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.