An Unwelcome Parasite

“I love little children, and it is not a slight thing when they, who are fresh from God, love us.” Charles Dickens

Love is a strange emotion. There are times when we must show love with what may seem a cruel act. I mention this truth for we had to use with our son Vernon . He was about three then, a time when we lived in Neves, a small village that was a long day’s travel to the interior from the big city of São Paulo. Though we raised our children during this era of modern medicine yet certain things happened to them beyond the knowledge of the modern science that we ourselves knew.

We found out quickly that the village of Neves was safe from violence perhaps because it was surrounded with millions of coffee bushes. So Monica was able to go play as she pleased with her friends in the village, all without our supervision. Vernon was younger so he seldom went beyond our own small yard or the quiet street out front. There he played barefoot as did most of the other children , even though it we did not know at the time there could be a problem. You see, we as parents were still learning about that area of Brazil not knowing of course about any parasites that might bring trouble.

Vernon and Monica hard at work sucking on sugar cane in front of one of the million coffee bushes in the Neves area.

I quote from a note I wrote years ago. “One day we noticed a strange irregular line on his (Vernon’s) foot.” No doubt Doris saw it first on the bottom of his foot for it would have come to her notice since she would be giving him his evening bath. The wandering line was white with red all around it. Since we had little idea what it was, we were fortunate to be able to take our boy to the local doctor. Yes, I might say lucky but I understand it was “divine providence” for most small villages in that part of the state would have no doctor though perhaps a small pharmacy.

Vernon was not a happy camper as he was examined by the doctor; then the situation became worse not better. The doctor explained that it was a parasite that had made the white line as it burrowed just under the skin. The red around the line was from the infection causes by the parasite as it ate its way along. The cure was to spray the area with an ether bomb to freeze the skin deep enough to kill the parasite. The problem was that the parasite was always somewhere ahead of the white line so the freezing needed to be wider than one might expect. Even though a wide area of the sole of his small foot was white from freezing, yet we found out later it did not kill the troublesome parasite. You can imagine that the freezing was painful and that this three-year-old boy let us know how he felt.

Here Vernon is a lot happier than when getting his foot treated.

Since the doctor’s freezing application did not work we tried the freezing again at home—or was it more than once? What a task that was after our boy’s first painful experience in the doctor’s office! To get this scared boy to hold still so the ether could be applied was difficult for all of us. Remember this, Vernon started out as a husky 10 pounds and soon grew to be thought of as the same age as Monica. As I look back on that experience I wonder if it was harder on Doris and me than it was on Vernon. However his howls then would have shown he did not agree with that assessment.

 

There are times in life when such “cruel love” is necessary. Truth and the action that follows may be painful no matter when it occurs along life’s road. It is not just the three-year-olds that scream their pain but we as adult often cry out in our frustration. We as parents loved our boy but being fearful of what might happen without proper treatment, we forced suffering on him.

I wonder if the Eternal Father who watches over us feels anxious about our turning away from Him because of a particular pain. Yet often there is no option except His tough love, a love that we might declare to be cruel. But if we will bear it and trust our Eternal Father, the giver of all life, then we shall one day arrive before Him to hear answers to our questions. The line from an old Gospel song says it well, “God is still on the throne and He will remember his own.” Isn’t it great that he does not every forget us!

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Use the Transportation or Walk

“It is not only the old who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right. Job 32:9 NIV

We quickly learned during our time in language school that the best way to get around the city of Campinas was to use the bonde–the Brazilian streetcar. From this picture, it isn’t much like any streetcar  Doris and I knew in Toronto or Ottawa.

Yes, there were seats with access to them made easy for there was a board along each side of the bonde that provided a step up. But it was not quite that simple. Many riders simply stepped up to that running board, held on to an available strap and completed their trip to later simply step down. Often this happened in the crowd coming or going at the stops in the downtown areas. In that confusion a collector made his way picking up the fares. Doris may at the right—she would make the trip alone to school since her classes were in the afternoon and mine in the morning. Learning about bondes came quickly for the other option was walk.

