Why Learn Another Language

“When a person begins to think, God has the advantage.” Anon

Would you want to be a step ahead of the other travellers in making friends and learning about the culture in another land? Then learn some of that language. It can be scary to drop into another country but knowing a bit of the new language will make it easier for you. Even a few sentences break down barriers and make friends.

Would you understand the words, “a casa é sua” when a Brazilian welcomed you to their home? Translated it means, “The house is yours” but the host is saying that you are to be at home as if the house were yours. One problem—the word “sua” meaning “yours” can sound to the untrained ear just like “suja” which means dirty.



Not everyone had our opportunity to study a language. When Doris and I went as missionaries to Brazil, we had the advantage of being in a language school for a year. Added to that, every week we sat in classes that helped us to adapt to the Brazilian culture. We were thankful to have a Miss Cummings direct the school for she was an expert in phonetics.

Whether you are in a country for business, as a missionary, or a short-term visitor, know this: words of greetings and some basic conversational phrases will make friends. In Latin countries friendships are basic to getting anything done. Relationships in Brazil are vitally important in any endeavor; remember this–communication doesn’t stop at the end of a work day.

Speaking another language may be difficult even after months or years of study. When we speak English we have our share of misunderstandings and no matter how hard a person tries it happens in other idioms as well. An incident comes to mind. When I was in Haiti and still reviewing my French in classes, I missed some words as I chaired a meeting with pastors. They thought I was making fun of them and I did some quick explaining. Brazilians were quite forgiving of our mistakes though speaking a language well is a great step to avoiding conflict.

Vernon and Monica at the age when they were putting together their first words in Portuguese



Since our children learned their first language in Brazil, it quite naturally was Portuguese. We did speak English in our home, but if we wanted either Monica or Vernon not to miss what we had to say, we used Portuguese.

Since Vernon was learning two languages at the same time he made a crucial mistake in a chorus. I recall he sang with all his heart the words from a chorus, “I’m going to heaven” but it came out “The flying truck.” Or if the inflection was a bit different it might have sounded like, “Granpa’s truck.”

Everything becomes easier when a person knows the language. Idiomatic expressions make sense; slang and swear words can be avoided. I recall using a dictionary when I was not yet fluent in Portuguese. Many times I picked the wrong word from among the choices so that a sentence made no sense. Language school only gave us the basics of the language so when we moved to the interior of São Paulo State and needed to prepare a sermon, this is how it went. With a dictionary and my rudimentary Portuguese I wrote it out every word—well it all seemed o.k. to me. Then a teacher read it, tore it apart and fixed it up. Later I read the sermon word for word but still stumbling over the pronunciation.The question is how much of another language do I need? If you are remaining in the country for years, then take classes and really learn the language. Are you going there for a couple of weeks? If so, then find the person that can help you get a few phrases and sentences down pat. It will be more than worth it in making friendships and earning respect. Your efforts will count.

We as a family with relatives and friends from Canada were visiting a church out in a country area a good distance from Port au Prince. There we learned to speak the Haitian Creole.



Wherever you are visiting for a few days, learn a bit of the language. You will find it will be more than worth the effort. Communication is an important skill and returns many dividends.

There is another language, one a person learns as he becomes part of the Christian faith. The language of the hymns I learned as a boy now move me deeply as I listen to them; one reason for that is those words express truths from the Scriptures that give me hope of Eternal Life.

May I encourage you as a reader to learn the language of the Christian faith. It brings peace in this life and it offers hope for all Eternity. Some day you will find the time and effort well spent.


Brazilians and Their Hard Work

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill

I’m again writing about the work of Brazilians—as if I were an expert which I am not of course. This saying might fit me, “Encher a linguiça.” An exact translation is, “To fill the sausage” but it means “to ramble, to fill space with meaningless things without quality.” The explanation is that long ago the rich could eat good meat but the slaves or workers got pig guts or the poorest leftovers. Later the pig intestines were filled with the poorest meat—sausages. I hope this blog goes a bit further than sausage.


Every brick was made by hand with red mud plopped into a mold and then laid out in the sun. When dry then all those bricks were stacked in a kiln for burning. Often brick making was a family project for this woman is hard at work with another bent over beside her. I recall visiting a family’s project of piling the dried bricks into their small kiln. The small opening would be blocked after wood in the center was aflame so that later the bricks would be burned—hard like rocks. Those are oversize bricks in this picture.


