft dirt…sweating work in the constant hot weather. Of course the street was worse when it rained.  Then the dirt turned to a sticky red gumbo,

In Rio Preto, Monica and Vernopn sick with chicken pox. It was a bad dose with scars

 

Now a story about something that didn’t happen. The protestant churches in the city were organizing unity services with each congregation distributing invitations each day in their part of Rio Preto. Since we were beginning to plant a church, I alone had the job of daily dropping off flyers in the homes in our area. All went well all week as far as I knew. But one family was thoroughly upset at me for leaving propaganda every day at their gate. Two of the young men from that family decided to stay home from work, wait for me to come by and give me a good thrashing—something that would teach me a lesson.

A family and home similar to the one of Dna Zenaide

 

Well, it never occurred because a friend of theirs from down the street had happened to drop in for a visit at the very time I was going by. What difference did that make? Well this lady, Dna. Zenaide was host every week to film strips that we showed in her yard. Those film strips drew a lot of attention for the area had no electricity, no TV and few radios. Those same film strips may have contributed to this family’s hostility. Anyway, the fellows who had decided to beat me up were embarrassed to administer this important lesson in front this “crente”. Translation—believer.

This “crente” later told Doris that the plan was not just to beat me up but to kill me. Whatever the purpose, I believe God had sent his angels to arrange circumstances so that it never happened. I am sure God’s angels were involved behind the scenes many time in our lives bringing safety and untold blessings.

You’ve gathered we had no vehicle at this time in Rio Preto. And since there was no bus service how did we get around? If we had suitcases added to our two children, we rented a charrete which is a two-wheeled horse-drawn open buggy. That may seem primitive but we did not mind too much for a person makes do with what they have. And happy about it.

Generally we got around using “shank’s horses.” Let me explain this Irish expression that I picked up from my dad. A shank is the part of the leg between the knee and the ankle. So our legs were the horses that took us where we wanted to go. That brings to mind the long hike—the four of us–down to the city market that took the place of grocery stores.

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The most important of our memories are of the friends we made in Rio Preto. Many of them fashioned new lives based on a living faith in the love of the Eternal Father. We came to know a girl not quite a young teen when she came with her family to see the film strips I’ve mentioned. Her name is Vanilda and as she grew her beautiful voice matured along   so that when she sang, a person would be enchanted. Nostalgia wells up in my mind clutching at my throat when I recall not only Vanilda but the wonderful people we came to know and love in Rio Preto.

So many friends from our days in Rio Pfeto__each with a story!

 

 

 

 

Where the Jaguar Roamed

“Every sunset brings the promise of a new dawn.” Anonymous

Strange, that is how I’d describe how our family ended up in Neves in the interior of the State of São Paulo. Its population would have been in the hundreds and almost a day away from other English speaking missionaries. Looking back, I can now imagine our loneliness. Then Bob and Ruth Kasperson and family came to visit us and provide encouragement.

They drove their Jeep from the pioneer territory in the State of Paraná to our place; all that trip was over dirt roads that were either dusty or muddy. About that Jeep, when they were with us I borrowed it one evening to take a family from the service back to the farm where they lived and worked. I thought the Jeep would be better suited to the terrible road than our old carryall. But I hit one hole in the road too hard and the Jeep took one leap right into the ditch. I walked all the way back to get Bob for he knew how to drive that cantankerous vehicle.

Later we returned the visit to Paraná, leaving Monica with the Campbells, the other couple who  pioneered that work. Vernon, as mentioned in our last blog, stayed with Maria and José and we took a number of different buses to first stop to visit OMS missionaries at their seminary in Londrina Paraná. Rev. Hubert Clevinger’s work beyond that of teaching was to plant churches using services in tents. Back in the 50s those tents attracted big gatherings.

While in the Londrina area Doris played the cowbells. One Sunday Clarence and Betty Owsley took us to visit in a couple of churches. Betty played the accordion and Doris the bells. That was such an attraction that the services would go on for hours with the folks calling out numbers from the hymnal for the ladies to play. The cowbells were a novelty and Doris never missed a beat on any hymn.

