mercredi 25 juin 2014

The Concrete Jungle: A Survival Guide

Queridos amigos,

It really definitely has been a long time since I posted on here! Last time I posted here, I was on my way back to England from Brazil, following a life-changing 18 months in Vicosa, Minas Gerais with Latin Link.  Now, almost two years, a lot of hard work and heartache later, I am living here in Sao Paulo, married and settling in to our new home and family life amidst World Cup and pre-Olympic fever, praying and waiting to see what God has in store for us.  When I left Paulo in 2012, in many ways we didn't know what would happen, where or when.  To say that it has been a challenge to get to where we are today would be an understatement, but we have been looked after in so many ways, so many doors have been opened, and so many special people have been placed in our path to cheer us and steer us along.

Coming back to Brazil has in many senses been like putting on a pair of high heel shoes that haven't been worn in a long time. That is, they look beautiful and make you feel amazing, but remembering how to walk in them isn't easy, and blisters and bruises become necessary in order for your feet to be sufficiently calloused to wear them.  I thought I was a dab-hand at Brazilian culture, and that months  of Paulo and I to-ing and fro-ing would exempt me from culture shock.  I was WRONG!

These are just some of the things I had forgotten about Brazil, and some golden rules I have had to force myself to re-learn.

1 Avoid getting in a car with a Brazilian (at all costs)

When Paulo told me his best friend was picking me, Mike and Mum up from the airport upon our arrival, I was already apprehensive.  I have only had 2 near-death experiences in my life, and both of them happened to be, by some co-incidence, when this friend (who we shall call Alex for argument's sake) was at the wheel.  I was actually impressed that his usual simultaneous GPS-fiddling, mobile-phone answering, English mickey-taking and occasional steering resulted in only a couple of U-turns and near-misses.  However, on the way back to drop them off at the airport, and Alex in a rush to get home for an appointment, I knew my farewell tears wouldn't stay on my cheek for long.  As usual, the polite question "where is the seatbelt?" resulted in either a look of deep shock and offense, or a laugh of resignation. 1 hour, 10 ignored red lights and a speed cruise along the bus lanes later, we made it home, me shaking and thanking God for my life.  Is there a law against driving like this? Yes. Is it illegal to drive without a seatbelt? Probably. Does anyone bother to enforce things like this? No, because most of the time the driving licence was bought and not earnt... and how else would the police get by without all that lovely bribe money?

2. Being clean is very important... even in unclean places

Please don't get me wrong, I am not a smelly person! Brazilians joke that the English never wash because it's too cold.  Well Sao Paulo is now actually freezing, and I am still having my obligatory 2 showers a day, thank you very much!

I had forgotten quite how dirty Sao Paulo is.  The sheer volume of homeless people on the streets, together with the scorching sun and smelly rivers make this an inevitability. In Sao Paulo, it is not only dog mess you will find in the streets, unfortunately...

Sao Paulo is a concrete jungle,  both beautiful and ugly, an explosion of culture and commerce.  Graffiti is not seen as a nuisance, but as a rite of passage, both a necessary and valued form of artistic expression.  In one part of the city, the council removed a large mural from a wall as part of a clean-up initiative. Several riots and a large campaign later, the council had to pay the graffiti artist to re-instate their work and issue a formal apology to the people of the district.  Many of you will know that London is known for Banksy's elusive signatures appearing on buildings across the city.  Sao Paulo is known for Carlos Adao, who seems to love himself a lot, and capitalism a lot less.  I really must track him down one day and thank him for entertaining me on my bus journeys (NB, an idiot's guide to riding on SP buses to follow soon).

3. Noise is Golden

Yes, of course it is fine to blow a football fog-horn at 7.30 a.m. even on a day when Brazil isn't playing.  If I am up, everyone else will have to be as well.  They will just have to learn to sleep more deeply...

4. Bureaucracy + Disorganisation = Chaos

It is with much joy, relief and gratitude that I can report that virtually all of my Brazilian documentation is sorted, that I am officially resident in Brazil, and that our marriage is at long last recognised by the Brazilian government! Huzzah! But I can tell you it certainly hasn't been easy.

To register as a foreigner in Sao Paulo, you must go to an enormous high-security building in the middle of no-where in a place called Lapa, and find the elusive Foreigners Section on the 3rd floor.  This is where the large majority of foreigners will have their first contact with Brazilian life.  And not a single person speaks English.  In fact they will get annoyed if you ask them for any kind of language assistance.  Appointments can be made about 2-3 weeks in advance, and according to them, all the documentation you will need is on the website.  That doesn't stop them inventing a whole load of additional documentation you will require when you arrive, forcing you to re-book after an entire afternoon in the queue behind a multitude of lost foreigners to be seen for your midday appointment... all the while most of the people on the desks are far more interested in their lunch-menu, their boyfriends, or the latest nail colour that is in".  Sigh.

On to happier things.  Having Mum and Mike here for 2 weeks was amazing.  We had so much fun, and having them share these new experiences with me was an incredible blessing.  Seeing colourful Rio and chaotic Sao Paulo through their eyes was like seeing them for their first time in all their glory.  Of course the Christ Redeemer statue and Copacabana beach were highlights, but the little comic gem moments were the best.  Waking up to hearing Paulos mum merrily chatting away to my Mum about the ins and outs of making coffee for a full 10 minutes without registering that my Mum didn't understand a single word, was a classic.

Another one, Mum was merrily tucking into Brazil's national dish feijoada, a black bean stew with pieces of assorted meat.  That is, she was enjoying it thoroughly until Paulo told her it came from the black slave heritage, when the slaves were passed all the left over bits of pig such as ear and foot and tail to boil from their Portuguese owners.  Suddenly Mum didn't like it so much anymore!