There are no bricks without mud. Here red soil is processed with the help of a donkey and the man of the home till one day it will make bricks. Common red dirt+water+hard work make the right consistency of mud. Right now I feel a sermon coming on. You see we are like the soil that needs a lot of mucking, hard work and some heat till God makes us into the bricks he desires. I too need to take that to heart.


Even children do their part, in this case selling fruit from door to door. From their smiles I imagine they are not unhappy for they no doubt realize they are contributing to the welfare of their home. A person with some experience with children was explaining that we are limiting our children’s ability to become mature adults when we spare them hard work and discipline. The wisdom of the ages in proverbs encourages us to “train up a child in the way they should go.” Nuff said!

Street markets are a lot of work for the stalls go up at daybreak and come down after lunch. The next day is the same each in a different section of the city with no guarantee that a person could make a living with this work. As for me I liked the street market for there were hot snacks or a coffee that would hit the target of good taste. And somebody was at each stall with a smile tending to every wish.

The market means a person has fresh fruit and vegetable for the table at home. Here is Dna. Irene just back from a street market, a picture from a number of years ago. This lady was something like a mother to the fledgling F.M. church for her energetic ministry blessed the lives of many people. Again and again we enjoyed the hospitality of her home and meals.

Christian work has a purpose, that is to build the Kingdom of Jesus into lives so that they may be successful in this life and at the end of it all have hope of eternal life. That too takes a lot of work, commitment and energy by those who give of their time to bless others. This group of children in a church planting project is a good example of what is occurring ever and anon.

Jesus calls us to “lay up treasures in heaven.” Could this be the children who experienced changed lives through the Gospel?

Faith that Works a Miracle

“If you want to change the world, fire up your faith.” Anon

Professor Josué and his wife Rute wanted to change the world in which they lived; they wanted to make it a better place and since they had seen the influence of the Gospel, planting a church in their bairro became their hope.

Pastor Josué and wife Rute welcome the Ontario VISA team giving a hug to Lillian Hobbs.

There was no reason to imagine that a church could be built or flourish in this section of Santo André in São Paulo. Yet it happened when and a few folks of faith rented a hall and began services. Then a volunteer VISA  group from here in Canada began to work with them in worship services and raising funds.

Pastor Josué not only welcomes the VISA group using a rented hall but he prays for them and their ministry during their stay in Sto. André.


Dna Francisca, a lady from a slum nearby had been working from her little shack to minister to the children of that favela, so she encouraged them to buy a lot just across a dirty creek from her place. Professor Josué became the pastor all the while pouring his energy and reais into this project.

A missionary friend in Brazil encouraged us to help them put up a building so Canadaian dollars and VISA volunteers gave this building project a good push.

Dna. Francisca threw her energies into helping by ministering to the children in the slum at the foot of the land this small congregation had purchased. In this picture Dna. Francisca hugs the Rute, Josué’s wife in the favela where Dna Francisca ministers to children. Her dress tells the story of her faith. It reads, “Jesus, eu te adoro.” You can pretty well guess what it says, “Jesus, I adore you.” Can you imagine the message the dress declared? And can you imagine the reaction to a similar dress in Canada?

The city of São Paulo is built on hills and the building lot the congregation purchased was typical—but worse there were some old cement block buildings that needed to be torn down. That is where our VISA volunteers came into the picture. Our modest help sparked the inspiration that it could happen. The folks there brought their families and friends and the work began with picks and shovels.

The old building was torn down and now a lovely church building has a strong congregation. Sorry, but somehow I’ve lost all the pictures of the new church.

Doris and I were so inspired by pastor Josué and Rute’s enthusiasm to be a witness for our Lord Jesus in Santo André that we too sacrificed to help–not with pick and shovel. This isn’t bragging—this is simply obedience to the command of the Christ to be witness in all the world. We were invited to be the dedication speaker when the lovely church was finished.

Once in a while a bit of faith will spark inspiration all round. And then wonderful things happen. Is that kind of a project worthwhile? Absolutely! A few years ago O CRUZEIRO, a national magazine featured the evangelical protestant movement and the huge positive influence it is having in Brazil. Wow!

Church building projects such as the one in Santo André work to change people and communities for the better and gives believers hope for all eternity.

The Sixth Day of Christmas

“Obedience belongs to us, results belong to God.” Anon

The four children that past our home were dressed so differently from the shorts and shirts they would wear for the hot climate in Neves during the Christmas season. We found out their long gowns and decorated boxes in hand made it clear what they were doing on this, the Sixth day of Christmas. They were to be part of the of a celebration for O Dia dos Reis, translated it means The Day of the Kings and it is widely celebrated in Brazil as the day for giving gifts.


