Kids, Crafts, Converts & Chameleons

January has been a month of exciting things at Instituto Engrenar. We are three weeks into a Saturday kids’ club and are pleased with how things have been going so far. We had 19 kids the first week and yesterday we had over 30. It has been a real encouragement to see a team of helpers emerge and give up their Saturday mornings to serve there.

We have free play time followed by a bible story, a worksheet, games and snack. It’s not re-inventing the wheel but is a tried and tested formula! In Sao Luís, there is next to nothing available for kids to do for free and, some of the time, the youngsters don’t even have school if their teachers are on strike. But we hope to be doing more than babysitting or even entertaining the children…many of these kids know something about God, and might well tell you a bit about Jesus, but their home lives are chaotic and few of them have a living faith. Sao Bernardo is a needy area of Sao Luis, an already embarrassingly underdeveloped Brazilian state capital, and children here come from families where there is unemployment, substance abuse, witchcraft, broken relationships, domestic abuse, absent fathers, etc. etc. It really feels like a privilege to spend a few hours with the kids. Some come without shoes, others without having had breakfast or a wash, but all leave having heard some key truths from the bible and having enjoyed themselves.

In our increasingly multi-functional workshop, Tuesday afternoon is now the slot for a craft course for the ladies in the area. Maxsianne is teaching ‘Biscuit’ to a group of around 10 women. We are only 2 weeks in, but it is another exciting  thing to see the women attentively hearing from the bible before the practical element of the course.

During the rest the days, the trainees continue to beaver away and learn each day.

We have had a few chaps not fulfilling their duties so while they take some time off, we have given a couple of other gents an opportunity, Marcos and Eduardo. Last week, Marcos made a profession of faith at Instituto Engrenar, something which we shared with the church on Sunday. He had heard the gospel before but had never bowed the knee. At 17 and already getting into soft drugs, we trust he has made the best decision at a critical time in his life. Praise the Lord!

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
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L-R Marcio, Pastor Sérgio, Marcos & Daniel

Thanks to the addition of Márcio to the team, Daniel has a little more flexibility to get round to the some of the previously sidelined jobs, opportunities and hobbies. One of these is to get a Christian samba band together. The intention is to involve some of the guys on the fringes of church and use the band to encourage others. So far, the group has played at the church’s monthly prayer vigil and a youth service. Both nights went down well!

Some of our regular supporters might recall that Daniel’s brother José was involved with the project way back at the start, over a year and a half ago now, but he decided to choose his own path and a relationship which wasn’t good for him. It didn’t take long for him to fall into drugs and he has been up and down ever since. That is, until Friday of last week when he said he wanted help in a recovery house. Daniel and Márcio took José to the Casa de Davi and we really pray for a true transformation this time.

The rain has started to really fall this month and it brings with it all kinds of creatures, some of whom have come closer than I might like, like the time I opened the toilet lid to find a tarantula crawling up the toilet pan making his break for freedom. I was proud of myself for dealing with it (broom handle, flushing away, tartantula swims back, IMG-20180128-WA0000.jpgreflushing with soap powder). Poor Antonio found one a few days later in the same place but he wasn’t too fussed. Cockroaches and flying ants are never far away and I’ve seen rats too but a more pleasant visitor is a baby chameleon living in our back garden. We’ve named him Charlie. We think he may have fallen from the adjoining house’s mango tree. He has been around for a few weeks and I’m not sure what  he is eating…we should probably set him free somewhere. Where’s the SSPCA when you need them?!

The pics below are from a trip to a waterpark and the recent wedding of Romulo and Andrea.

 

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Festivities in the Sun

Christmas gatherings, a whole lot of food and fun, there may not be snow and the traditions might be different, but the festive period offers lots of great opportunities in Sao Luis.

For anyone who might have missed it, our small team has been joined by Pastor Márcio and Maxsianne. Márcio just happens to be Daniel’s nephew who lives nextdoor to the workshop and Maxsianne just happens to be super talented with all kinds of arts and crafts and kids work. We are thrilled about this answer to prayer and God is already doing exciting things through this couple, not least with their massive involvement in our main Christmas event. We used our last fundraiser to raise money for a community Christmas dinner for all of the trainees (practical welders and English pupils) and their families. The evening included a quiz, a wee blurb about the project for folks who were unsure, a short message and the distribution of some Christmas hampers.