Then another bus and more dirt roads but interesting country and at one place real live cowboys were herding their cattle. But this area of Paraná was largely given over to coffee though the planters found out that frost came occasionally destroying the bushes. Then when we came to Maringá we located the home of Bob and Ruth set on the edge of the town with the logs of fallen trees scattered nearby with corn planted in between. It was a pity to see the logs being destroyed by termites for that wood would now be worth a fortune on the world’s markets.

Bob Kasperson and his children at their home. When Bob and I were together folks mistook one for the other.

We thought we had it hard as missionaries but nothing like the Kasperson family. Their home was made of rough-hewed boards that often left cracks to the outside. We all used a small chemical toilet in the home that I di-stink-ly remember—get the pun? Ruth did their cooking over a rough brick stove with a steel top over an open firebox—notice the fire burning.  It was situated in a rough lean-to beside the house. And Ruth had a smile on her face.  Wow.

Bob asked me to speak in their church on the weekend—I recall this family was loved by the people in this church planting situation. Then Monday we piled into their Jeep and they drove us on out to the village of Cianorte to visit another missionary family, the Hartmans. This village was right on the edge of the area where the jungle was being cut to plant coffee and there the jaguars indeed roamed free.

The Hartman’s church in Cianorte

The Hartmans had built their church on a hill overlooking the village and the small planes that often landed in Cianorte used the church as a pylon before turning to land on the main street. The first flight over the village alerted mothers to get their children and dogs off the strip.

The Hartmans told me the story how just a few days before, a man adept with a machete had killed a jaguar that had been taking a neighbour’s piglets. We visited the little store where the salted skin of that jaguar was rolled up on the rough bar used for serving their cheap rum. We have that skin still to-day and I’d be glad to spread it out for anyone to see the machete cuts on its head.

I’ll never forget those missionaries, especially the Kaspersons who took care of us. Bob looks down on me from his picture on his funeral bulletin. I am told Ruth is now in a nursing home. As for the Hartmans—a wonderful outgoing couple that would have been a success in any church in North America. I’ve lost complete track of them and Google does not help.

May God give each of these wonderful missionaries a great eternal reward, especially those who labored in areas where the jaguar  silently padded along on its silent ways.

 

Hard Work Indeed

“Hardship often prepares an ordinary person for an extraordinary destiny.” C.S. Lewis

The Brazilian saying tells a story: “If you don’t have a dog, you hunt with a cat.”Some types of work differ from country to country but it gets done. That was especially true in the fifties and sixties when were in Brazil. We each adapt our work to fit our time and place in the world.

This lady from somewhere in the interior near where we lived made lace using what we might call bobbins. She rolled thread up on little sticks and tossed them back and forth on a pattern set by pins to form something beautiful. We might refer to this work as tatting but that requires a shuttle. Perhaps one of my Brazilian friends will put the right word to this work.

Making lumber out of logs with nothing more than a big saw and lots of muscle no doubt happened in the interior of Brazil in days past. These men worked in Paraguay not far from the border with Brazil, an area where a saw mills was not available.  I’ve always wondered if the two men flipped a coin to see who would get the dusty job of pulling the saw underneath the log. Talk about hard work!

Property lot lines were clearly set down wherever we lived in Brazil. That line was evident when a mason went to work using rough burned bricks to lay them in mortar. That mortar was red and nothing more than the soil made into what I knew as just plain mud, red mud. Yet when dry it held the bricks though the plaster over the bricks generally had lime added. It seems incredible but I knew a bricklayer that would lay up to 5,000 bricks a day. Of course it was a long day and it took two men to keep him supplied.                        Now a strange story that includes a wall, the wall between ourselves and a German neighbour –that was when we lived in the city of São Paulo. We assumed this couple was among the many that fled Germany after WWII. We never saw them and the vicious dog they had told the story. We repeatedly warned our son Vernon who was about seven, to never climb that wall. But one day he did just that. As he surveyed the world somehow that dog jumped about six feet to tear a piece out of his upper arm. God had sent his angels to work overtime for if the dog had dragged Vernon down into its yard, he would have been killed.