Outside of own culture, Christmas is a season that lasts 12 days with Christians celebrating the Magi who found and celebrated the baby Jesus as Saviour. That day is known as The Epiphany, “an illuminating discovery.” Many link the Magi in Matthew 2:1-6, as the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles; so January 6 is important to us—for we are Gentiles.

The evening before Epiphany was The Night of the Kings and it is still important to some children in Brazil. Why? They leave their shoes outside their door or beside a window with the hope and excitement that the next day they would find them full of candy.

For most Brazilians, Christmas Eve culminates with a worship service at their church with Christmas dinner then served up in homes in the wee small hours of the morning. Gifts are given on the Sixth of January though that is changing now with gifts on Christmas and treats passed out on O Dia dos Reis.

The Magi are not totally forgotten in Canada for while chatting with friends conversant with Newfoundland, they spoke of the Mummers. To remember the Magi, folks dress up in disguise to visit their neighbour’s homes and there they put on a short play. Then those living there are supposed to return the compliment with their own short play.

O Dia dos Reis was good news especially for the children whose parents could provide gifts. But that thought provokes another: the good news of the coming of Jesus is the greatest of all gifts for He came to provide hope for those same children in this life and continues on into Eternity.

Doris made a great hit with both children and adults with the presentation of Gospel stories using florescent flannel graph art.


A colleague, Murdo Campell usde film strips to minister to children and adults on the coffee farms in the Neves area. There would always be a crowd.



The ministry of the Gospel to children surpasses in importance of the celebration or the Magi and any gifts or treats. I congratulate my wife Doris for she made children important in our mission in Brazil. Everywhere we were posted she opening up Sunday Schools, programs for children and ministries to youth.

It meant a lot of work to make those lessons interesting for children especially when Portuguese was not our first language. But when lives are directed to a higher level and that very hope in Jesus bursts out in their own witness to those around, then I must declare to any and all that the Gift of Jesus has no equals in its worth.


Strange Christmases in Brazil

“For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

With those words I hear Handel’s Messiah with a choir ringing in my ears with the words sung over and over, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…” It was the reality of those words that landed us in Brazil as missionaries, and there our celebrations of Christmas were different than any we had known.

When I checked with Doris about our first Christmas in Brazil—that was 1955–Doris said, “I don’t remember. Our ears and eyes and minds were busy with learning the language.” We were the only ones in our mission so we spent Christmas alone with our baby girl, Monica. But I don’t recall being lonely perhaps because we were on the greatest adventure of our lives.

After that year we moved to Rio Preto in the interior of the State of São Paulo with Murdo, Isabel and Ross Campbell arriving there just before us. It was a Christmas gathering at their home that Doris and I will never forget for we could chat in English and not struggle with our Portuguese.


As we relaxed around the table we looked for Monica who was about two. It seemed impossible that she had escaped to the busy street a few feet from the home. Somehow she had climbed a wrought-iron gate at the front door and when we looked we saw her standing in the middle of the street with traffic passing on both sides. I screamed a prayer out to God and ran to pick her up. But for the grace of the Eternal Father who sent his angels to put their wings around our little girl, there could have been a tragedy.

After a year or so when the Campbells returned to Canada, we moved to the small village of Neves Paulista in the midst of coffee farms. It was not long before we became so involved in planting a number of congregations that we came to Christmas with no energy for a family celebration. Too busy to get a special Christmas dinner ready Doris brought out the leftovers for us while we remembered the turkey and deserts enjoyed by our families in Canada.. Nor could we find money for presents for Monica and Vernon. At that time our children would not have objected for they had no memories of better times.

The village of Neves was poor with few decorations to remind us of the season. We were doing missionary work and it demanded our all—perhaps too much. But there is evidence that we left a mark on lives for the Christ of Christmas, at least I suppose so for the following Christmas one of the families gave us a piglet ready for roasting. A little pig for Christmas took the place of a turkey—a custom that made sense for turkeys would have been hard to find. Perhaps it was that same Christmas that folks from a farm gave us a half sack of mangoes.

After furlough we were assigned to Rio de Janeiro to plant a church and since no other missionaries were nearby we celebrated Christmas by ourselves but quite differently. Most churches of whatever stripe would have their services at midnight and then the folks would return home to have their Christmas dinner in the wee hours of the morning.