Every time I see the burger fast food menus here with the "burger of the day", I think of my mum and chuckle.  The menus are labelled for each day of the week as follows: "Seg Ter Qua Qui Sex Sab Dom".  On her first day here mum asks me loudly, "what on earth is a SEX burger??"" (Mum, it means sexta-feira, Friday, and everyone is staring.....)
As I go through these highs and lows, I have been so overwhelmed by the support of everyone in both England and Brazil, and although transitions can be difficult, they are a great opportunity for growth and strengthening of character.
I have been particularly blessed by a daily verse calendar that my good friend Heather Totten gave me as a leaving present.  Every day it seems to be so appropriate and encouraging! On one particularly low day, I read:
"Now glory be to God who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of - infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts or hopes". Ephesians 3:20
And that day my RG (Brazilian ID paperwork) finally came through!
I have waffled on for long enough, but more news will follow soon!
x x x

mercredi 16 mai 2012

La Vie en Rose

It certainly has been a long time my faithful blog followers!  Finding time to sit down and write while overdue essays, unplanned lessons and Bible Studies, and unread books come spewing out of my ear holes, is not an easy task.  But so much has happened this month I feel I must spill the (metaphorical) beans (after 15 months of feijão, you really do have beans on the brain). 

Where to begin?  As you may have heard, we spent a long weekend in Guidoval to provide aid and support to those stricken by devastating floods earlier this year.  Many of the families who put us up had lost nearly all their clothes and furniture, and there were 2 mortalities within the small close-knit community.  The son of one of the families we stayed with had become almost completely blind due to a harmful substance dripping into his eyes when the torrential rain struck and swept everything away within less than 24 hours.  To hear their stories of perseverance and faith was incredibly moving and put everything into perspective.
As we started to assemble our working teams and get ready, we were asked to pray about how we could help, and for the Lord to guide us.  Some were called to paint and rebuild, others to do visits in houses of those distanced from the church, others to treat teeth and aches and pains, and still others to plan evangelistic events for the city’s youth  When the answer came, my reaction was “please, God, no, ANYTHING but that...”  But alas, God will have his way, and a week later, I found myself trembling and teary, entering a little fancy dress shop in Viçosa, full to bursting with clown wigs, hats, and other horrors.  Where does this irrational fear come from, you may ask, that has been so drastically confronted during your time in Brazil? Well, recently I remembered that when I was 4 I was in a car accident, and that mum had already bought us tickets to the circus for that night.  Because I had cried so much, desperate to see the elephants and trapeze artists for the first time, mum agreed to take me, despite the fact that she was still in severe shock.  I guess that’s why I always associate clowns and their false garish smiles, with trauma.  As I donned red nose, a multi-coloured wig and white make-up in the run-down bathroom of one of Guidoval’s public schools, I caught a glimpse in the mirror and paled even whiter.  Nervously, I stepped out to join veteran fellow clowns Vigor and Fu and pose for photos. But something clicked when I saw the children pointing and laughing despite all that had happened, when I managed to dance and make a fool of myself – it was so incredibly liberating, and I even ended up laughing my own cares away.  In that moment I fully comprehended what it meant to be a missionary – to say no to the self, and hello to God, and I tearfully thanked the Lord for using me in ways I never could have imagined.
We certainly made a lasting impact in Guidoval.  Within an hour, the empty, run-down Baptist church was full of CEM missionaries, old and young, singing, dancing the conga up and down the aisle, and passing a sock around to the church members for them to put their prayer requests in the “e-meia” (“meia” is Portuguese for “sock”).  We laughed so much in those few days that we certainly showed what it means to be full of the joy of the Lord!  And that’s what Integral Mission means after all.  Telling the message of the gospel, and when necessary, using words.
               The following weekend I found myself on a much-needed weekend retreat with my mentoring group, but what a trek!  We went aaall the way to our pastor’s house, less than 5 minutes’ walk from CEM!  There we spent a lot of time reflecting on life in general, praying for each other, and learning about what it truly means to love one another and love others. We did a great exercise in which we were blindfolded and had to pretend to be sheep (hooraah!), and try to discern the voice of Brenda sending coded commands with a whistle, trying to guide us to a marked out sheep pen, whilst Renata kept making noises in our ears to distract us, representing the Enemy and the voices of the world.  Excellent stuff.  Among other things we also watched the 3rd Narnia Film, which is full of Christian truths and well worth a watch if you haven’t already seen it.  Also, importantly, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so many pancakes in my life.

The following weekend I was off to São Paulo (double hooraaaah!), where among other things I had the challenging joy of helping out on two occasions at the children´s shelter where Paulo works.  The majority of the children are either orphans, have parents living on São Paulo’s streets, or come from a tragic background of drug addiction and/or sexual abuse.  Although the home is technically a Spiritist organisation, many of the children are curious to hear about the message of the Cross.  There are 17 children, ranging in age from 3 months to 17 years.  The younger ones are adorable, even if they are extremely needy and attention-seeking, and have some problems controlling their bladders and bowels!  The older ones are the real problems, being truly bitter against the world, and on a mission to make others feel the rejection and suffering they’ve been through.  To love them and have patience with him is a true act of grace, and a true test of faith. 
On one particular day, I knew that it was the birthday of one of the younger girls, so I took some materials do art and craft activities with them, as sadly none of the members of staff have time to dedicate to these things.  I was sat on a bench with most of the children at my feet scribbling away and happily making as much mess as possible.  I had an adorable 18 month year-old girl on my lap, and as I was giving my attention to the others, I hadn’t even noticed she had a huge felt tip in her hand. It was only when I handed her back for nap time that I realised my jeans weren’t blue anymore...
               As I headed to the bathroom to wash out the worst of the ink, I saw a blur of pink in the bathroom sink and a rush of long hair, as the teenage girls literally pounced on me with pink crepe paper and dyed my fringe before I could so much as blink or muster up the Portuguese to protest.  “Don’t worry, tia, it will wash out straight away, it’s only temporary.”  Hahaha.  2 weeks and 10 hair washes later, my hair is still a nice shade of magenta.  Thanks girls.  Later that day, a nasty smell confirmed my worst fears that little Markus wasn’t ready to be out of nappies even at nearly 4 years old.

