Tag Archives: Brazil

The Barbeiro Bug

There is no great mystery in the name of this bug since the translation for barbeiro means barber ; that may come from the stripes on its abdomen. Just think of the barber’s pole that used to stand outside some barber shops. During our first term in Brazil we heard about the barbeiro for it carried a parasitic disease that infected some of the poor in our area but now infects 18 millions in Central and South America. Deaths mount up to 14,000 per year.

The person infected by the barbeiro may have few systems for perhaps thirty years but then it will be known to have attacked different parts of the body—the heart, nervous system and colon. When our family lived in Neves I recall hearing that a man had dropped dead while playing soccer. He had an enlarged heart from the bite of the barbeiro that infected him with a parasite. In Brazil that disease is called Chagas since a Dr. Chagas defined it. This parasite lives in the intestine of the bug and is transmitted through its bite. However technically it is the bug’s secretions that enter through the wound the bug makes or perhaps other lesions.

I recall visiting in homes where the walls were made of bamboo and plastered with mud. Cracks developed as the mud dried and so provided a place for the barbeiro to hide during the day. Its bloodsucking was done at night when the occupants were asleep. The Chagas parasite may show itself in up to 30% of those infected. Chagas is a terrible disease. To suck blood the barbeiro pounces on exposed skin but prefers the face and especially around the lips for they would be uncovered. As a result this is how this bug earned its English name, The Kissing Bug. Tests for the Chagas disease are inadequate and the medications expensive and toxic. Treatments at times are not successful and Chagas may remain a chronic disease.

So how was it that neither Doris nor I along with our children never got Chagas? One reason is that we lived in a house made of bricks and plastered over so the bug did not have many entry or hiding places. In any case my visits to the poorer homes never meant that I would sleep there overnight. Looking back I don’t recall knowing much about the barbeiro or being concerned about it.

The second reason is one that I do not fully understand but it is this: God sends angels to provide protection. As I look back over life I recall so many situations that Doris would explain with, “The angels must have been working overtime.” That includes my teen years, our time in Brazil and Haiti, and without doubt all the time we have lived in Canada.

As I’ve written up this post other thoughts have worked its way into my mind. It is that the disease Chagas is so similar to shadows that have crowded into our lives. We all know about them. Life runs along fairly smoothly but “the chickens come home to roost” often in the form of shadows that deepen into storm clouds.

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The Brazilian Churrasco

“Thank God every morning when you get up that you have something to do that day which must be done, whether you like it or not.” Charles Kingsley

Brazilians love meat and barbecueing meat has been perfected till it has become a fine art. Churrasco is hard to pronounce properly for they trill the “rr” or aspirate the “rrs” so it sounds like an “h.” But no matter how you say it their barbecued meats are the best. When you visit Brazil you’ll want to experience a Churrascaria—one of their restaurants that specialize in barbecued meats. Generally this restaurant will have a salad buffet but that is not what it is about. It is meat and I’ve never found them barbecuing tomatoes of tofu sausages. The waiter will bring to our table a skewer with roast beef, pork, ribs, chicken wings and hearts, and other meats that I can’t even remember now.

The waiter comes by our table with one or more skewers of meat; he will be nattily dressed most likely in a white long-sleeved shirt and perhaps with a black apron. He carries the spit over a dish so there will be no dripping and if we don’t wave him off he places the tip of the skewer on our plates. We can choose the meat to be rare or well done and he will slice it off while you gently lower it to you plate with your fork. And when you are half finished that slice he will be there offering more, though not the same kind of meat. If you like tender tasty barbecued meats, this is for you–the Promised Land.

If you wish to stray from a Churrascaria to something more reasonably priced, then a “pay by the kilo” might be your choice. In this restaurant we pick up our plates inside the door and start down the buffet line choosing all of our favorite foods all the while remembering that at the end of the line a scale will tell us not just the weight but the price. I’ve always found the total on my plate quite reasonable, more so than a hamburger and fries at any of our fast food places.

Then there is the rodizio where the buffet comes to you. Just sit at the table and the food magically appears with the waiters coming by every few minutes. We can choose what we want and it is always delicious. By now in your reading you are getting to understand the Brazilian restaurants serve the best food anywhere. Even in the humblest of homes their food is tasty beginning with their staple of rice and beans. And at the end of a meal anywhere we’ll have a cafezinho and that will be good too–if you like strong sweet coffee.

