Where to begin? As you may have heard, we spent a long weekend in Guidoval to provide aid and support to those stricken by devastating floods earlier this year. Many of the families who put us up had lost nearly all their clothes and furniture, and there were 2 mortalities within the small close-knit community. The son of one of the families we stayed with had become almost completely blind due to a harmful substance dripping into his eyes when the torrential rain struck and swept everything away within less than 24 hours. To hear their stories of perseverance and faith was incredibly moving and put everything into perspective.
As we started to assemble our working teams and get ready, we were asked to pray about how we could help, and for the Lord to guide us. Some were called to paint and rebuild, others to do visits in houses of those distanced from the church, others to treat teeth and aches and pains, and still others to plan evangelistic events for the city’s youth When the answer came, my reaction was “please, God, no, ANYTHING but that...” But alas, God will have his way, and a week later, I found myself trembling and teary, entering a little fancy dress shop in Viçosa, full to bursting with clown wigs, hats, and other horrors. Where does this irrational fear come from, you may ask, that has been so drastically confronted during your time in Brazil? Well, recently I remembered that when I was 4 I was in a car accident, and that mum had already bought us tickets to the circus for that night. Because I had cried so much, desperate to see the elephants and trapeze artists for the first time, mum agreed to take me, despite the fact that she was still in severe shock. I guess that’s why I always associate clowns and their false garish smiles, with trauma. As I donned red nose, a multi-coloured wig and white make-up in the run-down bathroom of one of Guidoval’s public schools, I caught a glimpse in the mirror and paled even whiter. Nervously, I stepped out to join veteran fellow clowns Vigor and Fu and pose for photos. But something clicked when I saw the children pointing and laughing despite all that had happened, when I managed to dance and make a fool of myself – it was so incredibly liberating, and I even ended up laughing my own cares away. In that moment I fully comprehended what it meant to be a missionary – to say no to the self, and hello to God, and I tearfully thanked the Lord for using me in ways I never could have imagined.
We certainly made a lasting impact in Guidoval. Within an hour, the empty, run-down Baptist church was full of CEM missionaries, old and young, singing, dancing the conga up and down the aisle, and passing a sock around to the church members for them to put their prayer requests in the “e-meia” (“meia” is Portuguese for “sock”). We laughed so much in those few days that we certainly showed what it means to be full of the joy of the Lord! And that’s what Integral Mission means after all. Telling the message of the gospel, and when necessary, using words.
The following weekend I found myself on a much-needed weekend retreat with my mentoring group, but what a trek! We went aaall the way to our pastor’s house, less than 5 minutes’ walk from CEM! There we spent a lot of time reflecting on life in general, praying for each other, and learning about what it truly means to love one another and love others. We did a great exercise in which we were blindfolded and had to pretend to be sheep (hooraah!), and try to discern the voice of Brenda sending coded commands with a whistle, trying to guide us to a marked out sheep pen, whilst Renata kept making noises in our ears to distract us, representing the Enemy and the voices of the world. Excellent stuff. Among other things we also watched the 3rd Narnia Film, which is full of Christian truths and well worth a watch if you haven’t already seen it. Also, importantly, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so many pancakes in my life.
The following weekend I was off to São Paulo (double hooraaaah!), where among other things I had the challenging joy of helping out on two occasions at the children´s shelter where Paulo works. The majority of the children are either orphans, have parents living on São Paulo’s streets, or come from a tragic background of drug addiction and/or sexual abuse. Although the home is technically a Spiritist organisation, many of the children are curious to hear about the message of the Cross. There are 17 children, ranging in age from 3 months to 17 years. The younger ones are adorable, even if they are extremely needy and attention-seeking, and have some problems controlling their bladders and bowels! The older ones are the real problems, being truly bitter against the world, and on a mission to make others feel the rejection and suffering they’ve been through. To love them and have patience with him is a true act of grace, and a true test of faith.
On one particular day, I knew that it was the birthday of one of the younger girls, so I took some materials do art and craft activities with them, as sadly none of the members of staff have time to dedicate to these things. I was sat on a bench with most of the children at my feet scribbling away and happily making as much mess as possible. I had an adorable 18 month year-old girl on my lap, and as I was giving my attention to the others, I hadn’t even noticed she had a huge felt tip in her hand. It was only when I handed her back for nap time that I realised my jeans weren’t blue anymore...