“Markus, did you do something...?”
“No, tía, no.”
“Did you really?”
“No, I promise.”
“Shall we go to the bathroom to check?”
“We don’t need to, tía.”

Reluctantly, we trooped to the bathroom, and 10 seconds later I wish I had heeded Markus´ subtle warnings.  Eeeeeew.
The greatest challenge came on my last day in São Paulo, when the teenage girls decided to push me to my limit and rage a war against me.  They spent the large part of the afternoon swearing at me and ordering me to leave the room.  Even reacting with as much love and patience as I could muster up, by home time I couldn’t hide my tears.  I tried so hard to control myself, but felt that I had to tell one particular girl how much she was wrong in her approach of trying to push people away, and how much she had hurt me, that I really wasn’t up for retaliating or getting into an argument with her.  As I left in tears, praying furiously for them, I was hugely surprised to find that I didn’t even make it to the corner of the street before I heard a desperate “Tía, come back!”  Not knowing what to expect, we retraced our steps and were moved to find the two friends friend almost in tears, full of remorse, apologising from the bottom of their hearts.  Paulo says that was a first for both of them.  “You do promise you’ll come back one day, don’t you tía?”  Once again I was reminded of how God works in small, but surprising ways.  The two girls are still in desperate need of our prayers, as I have since heard that one of them has run away from the home and is being tracked down by the police.  Although they have such good hearts deep down, their psychological scars are deep and they are extremely vulnerable to all kinds of dangers.  I suppose it makes us think about how many of our daily worries are really necessary in comparison!

               Following those adventures, my work at Rebusca and my lessons at CEM have seen like a refreshing walk in the park, and the children seem like angels! Not sure how long that will last!  But in all seriousness, my time at Rebusca is still a complete joy, and I am growing hugely in my maturity and the mutual love and respect I have with the little ones.  I have almost managed to learn all 50 something names now and learn a little about their families and lives.  Watching a special Mothers’ Day presentation last week was particularly moving for me, especially as quite a few of them didn’t have mothers who were able to come, and asked me to be their honorary mother.  I was so touched when I realised that I already love them like a mother would.  I also observed how little attention the mothers seem to give their children from an outside perspective, coming from difficult social and financial situations, and I was encouraged to see just how important it is to spend quality time with these precious little lives.  The weekly arguments about who gets to sit next to Tía Heather at lunchtime are becoming more agitated every week, and one particular week, a boy with learning difficulties called Breno refused to eat his lunch because I didn’t sit at his table.  The solution:  put the tables together and have everyone eat round the table like one big family. So far it’s gone down incredibly well!

My English lessons have been a lot of fun recently, and I am encouraged to see the progress my students who started from scratch with me last year have made.  Unfortunately one of my best students and close friends has recently made the decision to give up, which made me extremely sad.  I tried everything to convince her, but have learnt to expect that my goals and the Lord’s are not the same, and that the decision was directed by prayer so I have to accept it with humility and love, even if I don’t agree with it and find it a terrible shame.  I find that to say “my ways are not Your ways” is one of the hardest things, but also essential to obeying and being used fully by the one who made us.
Another challenge has been finding the enthusiasm and perseverance necessary to go to the University every Friday to give my Bible Study at our ABU group, only to be greeted by one or two regulars, who are long-term members of my Church.  Unfortunately the group has not been fulfilling its evangelistic purpose recently, due to the fears that the students have in speaking to their friends in what is quite a closed, secularised environment, despite a large presence of Christian activity in the city as a whole.  Please pray for them to have courage, and for our advertising efforts to resurrect the group.  At the same time, I recognise that the time is still extremely valuable, that I am learning just as much as the few that do go, and that it is a wonderful way of building each other up.  I know I am still being used, even if not as I planned or expected!
In a nutshell, that is the main message God has spoken to me this month – that I must trust and obey in all its fullness.  Even the smallest of my plans can be thwarted by His biggest ones.  For example, when I think I will be planning my lessons and packing my suitcase, I suddenly find myself in the hospital, nursing Brenda after emergency appendix surgery (NB Brazilian Public Hospitals are DIRE.  PTL that I haven’t needed one so far.  Surgery without general anaesthetic, big scar and a popped stitch speak for themselves.)  There is nothing harder, but also nothing better, than just to sit back and accept “OK, Lord, you know better than I do!”

mardi 10 janvier 2012

Postcards from Far Away

A girl with peeling skin scurries along the streets of rain-sprinkled São Paulo, her broken umbrella barely covering her inexplicably frizzy hair. She trips and notices the floor is covered with white tangled string. She looks up and sees that the plethora of telephone wires are covered with black shiny dangly things. What is going on? As she turns the corner, her question is answered, hundreds of young boys and teenagers reeling in their home made kites and counting their losses...


Inexplicably large fruits dangling from a tree that smell suspiciously like feet and look like pineapples on steroids. A few days later one is cut open on the table for trying and it is named Jacá by the many brazilians surrounding it. And slightly unsurprisingly, it tastes just like feet.


Just another evening walk with Dad, though the scenery is slightly different. Coconut in hand, smell of fish and salt, sun slowly setting, giant Santa and snowman made out of sand on Copacabana beach...just another evening winding its way to a gentle halt in Rio de Janeiro as the airplane to England waits paitently.

Streets littered with what look like piles of abandoned blankets. Suddenly one moves and a face emerges... just one of the many evacuees from the nearby "crackolandia", the drug metapolis of Brazil...


