Brazil - For Two Weeks

“They say” that anticipation is an important of any experience. So—I’m anticipating! We’ve been getting weekly news letters, have been to two meetings and are getting ready for a packing party on Saturday.

We’ve met 12 other team members and learned their special interests. Have made a Daily Prayer Calendar, with suggestions for who/what to pray for. Have learned about our project, schedules, what clothes to take, what the weather is like, how we get there (we change planes at least two times), a very small bit about the language (Portugese, not Spanish as I thought).

Have studied the map, learned that their sky has the Southern Cross and not the Big Dipper. Time to wonder if the water goes down the drain counter-clockwise. It’s springtime, will the Atlantic be warm or cold? Will we see the Equator from the plane? (No, Silly, even I know better than that!)

My doctor has checked to see if my ‘shots’ are up-to-date, I’ve had one for Hepatitis, and was told to have one for Yellow Fever of all things! We know to guard against mosquito bites, to watch what we eat so we don’t have upset stomachs. We know to stay inside the compound most of the time.

Now I need to have a suitcase-on-wheels because 50 pounds is hard to carry, to be CERTAIN to carry a change of clothes on-plane because it would be just my luck to lose my checked baggage. (Which would mean to wear one set of clothes for two weeks.)

So I’m anticipating. We’ve tried to ask and answer the Big Questions—but that leaves only the million Little Ones.

Anyway, it’s all very exciting, and I can’t wait!!

The Shade and Fresh Water Project

The Brazilian Methodist Church made children its “number one priority” and created this Project as a national network to help local Methodist churches develop supervised activities to keep children off the streets. The goal is to help children become healthy citizens by being exposed to Christian values. Every local church is to organize an after-school program for children between 6 and 14 years of age.

Public school hours are from 9 to 2, and the Project promotes healthy physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual and social development, serving more than 5,000 children in more than 60 locations.

Left alone while parents work, many children fix their own meals, go to school, care for younger siblings and are responsible for the home. Sometimes 7-year-old children are fully responsible for household needs and without adult supervision, they head to the streets to play and get food and meet people who introduce them to a life of drugs, crime and prostitution.

In Rio several years ago there were about 6000 children on the streets and the government machine-gunned them down. later we would see painted in red on the sidewalk figures of 10 children where they died.

There is popular Brazilian expression that provides protection from life’s harsh realities: shade is a place to rest from the brutal sun and represents the care the church offers. Fresh water quenches our thirst and carries the Biblical image of God’s cleansing. It is a place of protection that allows all the opportunity to grow.

This explains why there were 13 people privileged to go on a VIM Mission Trip to Brazil in October 2006.

Friday and Saturday, October 6 and 7 Travel

A Rainy Day! At home Linda and I packed toys and crafts and small clothes, for the mission children. Her large bag was so stuffed she had to stand on it to zip it up. We left in the rain and by the time we were crossing under the 64 underpass we decided we would at least be on time… And then we saw the stopped traffic above us, cars just coming off 64 into our lane. So we were just in time, and got out at the airport to check in and have a sandwich while waiting to board the plane.

Above the clouds the sun was shining until twilight and then the “Christmas lights” of Houston appeared. Some members saw the sun set in one direction and the perfect moon rise in the opposite direction. The Houston airport was the prettiest one I have seen—so modern and clean. The overnight flight to Sao Paulo was dark and again we could see nothing below.

Saturday morning we had breakfast at 5:30 and left the huge plane for a smaller one where my carry-on bag wouldn’t fit so it had to be checked. It had my maps, pen to fill out Customs Declaration and everything. I had to sit for a couple hours with nothing to do.

Finally we arrived at Belo Horizonte (Beautiful Horizon), met by 2 vans of friendly people from our churches, cheering and waving flags and banners. We had to count those 27 bags of luggage every time we changed transportation and never lost one!

At the Sao Gabrield Community Center, our “Home Base”, we were met by 21-year-old Daniel who was rescued from the slums and was just learning to read. The main building is of 3 stories, with several classrooms, library, well equipped computer lab with 8 computers and rooms for visitors. Christine, two-year volunteer and several teachers, and several wonderful ladies who cooked for us were always available. Gordon and Teca Greathouse have been in Brazil more than 20 years and they built the Center from the slums.

The three main buildings are enclosed by tall heavy walls; one building includes an athletic playground.

The beautifully landscaped courtyard has all sorts of tropical plants and flowers.

Banana, papaya, mango trees were outside our third floor windows.

Birds were always present and I was thrilled to see a visiting BLACK hummingbird. Neither heating nor cooling is needed, windows are not screened and here in October springtime, we slept with windows open and sometimes with blankets.

Sunday, October 8

After the wonderful breakfast of fresh fruits (pineapple slices to hold in my fingers!--my favorite), fresh bread from the next-door bakery, ham and cheese slices, coffee and juices, we had a history lesson from Gordon, our missionary.

Brazil is bigger than our U.S. and has about a third as many people. 40% of the slaves from Africa were sent here in the 1700's. The coastline is higher, the rivers run away from the Oceano Atlantico. Americans started coming from Brazil after the Civil War. Methodist women started Methodism in Brazil, the first church was built in Rio. We would later see that church, terribly in need of repair and waiting for money for restoration.

The child and the adolescent cannot work before they reach 16 years of age and cannot be exploited.