I’ve strayed a little from the churrasco but I return to one that stands out in my memory better than any other. This was a private charrasco prepared just for us and children when our team visited  a church-sponsored daycare. It was located next to a favela, a shanty town. The school was called Todo Mundo Feliz meaning “Everybody is Happy;” it certainly seemed true not only for the children but for the teachers and the director. They sang for us and you’d hardly believe the volume of sound that group of some fifty or more children provided.

The meat was skewered onto small pieces of bamboo and then prepared on an outdoor charcoal barbecue that may have been some four to five feet long. Not only was the meat delicious but the memory sticks with me of the children from this slum area that are being cared for and getting an education. The whole program is financed by one of our Sao Paulo churches—what a wonderful mission; it is a project that lends meaning to the lives of the children and is a source of joy for those who finance it and participate in the program. As I ponder what is happening there I am sure this is what Jesus referred to when he mentions, “…laying up treasures in heaven.” Who knows? There we may be served a churrasco as one of those treasures.

A Painting From Brazil

“As the blossom cannot tell what becomes of its fragrance, so no one can tell what becomes of his influence.” Anon

There is a painting on our fireplace that at times I stop and think about. Other stories then spring to mind. It is not just the painting that grabs my attention, but it is the memories that tag along with the name of the painter. A whole life is reborn in my mind as I think of Maria at her easel in the part of her living room that Doris and I know so well. But before I am washed away with the flood of memories and feelings that go along with the painting, I shall be more cold and factual, telling you about the painting itself.

The brush strokes show two jangadas that are leaving the shore to sail out into the vast Atlantic Ocean. So what is a jangada? It is a raft tied together of balsa logs and since balsa is an extremely light wood the poor have used them instead of boats. But there is more to these rafts than balsa for there is a sail fitted to those logs that will take each raft out into the ocean. The purpose is to fish. But this fishing is not a sporting adventure for these jangadeiros. This jangada is such a small adversary facing these waters for tropical winds can hurl huge waves at these rafts that would destroy any small, defenceless boat.  Behind the jangadeiro who sets the sail and guides the raft out into the deep waters there is a family that depends on his catch.  This fisherman hopes to haul in enough fish to provide a meal for his family he imagines is hungry at home. Yet some of those fish will be sold so that he can add rice and beans to his table.

You might find the jangadas anywhere along the great hump of Brazil that pushes out into the Atlantic. But there are two contrasting pictures that come to my mind. The painting on the fireplace tells the story of the beauty of the land. Then there is the courage of these fishermen who have given their bodies day after day to be burned black with the sun. But they have no choice but to face the dangers of the winds and the waves

Yes, Maria has set my mind to wandering among the balsa rafts, the sea and the poor who find a living on the water. But now it is the lady who painted this picture that becomes my focus.  So many Brazilians are so like Maria in her ability to be an artist in one way or another. Maria not only paints but she plays the organ that is placed between her “painting” corner and the light from the front window of her living room. I recall one day—perhaps a Sunday she gathered her hymn books and began to play. The music gathered her husband Alzenir, Doris and myself and the four of us sang those wonderful old hymns that give us hope for an eternal life beyond this one. It moved me deeply for I love the Portuguese language and I am sure we learned quickly this Latin language for it was tied to the music of hymns. In this case the music we already knew.  We learned those new words and they perhaps grew more precious to us than the English from our childhoods.

It was in a simple brick church in a new poor area of Sao Paulo that we first met Maria. My wife Doris had begun a youth program and Maria along with her future boyfriend Alzenir began to attend. But since help was needed to run the program these two young teens began to help out. They later married, raised a family and Alzenir eventually directed this same youth program across the country. For many years Maria suffered with seizures and though medication helped yet it took some sharpness from her personality. Just a few years ago she had brain surgery and is so much better. Still through it all Maria was always the perfect hostess, always had a smile though it was occasionally with a twist related to her illness.

Ah Maria! If by some strange fate we should travel once again to Brazil, you with your family would more than likely meet us at the airport and insist that we spend a few days in your home. What wonderful stories we would share with smiles as we recount events nearly forgotten over many years. We might have to wipe away a tear before we say our ate logos ,our goodbyes. I’m almost sure you’d pick up another painting hidden close by your easel and put it into our hands before we step out your front door. One thing is for sure—we will not forget you Maria and the jangadas you painted into our hearts.