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We had a Christmas themed night at the English class, and I think I learned as much as the students about where Christmas trees and the Santa phenomenon comes from. We did a “Secret Santa” style game but we had to bring gender neutral home-made presents which we could poach until the last minute!

Christmas is a family time here and people only really travel to be with the main group of family. The main event is a dinner and present exchanging on Christmas Eve which continues over midnight when fireworks are set off and music is played veeeerry loudly to ring in Christmas Day. Christmas Day itself involves eating leftovers and chilling.

It was fantastic to have a few days off over the Christmas break. We enjoyed a few trips out and about round Sao Luís. Antonio’s favourite place is the water park!

The project, Instituto Engrenar is back in full swing, with recent projects including the conversion of an old oil drum into a bench, painting a neighbour’s security gate, wooden benches and decorative items. Behaviour isn’t generally an issue with the trainees but one young man has been a bit troublesome recently so has been asked to take some time out to reflect. We have invited another young man to get involved too, which is great.

Next week sees the start of our first craft course for ladies in the area which we are looking forward to greatly. It is soon to be followed by a Saturday’s kids’ club so watch this space for new ventures in 2018. Praise God for His goodness!

The (Not So) Simple Things

As we approach the end of 2017, there is much happening to celebrate and commemorate at end of a busy season.

Instituto Engrenar is delighted to welcome Pastor Márcio and his wife, Maxsianne, to our team full-time.

Márcio and Maxsianne bring a wealth of skills, experience and enthusiasm to the project which we have so needed. What a difference it has already made just to have someone else to share the load and bring fresh input, so simple but so difficult to have found consistently! They join us with son, Cristiano, aged 6, who graduated from junior school this weekend. We were kindly invited and it was a very special occasion for all the youngsters.

You can maybe see from the photos that a big fuss was made of the kids, they had learned dance routines and songs, recited messages, there were precessions in their fancy outfits rented for the event, food, professional photographers and indoor playground rented for the night . While it was all beautiful and very adorable, I couldn’t help feeling slightly uncomfortable with some it (it resembled those US beauty pageants). Maybe we are too laid back in the UK, letting our kids go out with uncombed hair or, dare I suggest, a bow that doesn’t match the colour of the dress but that’s a debate for another day…it was a big momomet for Cristiano who participated perfectly.

Last weekend we held a second ‘Bazar’ at the workshop of Instituto Engrenar. It was a jumble sale and mini fun day with snacks on sale as well as face painting. The total after a morning and afternoon of work was a superb R$1089, with next to no outlays. Such a simple thing to do, but it was fun for all, not too much organising and a great success.

This money will be used to help cover the costs of the Christmas event we are organising next Saturday for everyone involved with the project and their families. None of it would have been possible without our many happy helpers and, of course, the supporters near and far.

Instituto Engrenar continues to be busy with welding trainees during the day and the English course on a Wednesday night. We are looking forward to some craft courses starting in January with Maxsianne.

When living in Scotland I take the quality of the roads for granted and we, as a nation, are quick to complain when the snow or ice damages the road and it is not promptly fixed. Over here in the majority world, when you have lived with an uneven, dirt track road for over 60 years, it is a big deal when the council comes along to asphalt it. There might still be no proper sewage system (septic tanks are common in many areas of São Luís), and the tropical rains might well wash away some of the shoddy workmanship and inferior materials, but for now, this simple progression means chalk painting on the road, wheelbarrow rides, strolling with a buggy, football on the street and many more simple pleasures which resulted in fireworks being set off the day the tarmac arrived.

Heading out for dinner at a beachside restaurant with small group is one of the perks of living in São Luís. It is a fairly common thing for church small groups to do for their Christmas meal out (no turkeys involved, only lots of fresh meat, fish, shellfish). We celebrated the end of the year and gave thanks for all that’s been. Our group and their families have seen a lot this year: graduations from high school, the loss of a child, the loss of a parent, the birth of a baby, new projects, new houses, operations, separations…the lot. And what can we say of it all?

