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Heaven Does Not Forget

“It’s not how much we give, but how much we put into giving.” Mother Teresa

If it were not for a picture taken years ago and now in a scrapbook, I would not only have forgotten his name but the story that swirls around him.

 

Here is José now–Doris had written down his name. It is so good to have a wife that is organized. José is looking over a small hymnal that we used in services.  The rest of his name is lost but I’ll pass on the part of the story I remember.

At that time we were living and working in the interior of the state of São Paulo; it seemed we were busy in four church planting projects and on the coffee estates. But in all of this José contacted us.

He invited us to come to his town of Poloni and hold a service in his yard. So that is what we did. It was a big dirt yard with his home and a number of very simple homes both around it and close by. The yard was crowded with adults and children as we showed a film strip of the life of Christ. Those films strips were a great attraction for, if I remember, Poloni did not have electricity.

A family who lived close to José that sent a message asking me to visit them. After clapping at the door of this poor home, The lady met me at the door of their poor home and explained that her husband was not yet home. So I waited till he came. You see it was improper to only visit with the lady of the home. When he pulled up with his donkey and two-wheeled cart he said he wished me to drop by to pray for his children with an eye infection.

 

My faith was so very small for what little I knew of medicine indicated that the children needed an antibiotic. But these poor people had asked me to pray so what else could I do? The next week at our service I found out that the children had recovered. Perhaps it was as my dad used to say, “The Lord has mercy on fools and children.”

This family was plagued by a spirit that wished to control their home.  But Jesus delivered them.

 

Interest in the Gospel was strong enough in Poloni that we rented a small hall with Doris and me holding services there once a week. An interesting sidelight: the couple from whom we rented the hall had not spoken to each other for 20 years though they lived together in the same home.

 

Doris would have a lesson geared to the children though the adults also loved to listen in. And of course Doris provided the music on her accordion while all I added was a short Gospel message. I said to Doris the other day that I would not have been much of a missionary without her. So true!

Doris and her cowbells used in Poloni though this was taken elsewhere.

 

One week we found we were in some trouble with the group that came to the services. We had thought that if we gave candy to the children that learned a Bible verse from week to week, it would encourage both memorization and attendance. It did the opposite for the complaint was that we discriminated unreasonably among the children. That was easily resolved.

 

We were only in the interior a short while till we found out that using the bus system would not get us to the towns where we were planting churches—well, at least on time. And we’d certainly not be able to get out to the coffee ranches. Well, we bought an old van, paid too much, fixed it up but it got us to where we wanted to go–to Poloni for example.

We have other memories of wonderful people and places there in the interior. However we’ll leave that for another time.

 

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Magic in Brazilian Flowers and Trees

“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handywork…There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.” Psalm 19:1,3 KJV

Nature is so delightful in Brazil since all the trees and flowers are radically different from here in Canada. We will only try to cover a fraction of what you as a tour member might see in the São Paulo area. We won’t try to touch on Brazil’s exotic animals.

The gourds, cabaças, are especially useful. This type pictured has such a hard shell that it is cut and shaped to provide utensils for the kitchen and home. A great friend, Luiz Roberto da Silva is checking out these though there are others that are made into pretty doll’s heads and other pieces of art. Check it out on the internet.

Shortly after arriving in Brazil I marvelled at the fallen flowers covering a sidewalk that were from a number of trees. They were the kapok trees and after those flowers came a large pod full of a soft fluffy substance. For years it was used in life jackets till synthetic materials took over.

Poinsettias are familiar to us for we buy them for Christmas decorations. In Canada the growing is refined to create small plants that do well in pots. I recall the poinsettias all along the roadway to our rural seminary where the caretaker had broken off poinsettia branches and stuck them in the ground. Note the flowers on this bush in front of our home at a later time, with Monica and Naomi Lindsay.

 

 

Then of course I cannot forget the orchids in their wild variety and beauty. Maria and Alzenir took me to their backyard to show me their beauties that had been just slips tied to the trunk of a small tree. And I’ve also seen lovely orchids cultivated in the yard of the poorest of homes in the interior.

And the bougainvillea bush showed itself so often as it covered the walls in front of many homes—that included the favelas for it grew so easily and was so pretty.

 

I could go on and on with pictures of flowers of which I do not even remember names. Here are a few. However the beauty of Brazil and any land are the people who live there—especially the children.