My beautiful picture

This picture shows the inside part of a plant with its fiber being bleached and dried in the sun before going to market. We used this plant as a washcloth or a scrub brush when taking a shower—mind you we took lots of showers when the days were hot. But we did use what everyone did, that is, the center fibres out of what looked like a long oversized cucumber. Their word for it is bucha and it worked quite well with sabonete, soap added. A lot of farm work was involved in providing a bucha  for our shower.

These carpenters were putting together the frame for a roof though that frame and roof were distinctly different from what we know here. Red tiles would later cover the roof, each one made with little lips that would catch on to the strapping and then stay in place. The spacing for the tiles and their weight required a different framework than here in Canada. In Brazil there was no plywood sheeting that the carpenters could rest on or use for safety. I suppose they get used to being stretched out over open spaces—though I can imagine accidents happening.

Missionary work?  We knew about that; it is more than preaching or giving a hand to the poor. This sign tells everyone that we’d be holding services in this rented hall with the purpose of people finding hope for this life and eternity. I’ve forgotten the location of this hall; but it was in one of four towns or villages where we attempted to plant churches in the interior.

These words from an old hymn gives us advice similar to those of Jesus when He commanded us to lay up treasures in heaven. “Work for the night is coming, Work thro’ the sunny noon; Fill brightest hours with labor, Rest comes sure and soon; Give every flying minute, Something to keep in store; Work for the night is coming, when man works no more.”

 

 

 

Doris and the Youth Program

“We keep the best of that which we give away.” Anon

A while ago I found Doris in her “craft office” sorting through stuff from days gone by. I noticed scarves that were similar to what is used here by the Scouts. The scarves were part of the Christian Youth Crusaders—known as CJC youth program she led in Brazil. In this case they were being thrown away but curiosity won and I picked them up. Those keepsakes from 60 years ago had to go, yet to do so seem to destroy memories. Those scarves, so full of nostalgia, told stories of Doris’ work. The scarves are gone; the program continues.

All over one scarf hearts were traced out with notes in them, written in Portuguese by CYCers. I’ll translate a few though they spelled her name differently. “Dorys I love you. The Lord is my shepherd and I will lack nothing. Debora.” “May God bless you and may it continue on that way. Linda, Simpatica and Graciosas.” Then there is a similar one repeated a number of times, “Dorys, many thanks for bringing CYC to the church in Brazil. Cida Farias.”

            Signatures of a number of local directors on scarves tell of Doris’ training the first leaders. Some names go back to that first CYC training camp that she organized. Those leaders then began the program in their local churches and from there it spread. (I wish I at least had a picture of those scarves.)

            Let me tell you how it began. When we moved into the city of São Paulo it was to the home that a missionary couple, the Ryckmans, had rented. There Doris discovered in her rummaging some of the North American CYC program that Evelyn had translated. Since Doris saw the need of a youth program she continued the translation with adaptations. Then she typed the program on A.B. Dick stencils, without ever having the advantage of a typing lesson—tedious work. She then ran them off on that copier. Work on one of those obstinate machines and gooey black ink means it was a messy job. At the same time she printed and sent churches a description of the program. Soon they began picking it up.Believe it not–Maria and Alzenir

            She started the first CYC in our Vila Galvão church, a church that began in a back yard then growing to a full-fledged building and congregation. The program attracted a good number of youth including Alzenir and Maria—they became leaders across the wider church.   The program spread and when we left another Doris, this time a Thompson, gave it leadership. Then in 2003 the CYC directors invited the Kenny lady to Brazil to be the guest speaker at convocation of CYC groups. They were celebrating their 60th anniversary; on that day groups came from across the area that included he huge city of São Paulo

Mementos given to Doris in Brazil when she spoke at the 50th. anniversary of the program.

            I sat in the congregation as children and youth from many groups repeated in exact unison their vows and scripture. What a thrill. When Doris rose to speak, she abandoned her notes in Portuguese and simply talked to the 800 present. To leave one’s notes in any language is difficult but she did a great job. I was surprised and proud of her at that moment—more than you can imagine.