“Até aqui nos ajudou o Senhor” from 1 Sam 7:12

“Thus far the Lord has helped us”

Without the Lord’s strength and the encouragement we have drawn from one another, for sure we would be wandering around like lost sheep. We pray for even greater things in 2018 as there is much to learn and much to share with each other.

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Daniel and I both had our birthdays this month and we were spoiled with a few special celebrations, as below.

Antonio and Stephanie have both had colds recently, but are generally doing well. Stephanie is now enjoying solid foods on the whole, but needs a bit more convincing on veg. Papaya, banana and apple and going down easily on their own or in porridge! I am every hopeful that the more food I can stuff into her, the more she will sleep at night but it doesn’t seem to work that way!! If only it were so simple.

Hope everyone enjoys advent week!

Day to Day Differences Living in Northeast Brazil

If you have ever wondered what it’s like living in Brazil, here’s my rundown of some of the differences in the simple things, in no particular order.

  1. People take multiple showers during the day, at least 3, because of the heat and humidity to cool down. Showers are generally cold, intionally, and because it’s cheaper than installing an electric shower.
  2. milkThere is no fresh milk here (in Sao Luís anyway). People use powdered milk or long-life milk. There is a special, vitamin enriched powered milk for children, made by Nestle.
  3. Food is different, as you would expect. It’s generally much fresher and good quality. Rice and beans are the staples and the main ricemeal is at lunchtime. I confess that in the midday heat, my apetite isn’t always huge and sometimes I’d be happy with a sandwich! The rice and beans is served with meat or chicken or fish.  Sao Luís offers lots of fish and shellfish and you can buy your crab live at the market every day.
  4. Saying on the food theme, there is a real lack of quality cheese in Sao Luis, which is hard for cheese lovers. Cheese is generally a bit plasticky but if you’re willing to pay a price, you can buy a teeny pice of gorgonzola for about 10 pounds.
  5. Driving is pretty insane and one sometimes dreams of smooth roads with no horns constantly beeping. See my previous blog.Engarrafamento SLZ - Cópia
  6. The lifestyle is relaxed. Being late is not a problem. We’ll get round to things eventually.  Unexpected conversations and encounters are usually more important than being on time. Much more chilled on that front, if sometimes frustrating!
  7. Lack of law enforcement. Laws exist here but they don’t seem to come to fruition. This affects just about every aspect of life and leads to the corruption which permeates this state (see previous blogs).
  8. An unusual relationship with animals. Animals aren’t kept much as pets here and there is no RSPCA equivalent but people often have dogs for security. The dog is not usually walked and is fed whatever leftovers are kicking about. On one trip to the local market, I saw a women chatting to something inside her boot. I assumed it must have been a dog but she casually pulled out a live chicken. She had probably bought it at the market for lunch or perhaps was going to fatten it at home. The neighbour across from the workshop keeps a family of goats.  One time a goat leapt out of his bus that he parks on the street and rents out to folk. So bizarre!
  9. Everyone has a nickname. This is cultural, but also because some of the names here are very difficult. People like to make a mix of names, like a part of the mother and father’s name. We have a friend called Wilson who has 2 sons: Wanderilson (nickname Wandinho) and Iranilson (nickname Iran). Daniel has a friend who is only known as Congo (don’t worry, it’s not racist here). I remember calling him to give him change at the Bazar we organised and it seemed wrong to shout ”Congo’ in front of the pastor’s wife, but no-one actually knew his real name.
  10. An obvious difference is the weather. It is hot and humid here with roughly 6 months of pure sun and 6 months of rain, though fortunately it doesn’t rain incessantly, because when it rains, it rains.rainsao luis
  11. The culture is fairly patriarchal. Times are changing but it is still the case that fewer women work, and those that do are paid less. Women are generally less independent than in the Developed World. Even in small things like fewer women drive and there is less of a culture of women going out socially by themselves (if they have husbands). That is not to say that women stay in all day but they are unlikely to go to social events without their partners. I hear part of the reason for this could be jealousy or safety concerns…
  12. Day to day routines are different. I have written about this before too. The heat of the day means that many more things happen early morning (in terms of work) and evening (in terms of play), with a rest in the afternoon.