Indeed the heavens and the firmament show God’s creative handiwork but it is the people of Brazil and our work among the children that have an eternal value. You see, God made us with a complexity and beauty beyond any flower, for he wanted and still wants us to dwell with him forever. St. John the apostle wrote down the words of Jesus so that “we might know that we have eternal life.” This is a beauty for all eternity.

The flowers, the trees and each one of us pass on to begin another journey. We invite you to continue yours with Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

Our Children’s Accidents and Ailments

“We make our decisions and often our decisions then make us.” Anon

Doris—my capable wife, is a graduate nurse and with her Bible School background in Christian Education she was equipped  for her work in Brazil. You’ll see the importance of the nursing part as I tell of some, just some of our family’s excursions into illnesses and accidents. You may imagine we needed two fulltime nurses especially for our son Vernon who seemed to be the target of so many difficult incidents.

 

Monica was just as sick but the pox don’t show in this picture.

One of the saddest pictures I’ve ever taken was of our two children sitting on our couch in the city of Rio Preto—sad because they both had chicken pox. They had pox in their hair, over all their bodies and even on the bottom of their feet. Years later those pox scars showed on Monica’s face and I have no doubt they are still there. Doris was the only one that could make them as comfortable as possible —she was mom as well as a nurse. Soon I came down with the same bug. All that I recall about the chicken pox is that I was so sick. Yes, I too needed that nurse.

 

Less than a year later we moved to the dusty village of Neves that was surrounded by coffee farms. Vernon was not yet two years old when Doris discovered one evening that he had a very sore arm. She was giving him his bath and he complained when she touched it. We were so fortunate to have a doctor in the village—so off we went. He declared that Vernon had a fracture.

 

Vernon was a year older of so when he had the green stick fracture.

This is how it happened–at least that is our guess. The only thing from which a little boy might fall in our yard would be the low wall between our home and the street. No doubt that wall was mountain climbing to Vernon–in any case he ended up with what is called a “green stick” break. No cast was necessary but Doris kept it bandaged to make it more comfortable. Another broken arm happened when we lived in Rio de Janeiro—that time the break gave him another elbow. We have written that story up in detail in another posting.

The hepatitis Vernon picked up in Rio was of course more serious than a broken arm. We lived in a nice home and paid little attention to the dirty creek that ran behind our lot. We had warned our Vernon not to go near it but that was difficult to do when other boys would gather minnows from it in bottles or cans. Nothing worked to keep him away from the creek. When other boys played there—his inner logic would be, “If they can, then I can too.” The water there was especially dangerous for some of it came from a local hospital—with the result that Vernon picked up hepatitis A.

while in Rio, Vernon graduated from kindergarten.

Now the part about God’s angels taking charge. The doctor we contacted had worked among the indigenous Brazilian Indians during an epidemic of hepatitis and with his experience he knew to prescribe an antibiotic that within weeks solved the sickness. I believe his help was an act of Divine care for without proper treatment hepatitis may leave severe liver damage. But it was not long before Doris picked up the hepatitis bug from Vernon. So the two of them were in bed with severely restricted activities. That was tough for an active young lad. During that time I was the nurse–does that make you smile? It should, though I did my very best.

It was there in Rio that a young lady came to our home looking for work as a maid. Since we had been in Rio only a short time, had no maid yet and being of a trusting mind we hired her. For a while we thought everything was going well till our children told us they were being mistreated when we were both absent. We learned that Vernon would sit on the top step of the stairs in our two story home anxiously waiting for us to return. That picture even now in my mind brings me to the verge of tears. At the same time we found the maid was stealing from us. She had to go.

 

 

In spite of living in the interior and in spite of sicknesses, our children were quite normal.

There are good things that come to moms and nurses to make life easier and balance out the hard times. I call it Divine providence. While we lived in Rio both of our children enrolled in a private school run by a wonderful Baptist family. It was a delightful experience for them for the language of the school was the same as that of our children–Portuguese. I have pictures of Monica and Vernon dressed up for graduation decked out in robes and mortar boards. Just imagine–Vernon’s graduation was from Pre-Kindergarten and Monica from grade one. We are still friends with Noemi, one of their teachers. It is unfortunate for our children that our family soon moved away from Rio to São Paulo. That is another story, a difficult one that I may not write about–ever.