With our move to the interior of the state of São Paulo almost a day’s travel away, we often used the train for the buses were uncomfortable and open to the red dust from the dirt roads. At that time Brazil did not have its own petroleum or coal so the locomotives used what they had—that was eucalyptus logs. Along the way Doris and our family made friends with folks who farmed the quick-growing eucalyptus for the trains. Here the logs are loaded on for the next section of the trip.

 

The taxis we could most easily find at the train station were what this picture shows—a donkey-drawn two wheeled cart that was known as a charrete. It did not matter that the donkey moved slowly for the charrete got us to our home with our children and luggage. Mind you, there was no room to spare but the fee was reasonable and we felt quite like Brazilians riding in a charrete.

 

I am not sure that while living out among the coffee plantations that we ever hired a cart and oxen to move anything for us. Yet this picture came up among those taken in Neves Paulista and it fits well even though my memory of the how and when it was taken are lost.

This was our apartment just behind the hall used for services but important for this blog is the 38 Ford car parked close to our kitchen door, next to our parrot and its perch. Brazilians loved that car in those days because it was built high and great for the mud and ruts of so many of the roads. A Christian friend in São Paulo offered it to us and I sent a cablegram home hoping the H.M. mission might invest $5,000 in it. The cable office deleted one zero and the mission O.K’d $500. The mistake was discovered too late and my parents made up the difference to the mission over the next number of months. Ouch.

The ’55 Plymouth that we shipped to Brazil for our first term was captured by customs in the port of Santos and stayed there till during our second term in Brazil. When we got off the ship to our work of church planting, we were assigned to Rio de Janeiro. Even though we had no experience of the big cities yet the Lord allowed many good things to come out of it. One: a lawyer was able to get the car free with a “writ of habeus corpus.” This car is parked in front of the hall where we began services in Rio.

With my experience with lawyers and courts behind me, I was able to get freed a ’57 Chev, a mission car that had been parked at the Rio docks for a couple of years or more. Brazil then did not allow the importation of cars for they were developing their own auto industry.

As I look back over those experiences I am able to say with the Scriptures, “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord.” Of course some of those roads we took were tied in with difficulties we never faced before. But we are able to say that God’s guidance and help were just as evident to us as in the words written by the Psalmist, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” My concern for every reader, no matter the road where you find yourself, is to make Jesus your shepherd. You will not regret that decision in this life and in the next.

 

 

A Séance–but Heaven Wins

“The blue of heaven is larger than the darkness of the clouds.” Anon

After living in the village of Neves for a while I came to know that the largest religious draw in that whole area was the Spiritist Center. The owner of an auto repair shop where I had my old van fixed repeatedly counselled me to attend their séances. He told me how his dad had been very seriously ill, had attended the Center, and as a result was healed. I had no doubt that it really happened but I have a different explanation.

I learned a good deal about this brand of Spiritism through my mechanic friend. That Center even had a pharmacy in the village and they told me that the spirits often spoke to the mediums giving them detailed instructions as to the medicines to buy at this pharmacy and how they should be taken. At this point I should explain that any person off the street could buy medications at a pharmacy, if they knew exactly what they wanted.

This branch of Spiritism in Brazil is not the one we might encounter here in Canada—here it would be the Allan Kardek Spiritism. In Brazil there is another very popular Spiritism called Umbanda that combines African religions, Brazilian Indian cultures and Catholicism. That movement began among the Afro-Brazilian population in Rio de Janeiro and spread quickly to touch Brazil’s neighbours. However the only Spiritism I knew in Neves was Racionalismo Cristão–it had a large following. When there was a séance, the yard at the Center would be crowded with horses and the streets lined with vehicles.

This picture might be typical of offerings to the spirits made by those who would be part of the Umbanda Spiritist movement. Whatever was in the bowl was eaten perhaps by birds or animals. Often a bottle of rum or part of a black chicken might be part of the offering.

