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!

samedi 3 septembre 2011

Cake, Carrots and Chaos

On Wednesday, I looked out at the beautifully cloudy sky, full of the promise of much-needed rain, and squeezed my eyes tight as I tried to picture my aeroplane for England tearing away into the distance without me. Arriving at the point where my project was originally planned to end has made me reflect on a lot of things and stirred up a mixture of emotions, though gratitude is the main feeling that sings through. If I had to say goodbye now, when God’s work in me is in full-swing, I just don’t think I could do it.

Things this month have been busier than ever, and more blessed than ever. Generally it has been so hard to believe that we are in winter... the sunstroke, trees bursting with bright yellow and purple blossom, the short-clad teenagers on bikes can be quite deceiving! However, one noisy thunderstorm suddenly brings the temperature crashing down and I find that in 24 hours I swap my shorts and vest tops for hoodies and woolly socks!

In animal news, a family of monkeys has been paying us regular visits here in CEM, and the hotter weather has marked the return of the RLIs (Ridiculously Large Insects). Quite embarrassingly I brought a quiet moment of reflection on the spiritual impact of the book of Revelation to an abrupt end when a moth bigger than my handspan came into collision with my eyeball in the middle of our evening lecture... Also, Fox had yet another near-death experience when an enormous lost cow took up residence in our secluded campus for a week or so. Fox was incredibly jealous of the attention our visitor was getting, and of the fact that the moo-ing was drowning out her night-time barking and making her efforts to keep us awake redundant. Challenging the cow to a show-down at the foot of the CEM cross proved not to be a shrewd move and Fox was left cowering for days until the cow was finally reclaimed by its owner!

Moving into the classroom, God has been teaching me a huge amount about my attitude as a teacher, and highlighting many things in my character and attitudes that need to be refined. One important lesson I have learnt is that of flexibility. Having spent the holidays prayerfully considering how I could shuffle my English/French classes around to give attention to the people who needed it most, I shifted my timetable around and filled up my time to maximum capacity, and published the new times of classes on the notice board. When the time came to give my lessons in the first week, I was hugely dismayed to find that a lot of people wanted to give up, and that I would have to cancel one of my English sets. It’s hard when you put your heart and soul into something and the response you get is less than enthusiastic, but I know this is just a drop in the ocean in comparison to the rejection and seeming fruitlessness that make up the long-term service lifestyle. Anyway, just as I had got used to the idea of having the extra time freed up for studying and prioritising my prayer times, people changed their minds and I had to uncancel the group! God is showing me that I have to do things his way, and that any plans I make have to be subject to change! Being willing to serve means doing things on his terms, not mine. I’m like a tennis player in “ready” position, and have to be ready to spring one way or the other, not just stay rooted in one spot... you can’t hit nearly as many balls that way!

Things have been great here in CEM this month, and God has been at work to gel us all together as a community of Christ. Last week, all our lectures started half an hour later in order for us to have a special time of doing group activities and group devotionals together. One of the activities we had to do was cross an imaginary mine field with only two pieces of cardboard for help, and with various members of our team having disabilities, such as being blind, dumb or tetraplegic . On another day we had to carry a tin of paint from one side of the school to the other, with each person holding a long piece of string attached to the tin. On yet another we had to crawl through a maze in silence and could only find the way out when we put our hands up and asked for help. All of them taught important messages about what it means to live as a body of Christ, to support and help each other despite our differences and the limits we each have, and also to recognise when we need support and need to ask for help ourselves. One of my favourite evenings in CEM so far was when one of our New Testament lectures got cancelled (that’s not the actual reason I promise!!!) and we all had an impromptu devotional time under the palm trees. Our worship just went on and on, and then we decided to do a tour of the families in the block of flats, who sometimes feel a bit separated from the rest of us single students who all live in the same building. We visited each of their flats, prayed with them and told them all how much we love them and value them as part of our family, and sang with them until some unearthly hour! Very special times.

A lot of my time and energy, both physical and emotional, has been invested in to Rebusca this month. Last Sunday I had the special privilege of attending a celebration service for 30 years of Rebusca. The children sang with such heart and soul, and the sermon which applied the disciples’ attitude in the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand to that of those who work in Rebusca was so special. God really wants to use the little we have to multiply it and feed lots of people in big ways! I got so emotional, it really is a privilege to be part of a project like Rebusca that gives hope and love to children from families that don’t seem to have much of either.

My relationships with the children at Rebusca have really grown, and I look at them now and feel such love for them, it really is as if they were my own sons and daughters. I know that sounds drastic to say, but I know that this love I have from them doesn’t come from me! If it did, there’s no way I would be able to get up and go there every week. It’s all change, as we have moved to a different classroom, one of our pupils, Glauco, has mysteriously left, and we have two new recruits, Carla and Rodley, who have already been such a blessing in my life. I took Carla under my wing after noticing that she was struggling to fit in with the other girls, who are all from a different school to her. She has since become my official “stylist”, and the amount of shampoo I use has doubled, as has the amount of time I have gone around with ridiculous hair in fear of offending her... but she seems to have settled in fine now and I just love her to bits. As for Rodley, Rebusca’s new resident bad-boy, it is so clear that he is craving attention at home. He is a bit overweight, and comfort eats all the time. He is a bit of a loner because he likes to say things that shock and impress people, and it’s clear that he wants to get on with people and be good friends with them but he doesn’t quite know how. In my first week with him, he wouldn’t stop swearing at me in English because he wanted to show off that he knew some English. However, after a pep talk about how horrible and unnecessary swearing is, I managed to change the f word to “love”... so now he shouts “love you, Heather” out to me all the time, which is so much nicer!