I Forgot to Leave the Keys

And He will raise you up on eagles’ wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, Make you to shine like the sun and hold you in the palm of His hand.   African Song

Living in the interior of the State of São Paulo meant I had to travel 600 Kilometres to the big city of São Paulo to exchange money. Since those dirt roads could either turn to mud or create clouds of dust that would blow through the open windows of a bus—the only option was take the train. Even so sparks from the wood burning engine would come in a window and could burn a hole in my shirt. I’ve often come awake with a start. But the story of this post is about something else.

Since we lived in Neves some 40 kilometres from the station, I would go the city of Rio Preto where I could catch the train. Doris with our two small children would drop me off and then return home. The vehicle we had was an old Ford Carryall that had seen better days but Doris had mastered the old beast. So I was not much concerned then about her and our little ones getting back to Neves. As I look back on those days, I no doubt should have been scared spitless.

But I forgot to give her keys to the vehicle. I might invent excuses for my carelessness related to being busy with last minute instructions. She of course had to be in charge of a number of churches with their services and programs while I was away.  My excuse might be that I was busy in just getting my ticket purchased and my suitcase in hand. In any case the keys were in my pocket as I stepped up into the train.

The worse part yet is that I’d be away from home for more than a couple of days for I would do more than exchange money. I would check with the agent who was trying to get our car out of customs down in the port city of Santos. What a shock when well on my way on the train I discovered the keys. But then there was nothing I could do—well I could say a prayer. But such a prayer was not with much faith for the keys were in my pocket.

When Doris reached to turn on the engine there were no keys in the ignition. What was she to do? Doris says about the situation, “Well do I remember how I felt.” Of course she was unhappy for she knew hardly anyone in that city—especially someone that might be a mechanic or a locksmith. She had two small children with her and darkness was descending for day was ending.

A picture from our days in Neves–Doris and I with Monica and Vernon. How the years have fled! Both of our children are now grandparents

 

 

There were some good times as well as the tough ones out in Neves, one of those was swimming with our children in the muddy stream called Barra Dourada. Another boy from the Kaspersons family–missionaries  as well. He is the third child in the background.

Back to the story: Doris recalled me fiddling with some wires under the dash for one reason or another…perhaps to start the Carryall when there was a bad connection in the old contraption. So she began to try connections between one wire and another. I can imagine that with some of those tries, the sparks flew. Then she connected the right ones. The vehicle started and kept on running. So that was how she was able to get home.

I’m sure we both had our own stories about my being away as we sat for a coffee when I arrived back in Neves. If I recall correctly I had taken a bus from the station back home for there would be no way Doris would want to try her luck fiddling with those wires again. Once was surely enough.  Just now as we chatted about how she got that old vehicle to start it came to mind that it must have been one of the Eternal One’s angels who were watching all the time and guided her fingers to make the right connection. Once again this is the time to sing the doxology, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…”

Some other words come to mind as I think back to that situation in which Doris found herself—a one in a million chance of finding the right loose wires under the dash. The words are, “In all thy ways acknowledge Him (our God) and He shall direct thy paths.” I am sure of this, that when we are doing our best to do God’s will He often intervenes in wonderful ways.

 

A “Mortandela” Sandwich

“I thank God for my handicaps, for through them I have found myself, my work, and my God.” Helen Keller.

I start with the word “mortandela” and that may put you off for it is Portuguese. But there is no other good word in English to translate “mortandela.” It is a piece of processed meat you might think of it as bologna though it actually is a huge Italian sausage. But there the likeness vanishes for when it is eaten, it tastes nothing like bologna. I have no idea the spices Brazilians put into “mortandela” to come up with this special taste but I will say it is absolutely delicious.

Notice the pieces of fat pork and whole peppercorns–the other spices are hidden.

We bought “mortandela” sliced for sandwiches and we liked it so much that our two children ate their share as well. A friend of mine who lived in Brazil enjoyed “mortandela” to the extent that he was ready to fill a suitcase with when he returned to the U.S. He never did, though he may have secreted a piece or two among his clothes.

There is a fictiona story told, of two construction workers who came down to ground level to have lunch. They piled together a few bricks for a seat and opened their lunch boxes. One man began to eat a sandwich and the other sat there looking at his open lunch box. He said, “I hate “mortandela” sandwiches—I can’t stand “mortandela” sandwiches and I’ve had them all week.”

His companion waited a moment and said, “If you don’t like “mortandela” then ask your wife to make your sandwiches out of something else.”

