A Strange Visit to Paraguay

“Fire is the test of gold; adversity is the test of strong persons.” Anon

Were we negligent in our plans when the Hustons were not home when we arrived at their mission residence in Asuncion? Not at all for phone connections were non-existent, as it was with every other means of checking in with them. We had chatted with them once in the U.S.A. about dropping in on them. But in any case we found the mission residence but none of the Huston family. We learned however that Ernie, was out on his motorcycle travelling somewhere doing missionary work. And Lucy with the family were in the U.S. So the four of us just took over the house, lock, stock and barrel. Well, what else were we to do in such a situation over 50 years ago?

There was one option–we could have sent a letter with our parret.

 

But there was almost nothing to eat so Doris decided to bake something. She went through the cupboards and found everything she needed including the flour. But when she opened the container she found it full of weevils. A person might cook, with the weevils adding protein but Doris and the rest of us did not have a hankering for this kind of biscuits. Or was it cake? I suppose when anything was cooked, the weevils could be mistaken for a whole wheat mix. Doris was ready to throw it all out with my permission. Then Ernie arrived and he was adamant, “No, absolutely not. I bought that flour across in Argentina. It was expensive and in any case any flour a person might buy would have weevils.” The solution was to sieve them out before baking began. So the cooking went ahead.

While there Ernie took the four of us across the river to visit an Indian village in Argentina. I don’t recall much about our time there except that when we got out our cameras the ladies began to pull off their blouses. Ernie quickly explained that we did not want pictures of them semi-naked and we would not pay to take such pictures. We did get pictures of the chief in his gorgeous dress, one where he holds a huge anaconda snake around his neck. Vernon and Monica are included in the photo standing close to the chief but as I recall, they were not excited about that adventure

There was so much we learned about Paraguay on that trip. Most educated people there speak Spanish but the language of the ordinary person in the street was Guaraní, and still is. This language has captured the hearts of the people and comes from the Indian Guaraní people. We also met a professor at the University of Asuncion, a Dr. DeCoud la Rosa who was well known then for his recent translation of the New Testament into the Guaraní language.

Dr. La Rosa with Delight Kent at the little organ

 

We also met a Rev. Minoru Tsukamoto who worked among his people, the Japanese immigrants in the country. He was small of stature, a humble hard working man with a mission to help his impoverished people. The newcomers were trying to settle in an inhospitable land and people. He and his family were so poor I wondered how it was possible they did not starve. There is no one I will ever respect more than Minoru, his wife and children.

Minoru told us stories of the Mennonites who left Europe to find a new life but discovered instead their non-combatant stance made them victims to any Paraguayan with a penchant for evil. Policing in the remote interior did not exist. Minoru told of men breaking into Mennonite homes, raping the women and robbing them of anything they wished. All this while the men would do nothing more than kneel in prayer. Draw your own conclusions but I say in this case religion had gone awry.

Monica with one of those South American ant hills. There is so much to see around the world that is different.

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Much of the rest of our time there has faded from the synapse of memory. I do know this that we did not return by bus, not wishing to spend days on the road because of a possible prolonged rain. My assumption—correct me if you have any details I have forgotten—but I seem to remember we flew home on a direct flight from Asuncion to São Paulo.

Because of that visit we developed a great admiration and appreciation for these two missionary families in Paraguay. Above all else I remember that this call, to spread the Gospel of Jesus to all peoples in the world, extends beyond our friends in Paraguay, to all of us. And that has been our privilege in Brazil, Haiti and wherever we have been.

 

A Special Plane Flight

“May you never miss a rainbow or a sunset because you are looking down.” Anon

There are times when I am amazed at the beauty and majesty that I encounter in this world. It is at those moments I begin to imagine a sly creator peeping out from behind some distant galaxy where He himself marvels at the work of his own eternal hands. I wish to tell you about one of those special times for me; it was on a direct flight to Toronto and it happened over North America.

Ready for takeoff–the beginning of a transforming flight.

 

From my window seat on left side of the plane I watched the sun slowly set. Imagine the plane heading in a Westerly direction almost purposefully following that summer sun. Or was it that the sun moved more slowly for it wanted to bathe the plane, my plane with its glow. Then we left the clear sunshine to be enveloped with a fine haze that formed a part of the clouds beneath us. The result was an extravagant beauty I had never seen before and no doubt will ever see again.

The plane was plowing through a changing storm of pinks, lavender, reds, yellows and white all manufactured by the sun and the clouds. At times, it all turned to grey but in an instant returned. Then the magic grew, yes grew, for the haze of colours enveloped the whole plane so the atmosphere in which we flew became something that human imagination cannot put on paper. For hours I watched as if I had been let into another world through a strange portal. It seemed as if the Creator from far away had unlocked a door using some key from eternity  so that I might wonder at this other-worldly screen.

As I watching the kaleidoscope of colours my thoughts went back to the Creator who before the Big Bang planned the beauty I saw. I wrote about that experience as the plane came down through the clouds to land at Toronto. “…what I saw was just one infinissimal speck of beauty on this earth…I contemplated eternity and the exceeding, surpassing beauty of heaven…” For me it was a small peephole into a realm beyond this world.

 

During those few hours, “I understood more of God and I understood more than I liked about myself.” As I look back on that experience I suppose every wise and tender soul in contemplation of the wonders around us in this world may cry out for heaven’s help. They might wish to mend failures and perhaps even find a cure for despair.

You may be wondering as you have read this blog why I needed to become all stirred up with contemplation just by watching the coloured mists pass by my plane. Why become all teary-eyed when travelling back from a third-world country when the emotion might better erupt because of the poverty and needs of people I had recently seen? My answer this this—why can’t we be stirred by both experiences? My answer, “Yes we can.” But I’m sorry I can’t include another picture of our friends in Brazil. At the moment WordPress says NO.

I suppose that if our eyes are open and our hearts are in tune we can then see what so many may easily miss…a marvelous world and a marvelous Creator. Then we can add the words of a great Christian song, “A wonderful Saviour is Jesus my Lord, He taketh my burdens away…”

 

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.”