There is a paradox in all that I have written. On the one hand the painting on the fireplace has stirred up memories of friends and places from days past. But I might suggest this; we are still ministering in a small way in the Brazilian church through the people we love. But there is also the future that is totally hidden. Both are God’s gift to Doris and me—the nostalgia for people and places we have touched that are now fading into the fog of history. Then there is the hope He gives that looks beyond this world and its struggles. We live now in the present—content in the eternity that is now with us. And we are content as we consider the coming eternity when we shall meet our friends and no doubt some of the jangadeiros. Our faith affirms the Eternal Father in one way or another. He will continue to bestow good upon us.

The Rivers of Memories

“If I can put one touch of rosy sunset into the life of any man or woman, I shall feel that I have worked with God.” George Macdonald

With the beginning of this New Year, I suppose there are some who are doing what my wife Doris and I have been doing recently. We’ve been floating down the river of memories and on that quiet voyage little wavelets have washed back to mind so many circumstances both good and bad. Perhaps for you the reader, just the passage of one year to another calls to remembrance years and experiences long past.

Since we’ve had to clean out part of our home and re-arrange other parts, we’ve come upon pictures that take us back over 60 years to when we were married. Nostalgia almost blinds my eyes with tears as we recall when and how both of our children were born. Our daughter Monica came to us in Kentucky and our son Vernon in Brazil. Do you too remember the scrapes and joys that went along with raising your children? Perhaps your days of raising a family were tight ones financially as they were for us. Now you recall how you cut corners to make ends meet and care for each other and your children.

Then there were those high points of joy as we float down this river. You’ll recall those many times it flowed along so smoothly.  Scenes come to your mind of school or university graduations, perhaps the landing of a good job. Soon after the happy moments of wedding ceremonies arrive. Add to that your memories, as Doris and I do, of the birth of grandchildren. For us that now extends to great-grandchildren—would you believe four of them?

We’ve both had to sort through boxes of files that contain so much of our professional lives. It seems as if we are destroying life itself as those boxes go into the stove or out in the garbage. What am I going to do with hundreds of sermons in Portuguese? And Doris has boxes of Christian Ed stuff all in Portuguese that she prepared and used in programs for children. You no doubt know what erasing memory is like something precious full of history that has to be discarded. For us both for an instant we remember from the days in Brazil, churches we built and the people we helped. Sometimes a little current around an eddy will trigger those memories.  Mostly it feels like pouring important parts of life over a precipice; we watch the waterfalls carry it all away. Ah, it is the watching that hurts.

Along that flowing river of mission work, we encountered some swift waters and some dangerous rapids. Those times come back like dark ghosts to remind us of our weaknesses and hurts. My, oh my, how I wish the waves of that river might have the power to wash away the venom of some experiences. But there is no way to escape on this river the recalling that brings pain again to the heart. As you read you no doubt understand us and our longings; I am sure you too have been there. The fast water of that river of memories seems to drown out the ten years we spent in Brazil; at times we wonder if they may  never have happened.

There is no way to take our little raft down the river of memories without wondering when and where that river will end. A dark veil covers the moment that river will ceases to exist. Or will that river go with us just the same as when we close our eyes on a pillow this night. The waking the next morning will be both an end and a continuation. As for me I trust in that awakening and the serene place of that new life, all in the hands of our Eternal Creator. You perhaps believe as I do that Jesus our Lord has prepared a place where we may recall past memories and build others that will flow on and on and on.

If you wish to share memories and nostalgic moments over a cup of coffee, give me a call. Since I’m long retired, I’ll have time.

Roy C. Kenny, 613-354-6929

Miracle Shirts for Christmas

 

Sixty some years ago times were tough in Brazil. Money was scarce especially for a young couple who were planting a church in the outskirts of the city of Sao Paulo. Rev. Jose and his wife Irene were facing a bleak Christmas for money needed to be set aside for surgery on their five year-old daughter Cleide. Their surgeon had recommended the 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 would need to be paid.

With no money, Jose and Irene went to a Japanese friend for a loan and promised to pay it back month by month.  But 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 but this was not an option that Christmas. Every old shirt Jose had had been reworked as much as possible.

At family devotions as they knelt in prayer, Irene laid out her dilemma of having no shirt to give at Christmas. At that Jose replied that all the shirts in the world belonged to God, and if He wished to provide a shirt for him that would be no problem. So in prayer Jose 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 noted that a truck apparently moving a family had dropped a box in front of her house. She advertised for the owner and watched for any truck looking for a box—but no one came to claim it. Opening it she found linens and shirts. Her husband and others of the family tried on the size 37 shirts but they found out that not one of them fit. Then thinking of Jose she brought the box to him, wondering if there might be somebody in the congregation that could use them.