Every child and adolescent will have access to diversions and public performances classifed as suitable to her/his age group.

How good and pleasant it is when people live together in unity." Psalms 133:1

Alimento, dom de Deus (Food, gift of God, the right of all)

These are exerpts from the Shade and Fresh Water proclamation, printed by hand on posters in our buildings and on posters for all to be read at our churches and schools.

No church on Sunday morning, only the street festival.

So we went to the festival. There were several blocks of things for sale--most handmade, and you can buy anything imaginable there! Paintings, wooden things, clothes, linen, jewelry, ceramics, glassware and dishes...for sale by strolling vendors and in covered cubicles.

Fresh coconuts with straw littered the ground--you drink the milk and throw away the wooden shells.

Silvery, shiny painted "statues" stood, with boxes to throw your reals (pennies) in, to make them move: an old lady witch, two young men, a soldier. Jerky movements, just like a toy statue, one would kiss your hand.

We were encouraged to see everything that first day and then we could return later to buy whatever souvenirs we had located.

We had lunch at the Baby Beef Restaurant: a buffet with all kinds of salads and veggies, then waiters at our tables with long skewers of meat--chicken, bacon-wrapped chicken, different cuts of beef.

Couldn't possibly even taste all those different things. Cans of Coca-Cola, real exotic desserts.

Then we drove through the city--on a 4-lane highway, through slums and downtown with tall buildings.

We were told of the few jobs available and I asked about the buildings; they were office buildings. Most people have menial jobs: street vendors, maids, etc. Our young volunteer, Christine, says everyone has a maid, herself included. Computer education is necessary in Brazil--without it there are only menial jobs.

We visited the Pope's Plaza--built for his visit 11 years ago--with a huge cross on a plaza overlooking his people, the beautiful part of the city, standing in front of a small mountain where the richer people live.

Some team members attended the evening worship service at Bethany, our host church, with a 3-piece band and active choir. I heard about the exuberant singing (in Portugese of course) and the joy of worshiping together.

Some of us opted to attend the more affluent sister church which must have been every bit as enthusiastic. The service was about the Shade and Fresh Water Project: children and teachers were celebrated and given a red rose.

The children presented posters of segments of the Project proclamation to be taped on the wall. The building was lovely and well-maintained, with a lighted large cross behind the pulpit; there were tropical trees in the front yard. We were wonderfully welcomed and refreshments were served--fried chicken tarts, fresh juice and coffee.

Both churches have active sewing groups--we saw things made by both. We brought back stoles and tablecloths commissioned by a Georgia church--they were truly professional. Handmade quilts and items were for sale at Bethany, and I bought a little girl doll for our fall fair.

Igreja Batista Metodista

Bethany Methodist Church is up a hill, a steep block- long hill, enclosed like other property by 8-foot cinder block walls topped with broken glass. An unoccupied parsonage is inside the gate but the minister's family travels from his home by bus. Built more than 50 years ago of stone and tile, it has been added to several times. Uneven stone blocks are the floor and walls are like cinder blocks. Most homes and buildings are enclosed by similar walls and nonexistent grass. But anywhere they are left alone trees and bushes grow in the hard-packed dirt. Doors in the walls are often thick metal, locked, and windows are covered with thick iron grating.

Our main job was to build a retaining wall at the foot of the hill, to make a parking lot which the children could use as a playground. Last year they began preparing for us and a huge mound of dirt was dug in the front yard; the dirt was moved several times to make paved terraces.

Several of our team worked tirelessly with about five church members during our work week.

I struggled up the church hill, slippery when wet, past our workers and theirs, where they dug down 4 feet for footing and reinforcing iron bars. It will be about 12 blocks high when finished, and cement will cover the mud. God blessed us with cooperating weather--little rain and comfortable temperatures. The children and team members played in the dust while we were there.

Others of us painted the peeling walls, and the window gratings outside.

The logo for the Shade and Fresh Water Project was projected on the Sunday School wall and painted over.

Furniture for the children was old and broken, paint spilled on them. Money given to me by my United Methodist Women had not been in the Team budget and when it was given to Gordon they decided to buy chairs--an unexpected pleasant surprise!

We had a Church School led and provided for by our team one day. With a "Peace" theme, the story was told about a Japanese girl, leukemia victim of the Hiroshima atom bombing. Friends folded paper Origami paper cranes and the story was told that if they made 1000 she would be well. An impossible goal, it is the foundation for promoting peace all over the world. So we folded paper cranes and sang and learned verses about Peace.

We visited families of the church. There were 8 families in an enclosed yard of packed dirt. Nut trees, berries, even an uncultivated cotton plant grew. There were 7 dogs, mama cat and kittens, other cats, assorted children and adults. All we met had been to the church and we welcomed.

The houses were very small, dark and crowded, with scant furniture and magazine pictures on the walls. One mother said she was supporting four children now so that they would support her when they were grown. She didn't say she wanted them to have an education to build their self-esteem like we would hear in our country. Our team had brought church and school supplies, small toys and games, but homes and church lacked many things we would think essential. One family of five lived in a 4 room house and I never did see running water. The father was cleaning the rock yard with a hose, so there must have been some inside as well as outside.

We were transported by van through streets crowded with traffic and houses. Sometimes there were bicycles darting in and out and always young children wearing the ever-present flipflops.