I am sure I could go on, but that’s enough of a flavour. We take the good and the not so good!

A Visit from Home

Perhaps only those who have spent time abroad will truly appreciate how special it is when someone from home comes to visit. We were recently really encouraged and blessed by welcoming not only 1 person, but 3 from Scotland. Our home church Pastor, Mez, his wife, Miriam, and an old friend from Niddrie, Stephen, made a flying visit to Sao Luis. Mez’s work with 20schemes means that he regularly travels and he had just been in Fortaleza doing a conference before the short hop here to Sao Luis, where he and Miriam lived and worked as missionaries for several years until 2007.

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Mez, Miriam, Stephen and Matthew Spandler-Davison (who was a bonus 1 day visitor!)

Mez spoke over 2 days at another conference here in Sao Luis on Church in Hard Places, but thereafter spent time with us and at the project. The work of 20schemes and ‘Igreja em Lugares Difíceis’ is well explained here for Portuguese speakers.

We also managed to fit in a few get togethers  with some faces the McConnells hadn’t seen for 10 years. We were spoiled with a meals out and a suitcase full of goodies from home, including decent chocolate, some things we wanted for ministry and useful family items. Once again, thank you to everyone who sent their love, items, donations of money, etc. We really appreciate receiving all these things and trust the Lord will bless you for your kindness. Antonio was especially thrilled with his toys, books and being the guinea pig for Mum’s first face painting attempt. Think I’ll leave a Brazilian to do it at our next event!

It was great seeing Stephen too. Daniel knows Stephen as a teammate playing in the Niddrie football team.  Stephen might not have been very keen to try the local food but he did Scotland proud at the football match on the Saturday!

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For us (or maybe me personally), it was good to speak to people who ‘just get it’ and appreciate what the struggles can be here. It can be a lonely and tiring task, especially for Daniel at times, leading the ministry and trying to look after many responsibilities. Mez and Miriam were able to encourage and advise on that front. Please come again soon!

As well as enjoying the teaching from Mez at the Church in Hard Places conference, the following weekend, I (Linsey) was treated to 3 nights at a women’s conference on trauma healing at the Primeira Igreja. The guest speakers were 2 American ladies, so I really have been spoiled recently with quality teaching in my native tongue. The ladies lead a ministry called ElevateHer which aims to empower women by finding freedom and healing in the gospel. The material was practical, which was helpful. Perhaps churches here in Brazil tend not to talk about dark subjects, and in a culture full of prosperity gospel chat, it is not so common to hear things like ‘God doesn’t always heal’ or ‘sometimes it takes a professional to help’ or ‘it’s actually ok for a Christian to say life sucks sometimes’. I think some folk would have been hearing this type of thing clearly for the first time. Personally, it was great to see so many women from Daniel’s family over the 3 days. I think I counted 13 of us at the peak.

There have been 2 more birthdays in the past couple of weeks: Daniel’s niece, Sandya, and a great nephew turned 1. First birthdays are a big deal here and Benjamim had a grand time celebrating.

The work at the project continues and we have seen great positives on the practical and spiritual side, along with the usual dose of challenges. The welding skills improve and the team contiDSC_0489nues to make metal security gates, chairs etc. It has been exciting to see the young boys from the area coming to church regularly with us too. They are now beginning to apply the bible to their own lives more, even if they are not yet saved. We pray for good relationships with the families too. Some of the boys are from really humble and complicated backgrounds. We pray we can offer stability and support.

Unfortunately, our trainee from the recovery house, Raílson decided to make a rash decision one morning and left the recovery house as he was missing his family. He was close to 5 months in recovery, and 4 of them were with us. Despite our pleadings, at the exact same time we were going to the airport to meet Mez, Raílson made his way home. As expected, he phoned a couple of days later saying how sorry he was and that he wanted another chance. Unfortunately, we can’t accept him as things stand, but we pray he makes good decisions over the next few weeks and perhaps we can re- think one day.

