Dear faithful readers,
An update here is very long overdue here, but I have been so busy having adventures that I haven’t found the time to write about them!
At the start of the month, while many Brazilians were dressing up (or undressing!) in time for the infamous Carnival, CEM hosted an amazing conference for young professionals and students interested in mission. What did this mean? An invasion of 100+ people on our “cosy” campus in the middle of the rainforest, people sleeping in every available space, lots of challenging teaching and encouraging words, eating bomboms, dancing samba and singing Brazilian folk songs until the early mornings!
Other culinary highlights have included my first ever churrasco (imagine a barbecue but a bazillion times better with banana and pineapple covered in cinnamon and slowly roasted over a grill underneath CEM’s palm trees.... yum!), many celebratory birthday cakes and ice-creams, a massive community effort to celebrate pancake day Brazilian style, and a random trifle I made for everyone. Culinary low points have included my attempt to make popcorn for my “fun” English lessons during carnival week (where we watched films, played games, and translated songs), leaving a nasty smell in the girls’ kitchen for days. My growing love for potatoes is a constant source of amusement to everyone. On Sundays we tend to eat in the self-service restaurant next to Church, and I pile up 5 different kinds of potatoes, and not a single grain of rice nor a single bean... just because I can!!
Things have also been quite hectic on the wildlife front. The other morning my room mate Brenda and I were woken up by a cow mooing outside our window. CEM is rapidly becoming a retreat for all kinds of stray animals who turn up and expect to be fed. A couple of weeks ago for instance, a very pregnant cat turned up and gave birth to the 5 most beautiful kittens I’ve ever seen. Yesterday morning I was woken up by a commotion. A giant cobra almost the size of me had attempted to get to the kittens, the mother had started hissing, and the boys had jumped to the rescue, brutally murdering it before my eyes! It was pretty horrific to see how it kept squirming with venom, even after its head had been squished to a mushy pulp!
Speaking of the boys here at CEM... I should probably introduce you to them and explain just how completely and utterly crazy they are. Their sense of humour consists of relentlessly teasing me and my Englishness and laughing at me when I can’t find the vocabulary to respond and get very flustered! Paulo , fellow student and teacher at Rebusca, is particularly “sem graça”... he laughs at the way I run when I’m playing with the children; Daniel makes the most of the newly installed telephones on the boys’ and girls’ corridors by prank calling us at all hours; Bruno and Igor are professionally trained clowns who juggle fire and all sorts, and have introduced me to a new game called “voltinhas”, which they claim will cure me of my Englishness and make me more Latin. After my first game yesterday, I felt it was a step in the right direction.
The game goes like this: we open up Bruno and Igor’s car (Felix) and see how many people we can squeeze in – 8 is the current record, with two boys in the boot! We count loudly as each person gets in, just for dramatic effect. Then we whizz up the dirt track towards town at top speed, and zoom round the mini-roundabouts until Heather is sufficiently green. We then drive up into the university and stop the car in the middle of the road next to the biggest group of unsuspecting students we can find. Then Bruno screams “VOLTINHA” (little run around), and we leap out of the car screaming at the top of our voices, run two laps of the car, get back in through a different door, sit in a different seat and zoom off again at top speed. On the first two attempts, I refused to take part. On the third, I tripped over, grazed my knee, banged my head on the car roof and couldn’t get back in again because my route was blocked. The boys agreed nonetheless that it was a heroic effort, and a step in the right direction. Despite being jokers, the boys are very sweet. They have taken to serenading people at their window by moonlight when it’s their birthday... unfortunately mine was before I came!
Unfortunately I am becoming known as the poor little English girl who is scared of everything, snakes and ‘voltinhas’ aside: my face when Bruno and Igor dressed up in their full clown costumes was a picture, I live in constant fear of our pet dog “Fox” who is constantly jumping up at me and trying to eat my feet, and Daniel has yet to convince me to get back on his motorcycle! Bruno and Igor, who are also in my Beginners English Class, observed my spotty trainers the other day and decided that there is a clown somewhere deep down inside me, just as there is an English speaker deep down inside of them! It looks like this learning process is going to work both ways!
Community life at CEM is such an incredible blessing, and so much fun! It’s great to be living with, studying with and teaching such an inspirational group of Christians. We often have prayer breakfasts together, send each other encouraging texts, and have heart-to-heart chats over coffee. Everyone is being so supportive of my transcultural experience, and is learning to adapt to my erratic mood swings. One day a couple of weeks ago, I was feeling pretty low, exhausted and underappreciated, so I just spent the morning crying and talking to God about it. When I opened my door a little while later, there was a present and a little card written in French by one of my French students and signed by all the girls. It said “everything is worthwhile when your heart is big”, and “we really appreciate everything we’re doing”. That is just one example of ways in which God has answered all my little prayers.
The other day I was so tired after an evening lesson that I collapsed on my bed and physically couldn’t get up to go to the second half. My friend Lícia, unprompted, came into my room and said that she had been worried about me all week, and had been to talk to my mentor Jan, because she thinks I’m doing too much. She is probably right, and the words of encouragement she spoke to me that night were so special. This week and next I am enjoying a break from the evening lectures to catch up on things a bit, and at Easter I am going to have a review with Jan to see if I need to make some adjustments to my timetable. I know I am being very hard on myself: I don’t want to just do everything, I want to do it well. I want to be a great teacher, a great friend, a great speaker of Portuguese, a great model to the Rebusca children, a great student of theology... but I know God is teaching me a lot about being humble, and accepting my limitations. Sometimes, by saying “no” I am actually being a better servant, because I have enough energy to do everything with a smile!
Despite being very difficult and tiring, the last module we studied on Old Testament Theology was very much fun! We had to prepare group presentations on different time periods, and be as creative as possible. Our group was responsible for the Moses Period, and we conducted an “it’s a knock out” type team challenge were each group had to travel around the classroom into the Promised Land, answering questions on the 10 commandments, acting out the plagues, and making plastecine models of golden calves in order to win the milk, honey and grapes at the end! I also made a giant burning bush costume for my friend Tércio, and a cloud of fire for acting out part of the story... which to this day he claims looked like a rock. I wrote on it “I AM A CLOUD”, signed it, and gave it to him as a present. He will thank me one day when I am a famous impressionist artist!
The other groups’ presentations were amazing too! One that sticks in my mind was on the life and times of Joshua, where Daniel dressed up in drag as Rahab the prostitute, and the boys led us round a fortress they had made out of cardboard boxes, singing “Joshua at the battle of Jericho”! Storming it at the end was even more fun!
As you may have read in my prayer letter, most of us from CEM went down to Teresópolis last weekend to work with a community of people severely affected by the floods. Our time there was very challenging, but also very special. We stayed up in our newly painted basketball court, praying and singing through the night under the stars. The children were such a joy, though it was so apparent that they had seen so much sadness. It was interesting and also quite hilarious that they were CONVINCED I was Japanese, and wouldn’t be persuaded otherwise. In poorer areas, the people have no concept of countries outside their own, and obviously Japan was the only “foreign” place they could identify. “A Japonesa” has been added to my ever increasing list of ridiculous nicknames! Talking to them about their experiences was very memorable. As I chatted with one of the girls, and remarked how incredibly beautiful the countryside around her home was, she replied “yes, it’s beautiful... but it broke”. How true, that God’s wonderful, beautiful world is so broken. God is teaching me so much about loving the broken and how important it is to help them glue the pieces back together.