 

 

 

 

 

Nabor was one of the young men in the village that left Racionalismo Cristão and professed faith in Jesus at our little church. We occasionally discussed his previous faith and one day he invited me to go with him to a séance. I accepted—they say “curiosity killed the cat but satisfaction resurrected it.” Some declare that going to such a séance did me serious damage but I would still smile and say, “It didn’t affect me, affect me, affect me, affect me.” Anyway, whatever you think about the power of a séance, I went one night.

 

 

This center, translated “Christian Rationalism” attracted almost as many people as the Catholic church. This is where I visited a séance.

The hall there held a couple of hundred people and was moderately well lit. A raised platform from the far wall extended about half way across the hall and was wide enough to accommodate a long table with chairs around it. The rest of the hall was filled with chairs and it was there that Nabor and I sat. Then the place went dark yet a small light burned on the far wall above the table. Then a number of people gathered at the table and everyone began to repeat a particular mantra—“Grande fóco, vida da universo, vibração dos nossos pensamentos…” and on and on. I used to be able to repeat all of that invocation.

It was not long into the meeting when I was invited to sit in one of the chairs at the table. I accepted and a medium supposedly in a trance began to tell of this stranger among them who had travelled the whole world looking for peace. Now he sat at their table where revelations occurred. Of course everyone in the village of Neves knew about Doris and me, the strange Canadian missionaries who were there preaching the Christian faith. Then someone in the almost total darkness walked behind us at the table and squeezed all of the shoulders including mine. That was a bit startling, a bit eerie.

The individuals at the table were the seekers and the mediums continued telling about their varied needs, illnesses and troubles; they often pointed out the cure or remedy.

So what do I make of this brand of Spiritism when those who were part of this movement declared that miracles occurred. Mostly I would believe what they said. Of course some good things happen just through positive thinking. Some other instances of good done could happen because of the kindly support and fellowship of that large Spiritist group. Yet I must admit that there might be some real miracles—but I should explain.

I quote from statements I wrote long years ago. “The fact is that Satan will do little favours so that we will turn our worship of God to lesser things where he (Satan) has some power. He is willing to cure the little vices and sins of the flesh—if he can trade those with the great ones.” The greatest of course is worshipping anything in our lives instead of the Eternal Father.

In any case, I believe it is true that the blue of the sky is greater than the darkness of any cloud. The Ten Commandments make clear that the God revealed in the Bible is the only one to be worshipped, the only one to hold first place in our lives.

Attacked by Fleas

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

To write about fleas may be strange but when they visited us so often I must tell you about them. I recall occasionally finding something biting me from inside my pajamas; I knew instantly it was a flea so in desperation and haste I would head for the bathroom. No, the flea didn’t need a bathroom break but I did. I would step into the bathtub and then take off the part of my pajamas where the flea seemed to be having its meal. Then I would shake it so the nasty fellow would fall into the tub.

Yes, this is a flea but the real one would be as large as the tip of a lead pencil.

The reason I stepped into the tub is that fleas can jump so very high, but the best of the high jumpers could not reach to top of the tub. So I had it cornered. Just turning on the water might drown the flea but not likely for fleas are tough. They can’t be killed the way a person might swat a fly. Here is the way to kill a flea no matter where a person finds one. Just turn you hand so the thumbnail can be placed on the flea crushing it. Do it quickly for fleas are quick to jump.  We had DDT spray bombs that helped to control an infestation of fleas but it was too slow to kill one that was taking away an hour or more of sleep.

T hey say there is a difference between those who catch fleas and those who have fleas. I recall how often we made unwanted friendship with fleas in Brazil. Now I wonder if we had fleas part of the time and during the rest of our time, we caught them. You might ask me, “Why all this chat about fleas? I’ve never seen a flea in all of my days.” My answer: it might be that one day you would become a short-term missionary and no matter where you might live, fleas could find you. They certainly found us and they would find you too.