A new venture has started in the church here to try and get all the closeby missionaries together once every 2 weeks so that we can communicate better and promote and share about our causes better. The second meeting of its kind was held at the Instituto Engrenar yesterday.

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The English class continues on a Wednesday evening with the help of Carmen.

Pics below from a trip out to a park and Antonio steering the boat that Jonah was in at church!

If you’ve got this far, you’re doing well! Imagine if I included all our news…these are just a few items! As always, feel free to get in touch and we will reply ASAP.

The Place of Useful Learning

I might have borrowed the above strapline from my former university, but it seems a good way to describe Instituto Engrenar at the moment. Our growing offering to the community now includes teaching and training in welding and soldering, mathematics, English and, of course, the bible and discipleship.

The core team learning to weld have continued to put their new found skills to great use on a variety of projects, big and small.

We have been thrilled to have a few more folk helping, as well as Pedro. Pastor Marcelo has been leading the morning devotionals a few days each week and Igor has been teaching Maths to the young trainees in the mornings, which is of great benefit as their school teachers are still on strike.  They actually had one morning of lessons this week but it seems their teachers got fed up again and the school premises returned to being a ghost town.

We are now 2 weeks into the beginners’ English class. It runs on a Wednesday evening from 7.30pm-9.30pm and we have had a positive start. Despite this being fairly new to me, and it taking time to prepare well, the classes have gone down well and it has been great to see a real mix of students coming together to learn. We are also so grateful to have a proper English teacher coming along to help now! Carmen has over 25 years teaching English here in Brazil and is a missionary so couldn’t be more suited to this if she tried. She ‘happens’ to be here in Sao Luis at the moment and is happy to give us a hand. Any nuggets of gold I can gleam from her are much appreciated! She already had the class singing a verse in English in the second week of teaching.

Last week it was the ‘Dia das Criancas’,  or Children’s Day, and it meant for lots of celebrations, presents and far too much sugar all round! Antonio’s school had some special events and a trip to a swimming pool, which was right up his street as he started swimming lessons a few weeks ago. Antonio was so thrilled with his swimming cap and goggles we bought that he insisted on wearning his goggles in the shopping centre. Aye son, as if we peely wally Scots don’t already draw enough attention to ourselves.

Antonio is a big fan of Stephanie now and is a protective big brother. Stephanie giggles away at his antics!

We are really looking forward to a pastoral visit from Mez and Miriam who arrive tomorrow. Mez is also speaking at a conference here in Sao Luis (see below). It has been a crazy busy time with lots of pastoral issues and general mayhem but we are encouraged by how things continue to progress with the project. Let’s hope we keep being useful!IMG_3340

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

The highest of highs and lowest of lows have made appearances in an emotional couple of weeks here in the relentlessly intense sun of Northeast Brazil. What remains true is that God is unchanging and He will achieve his purposes on this fallen earth.

It seemed like a long time coming…the official inauguration of the Instituto Engrenar took place on the 16th September and a proud moment it was too. It was a mad dash to get everything organised and have items ready to showpiece at the open day, but, once again, God provided people to help and serve in ways we could not have imagined and somehow God pulled us through the chaos! What resulted was a really encouraging day which allowed anyone who wanted to, to come in and see what the project offers for people wanting to learn a skill in a Christian environment and what kind of practical work the team can do for all your metal needs. We even managed to raise some money through selling our branded t-shirts and refreshments.

The highlight for me was the opening service in the evening. In true Brazilian style, the order of service was decided about 2 minutes before the service began, which itself started a good 15 minutes later than advertised! We shared about the purpose of the project, the story so far and how God has had his hand on every element and used people from near and wide to allow the project to touch lives and spread the Good News. Daniel shared a message from the bible and the project was prayed over.

The mini showroom was prepared to show the team’s capabilities.