A sleepy Heather hears her name being called at 7.30 am and refuses to wake up. Soon she is literally dragged out of bed and her heart sinks... it´s dad´s first morning in Brazil... what has happened?

H: Dad is everything OK?
Dad: absolutely.
P: Your Dad´s hungry, you need to make him something to eat
H: But we´d arranged 9am for breakfast... are you hungry dad?
Dad: No, but Paulo said I had to get up and get dressed... at least he was making some funny gestures...
P: Oh.


Friends getting offended because I put my seatbelt on. If you'd seen how they drive, you'd have done the same...


A muddy figure emerges from the rain, water casacading from his glasses, all the CEMite boys cheering. Dad has been taught to play football the Brazilian way.


The sound of sea, samba and fireworks... everyone dancing and hugging on the sand...3...2....1.... Feliz Ano Novo! Happy New Year!


Opening lots of little bundles of love on Christmas morning in São Paulo, feeling like my heart would implode with homesickness. Feeling a million miles away. Waking up the next day to find that most of my English chocolate has been eaten by a "mystery" intruder...


Arriving at a Baby Shower in my last week in Viçosa, baby wipes in tow... new parents Felipe and Milena hanging bibs on the line and playing the "nappy test" game... 3 nappies to sniff... what did the baby eat??


16 hours on a bus to São Paulo with sunstroke and severely burnt back, no water and a stomach dancing the conga...


Bathing in Guarapari´s ocean, singing worship songs and swimming for miles and miles


A C Major arpeggio blaring out at 7am. Doo doo doo doooooooo. What could it be? An introduction to a Beethoven symphony or a Bach cantata? The announcement on a train platform? A slightly demented ice-cream van? No, it's the gas man doing his deliveries...


A vending machine on a Metro platform... only instead of selling Dairy Milk and KitKats it sells... books. And a sign saying "pay as much as you think it's worth." Ahhh bliss.


Crying in Toboão da Serra´s square, feeling hopeless. Will we ever get the support we need to be able to go to Belém and do our project? After deciding to pray and trust everything to God´s care, Tió, the exact person we had been trying to contact for days, pulled up in his car, took us to his house and took care of everything. The next day, the church had been informed, we were in the notice sheet and the tickets were booked with his credit card, 200 reais cheaper than the wallet-crippling prices we had seen! Feeling overwhelmed at how real God is and how faithful he is in his care.

Hearing a Christmas cantata that sounded like the choir of heaven and being powerfully reminded of why I´m here and how He is here. Crying many times (Again) as I reflect on how far I´ve come in a year, how wonderful 2011 has been, how I am still visibly and slowly being moulded in order to make me more like Christ, as painful as the process may be.


Wandering in Sao Paulo's extensive range of department stores, drooling at the sight of an aero bar that costs about 8 pounds...

Eating Chicken, rice, salad and lemon tart at midnight on Christmas Eve, and playing "trick or treat" pass the parcel... do you open or not, knowing that there could be a nasty surprise inside? Hoping for a chocolatey treat my heart sinks... a piece of paper reads "make a declaration of love in front of everyone." Merry Christmas one and all!


And here are some photos that tell their own stories..

Wish you were here.
Happy 2012.
x x x

vendredi 18 novembre 2011

Fish and other Ferocious Beasts

What has happened to this month? The days seem to fly away faster than a toucan before a rainstorm, and the end of term comes charging towards me at full steam.

I find myself experiencing a wide range of emotions, from exhaustion, excitement about my daddy coming (yay!), sadness that some big farewells are coming up as the 2nd year students graduate, and fear of change, of the unknown. CEM has been my haven, my own little paradise, and leaving it for almost 3 months as everything packs up for the summer, seems somewhat daunting. As the weeks fly by I am frantically trying to squeeze in end of unit English tests, Christmas parties with the children, and social events with my ABU group as well as planning the holiday time wisely and thinking about how I want to divide my time between projects next term and beyond.

The extreme heat immediately followed by a huge temperate drop means I spend most of my time peeling off and piling on layers, and alternating between sun cream and scarves. The wet season is setting in, and the torrential rain makes navigating the dirt track-come-mud bath to town an adventure before the day has even properly started. Especially when your feet are all covered in mozzie bites and the last thing you want to do is put trainers or boots on... On one particular morning I woke up all sleepy-eyed and grumpy and took the rubbish out to the bins before heading out to Rebusca and saw something small and fuzzy sleeping at the bottom of the recycling bin. How cute it looked fast asleep, its little chest gently moving up and down. “Perhaps it’s a cat”, I thought, “although its fur does look a little coarse for that to be the case... perhaps I’ll just shake the bin a bit to wake it up gently.” FATAL ERROR. I cannot actually find words to describe the hideousness of the snarling face that suddenly sniped at me and made me drop my rubbish everywhere, so here is a picture...

It’s called a ‘gambá’, and is like the rat’s ugly sister... shudder. At least it gave me a kick start to the day and woke me up enough to play a particularly violent game of ‘queimada’ with the children!! Of course there are many more embarrassing stories and linguistic slip-ups that happened this month, but sadly some are even too embarrassing to write here!

Things at Rebusca have been a whole lot better since I moved classes. The older class I was working with before are now getting ready to move to the afternoon sessions, so it’s good for me to building up stronger relationships with the younger children who will be moving on. They are certainly a lot more tiring and desperate for affection, which I am more than happy to provide them with! Tickling matches are always repaid with very big sloppy kisses! On Wednesdays I help a teacher called Vanessa, working with 15 children aged between 7 and 8. I’ve been doing a devotional with them followed by a craft activity. Watching their little faces light up as they get paint and glue in seemingly unreachable places gives me the warm and fuzzies. It makes me happy to know that I can do something small to make them happy for a short while, even when things outside the classroom are sometimes so unhappy for them. One week we did a devotional on Proverbs 6:6-8 (learning from the ants), about not being lazy and being self-motivated in our attitude to schoolwork and helping out at home, and we made little ants with pipe-cleaner legs to remember that “God can do big things with even the smallest of people.” Last week we talked about what it means to be a “new creation” and we made finger-print butterfly clothes pegs to peg onto people and tell them ”you’re a new creation because God has entered your life!” I was left feeling all glowy when I came out at lunch time and saw one of the little boys proudly showing his mum and telling her all about it as she took him to school.

