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!