I recall the sign of a flea bite–that is if the biting itself did not warn you it was chewing on your hide. In any case it really wasn’t chewing for they were siphoning off blood—the host’s blood. A flea seemed not to bite in a straight line but bit in a circle leaving a series of red itchy spots. There was seldom the mark of one bite but a series of bites and those bites came where the flea was most comfortable—under a belt, a sock or for the ladies under some undergarments. You have gathered already that the battle with fleas was an uncomfortable one. And every time we won, the win lasted only a few days.

 

These are not flea bites but the bites would be similar.

So where does a person catch a flea or in some cases catch a whole family of fleas with their nephews and nieces? One place I recall picking up fleas was in our home. Do I really mean we had an infestation of fleas? Yes! If our house was closed up for a number of days the fleas welcomed us home. Our daughter Monica remembers walking in the front door of our place, crossing the front room on the parquet floor and at the other side finding her legs speckled with fleas. The fleas loved the cracks in that parquet floor. The cure was to mix the floor wax with kerosene and use it liberally enough so that the fleas had to flee. Excuse the pun but I couldn’t help it.

 

A person could pick up fleas even at a barbecue at our seminary where missionaries and pastors gathered.

Another place to catch a flea was on public transit—in fact a person could often bet on bringing home a visitor or two. It seemed the abundance of fleas was in direct proportion to the size of the city. When we lived in the city of São Paulo we often took the city buses–they came with the threat of fleas. They even went to church—perhaps because they enjoyed the fellowship and some fresh blood. Having a dog might make the problem of fleas worse but I don’t recall a dog making much difference. My understanding is those fleas liked people.

Oh, yes a person caught fleas on the public transit, even at the São Paulo airport.

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If you’ve read any of my blogs you’ll know I like to relate my writing somehow to the Christian faith. This time I’m finding it hard to link fleas to God’s creation—but there must be a message for each of us. Perhaps that quote at the beginning could be applied here—perhaps fleas are here as an adversity to try our patience. In any case we can look past the fleas and any other inconvenience in life and give thanks to God for his many, many blessings. Bishop N.T. Wright states that we ought to look beyond the pain (or fleas) to focus on the immense good we experience every day of our lives. That good speaks volumes about the God we serve and the good He built into creation.

A Broken Arm and a Specialist

“True friends visit us in prosperity only when invited, but in adversity they come without invitation.” Theophrastus

It all began when Vernon our son was about five years old. We had rented a hall there in Rio with the purpose of planting a church; on that particular Sunday our boy after Sunday school was running down the aisle when he fell. He came to us crying holding out his arm that had acquired another elbow. What a terrible heart-rending sight.

I have pictures of the hall and Vernon there in Rio but for some strange reason, WordPress won’t won’t accept them. This was about his age when the accident happened.

 

Since we had brought a number of neighbour children to our Sunday school, we could not abandon them the long way from home across that suburb of Meier; we loaded them quickly into the VW van and took them home. Then as traffic would allow we headed towards the centre of the city to an emergency department. Vernon all the while was whimpering with the pain and I’ve always remarked to Doris how he kept from screaming. To look at that extra elbow would make most anyone weep.

The orthopedic specialist we met in the Rio de Janeiro emergency department was not a friend but I have always remembered him with deep appreciation. We had the most experienced doctor anyone might have found in the whole city of Rio to set our son’s broken arm. As I look back on that whole incident of confusion and pain I was encouraged to trust in a Power beyond human good luck; that experience led me believe more strongly in the divine intervention called “providence.”

The specialist I’ve mentioned just happened to be in Emergency pulling his few hours of duty. But I can’t believe it was happenstance. When he came to tend Vernon he explained that the best solution was to pull the lower part of the arm out and then put it back into its proper place. Since my stomach was not up to the occasion I did not want to add a further complication to the situation. I took my leave of the doctor, Doris my wife and Vernon and I headed down the hall till I was out of sight and earshot. Doris tells how she took my place comforting and holding our boy till the procedure was over. When I returned the arm was in a cast and we were ready to go home.