On Thursdays I help out with Driele’s class who are in the year above, so the children are aged 8-9. So far I have been doing English and Maths activities with them, and I was over the moon to see how much more quickly they have been picking up the things I teach, and how much they seem to enjoy it. Within two short lessons they were able to present themselves and the person on their left. We had lots of fun playing number bingo and doing silly games... I also discovered that bringing sweets as prizes definitely improves their attention spans! In the last few weeks of term, Driele has asked me to do art and craft activities with them too, which I will certainly do until I have better idea of how and where I am going to help next term. This week we started rehearsing Christmas carols with a Brazilian twist for a concert they will put on and I have high hopes that they will be sung with gusto if nothing else!

Things at ABU have also been great, and we have had a few new members come along who have become important participants in our Friday lunchtime Bible study times. I was really encouraged when one guy, Brian, came along all shy and timid... and the next week came back raving about how much he had enjoyed the previous study and left him thinking throughout the week – he even showed me his study sheet covered in scribbles! We nearly always have more than 6 people come along, and sometimes as many as 15, and we are working through a series on the gospel of Mark which focuses on faith and what it means to have it. Praise God for the friendships that have been consolidated and the special times we are able to have together learning about His word.

In the little time I have off I find I am busy with planning lessons and activities, waxing the floor, washing clothes, sending emails and investigating plans for the future. All of this leaves me quite exhausted! Last weekend was a bank holiday and I had a very much needed break away to stay in a pretty little village about an hour away called Pedra do Anta, where we stayed in the house of Julio, a friend from CEM who recently moved out of campus to pastor an Assembly of God church there with his wife Monica and 3 year old daughter Vitória. Paulo was invited to lead the service, and I was roped into help with the singing... I even had to sing a hymn in English a capella in front of everyone... just me, the microphone and “How Great Thou Art!” “Hang on a minute”, I hear you cry, “back up... who is Paulo?! I’m sure I’ve heard that name mentioned before in many a moody Facebook status...” OK, confession time... Paulo is my boyfriend, and I haven’t mentioned it before because I didn’t want it to come across as the focus of why I am here. My decision to stay in Brazil had nothing whatsoever to do with Paulo, and I am not considering long term mission because of him. Rather, he is a huge blessing that God has put in my life and we’re only together after a lot of prayer and discernment. Paulo has a missionary calling and has a great gift for evangelizing and pastoring, and we are earnestly praying together and seeking God’s will for our lives together. May his will be done, and not ours. If it is His will for us to serve together, then that would make us both extremely happy!

ANYWAY (*embarrassed sigh*), upon arrival in Pedra do Anta (after a huge argument about Paulo’s notorious gift for missing buses that meant we had to wait 4 hours in the bus station), we were whisked away to the Roça for a real Brazilian day “down on the farm”. We had proper home-grown food in a little farm house, had fun chasing and catching cockerels and chicks, and then we were treated to the guided tour of the farm. I saw so many fruits and vegetables growing before that I had never seen in my life, I was like an excited child in a sweet shop and the farmer was thrilled at my reaction. He gave me samples of so many things to take home! He even pulled mandioca (like a cross between potato and parsnip – extremely yummy) out of the ground for us to take home for our tea and it was soooooooo good! I saw mangos, guavas, oranges, bananas, mulberries, sugar cane, jabuticaba (which grows on the actual tree trunk in a very bizarrely beautiful fashion), and lots of fruits I don’t even know how to pronounce. Perhaps my favourite moment was when I saw lots of little tiny pineapples growing straight out of the ground... I didn’t even know they grew like that! We then hiked down to the river to fish, since Julio had been shamed by all of his parishioners at not having caught a single fish in all the time he’d been there. I am proud to announce that I, Heather Godwin, complete fishing novice, was the only one brave enough to put the maggot on the rod myself (with lots of squealing of course) and the ONLY one to catch a fish. Here comes the moment of temptation to tell you that it was ENORMOUS, but let’s be honest, the image we have in our heads we have of the size of the fish gets bigger with every hour that passes... it was a tiddler, but a source of great joy I can tell you!

We spent the rest of the weekend visiting members of the Church, having barbecues with them, praying with them and reading the Bible with them, and generally jollying them up to come along to the service on Sunday. We took some time looking after Vitória (an absolute angel) to give Julio and Monica a rest, and generally lazed about, strolling along the middle of the streets where the only traffic that passed was a horse and cart about once an hour. Being thrown into the middle of a close-knit Pentecostal community was quite a culture shock for me, I have to say. For example, I made the HUGE error of thinking I could get away with wearing trousers to Sunday School on the Sunday morning. I spent the whole morning trying to cover my legs and trying to hide my nails (why on earth did I have to go there on the ONE occasion I had decided to paint them red)?? The Brazilian Assembly of God church is extremely traditional. Women aren’t usually allowed to wear trousers or shorts, only skirts (because, bizarrely, they think that trousers attract more attention to the shape of their body). The woman’s place is in the kitchen, and it would be an offence to suggest that a man help with the washing up (of course, Paulo was loving this). I felt extremely English the whole time, and was treated a bit like an exotic display in a shop window... a lot of the people there had never seen anyone come from so far away. At some points I found this particularly hard to deal with. Sometimes you just want to stop sticking out and be Brazilian! It is also tempting to feel a defensive and argue “why should I have to change who I am just to fit in with you?”, but I know that God taught me a lot in that weekend about humility. By being my English self, I know I was a blessing to them. They are very keen for me to go back in a couple of weeks to put a little cantata together and teach some Christmas carols. The big Pentecostal ladies certainly have big voices... so that could be interesting! I have never been so warmly welcomed, and instantly felt like I was with family (albeit crazy foreign family) within just a few hours. As ever, the ones who seem to have the most to complain about seem to be the most joyful and hospitable, and it’s so amazing to be a part of that.

