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!