Before we left an x-ray had been done of the arm and it showed the bones were in place. The doctor then suggested that we return after a few weeks to have it x-rayed again just to be sure all was well. It was and that arm has been good all the rest of the years that followed. I believe we had not only the best doctor in Rio but the one we met was there by Divine appointment. You may believe in luck if you wish but I believe that at times the Great Creator intervenes in the lives of us all to give a helping hand. As I’ve listened to the stories of many people they too remark at how disastrous situations were avoided or turned out so much better than might be imagined.

This is Vernon on his grampa’s farm steering an old milk wagon down a hill for the excitement of the other children.

 

Of course I too try to understand and grapple with the pain and suffering that seems to be a constant around the world. But I focus on the other side of the coin, the wonderful good that we and others experience. When unbelievers state that pain and evil in this world rule out any idea of God, I refer to the good that we all experience every moment. At this very moment the sky is lit with a beauty that is hard to describe.

I assure myself and others that it could not happen all by itself. The good we know asks for a good Creator God. And if you wish I can share a coffee some day with you and tell other stories about those incidences in life that point to Divine providence, God’s wonderful intervention.

We Always Have Time

“We always have time for the things we put first.” Anon

We were just a year in Brazil when we left language school and moved to Rio Preto. This city is a day’s travel from São Paulo but there in the interior I learned something about the use of time. It is this; we can accomplish so much when we put our minds to it. I had never thought much about the quote above till Doris and I with our baby daughter Monica moved to Rio Preto.

There we became good friends with the pastor and lay people of the local Presbyterian Church. That is a great story of how some of the young people gave us a hand in establishing more than one congregation. Those wonderful people came across the city on Sunday afternoons to teach children Bible stories in our little rented hall. Now back to the incident I have in mind for to-day.

Just across a shallow valley from their church and new section of the city was being built up with poor homes. They decided to begin a weeknight service there and they would use the home of one of their members. If you should step into this home you would notice that there was no ceiling and you could see the slits of light coming in between the roofing tiles. The floor was made of rough bricks laid in the dirt with a wash of concrete filling all the joints. Quite obviously this room served as a kitchen for in one corner was as brick stove with a chimney and beside it a rickety cupboard that held utensils, dishes and food. A table, a few chairs and a well-worn sofa completed the ensemble of this room; it was here every social event happened in this home.

 

This family had invited their neighbours in for religious services and the man of this home was chosen to be the leader for the group. But how could this be possible? He could neither read nor write. How could he explain the teachings of Jesus when he could not open those pages and make sense of them? This is how he did it. Since his wife could read she would find the part in the Bible in which he was interested in using as basis for his “palestra” talk. Then she would read it again and again to him till he understood the truth of that passage; he was then prepared.

As I look back on those days and that man, something else comes to mind. He felt that through his church he had been given a divine trust to conduct religious services. For him this was not some obligation placed on his shoulders for he had received a heavenly calling. Not being able to read or write did not provide an opportunity for escape. From what I recall of those days is that this lay leader never was a Billy Graham but in any case a congregation was created in this poor “bairo.” He blessed his friends and neighbours by using the abilities he had.

 

Now for another story that sticks in my mind from this same “bairro.” I was walking one day there alone along a dirt street in this sparsely built-up area when a little dog began to follow me. I never worried about her for her belly hung low with unborn pups; I could not think of any danger for she was just able to waddle along. But she grabbed my ankle just above my shoe and then quickly turned away to struggle along in her campaign of protecting her city. The lesson once again: the little mongrel put her task of protection ahead of her own struggles. The little dog preached a sermon—use your time and energy wisely.

It is true isn’t it that we spend our time on what we consider valuable, the things we put first in life? This treasured lesson I picked up from this uneducated man and this little dog. They understood that there were values so much more important than any of their abilities or lack of abilities.

So I have to ask myself this question, a powerful question that comes from this little story. What are the values that I now live by? What do I put first in life? How and where do I spend my energy and money? And are they eternal values and will they be important to me 100 years from now? Or longer? Am I obeying the counsel of Jesus to “lay up treasures in heaven?”