Meanwhile, studies in CEM have also been great. Last week we had to give presentations in groups for our Christian Ethics module, and I led a discussion on the issue of Infanticide in Indigenous tribes, and the problem of approaching it with mission (do we allow the cultures to preserve important traditions or do we intervene to change them? Etc.) This week our penultimate module is on Missiological Hermeneutics which I am also very excited about. We are learning how to interpret and apply Biblical texts according to the Mission context we are in without changing its fundamental meaning, with a visiting missionary teacher working in the USA. I wish I had more time to devote to my studies, and I am hoping to use the holidays to catch up on a lot of the work I wasn’t able to hand in, because it is proving to be such important training as well as interesting food for my mind and soul.

God continues to be present to me in everyone and everything, and I am so grateful for the gift of this time in Viçosa in which I am learning far more than I ever dreamed as well as having the privilege of serving. I am asking the Lord to give me more and more heart for mission, and for the people who don’t have the pleasure of knowing Him, not just for the kind of work that I want to do. Mission work could never be effective if it was just about the head (“oh right, that makes sense”), it has to be about the heart, and I am asking God to fill it with more of His love every day. In all my moments of anxiety about the future, my ministry, my relationships, change, I find peace in knowing that God will fulfil the promises He has made, so now it’s time to fulfil mine and love and serve Him with all I’ve got.

mercredi 19 octobre 2011


Having just got back from Caldas Novas, for the amazing 6th Congresso Brasileiro de Missoes, so much has already happened this month that I must share with you right away. It was such a privilege to see more than 1,500 missionaries in the same place, to hear about the amazing work they are doing and to be inspired to live a life of service just like they have done.

On Friday I left for the long journey with 5 of my dearest friends, and by nightfall we found ourselves waiting in Belo Horizonte airport for our flight to Goiania, where we would spend the night before travelling onto Caldas Novas. Sipping our Bob's Ovalmatine milkshakes, Igor made a passing comment about how he would be peeing milkshake all night because he had had to drink both Brenda's and Dani's because they couldn't manage theirs. I found this hilarious because I suddenly felt so English - not a single person had even got embarassed or batted an eyelid at his comment, talking about toilet things is so normal in Brazilian culture, and even encouraged! As I explained why I found it so funny, Brenda kindly elaborated "well, things have changed a lot in recent times, and they're a lot more relaxed now. I remember the days when things were a lot more awkward, when women would even be embarrassed to buy ice cream next to men,." At this, I was completely baffled, but decided to keep quiet. When Dani continued "yeah, they used to have to wrap it up in plastic bags, didn't you know, Heather?", I was so desperately confused that I had no choice but to ask for clarification. A very awkward silence ensued, followed by a quiet, "NO, Heather, not sorvete (ice-cream), but absorventes (sanitary towels). " As the ficha caiu (penny dropped) in spectacular fashion, I inhaled milkshake where I should have inhaled air, and was soon suffocating myself to a shade of red darker than my hair, giving my friends a good sprinkling of Ovalmatine in an oh-so-elegant fashion. Not my finest moment. Combined with another classic "nao pode entrar, ela esta se tocando" (she's touching herself) instead of "ela esta se trocando" (she's getting changed), this week was not my linguistic best.

Having made it to Goiania in one piece for a quick overnight stop, I decided that Saturday would be a new day, and treated myself to a long nap in the sweltering car drive along the motorway to Caldas Novas. Half of us went in Markus' car, and the other half in Vitor's car (both are friends of Brenda's who came to the conference with us). Suddenly, out of nowhere, something hit my nose at full speed and I jumped, let out a shriek, and Markus swerved the car in shock. The girls in the car in front had been munching away at Jabuticaba (a bit like a purple cherry) and spitting the seeds out the window, and a rogue pip had managed to find its way into my window. Oh dear.

Once we finally made it to Caldas Novas with hammocks and cases galore, there was a bit of a hoo-haa about where we would be staying - the house we had been left would barely fit a capivara in it, let alone the 10 people we were attempting to squeeze in. Thankfully Vitor's inlaws had another chalet up their sleeve, and we were able to leave the mini-chalet for some other friends who would otherwise have had a big commute to the conference centre every day. Dani soon had us all with rubber gloves on, spring cleaning and de-bugging the house, and we sat down to a well-deserved churrasco (BBQ, but the word BBQ doesn't do it justice), and a lot of fun and laughter. The suffocating heat followed by torrential rain frequently left us with powercuts, and we spent many a happy hour playing dominos and listening to Markus' (mostly) clean jokes by candlelight. I realised I have com e along way with my Portuguese, because the last time I met Markus was in March, and back then I just sat and let him bully me with his dry sense of humour, but now I was able to retaliate and even came out with some killer come-backs!

We decided to make the most of the Sunday for resting before the manic schedule of the conference kicked off, and set off for one of Caldas Novas' famous water parks. Caldas Novas means "new springs", and is quite literally a tourist "hot spot" because of the hot springs - so all the water in the swimming pools was naturally heated, and totally lush. As I sat and soaked in the pool, watching a football match (what has become of me?!), I realised I hadn't had a proper day off since.. forever, and it was so nice to feel the cares of the world bubbling away..

