The Most Beautiful City in the World

“The giver makes the gift precious.” Anon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sugar Loaf is that point of rock on the left.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

She Stood Beside Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

This does show the bells but that is her playing them

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

Flannelgraph was old fashioned but it worked great then

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

False Fun in the Brazilian Carnival

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

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

My beautiful picture

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

A beautiful picture if the hears had not change colors.

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

Time to rest–um descanço              

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

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

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

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

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

Does God Heal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Poison in the Creek–a revised re-post

“To enjoy the things we ought and to hate the things we ought has the greatest bearing on excellence of the character.” Aristotle

That creek behind our house was dangerous–that was when we lived in Rio de Janeiro. But we had no idea what the dirty little creek had waiting for us. Our home was in Méier, one of the suburbs on the main commuter line from the center of the city. Doris recalls that the creek carried run-off water and the effluent from a nearby hospital.

Yet the creek attracted the boys in the neighbourhood for little minnows survived in that water. So the lads would take a bottle and scramble down to the creek where they might snatch up one of the fish. What a delightful experience for the boys, but that is when the trouble began!

Sorry, but I don’t have a picture of our son at five years. This was a year of two before our time in Rio.

 

Our son Vernon was then about five years old and played with other boys who lived nearby. That was easy for Portuguese was his first language. Together they climbed down to the creek to “go fishing.” We feared this dirty creek so we warned our son not to go near it. Yet he went fishing with his friends—how many times we’ll never know. For certain he paid little attention to our warnings for all his friends were doing it. So why not go fishing?

Pollution and diseases were of little concern for his friends were excited about catching a few minnows. That was when he came down with hepatitis–the water carried the disease. Since hepatitis is contagious, shortly after Vernon became sick he passed it on to Doris. When tests showed hepatitis we knew we had a major health problem on our hands.

A picture of Doris a while before our time in Rio.

The question was how to medicate two very sick people in bed with hepatitis. Only a doctor could help us, but I do not recall how we found the one we did. This I know, we had the best medical person in all of Rio de Janeiro when it came to treating hepatitis.

The story is remarkable. This doctor had worked with an Indian tribe in the interior of Brazil, a tribe struggling with an epidemic of hepatitis. There the doctor had no easy answers but decided to try his luck on what was thought an inadequate treatment. He gave the sick Indians massive shots of Chloromycitin—even though it was not recommended. There in the jungle his shot in the dark (the pun is intended) was successful.

As I now think and write about our situation, goose bumps rise up all over my body. You see this is one of those wonderful situations where I believe God sent his angels to provide a solution. This doctor confined Vernon and Doris to total bed rest. Doris could be a good patient but for a five year old to be quiet was a nearly impossibility. I became their caretaker and the chief cook and bottle washer for our home. (I wonder now how either of them ever survived.)

Doris, well and happy in Rio with hepatitis in the past.

 

So that is exactly how this doctor cared for Doris and Vernon. In about three week’s time both of them were back on their feet–a bit wobbly of course. That story says a lot of things. I’m convinced that when we ask, God sends his angels to give a hand, in this case a doctor who had a cure.

At the moment, my memory carries me back to the contagious water in the creek and how our son Vernon and Doris became so sick with hepatitis. Then my mind ties those thoughts not just to God’s angels but to the Christian faith. You see, the Faith too is contagious in a healthful way. It motivates every believer to live well in this world and provides hope for eternity. What a wonderful contagion! I trust you’ve already picked up this bug of faith, faith in our Lord Jesus.

Brazilian Gemstones–a revised re-post

Brazilian Gemstones

“The mind that opens itself to a new idea will never return to its original size.” Anon

The diamond is not the most precious gem available in our world. It is valuable but the best emeralds exceed the diamond’s value because they are so rare. In Brazil the emerald is at the top of the list among the country’s many precious gems.

The emerald is cherished by the Inca and Aztec peoples for they regarded the emerald as holy. The State of Minas Gerais–translated General Mines–produces not only the emerald but the world’s largest variety of other gemstones.

For the persons who cannot afford one of the best Brazilian gems they may purchase a slice of a geode that has been cut and polished to reveal its gorgeous interior. Available as well are lovely necklaces made of stones that do not quite achieve gem quality. I cherish those stones and at times I have had them set in rings. The wings of this butterfly were two feet long. Wow.

Yet far more precious than the best of Brazil’s gemstones is the people themselves. I think especially of the  children.

I opened a series of pictures of a small congregation in a favela, a slum that would be typical of areas where our churches are planting congregations. At times the children there may go hungry when parents do not have jobs that could lift their families out of despair. But the children smile and sing with all their hearts.

This favela has been around for a while so structures are more solid.