The chap who complained replied, “I’m not married—I don’t even have a girlfriend.” The chap who hated the sandwiches was making them for himself. He had only himself to blame.

Now, isn’t lifelike that? We ourselves are the authors of so many of the difficulties and disasters we face in life. There is nothing we can do about the floods, the snow storms and earthquakes! But when we make for ourselves sandwiches that we hate, where else can we turn but to our own foolish decisions?

I saw an example of this one day in the funny pages of a paper. A man who was known to have had a number of women in his life was playing sad songs on his trumpet. His nephew asked, “Uncle Phil, what are you playing?” He replied, “I’m playing out my sadness, t he pain of a lost life.” The nephew then asked, “What happened anyway?” “Oh,” the uncle replied, “I let a woman make a mess of my heart.” The nephew watched as a cigarette almost fell from the mustache of the uncle, then he said, “Wasn’t it you yourself that made such a mess of your life?”

It is easy to make a “mortandela” sandwich with our decision and actions. The” mortandela” comes in varied shades of temptations. With the first bite you may enjoy the sandwich but soon you regret it. It is not long till you can’t stand the “mortandela” sandwiches you have made for yourself. I personally feel so bad for family and friends who have made terrible choices in life and then must spend the rest of their days with the heartaches and regrets that follow.

The Eternal Creator has a solution for everyone who can’t stand the “mortandela” sandwiches they are forced to eat. It is the promise of Jesus who says that He is the Bread of Life. Jesus nourishes a person so that his/her life moves in a new direction though often the aroma, perhaps I should say smell of the “mortandela” still hangs around.  When life grinds to a halt because of the “mortandela” you’ve eaten let me promise you a new life through Jesus. The apostle describes the change this way, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature—old things have passed away and all things become new.” A new life! Wow!

Of course it is best to listen to God’s rules for successful living and not have to eat a “mortandela” sandwich we won’t like.

Beyond Human Ability

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing “ Isaiah 43:18-19a

As I rose to preach in Portuguese I understood my language was rusty from years of disuse; I knew I must use an interpreter. This was in our Jardim Pinhal church a modest-sized church that was packed. Of course interpreting doubles the length of the message and diminishes its effectiveness. So I pulled together all the courage I had and began to preach—yes, in Portuguese. What was remarkable for me is that I spoke with a fluency I did not think possible. That was God’s gift to me and after that I preached in Portuguese when leading this tour group and later on during others as well.

This is not the Vila Bonilha congregation but one quite similar.

The story goes back to weeks to Smiths Falls when a friend, Tony Hedrick, dropped by our home. He came to wish us the best on this trip to Brazil. In our conversation I mentioned by failed Portuguese, a language I had not used in years. So there in our laneway, Tony laid hands on me and prayed that I might have the gift of tongues for that mission tour. That prayer was answered as I spoke in the Jardim Pinhal church. At that time I could hardly believe what was happening.

Now a side story! I used the phrase, “…our Jardim Pinhal church…” in the opening sentences. This was not just our denomination’s church but ours in a special way. We had been part of planting a church in Vila Galvão and Mário Adachi began to attend this congregation. But he wanted a church where he lived in Jardim Pinhal so Doris and I on Sunday afternoons after a quick lunch would travel to his home and hold a Sunday School in the open air beside his store. The truth is that Doris took the heavy end of the load with the flannelgraph stories and lessons as well adding on the teaching of the music and playing her accordion. All the while—we watched for those frequent showers that often  chased us away

.

A thriving church often begins with a few people or just a family.

From that slow beginning this church planting went to a tarpaulin shelter covering a back yard; during that time we conducted our first baptism which of course gave converts a chance to declare their faith. Then the town council lent us land, we put up a portable wood tabernacle; with a place of worship the church grew. Later the congregation bought land and build their own church. The Jardim Pinhal congregation, similar to most others, had preaching points so that now it has a thriving daughter church.

Now we return to our theme of God’s power at work. More recently we visited our Rio Preto church with a missions tour group—that is the city where our family first went after language school. The meeting place was a hall with a good music team and pastor leading the service. That Sunday evening as I spoke I believe Tony’s prayer was answered again but this time God gave a special passion and fluency—in days gone by we would call it the “unction of the Spirit.” Something strange happened as I gave the invitation for each one to make Jesus the Lord and Saviour of their lives. This was all in Portuguese, yet one young man from our group came to kneel there on the cement floor of that hall to pray. He had not understood a word of Portuguese but he understood the message.  He had already professed his faith in Christ but he felt something from God in the message that compelled him to take another step of faith.