Saying goodbye to Geraldo was very hard for all of us. He has been an inspiration to me over these 6 months and I know that God put him in my life to teach me through his working attitude that never gets tired and never complains. He’s so great with the children because he knows exactly when to be a friend and to joke, and exactly when to “put his foot down with a firm hand”. He’s finally achieving his life-long dream of going to Europe to study, and I know he’s finding it hard to leave us all behind. The children have been clinging to me a lot more in the transition process as their new teacher, Erick, has been introduced. In one sense it’s nice for me, but in another I know I need to do all I can to encourage them to bond with the new teacher who is with them every day, whilst I only volunteer twice a week. Knowing that we wouldn’t all fit in Geraldo’s suitcase, I enlisted the children’s help to make a photo-montage as a farewell gift. It cause a lot of tears and tantrums, as we had to put the present together on one of the very few days that I got left alone with the children. Although the children and I love each other to bits, the moment I stop being the sweet English girl who’s there to play with them, and start being the teacher they actually have to respect and obey, things start to get quite messy. The outcome was a teary Heather, tearing her hair out in chunks, a shouting session from Lilian, the director of Rebusca, and a silent playtime spend inside reciting times-tables as punishment. All in all, the moment they all apologised to me individually, and the look on Geraldo’s face when he opened his present, made it all more than worthwhile. The not-so-surprise farewell party we threw for Geraldo turned out to be a great success, and we spent a lot of time playing with the new teacher Erick and getting to know him, as well as eating my “interesting” cappuccino cake, which the children promised they loved and were still raving about the next day. I know them to be extremely honest, so it really can’t have been that bad!

Today I am particularly exhausted, as I have just got back from taking our children on a day trip with some of the other Rebusca staff, to a beautiful historic town nearby called Ouro Preto, to learn about the history of the slave trade in Brazil. It was so much fun! The town itself is stunning, if not extremely hilly, and some of the things we learnt were hard to digest. Seeing the instruments used by the Europeans to subdue their negro slaves was particularly difficult, and hearing about the lack of rights they had, even in Church. So much so, that they had to build their own church and create their own religion. The children had the time of their lives, though they definitely tired me out more than the hills! What should have been a 2 hour journey each way turned out to be nearly 4 because of all the whining and constant eating and claiming that they were “busting” for the toilet. Anyone who has seen the scene in Shrek were Donkey asks every few seconds “are we nearly there yet” will have some idea of how I felt.

Of all the many things I learnt today in Ouro Preto, perhaps the most important is the following: “thou shalt not take children into an “all you can eat” restaurant”. The boys merrily piled up mountains of food on their plates so that I could barely see their little skinny faces over them, and sat down, very pleased with themselves. As one of them, Cleisson, noticed a poster to his right, his face fell: “Fine for wastage: 15 reais”. Oh dear. Half an hour later I was still sat with him, urging him on “come on now, Cleisson, just one more mouthful of rice... you can do it!!”, all the while battling with the other boys who were trying to put chilli sauce on his food whenever his back was turned. Just as their heroic efforts seemed to have paid off and we left the restaurant, massively pleased that Cleisson was still standing... Silvio decided to be sick all over the monument in the square outside. Ohhhhh the shame. 10 minutes later however, he was already munching sweets again... boys, eh?

Things in ABU have been a bit up and down. Some weeks we have had lots of people come to my Bible studies, and some weeks only 2 or 3, which can be a bit discouraging. I was pleased this week though because on Thursday I saw one boy, Flavio, who used to come last term, but who hadn’t been for ages. I couldn’t remember his name and was in a big rush, but felt awful afterwards about not going to talk to him afterwards. In any case, I just smiled at him manically and prayed for him with all my might. The next day, there he was at the study! J The power of prayer and smiles are not to be underestimated! This week’s study was particularly hilarious due to a misunderstanding that took place and left us in fits of giggles for ages. Laughter is also a powerful tool at bringing people together! I had been teaching about how God refines us with fire, and had been talking about what “karat” meant in terms of gold’s purity. One of the group’s newest members, Gaetan, made an interesting comment, and I thought he was making a clever link between “karat” and “carrot”, so I was really impressed when I came up with an ingenious analogy about how God refines us and helps us “see” ourselves better, just like carrots help us see (painfully obscure and contrived, I know). Anyway, they all went a bit quiet and started looking at me a bit funny. After 5 minutes someone took pity on me and pointed out that Gaetan hadn’t been talking about “carrots” but “character” (pronounced oddly). None of them even knew what “carrot” meant. I turned a horrible shade of purple when the “ficha caiu” (penny dropped). They must have been thinking “who the heck is the crazy English girl and why is she talking about vegetables in the middle of our Bible study???” But in any case, at least they will always remember that God refines our character like he refines gold! Haha!

Anyway my dear friends, it has been wonderful to share just a few of my highlights from this past month. Sorry they were so long, you deserve a medal if you read up to here. I could write you books and books full of my stories and memories, but hopefully these will have at least served to remind you that you are very much on this rollercoaster journey with me! My pyjamas are calling me and I must follow that call!