As I headed to the bathroom to wash out the worst of the ink, I saw a blur of pink in the bathroom sink and a rush of long hair, as the teenage girls literally pounced on me with pink crepe paper and dyed my fringe before I could so much as blink or muster up the Portuguese to protest. “Don’t worry, tia, it will wash out straight away, it’s only temporary.” Hahaha. 2 weeks and 10 hair washes later, my hair is still a nice shade of magenta. Thanks girls. Later that day, a nasty smell confirmed my worst fears that little Markus wasn’t ready to be out of nappies even at nearly 4 years old.
“Markus, did you do something...?”
“No, tía, no.”
“Did you really?”
“No, I promise.”
“Shall we go to the bathroom to check?”
“We don’t need to, tía.”
Reluctantly, we trooped to the bathroom, and 10 seconds later I wish I had heeded Markus´ subtle warnings. Eeeeeew.
The greatest challenge came on my last day in São Paulo, when the teenage girls decided to push me to my limit and rage a war against me. They spent the large part of the afternoon swearing at me and ordering me to leave the room. Even reacting with as much love and patience as I could muster up, by home time I couldn’t hide my tears. I tried so hard to control myself, but felt that I had to tell one particular girl how much she was wrong in her approach of trying to push people away, and how much she had hurt me, that I really wasn’t up for retaliating or getting into an argument with her. As I left in tears, praying furiously for them, I was hugely surprised to find that I didn’t even make it to the corner of the street before I heard a desperate “Tía, come back!” Not knowing what to expect, we retraced our steps and were moved to find the two friends friend almost in tears, full of remorse, apologising from the bottom of their hearts. Paulo says that was a first for both of them. “You do promise you’ll come back one day, don’t you tía?” Once again I was reminded of how God works in small, but surprising ways. The two girls are still in desperate need of our prayers, as I have since heard that one of them has run away from the home and is being tracked down by the police. Although they have such good hearts deep down, their psychological scars are deep and they are extremely vulnerable to all kinds of dangers. I suppose it makes us think about how many of our daily worries are really necessary in comparison!
Following those adventures, my work at Rebusca and my lessons at CEM have seen like a refreshing walk in the park, and the children seem like angels! Not sure how long that will last! But in all seriousness, my time at Rebusca is still a complete joy, and I am growing hugely in my maturity and the mutual love and respect I have with the little ones. I have almost managed to learn all 50 something names now and learn a little about their families and lives. Watching a special Mothers’ Day presentation last week was particularly moving for me, especially as quite a few of them didn’t have mothers who were able to come, and asked me to be their honorary mother. I was so touched when I realised that I already love them like a mother would. I also observed how little attention the mothers seem to give their children from an outside perspective, coming from difficult social and financial situations, and I was encouraged to see just how important it is to spend quality time with these precious little lives. The weekly arguments about who gets to sit next to Tía Heather at lunchtime are becoming more agitated every week, and one particular week, a boy with learning difficulties called Breno refused to eat his lunch because I didn’t sit at his table. The solution: put the tables together and have everyone eat round the table like one big family. So far it’s gone down incredibly well!
My English lessons have been a lot of fun recently, and I am encouraged to see the progress my students who started from scratch with me last year have made. Unfortunately one of my best students and close friends has recently made the decision to give up, which made me extremely sad. I tried everything to convince her, but have learnt to expect that my goals and the Lord’s are not the same, and that the decision was directed by prayer so I have to accept it with humility and love, even if I don’t agree with it and find it a terrible shame. I find that to say “my ways are not Your ways” is one of the hardest things, but also essential to obeying and being used fully by the one who made us.
Another challenge has been finding the enthusiasm and perseverance necessary to go to the University every Friday to give my Bible Study at our ABU group, only to be greeted by one or two regulars, who are long-term members of my Church. Unfortunately the group has not been fulfilling its evangelistic purpose recently, due to the fears that the students have in speaking to their friends in what is quite a closed, secularised environment, despite a large presence of Christian activity in the city as a whole. Please pray for them to have courage, and for our advertising efforts to resurrect the group. At the same time, I recognise that the time is still extremely valuable, that I am learning just as much as the few that do go, and that it is a wonderful way of building each other up. I know I am still being used, even if not as I planned or expected!
In a nutshell, that is the main message God has spoken to me this month – that I must trust and obey in all its fullness. Even the smallest of my plans can be thwarted by His biggest ones. For example, when I think I will be planning my lessons and packing my suitcase, I suddenly find myself in the hospital, nursing Brenda after emergency appendix surgery (NB Brazilian Public Hospitals are DIRE. PTL that I haven’t needed one so far. Surgery without general anaesthetic, big scar and a popped stitch speak for themselves.) There is nothing harder, but also nothing better, than just to sit back and accept “OK, Lord, you know better than I do!”