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!