A few years ago when I was leading a work team in São Paulo a child discovered my name. She came up and asked, “Are you a Kenny that is related to Doris? She is the lady who started CYC here in Brazil.” Apparently some know who Doris is, but have no idea who I am. That was a great source of pride for me.

Imagination could weave many a marvelous story of those who started out in a new direction in life because of CYC. I know a story told to me by a lady. It happened in a little church and might have been repeated many times in the youth clubs.

A little boy came to the church but would not leave the director’s side to be part of his class. But she had patience with him so over the years he gained confidence and later graduated from High School to join the army. When he had become a commissioned officer he returned to visit the lady who had been so kind. He told her of meeting his mother and a brother who lived in squalor. The mother had tried to make ends meet through prostitution. The church youth program had lifted him from that home and changed his life.

I don’t recall all the details of that story nor can I go back to get it straight from the lady I mentioned for she has gone on to her eternal reward. The day I hugged her for the last time it was not just for her kindnesses to us but her love to all the children whose lives she touched. No doubt those scarves being thrown out would have many such stories woven into their triangular folds.

How About a Hot Cup of Coffee?

“Lack of something to feel important about is the greatest tragedy a man may have.” Arthur Ernest Morgan

            A laborer on a coffee plantation explaining to me his poverty. He said, “There are three things we need to survive. We need food, clothing and medicines but one is always lacking.  We earn only enough on a coffee farm to buy two while working.” Slaves originally did the back-breaking work in the coffee fields; however the workers in the fields that we knew during the fifties, lived only a slight cut above slavery.

            These “colonos” lived in row housing with no electricity, no running water and no indoor toilets. It was a hard life especially for the mothers and their children. Some “colonos”  would get a share of the coffee production in trade for labour. In those cases the women and children bent their backs in the fields, everyone doing their best to put rice and beans on the table.

Guilherme Gardia owned the local coffee cleaning machine. He and his family were baptized in Neves. 

They did not pick the coffee beans when they looked like small red cherries though they say those beans produced a better tasting coffee. The coffee bushes were about eight feet tall and planted in rows. The workers would clean the leaves and loose dirt from under the trees using wide hoes so that during harvest the workers knocked the dried coffee beans to the ground. From there they scooped them up to be winnowed by hand. Then the beans were placed on large brick drying floors. Later the bags of beans were taken to a machine—“a máquina de benefício”  that would remove the bean husks and prepare the beans for roasting or export.

It was on one such farm we met a lovely family. The four girls, all in their teens, worked with the dad in the fields with the mother helping as she could. When their rough farm clothing  were changed to their Sunday best they would fit right into our society. Black hair, light skin and Latin faces made them stand out. And since most Brazilians have a lot of Latin blood and with that an artistic bent. The result? The four girls sang the hymns of the church in lovely harmony.

There was no perfume more enticing than the wafting aroma of coffee being processed in the torradeira–roaster in the village. When it was roasting the tantalizing smell would be carried over our home. Nothing would trigger a desire for that dark demi-tasse cup, the “cafezinho” more than that smell. That reminds me of what Brazilians say when they taste our Canadian coffee. “One has to drink a gallon of water to get a cup of coffee.”

Coffee production in Brazil is called “the wave that passes.” The reason is that growing coffee depletes the soil that never was rich. So when the coffee cycle is finished another type of farming takes over.

The workers on the coffee plantations were barely paid a living wage. They often moved to earn just a few more centavos. Occasionally we would see a donkey and a cart piled high with a family’s earthly goods. I would wonder if they might be going from the frying pan into the fire. The aroma of roasting coffee in the air did more than make us want a cup. It reminded us of the poor, desperate people trying to scratch out a living and raise their families.

A plank of wood was their washing machines on a farm.  Now you can understand why there was room for one more missionary family doing their little bit to give a helping hand. There was room for us, our church and our people to pass on the message of hope that is in the Christ. Remember this, the story of Jesus in the Gospels gives hope in this life and for eternity. I encourage you to read your New Testament and find out about this experience of hope.

Luiz first came to the hall as a poor boy out in coffee country because he loved music. Converted, baptized and talented he has sung in city-wide crusades. Wow and amen!