Just then when Irene saw the size was that of her husband, 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 Jose exactly. Pastor Jose had more good shirts on hand than ever before in his life. 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 Jose never again had to buy a shirt. Always shirts were given to him from one source or another. Always Jose 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—a man who has been the administrator of our seminary and sung in citywide crusades. Now get this—ever since he became Jose’s son-in-law he has never had to buy a shirt. 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 from a variety of people—yes, so many shirts that she has to give them away. Apparently the answer to Jose and Irene’s prayer of faith is that the blessing of shirts falls from one generation to another.

Now a final note: Often when we have been in Brazil with a work team we have stayed in the home of Luiz, Cleide and Irene. Just before I rewrote this story, I chatted with Cleide and 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.”

 

Sixty some years ago times were tough in Brazil. Money was scarce especially for a young couple who were planting a church in the outskirts of the city of Sao Paulo. Rev. Jose and his wife Irene were facing a bleak Christmas for money needed to be set aside for surgery on their five year-old daughter Cleide. Their surgeon had recommended the 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 would need to be paid.

With no money, Jose and Irene went to a Japanese friend for a loan and promised to pay it back month by month.  But 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 but this was not an option that Christmas. Every old shirt Jose had had been reworked as much as possible.

At family devotions as they knelt in prayer, Irene laid out her dilemma of having no shirt to give at Christmas. At that Jose replied that all the shirts in the world belonged to God, and if He wished to provide a shirt for him that would be no problem. So in prayer Jose 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 noted that a truck apparently moving a family had dropped a box in front of her house. She advertised for the owner and watched for any truck looking for a box—but no one came to claim it. Opening it she found linens and shirts. Her husband and others of the family tried on the size 37 shirts but they found out that not one of them fit. Then thinking of Jose she brought the box to him, wondering if there might be somebody in the congregation that could use them.

Just then when Irene saw the size was that of her husband, 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 Jose exactly. Pastor Jose had more good shirts on hand than ever before in his life. 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 Jose never again had to buy a shirt. Always shirts were given to him from one source or another. Always Jose 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—a man who has been the administrator of our seminary and sung in citywide crusades. Now get this—ever since he became Jose’s son-in-law he has never had to buy a shirt. 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 from a variety of people—yes, so many shirts that she has to give them away. Apparently the answer to Jose and Irene’s prayer of faith is that the blessing of shirts falls from one generation to another.

Now a final note: Often when we have been in Brazil with a work team we have stayed in the home of Luiz, Cleide and Irene. Just before I rewrote this story, I chatted with Cleide and 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.”

Butantan, Brazil’s World Class Snake Farm

Most of us are afraid of snakes but some have a phobia that will not let them even see a snake. That is the way it was with Florence, one of our missionary team in the Sao Paulo area. One day our families were visiting Butantan, the snake farm near Sao Paulo University when we came to the first deep trough where there were a number of venomous snakes. Florence turned from it. I think she might have fainted if her husband had not led her away.  I can still see her with a hand over her mouth holding in a scream.

The Brazilian constrictor snake, the Anaconda may grow to 30 feet and weigh well over 500 pounds. Though it may drop out of tree onto a passerby, or attack from the water, yet it may not be nearly as deadly as those one would find at Butantan. We have an Anaconda skin in case you’d like to see or touch one–we could do it while having coffee some day.

So why have this wide variety of poisonous snakes at this Institute? It is there they milk the venom from snakes and from it make anti-venom serum. When we lived in Sao Paulo it was the only place in the world that produced anti-venom for the coral snake. Also they do research into the varied types of venom trying to understand the venom’s effects on the blood, nerves and inflammation of muscles.

So what difference did poisonous snakes make to us? Just this. Our seminary was located in a pocket of jungle not far from the city of Sao Paulo and poisonous snakes were present. We never lived there but since it was a beautiful place we occasionally dropped by. On one of those times we found snakes had been busy. You see, the school had kept two cows to provide milk for children but that day those cows had been bitten and died. The culprit was likely the Cascavel, a rattler double the length and larger than a man’s arm. It would also be more venomous than our North American rattlesnake. Apparently the cows were grazing on a cleared hillside when they no doubt disturbed a pair of snakes sunning themselves.  One strike from a Cascavel and a cow would be down.

One of our guys who lived there, when he was putting on a shoe was bitten by a poisonous spider. He immediately drove over the hills to a pharmacy in a nearby village. When there they realized he could not take the anti-venom serum since he would react to the protein involved. He just sweat it out—I mean he really sweat it out.