But Doris packed a lunch for our small family and we travelled up and over the mountains to enjoy the hot sun, the surf and sand of a quiet beach. At that time and place there was not one person in sight to notice Monica and Vernon playing in the water and building sand castles. Perhaps it was not on that Christmas day but I do recall leaving our spot on the beach to swim across the mouth of a small river and there finding oysters on the rocks.

So we were faced with the challenge of a meal of fresh oysters although none of us have ever been excited about oysters, especially when raw. I then swam across this small river with the children on my back—one at a time—to pry oysters from the rock with as tire iron, then crack them open and eat them there. Doris is not a swimmer so she was not able to get to those rocks nor did we bring any back for her for I doubted she would eat them.

Doris had our Christmas dinner laid out on a blanket on the sand and although it was nothing fancy, just a picnic with our toes close to the water and the surf rumbling in our ears. Yet it is a Christmas that I wish the four of us could repeat once again on that beach.

Nostalgia for those Christmases long past bring tears close to the surface. Then, yes then we remember the joy of every Christmas, the birth of our Lord of which the prophet Isaiah spoke, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…” With faith we look beyond the best of any celebration here to an eternal one that has no ending.


A blessed Christmas to everyone,

Roy & Doris



Miracle Shirts for Christmas

Shirts for Christmas

“Discontent makes rich men poor while contentment makes poor men rich.” Anon

Sixty plus years ago times were tough in Brazil. Money was scarce especially for a young couple, Rev. José and his wife Irene who were planting a church in the outskirts of the city of São Paulo. They were facing a bleak Christmas for they needed to set aside money for surgery on their five year-old daughter Cleide. Their surgeon had recommended surgery on an umbilical cord hernia for she would begin school the first of the following year. And though the surgeon promised that he would not charge a fee, yet the hospital needed to be paid.

Pastor José and Dna Irene with daughter Cleide about this time of financial need.

With no money, José and Irene went to a Japanese friend for a loan and promised to pay it back month by month. But that meant there was no money for Christmas. Nothing! It was Irene’s practice each Christmas to buy her husband a fine white shirt but this year she explained there would be no such gift. Generally Irene would take his old shirts and turn the collars to hide the wear, however this was not an option that Christmas for every old shirt José had was already reworked as much as possible.

Irene laid out her dilemma of having no shirt to give at Christmas and with that José replied, “Don’t be sad Irene; all the shirts in the world belong to God. If He wishes to provide a shirt as a present that would not present a problem.” So in prayer José and Irene laid the matter of a shirt before the Lord.

A few days later, still before Christmas day, a sister to Irene who lived nearby saw that a truck moving a family had dropped a bundle in front of her house. She checked for the owner and watched for any truck looking for a box—but no one came to claim it. Opening it she found fine linens and shirts. Her husband and others of the family tried on the size 37 shirts but they found out that not one fit. Then thinking of José she brought the box to him, wondering if there might be somebody in the congregation that could use them.

Just the moment when Irene saw the shirts were José’s size she started to cry for she was sure the box of ten shirts was sent by God. The shirts, most of them almost new fit José exactly. Pastor José had more good shirts on hand than ever before in his life. She then told the story of how José had declared God owned all the shirts in this world. God had provided not just one shirt but many shirts for Jose’s Christmas.

But God’s answer to prayer did not end there. During his many years of ministry as a pastor José never again had to buy a shirt. Always shirts were given to him from one source or another. Always José had shirts on hand…good shirts until the day of his death. The shirts always came to him from unexpected sources

Still, the story has not ended. Remember the little girl Cleide that had surgery? Well, later in life she married Luiz Roberto who had grown up in abject poverty and later with his talent in music has sung in citywide crusades. Now get this—ever since he became José’s son-in-law until the moment I began to write this blog, he has never had to buy a shirt.

Years later this is the family who experienced the Miracles of Shirts. Luiz Roberto, Cleide, Dna Irene and Ivan. At this time pastor José had passed on to his eternal reward.

But the miracle of the shirts has not only touched Luiz but that of his son Ivan. Cleide told me that she gets so many shirts for him from a variety of people—yes, so many shirts that she has to give some away. Apparently the answer to José and Irene’s prayer of faith is that the blessing of shirts falls from one generation to another. There is more! One day Luiz Roberto was chatting with the pastor who had followed José and he told Luiz Roberto that through the prayers of José, that the same blessing of shirts came to him.