The feeling of calm didn't last long however, as the CBM itself proved to be an extremely challening and exhausting, as well as enriching time. Listening to lectures and seminars in portuguese from 8am until 11pm isn't easy, and it was a lot of information to digest in a very short space of time. One night I was so exhausted that I decided to give my brain a rest and listen to the simultaneous translation being offered by headphones, but I just found it to be a distraction because I understood enough of the Portuguese to know that the translation unfortunately wasn't very accurate.

Those of you who know me well will know that ever since I decided to stay in Brazil for a bit longer, the crises relating to the future haven't just gone away. Coming away from the CBM, I have greater conviction that God is calling me to be a missionary, which is extremely exciting, and ridiculously terrifying all at the same time. The problem is knowing where, when and with who to serve, and how best to prepare myself. For me, it is important to find a ministry that allows me to use the linguistic gifts God has given me, but I also know that I have to be willing to help in anyway I can, and anywhere I can, that I have to do things out of genuine love and not just because it makes me feel good and fulfilled. At CBM God spoke to me clearly about the need there is in the world to speak the gospel to those who haven't been reached by it. So many people in Brazil and Latin America don't even have a hope because they don't have a written form of their language, let alone a copy of a Bible they understand. I met many people from ALEM and SIL, two missions who work closely with Wycliffe on Bible Translation and linguistic projects with indigenous tribes, all who were extremely keen to get me on board. Visiting all the stands of the various missions was quite overwhelming and left me feeling pressurised and anxious regarding the future and my calling. Going down the Bible Translation route would be a huge spiritual, financial and time commitment, and definitely not an easy ride. I am at a point where my future decisions will not only influence me, but also very special people close to me, and so prayer for wisdom, discernment, conviction and peace would be very welcome indeed. The closing moment where we were prayed over and sent out into the world was so special to be a part of. The speaker asked for God to shed light on our next steps and to give us hearts that genuinely break and bleed for what's on the Lord's heart. Hugging all my CEM friends afterwards, we looked at eachother and smiled: "wow! we're missionaries!"

On one afternoon, I had a particularly terrifying experience. Having decided to skip the afternoon seminars to stay in the house and read and pray about everything, I fell asleep on the sofa (in my defence, all my sleeping happened in the daytime, there's no way of sleeping with that many mosquitos having a fiesta on your skin. Unsurprisingly, I now look like I have chickenpox). When I woke up it was dark, I was alone and there was a terrifying noise that I couldn't identify, though I knew I'd heard it somewhere before. At first, I thought it was a weird ringtone coming from the depths of the boys' room. It sounded like something from a horror movie. When I came back to Vicosa and heard it as the sun set, I remembered that it had been here when I first arrived in Brazil... it's the dulcet sound of cigarras (a bit like an uber-cricket/cockroach with ginormous wings). This morning when I woke up there was a huuuuuuge one on my window, bigger than my hand. The children at Rebusca love playing with them and dangling them in front of me, and even Brenda brought me a "present" home with her from work last night... it was the shed skin of a cigarra. Yuck yuck yuck. I think she was slightly startled by my ultrasonic shrieking. Wikipedia tells me that they can live up to 17 years (oh. my. life.), and that it may or may not be a myth that they sing until they explode. It's not all monkeys and parrots in the rainforest, you know.

When it came to pack up our little home and leave, we decided to leave a book and write in it for the owner of the chalet, who is also called Markus. Poor Sil unfortunately got the wrong end of the stick, and wrote a message in it in permanent pen to our friend Markus: "Nice to meet you, can't wait til the next time." Not sure that would have gone down too well with the owner who she had never met...

On the Friday that the conference finished we headed back to Goiania where we had quick time for a game of bowling and dance machine silliness that caused quite a stir, and tired us out nicely for the next morning when we had to be up at 3am to catch our flight back to Belo Horizonte. No-one seemed to understand the giggles I got when I found a sign that said "bumpers in the bowling alley are strictly for children under 12 only." "Bang goes my chance I thought", and unsurprisingly, I finished well at the bottom of the league!!

Before I knew it I was back in the classroom firing irregular verbs to conjugate in the past tense at my poor pupils, puzzling over maths homework and playing "sticky sticky glue" with the Rebusca children. I soon regretted teaching this latter activity, as I have already fallen over twice this week and caked my clothes in mud. Not ideal when it takes about a week to dry clothes in this cold rainy weather. I found it funny that on one day I fell over and actually grazed my knee... and one of the girls I was playing with also fell over but didn't hurt herself. That didn't stop her crying her eyes out thouh, and I could just about distinguish the words "my daddy's going to be so cross with me! these jeans were clean on this morning and I haven't got any others!!" Even after taking her to the bathroom to clean her up and calm her down, she was mopey all the way until lunch time!

That just about brings you up to date! Thanks for reading! :-)

jeudi 6 octobre 2011

Becoming Brazilian

What a month it has been... fires, thunderstorms, tantrums, weddings... the missionary life continues to be full of spectacular highs and desperate lows. Sometimes it feels like I’m on top of the world, like I can do anything because the Lord is with me. Sometimes it feels like I can’t even get out of bed in the morning because I’m not capable, not good enough, not getting anywhere. If this blog seems lacking in its usual cheerful tone and chirpy anecdotes, it is not because I am any less grateful or joyful, but because I must be honest with you about some of the struggles I face every day.