 

. A few children have almost blond hair and a light skin while others show their African blood lines. Most of the children have black hair with chocolate shaded skin. The variety I see proclaims an incredible beauty in each eager face. There before me is a spectrum of light that can only be compared to gemstones. Each child exceeds in value any of the Brazilian gemstones you may mention: Topaz, Alexandrite, Amethysts, Aquamarine, Quarts, Onyx, Turquoise, Tourmalines and many other gems including the Emerald.

I wonder if their parents have jobs or perhaps have to travel a couple of hours each way to earn a survival wage? Will another baby arrive soon to this family, and then another and another. Will it happen one day that the father burdened and tired with his work gives up and in despair leaves his family? Our churches open schools in some of these poor areas and provide meals for the children,

 

 

I think of every child there as an uncut gem. Ah, they could one day flash with a brilliant color—that is if they were cut and polished. You see, so many gems can easily be mistaken for just stones till the cutting and polishing takes place. People will “oh” and “ah” at the beauty of a ring or a necklace when the process of manufacturing is complete. But what chance do these children have?

 

You can be one of those who give  a hand in such projects. Just give me a call.

I get a hint of how this cutting and polishing is happening in small rented halls. I suppose that when the children have finished lunch they will hear a story from his Bible. That story, for some child or perhaps an adult, will have the power to begin the cutting and the polishing. Those children may catch a glimpse of what their Saviour, Jesus of Calvary, can do to shape their lives into something truly astounding. Yes, one day there will be gemstones of rarest beauty so that even heaven will be amazed.

A few years before this was taken, these youth from one of our congregations were children involved through our church in the cutting and polishing. Now the gems!

You don’t need to visit a Brazilian jewelry store to find beauty. That hall in this slum has more beauty there that those millionaire shops. You don’t think it is possible? Believe me I could so easily erase your doubts! Again and again I’ve watched the message of Jesus cut and polish lives till they are jewels of remarkable beauty. If you have doubts about those gemstones, give me a call or contact me on my blog. I dare you.

Roy C. Kenny – rkennysite.wordpress.com

 

Every Day on the Job

Brazilians love a big juicy steak on their dinner plate though of course many of the poor we knew in the interior could not afford to eat much meat.

It was the Zebu animals brought over from India that produce most of the Brazilian beef. The reason is they adapted readily to the South American climate and conditions. This breed is interesting because of their creamy white color, their long drooping ears, a fatty hump on their shoulders and a large piece of skin hanging low from the neck. It is called a dew-lap.

 

These men were pleased and able to show off one of their yearling calves. That was possible for the Zebu is a quiet animal. When the cowboys would take a herd from one pasture to another, they would ride ahead coaxing the animals along by blowing a low note on a horn. We have one of those horns made from three pieces of Zebu horn put together to form one that is some four feet long. When we have coffee someday I’ll bring it along and hit that low note for you. On second thought, we might have cattle coming in from all over.

                Coffee was the big export during our time in Brazil though now corn and especially soy beans are big money earners. However at that time the government was experimenting with corn and in this picture it certainly did grow well. The two chaps in the picture are agronomists, one a Brazilian and the other Japanese from that large community in Brazil. A bit of a sad story—an agronomist friend from our days in Rio Preto was killed in a car accident while travelling to a farm. There is a big story but this is important–his wife helped me out with my Portuguese and corrected my sermons.

 

The Butantan Institute is famous worldwide for its snake anti-venom some of which is sent worldwide. Butantan is similar to a small park but in this case it takes care of hundreds upon hundreds of poisonous snakes. This picture shows a caretaker at the Institute demonstrating how venom is extracted from the snakes.  That is a first step in preparing the shots that will save lives though it is a job that not everyone might like.

A lady said of her husband, “I don’t know whether he is a dentist of a missionary. This was spoken of Dr. Tércio Obara, a successful dentist who had a fine clinic in São Paulo with two or three other dentists working with him. Tércio indeed was a missionary in his own right for he has led dental teams to help native Indians with other teams going to countries in Africa and the Far East. One of his projects now is planting and building a church in Eldorado, an exceptionally poor area in his city. He works there as a lay leader but in many ways has been the spark that initiated the project.

In another blog I’ll tell about other Brazilians and their interesting work. Now I must mention a lady that gave her best to the Lord’s work, the lady that without whom I’d not have accomplished much during all of my life and ministry. The lady is Doris with her accordion, and the picture was taken in a humble home somewhere out from Neves in the interior.

 

Brazilians love music so Doris’ accordion was a hit with the folks there singing church music together. Doris said when she saw the picture, “That accordion was as big as I was.” That statement was close to being true for she weighed in then at only one hundred pounds.

I am firmly convinced that what we do to build the Kingdom of Jesus Christ will yield great results both in this world and in eternity. That is a theme recurring repeatedly in the words of Jesus and again in those of the Apostles. We would do well to remember their counsel.