Raílson, who Daniel collects every morning from the recovery house, gave his testimony during the service very IMG_2225clearly and we continue to pray that it brings hope to those who listened. It was fantastic meet to his long-term girlfriend and son there. He misses them greatly and is continuing to fight his personal battles so that he might return to them and plan his wedding! Do keep this family in your prayers.

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We were also treated to some excellent music. While on the hunt to buy a ‘cavaquinho’, an instrument similar to a ukelele, Daniel met a Christian saxophonist who was very interested in the project and offered to play a set for us. Here’s a wee clip. We also had a pagode (samba) band at the end, made up of friends and family. It seems nearly everyone here is a musician; natural rhythm is in the genes!

We are so grateful to everyone who came and who helped. The team at the workshop continues to work hard on a variety of tasks, now busier than ever as more folks come forward with requests! Pics will follow of the latest projects. Two of the young boys who are learning to weld have also been at church 2 weeks in a row which is great.

The weekend after the Inauguration, we were pleased to go along to a 2 day training conference for leaders in the church. The speaker had been invited from a large baptist church in Fortaleza which our church here has had links with for many years. We found the teaching helpful, practical and refreshingly honest. The speaker  candidly spoke of his own failings and fears, which isn’t always the case here, at least not from the pulpit.  We left encouraged.

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After church the same Sunday, we received news from one of the couple’s in our small group that their son, Jessé, had been taken into hospital, having had a headache and apparent convulsion.  Josué and Raquel became members of the church around the same time as us and we remember being welcomed at the front with them and their 3 sons. We later formed a new small group with them and other couples. It quickly transpired that something serious had happened that Sunday as 13 year old Jessé went into a IMG-20170927-WA0000coma, was only breathing with machines and his parents were told he had a 1% chance of waking up. Words failed us as the shock and gravity of the situation was immense. Jessé had been at our small group meeting on the Friday evening, chattering away and as lively as ever. Jessé had hydrocephalus and some learning difficulties but these were not apparent. He was very intelligent and always the life and soul of the party. Jessé liked asking us all about Scotland and had made up his mind to visit one day.

The days that followed his going in to hospital have been some of the hardest we have faced in Sao Luis, certainly in terms of emotion. Family and friends rallied around the family and prayed for a miracle but Jessé was called home to be with the Lord last Tuesday. The death of a child is a truly horrendous thing and, yet, there was much hope and gratitude at the funeral. As is customary, the funeral was held the next day, and that was with Jessé’s parents opting to donate his organs. Jessé was born with complications but had come through so much in his short life. He had been baptised as a Christian and his, and his parents’, faith made all the difference to their outlook on life. With the assured promise that Jessé is safe in heaven and they will meet him again one day, his parents have been able to give thanks for the 13 years they spent with Jessé, rather than be bitter about his apparently untimely passing. So many things have struck me in the last week or so: the fragility of life, the hope of Heaven, the grace of God, the worth and purpose of a life (much was said at the funeral about how Jessé achieved more in his short life than many do in a lifetime, such as his pursuit of joy, evangelism, meaningful friendships) and even the purpose of the Church as the family have expressed their gratitude for the care and affection they have been given. The hospital said they had never seen so many visitors to the intensive care ward, and the church was packed at the funeral. Folks served water during the service, provided refreshments for the family all week, gave lifts and decorated the church. It was impressive. The days ahead will surely be mixed for the family who are left behind but we are encouraged and challenged by their example of thankfulness and trust in the Lord.  As our small group met at the family home last Friday, it is surely only by the grace of God that Josué and Raquel could smile and say that, despite their own desire to have spent more years with Jessé, they can sleep well at night because “God is Good”.  Pray for the family, especially Jessé’s brothers Joao Pedro and Luca who are finding it hard. Pray we might be a support to them at this time.

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Josué and Raquel

 

 

The more time we work and live here, and the more we experience the effects of sin in the world, the more grateful I am for the gospel and for a sovereign God who knows what He is doing. We have lost several friends and parents of friends in the past couple of months. May God help us all to see life for what it is, a short journey of seeking obedience to God as we await eternity with Him in Heaven. For those without hope after death, think about it and read 1 Corinthians 15.