The children at Rebusca continue to take up a considerable amount of my time and energy, and this month has been the most challenging so far. To spend hours preparing fun activities, busting a gut just to teach them a few simple words in English, only to be met with criticism, resilience and laziness can be extremely disheartening. The criticisms can vary, from my “boring” lessons, to the different rules I use when I play Uno and Drafts, to my different style of handwriting which is too difficult to copy, to the way I walk, to the way I sit when I watch a film with them. The class has become even more boisterous and disruptive, not just because of the lack of dedicated teacher, but also because of the arrival of Rodley’s half-brother Rodcley (SERIOUSLY confusing!) in our class. The two of them are quite the double-act. They can be found nearly every weekend, and every evening, loitering and begging in the street and rarely have enough money to buy food to eat. Clearly being at home is not a favourable option. I have heard from other members of staff that their personal problems at home are so bad that Rodcley is a prime target for drug dealers, and he is forever being pressurised to join the drug scene. He is extremely intelligent, ruthless and confident... just the qualities they are looking for. Please pray that he will stay on the right track and that we will be able to help him in any way we can.

Sometimes all I want is for the children to understand where I’m coming from, and to see how hard it is to live in another culture, having to constantly slave away to get people to know and appreciate you. Over time I am coming to realise that every time I highlight a cultural difference, such as the different food, the different way of behaving, even when I am trying to teach them or show them I want to be humble, they become defensive. When I see things from their perspective, and think of where they come from, of course I must seem like a rich, condescending goody two-shoes. Above all I realise that I did not come here to make them understand and like me. I came here to love them like Jesus loves me, and that means there are no limits, no conditions, no off days.

Going to the favela to see a capoeira performance, where a lot of them live, was just what I needed. As I stood there, letting the Brazilian rhythms pulse through me, I noticed some small dirty faces emerge from behind the wreckage of a car. One by one the children I work with every day came bounding out to see me, covered in dirt from top to toe, torn and threadbare clothes clinging to their skinny frames. There they were, so happy, so at home. And yet the places they called home could barely be called houses... slabs of concrete and sheets of metal thrown together in a haphazard fashion. Suddenly my troubles didn’t seem so big, my worries about the future didn’t seem so overwhelming, my goodbyes to friends leaving at the end of the year didn’t seem so daunting, and my impatience with the children didn’t seem so justified.

My time with the younger children during playtime is always the highlight of my week. One of the girls, Lorraine, has appointed me her exclusive playmate and has devised a game called “prisoner”, which involves her keeping me under “lock and key” (using a twig she found from a guava tree), because she thinks I have robbed a bank. It really is a special thing to be a part of the rich imaginary world of a child, especially one who speaks another language. It does worry me sometimes, though, just how childishly I enjoy their games!

God is really and truly testing my character. On one particular day, as I left Rebusca early with a throbbing headache and a severely damaged self-esteem I couldn’t shake off the question “Why do I bother?” Why do I bother to keep planting trees when I can’t see the fruits? Why do I bother to set myself up for this? I’m not getting paid for this, there are no brownie points to be earned. Why don’t I just go home and live a quiet easy life, put my efforts into working up the job ladder and being recognised for what I do? I laid this all before God as I trekked back across the University campus. When I arrived back at CEM, an overwhelming sense of peace came upon me as my eyes fell upon the emblematic “cruz varada”, the empty cross. I stopped in awe as the wind blew and the quiet answer came: “Because I have bothered very much about you.” And I found myself thinking, “oh yeah, Jesus had everything.: wealth, comfort, family... and he gave it all up and humbled himself perfectly to edify, bless and save the lives of many.” The only way I will get through this is to follow in the footsteps he has clearly marked out. How could I possibly go back on this journey we have started together?

Sometimes I stop and look at myself, and I realise just how Brazilian I have become. I find I laugh and smile so much more. I value my friends, who really are family, so much more. A 2 o’clock English lesson no longer starts at 2 o’clock. It means 2 o’clock + coffee + several chats + a leisurely stroll to the classroom. The girl who never had a manicure done in her life suddenly finds herself picking away at cuticles. My friends always used to joke that if there was such thing as an intravenous tea machine, I would be the first customer. Now I find I can easily pass a week without a drop of the English nectar touching my lips, and the stronger the coffee, the better.

CEM continues to be a special place that brings me such joy. Every day I wake up and thank God for the privilege of living and working in such a beautiful place with such amazing people, who I am blessed to call my family. Renata, for instance, amazes me every day. She is extremely poorly with kidney stones, and on strong medication that leave her exhausted and dashing in and out of the bathroom. And yet she manages to cook up a storm for us every single day of the week, and is single-handedly responsible for getting me to like rice and beans. There she is in the kitchen, day after day, with her hair net on, sweating under her apron, with a wooden spoon in one hand, and her English book in the other, happily crying out to me “look teacher, look teacher! NO, both your hands AREN’T on the table, but ONE is on the table and THE OTHER is on your arm”. English is so hard for her, and yet she studies with such enthusiasm that she rarely gets less than 17/20 in her dictations. Not only that, my life just wouldn’t be the same without her ridiculous laugh that wakes me up first thing in the morning, the quiet knock on the door followed by a cup of steaming coffee being thrust in my hand, the bear hugs and kind words... she really is a special lady.

One experience I will never forget was the very special privilege of being a “madrinha” (bridesmaid) at a Brazilian wedding at the foot of our beautiful CEM cross. It was one of those perfect days that I will remember for the rest of my life. Those who remember the wedding episode from my Peruvian Chapters will understand that I spent the whole day in fear of being knocked to the ground by the bride’s bouquet. I spent several days practising my walk down the aisle, convinced that I was going to sink into the grass in my high-heels or fall over. Making it to the front in one piece, I was so relieved that I realised I hadn’t paid attention to which side of the cross I was meant to go and sit down... to the left or the right? I then started a not-so-graceful “this way, that way” kind of dance as I tried to decide, and was finally dragged to my place, much to everyone’s amusement. At least it warmed everyone up for the entrance of the lovely bride, Viviane!

Well dear friends, I had better get packing, as tomorrow I leave for a week-long conference (Congresso Brasileiro de Missões) with nearly all of my fellow CEMites! I hope to have lots more exciting adventures to tell you about very soon!