As I think of José and his family giving their lives to start a church I am reminded of the words of Jesus in Luke 6:38a, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down and shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap…” José himself after telling this story would quote, “My God, according to his riches, will supply all your needs according to his riches in Glory through Jesus Christ.”

Now a final note: Often when we have been in Brazil with work teams we have stayed in the home of Luiz, Cleide and Irene. Just before I wrote this story, I chatted with Luiz just to be sure I had the details right. Apparently it is all straight. Surely one of the proofs of the goodness of God at this Christmas season is this story of “Shirts for Christmas.”


Overtime Work for God’s Angels

Bishop Morneau of the Catholic Church wrote this prayer, “Lord Jesus, purify our desires. Help us to long for what really matters and help us to be done with things that are insignificant…”

I’ve always wondered since that time years ago what might have happened to me if our neighbour Joe had not come with his axe. As I tell you this story you will see that the time and happenings are all in God’s hands. His angels are quick, so very quick to be involved. And you’ll understand why I write about such a crisis, for if it had gone the other way, I’d never made it to Brazil.

A baptism in the interior of São Paulo state where we lived and ministered. what a privilege to be in Brazil and encourage folks in following Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

It was the spring of the year when my sister and I formed a simple conspiracy to explore the new farm my dad had bought. Each night a white frost laid its touch on grass and trees making this the right time of the year for Maple trees to lend their sap to make syrup. About a ten minute walk for our young legs—she was about nine and me ten at the time—and those legs took us back across the brown stubble of a hay field towards a dark woods. We by-passed the swamp and Dog Lake to follow the farm trail around a huge rock cliff then up the hill. On more level ground we followed the line fence with its row of Soft Maples.

This picture is a few years before this story unfolded, but there is Alma my sister, myself and a cousin, Hollis Mainse. Pictures are scarce from that time.

That was when the trouble began for I had watched my dad boil down the sap from Sugar Maples to make the sweet syrup. One of those trees had a streak of sap marking its trunk; that was an invitation for me to try its sweetness. Since it was sweet I surmised wrongly that it might be sweeter closer to where the sap oozed from the bark. A new purpose sprang into my mind. I’d climb that tree but I never thought it would make me pay for the taste I’d taken. You see the Soft Maple is set apart from the Sugar Maple for the trunk often divides into a very narrow V.

That is the way it was that day. I was about ten feet up in my climb when I placed a foot in that narrow crotch though that was no problem. But when I put my weight on that foot to climb further the tree grabbed my foot so securely I could not get it loose. My sister watched my struggles from below till I fell over backwards with my foot held more securely in the bite of those arms of unyielding wood. My sister could not reach me and even so she would not have been able to lift me to be released.

I was becoming desperate. “Run, get mother ,” I cried out. With that she headed for the house and though it was a long hike for her within the half hour mother returned. Though mother could reach me yet there was no possibility of removing my foot especially since it was more painful by the minute. Her solution was to return to the house as fast as she could, cross the road to another farm house and explain her problem in gasping breaths to Joe.

It must have been another half hour before Joe and his axe made his way with mother back cross the fields, up the hill to the tree that held me prisoner. But the pressure on my foot and my suffering meant only one thing—cut down half of the trunk that held my foot. I’m vague about this part of the story but of this I am sure, Joe laid all of his strength into making those wood chips fly.

Soon I was on the ground and hobbling towards the house—with a red face. You see, with my head down for at least an hour the blood that had been forced into my skin and remained there. Even after a couple of days I still had something of a red face though part of that might have been embarrassment.

Dad had been away that day but when he returned and heard the story his response was, “I’d have gotten him down. No need to cut that tree.” To hear that almost made me faint for I felt once again my twisted foot pinched between the parts of the tree trunk.

There are questions I’ve asked myself during the seventy-five years since that painful escapade. Why was it that mother that day did not go with dad on his errands and as a result leave me alone hung up in the tree?  I wonder why my young sister was with me for often I explored that farm by myself. As well, since farmers are always busy how did it happen that Joe was not out of reach of my mother, perhaps working in his back forty?

The answer I’ve learned over the years is that God’s wisdom, his plans and his love are often beyond our understanding. That sort of trust often grows slowly until one day the light dawns, explaining most problems. That isbecause of a total commitment a person makes to Him as our Eternal Father. An old hymn speaks to this issue, “Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bidd’st I come to thee…” then the surrender, “…Oh lamb of God I come, I come.”