 

It was Rev. Murdo Campbell who told me this story that came out of his early missionary work in Neves. He arrived back at his home exhausted from his ministry out on one of the coffee fazendas. There a person requested that he go to their home to pray for someone. Murdo went along but was so tired he did not try to pray in Portuguese but prayed in English. I do not recall the results of that prayer but I was told that those present understood every word. I recall a similar story told by Rev. Alton Gould when years ago he ministered in Hong Kong.

Rev. Murdo Campbell in Neves Paulista, Brazil

As I read my Bible I note that Jesus and the apostles show the power of God through signs and wonders. Yes, the presence of God has been seen and felt through the ages with happenings that can only be explained by His hand. In this day and age I believe that we desperately need to feel and see the power of God at work among us. My prayer is that we will give God a time and a place to touch our hearts and tough them deeply.

 

A Mission Trip to Brazil, part 1

“Wherever a man or a woman turns he can find someone who needs him. Even if it is a little thing—do something for which there is no pay—but the privilege of just doing it.” Albert Schweitzer

                Hey, what about going with me to Brazil as part of a group? You would find it exciting but I’d better explain that invitation. I guess an old codger such as me needs to let bygones be bygones and forget about such trips. But we can do it on this blog. It won’t cost a cent or leave you tired out from that 12 hour plane ride. Well then, hold on tight for we are on the way–and hoping that no matter what we do, it will help someone.  A visit to a small congregation that meets in a hall.

Flying at 32,000 feet we’ll pass over a horizon banked with fluffy, white cumulous clouds. At the same time the sun constructs deep ominous shadows behind some of those dark towering centrepieces. We are surprised at a transformation as we drop below the mist and see São Paulo spread over hill after hill with roads winding among them. Hills—we might not expect them for the city is built on a high plateau above the mountains that lead to the beaches of the Atlantic. The city has tunnelled through some of those hills to build their multi-lane highways

After clearing customs we are free to go. But where? Apprehension grips us for all we see is a passageway leading somewhere –we hope to get to the part of the terminal that opens outside. Ah, a few more steps and a group of Brazilians greet us with smiles and outstretched arms. They hug every one of us; you will not forget those hugs for you have never been hugged so thoroughly before by such a welcoming group. They treat us as if we were long-lost relatives. I recall that years ago when we were first in Brazil that those hugs took us off guard. Soon you’ll enjoy those hugs for they are much nicer than a handshake.

But we’ll never get far in Brazil without some of their money, the “Real,” so we exchange some of the U.S. currency we’ve been carrying at one the of  cambios. We carry U.S. money, some in cash for it gets a better rate. But no money changes hands till you show your passport—I am not sure why but you need to have identity documents with you all the time. We don’t change a lot of moneh for rates will be better in the center of the city.

Before leaving the terminal we stop at a coffee bar to we try their cafezinhos. It is served piping hot in a demi-tasse cup with lots of sugar. You may do some coughing and choking as you try to drink it–unless you are used to strong coffee. Brazilians say they have to drink a gallon of water in Canada to get a cup of coffee. However the coffee for breakfast is mostly hot milk with a dash of sweet coffee. That goes down easily

.And you’ll get to enjoy Brazilian food and some foods new or you, such as the Pastel that team member Kevin Kaye is about to bite into. Pastor Luiz Roberto watches at the right.

 

I have warned you about the traffic in this São Paulo city of over 22 million. You may wish to close your eyes as cars speed by while cutting in and out of the traffic. Added to that are the many motorcycles that are used to deliver small parcels and mail. One day I saw three motosas they call them—smashed in accidents. To solve part of the traffic problem, cars with odd numbered plates are allowed to drive one day, the even numbers the next. That may cut some traffic but for people who must have transportation buy a second car with a different numbered plate. Problem not solved.

Part of the purpose for you going on this tour is to help some of the poor in our churches. So you’ve raised $500.00 or more and filled your suitcases with used clothing.

Pastor Dorivaldo who worked with our team to prepare food packages for the folks in their 

church’s  preaching point

The next day with the help of a pastor, the basement of his local church is piled high with food and clothing. Our job is to package the food that will provide the basics for a small family. The clothes go into similar plastic bags though in this case we don’t try to sort them since the recipients will trade what they don’t need to get what is necessary.