Priming the Pump–Pouring in More Water

“Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.” Anon

Much of our work as missionaries in providing hope and help took place in areas of Brazil that may never be widely known. This picture from the little interior village of Neves speaks loudly to me of our efforts to pass on the story of the love of God in Jesus. In the last blog I compared the message of Jesus to water that was needed to prime a pump to get it doing its job. Now I wish to pass on stories of how some of that priming water worked to change lives.

I must start with Doris who is in the back row on the left. Her studies in Christian Ed. during Bible School prepared her well for the work of starting and teaching a Sunday school. This large group was a success in itself for it was taken less than year after we moved to Neves. I can nail down when we moved to there for Monica is the little girl on the right in the front row and we have her age figured out. As I checked out a larger version of this picture I noticed her bare feet. I suppose at that time we did not know of the parasites that could infect bare feet and one Vernon later picked up.

Now about the people whose lives were transformed through the Gospel. The lady in the back row, 2nd. from the right, is senhora Dna Olinda. Her husband Luiz had been an alcoholic and a gambler so that it was Olinda who then earned about 40 cents a day to care for her five children. She sought help for Luiz from other religions in the village but nothing changed. Then she was attracted to a little hall and the services begun by Rev. Murdo & Isabel Campbell. Senhor Luiz was resistant to her urgings to attend but finally all by himself he went and accepted Jesus as Saviour. God’s grace broke his habits and a few years later he died in the Faith. His funeral was my first ever—but it was a time of hope for the Water of Life had brought eternal life.

Some of her family are in this picture—perhaps it is Marli, the blond girl standing beside Monica. Difficult years zoomed by till we met her again, then a retired school teacher (perhaps a principal as well)and married with children. She with her family has been faithful to Jesus and active in a Presbyterian church in São Paulo. The youngest in the family is, I believe, her little brother Ademar, in the middle of the front row—in this case not looking very happy. He and his family too are now faithful to Jesus and priming the pump for others.

Right behind him might be Marlene, a sister. She came to us when her father died—in fact all the family were split up. Marlene was blond as were all her siblings so that when she was with us, many in her class thought she was a Kenny. At that time Monica was taking music lessons and she passed on her knowledge to Marlene. Later in life she taught school and her talents in music led to her being an organist in a large Baptist church. And in that same church she may still a lay leader helping out with varied ministries and home Bible studies. Wow! More priming water provided!

In the middle of the back row, the blond boy with his face half hidden, I think is a brother Valdir. Our contact with him has been minimal over the years. More important is his firmness in the Faith of our Lord. He too is priming the pump for others. The same goes for Ademar and his family.

Then the oldest in the family is Luiz and I must speak of him though he is not pictured. When Luiz was not yet a young teen, he would sell peanuts or candies in the streets while carrying them on a little piece of board steadied by a string around his neck. Luiz loved music and one day while in the streets he heard the music at a hall and came in to sit and listen–as well as trying to make a sale or two. Through him his mother and children began to attend—and as mentioned in another blog, it was there that his father Luiz gave his heart and life to Jesus. God blessed his son also named Luiz so that he later married a pastor’s daughter Cleide and went on to years later have his own business. What to me is truly marvelous is that Luiz has sung in city-wide Christian crusades, led a church radio program and has made a number of Gospel music tapes and CDs. Luiz later completed the ministerial courses required and has been ordained as a minister. What a story! A little water for priming in Neves has led Luiz to deliver the Living Water to many others. That story is truly miraculous.

Luiz ministers in music in churches and provide with others supervision for church construction.

 

Back to the picture–the tall chap next to Doris is Nabor and then Octávio, each with their own story. I do recall Lourdes on the left back row who with her whole family began to follow the Lord. She studied at a Bible school for a year. How wonderful to have been touched by our Lord Jesus. And all those children and others from the four preaching points and churches? We trust that along life’s road that many have found hope in Jesus, the Water of Life.