The country folk seemed to take the presence of snakes in stride. One dark evening the caretaker at the seminary was returning to his home when he felt a tug on his pant leg. A snake had caught its fangs in his denim trousers. He turned on his flashlight, reached down, grabbed it behind its head and with one twist it was dead. The snake was identified as extremely venomous. It was the dreaded Sete Passos that refers to the seven steps a person might take after such a bite before dropping dead.

You might think, “I’d never live in such a dangerous place.” Understood! Though the staff there did its best to keep the grass cut back so snakes could not hide, the houses were just a stone’s from the bush.  It is interesting that a number of couples raised their children in that local and though they seemed to ramble all over the place, yet none were ever bitten. With that I must mention that another one of the “Sete Passos” snakes was found next to a home. The caretaker came, found where it was hiding and dispatched it to snake heaven.

We visited this place with our two children for they loved to play with the others there. I never recall putting restrictions on their activities; I suppose those they played with knew where not to go. Adding to the jungle habitat for snakes were three ponds fed by a stream coming out of the hills.  But I do not recall ever having to warn our children of the water or snakes.

But I never think of Butantan that my thoughts do not go back to the seminary nestled in the jungle, the ponds and the danger of snakes. Me? I believe that angels intervened to keep all of all our children safe. Butantan could provide the anti-venom that would save a life but better yet was the presence of angels working overtime.

Black Shoe Polish and Our Children

The Black Shoe Polish and our Children

Were our children trying to become Brazilians when we found our son Vernon plastered with black shoe polish? It is hard to guess what our two children were thinking. As parents and adults we rather imagine that we know what goes on in a child’s mind. But by and large we really have no idea. You might try looking back to your own childhood and remember some of the strange things you did and try to explain what you were thinking. I doubt it can be done. So Doris and I have never figured out what Monica and Vernon had in mind when we found them playing in the black shoe polish.

They really weren’t playing in it for obviously to us at least they had a purpose. That purpose seemed to be to change Vernon from a little blond-haired white two year old into a Brazilian. But it would have been a Brazilian much darker than the average person we’d met there in the little village in the interior of the state of Sao Paulo. Oh yes, there were children just as light skinned as ours and one of those families attended our little church. But that is another story that I shall have to put off till I share it with you over a cup of coffee.

Brazilians are proud to have a little European blood and that of course started with the Portuguese immigration. And they are proud to have mixed in some Indian blood from the indigenous tribes. Add to that the darker colour of the Africans who were brought over as slaves. So the mixture of skin shade is a coffee colour if a person roasts and brews that coffee different ways or adds milk.  And we assume that our two children felt just a bit out of place among the deeper hued children with whom they played.

But it probably was not Vernon’s idea about being black for he was just in the two year age range.  I doubt that at that age he had any great philosophical ideas about colour. So it must have been Monica who was almost four that decided to make him black, black with shoe polish.

If the maid we had at that time was doing her job she might have stopped the shoe polish from blacking Vernon’s legs, arms and other parts of his body. But we can’t blame her for she might have been working in the house while we found our children out in the car port. In any case we came home to find our little boy mostly black. We were amused…perhaps at least a little bit. Well, it was funny enough for me to go get my camera and take a picture of the two of them.

But there the fun ended for that black shoe polish had to come off of our children’s tender skin. Doris says that without doubt one scrubbing with soap and water would not have done the job. Some of that black probably stayed around for many a bath and many a day. But I don’t think that colour made much difference to our children or those with whom they played. They fit right in. We were not concerned for Monica’s safety when she would disappear in the morning and not come back till supper time. When we’d ask here where she’d been she might say, “Playing with so and so at such and such a place.” We had no idea where she had gone but assumed all was well.

The way I see it is that the folks in the village knew what was going on with the strange Canadians as much as we ourselves did. People kept close track of us. I recall another missionary couple, Murdo and Isabel saying that when they left their parrot with neighbours while they’d be away that the parrot would be arriving back at their house about the same time as they arrived home from the bus.

It was about then when Vernon was developing his vocabulary that he had difficulty pronouncing Monica’s name. He would say it as Mokada. In a year or so he got it right but once in a while for fun I still address our daughter as Mokada. It seems that Portuguese is an easier language to pick up than English so our children spoke it well, probably without the foreign accent that we must have had.

Whether it is language, home or country, children seem to adapt and do it so well. Were our children thinking about adapting when Vernon was slathered in black shoe polish? We’ll never know, but it is one little episode in Brazil that our family will not forget though our children may have tried to put it out of mind.