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One of the exciting things about working full-time in Christian ministry is that no two weeks are ever the same. One week’s frustrations are quickly made up for with many encouragements are new opportunities to serve the people of this needy city. If you are short on time to read on, the highlights are good progress on the interior and electrics for the workshop, a chance to showcase the practical side of the project at the church with the help of a new recruit from a recovery house and one Scottish Brazilian turns 3.
We managed to find some good builders to do the plastering inside the workshop. Daniel “happened” to drive passed a builder his Dad used to contract years ago and asked him to have a look at the workshop. Betinho and his assistant have been working for around 10 days now and, like all people we have contracted or asked to Bebê involved in some way, have agreed to take part in the morning devotionals (short bible study) before the day’s work begins. Interesting conversations are always had and we pray for these guys that they might be considering the big questions of life as they go about their work.
Daniel also managed to arrange for two men from the church to do the electrics. Don’t worry, they are qualified electricians! Geomar and Luís Carlos are part of the men’s prayer ministry and were just waiting in the wings for when we were ready for them to help.
Geomar went with Daniel to buy the materials and, as is the norm, to see if the shop would let them share a little about the project. The attendant serving them “happened” to be from São Bernardo, the needy area where the workshop is located, and the owner of the shop, which is the size of a B and Q in the UK, “happened” to be nearby at the time they were all chatting and heard all about the project. It’s quite impressive that the employees listened to Daniel’s presentation for some time, thanked him for sharing, and eventually gave the project a pretty generous discount. As Daniel shared with our small group afterwards, the point wasn’t the value but the fact that they listened, heard something of the gospel and cared enough to act.
While the work carries on at the workshop, Daniel has been pleased to lend his services to the church who are building an extension on to a sheltered area at the front of the building to provide more shade and protection from the tropical rain when it comes. He is working with loyal friend of the project, Pedro, and our newest recruit Jean. Jean has been in and out of recovery houses a few times but has been recently been doing well at the Casa de Davi recovery house. His leader put him forward for this opportunity to train with us to see how he gets on with some responsibility. So far, all is going well with him.
On 28th May, Antonio turned 3 years old, which is rather frightening. He celebrated with a simple get together at his auntie, Tia Lu´s, house. Tia Janete, another of Daniel´s sister´s made the cake, cousins decorated the terrace, and umpteen folk brought gifts, which is so generous, especially as toys can be pricey here. Although Antonio, wasn´t too keen to join in the party games, he was chuffed with his presents and enjoyed himself.
After the candles were blown out with his aunties
With Tia Mara (his teacher at school and friend of the family)
Pleased with his new t-shirt and a fire tank
Antonio has progressed well in Brazil, and we´re proud of how far he has come. He struggled at the start in some ways, more socially than anything else, but he is progressing and now is finding it much easier to find common ground with folk. We are grateful for his good health, his nursery school and his massive leaps in understanding and speaking Portuguese over the time we have been here. It is coming up to a year already!
Here are a few pics below of a recent afternoon off.
The expression says it all
The Island of Love (a title given to Sao Luis based on the number of poets from here- I say the name fits!)
Daddy and Antonio
Antonio running riot on this pier- enjoying the last few outings as an only child
Last Sunday morning, we visited the Sunday morning bible school at El Shadday church with Pastor Frank, an old friend of Daniel and Mez’s. We had been meaning to visit this church again and hadn´t quite managed it so we squeezed in a visit before I explode, that is to say, before baby number 2 arrives.
The choir sang some impressive pieces
Antonio joined the kids´class
I (Linsey) went back to driving school last week too, an interesting experience which I will post on separately. It is all part of the process to take out a Brazilian licence. Hopefully all is sorted now and my licence should arrive in the post without having to do the practical test…but it probably takes one more visit to the Department of Transport to be sure.
The past few weeks have been the usual crazy busy, and full of ups and downs, encouragements and challenges, but we stand firm and know that God has brought us here for a purpose, more than one actually.
The latest stage of the building work at the workshop was just about completed before the builders decided that they had spent enough time on this job and essentially headed off to do another. It´s normal here. If you thought there were a lot of cowboy builders in the UK, then it´s triple scale in Northeast Brazil. Just a minor frustration to find a reliable person to complete the rest….
Amidst the hunt for another builder, Daniel has been taking a bit of time to get various other jobs done and look at the best way forward. The basics now exist at the workshop and we are keen to keep giving opportunities to the guys from the recovery houses to get cracking on learning some skills. The finer details of the interior of the workshop can be completed along the way.
It was encouraging to meet a man who is the brother of one of our church members. He used to be a missionary in Sao Paulo and has worked with those struggling for freedom from substance abuse. Adailton has been back in Sao Luis with his family for a while and has been helping at his sister´s church in youth ministry, while using his own practical skills. These include making free-standing shelters and various structures (like the coverings you see at car parks to provide shade for cars). His line of work and experience certainly match up with our project and we are keen to spend more time with him to get to know him better and see how we can link up.
Encouraging progress has also been made on the legal side of the project. We started this process months ago and struggled to find someone with the knowledge and ability to help us move forward but we are delighted that another church member happens to be a lawyer and recommended his lawyer nephew who specializes in Third Sector community projects and the bureaucracy that surrounds this. We have met Diego a few times now and he has been extremely helpful going through the options available and offering a very reasonable price to sort the registration of “Instituto Engrenar” so that we can be officially recognized by local government. It will take a bit of paperwork but, in theory, shouldn´t be too traumatic.
There have been several admin type jobs to get on with too. I may have mentioned in a previous blog that we invested in a trailer for the project as we (i.e. Daniel) has had to transport a lot of big items and material and it was becoming essential. Daniel had to finish transferring the ownership officially to his name (which only involves a few trips to the registry office and the Department for Transport). There was also the business of taking out my Brazilian driving licence, another longish process, which is fairly straightforward if you have all of the information, but sometimes it is revealed to you in stages, just to keep you on your toes. We have now been to the Department for Transport about 5 times in recent months on this account alone, as well as into the city centre to a random back street to do a medical and psychological exam (not quite sure how I passed the latter). Then we were told I do need to do a refreshers´course on the transport laws in Brazil. This seems a little ironic as it often feels like traffic laws don´t exist here but it shall be interesting learning what is supposed to happen.
We also got round to getting hold of Antonio´s Brazilian birth certificate so he can now have a Brazilian passport if he likes. Routine medical checks have also been on the agenda. People here say if you have a doctor´s appointment scheduled, don´t plan to do anything else for the rest of the morning or afternoon. Appointments are usually between a given time, say 1pm and 4pm, and the doctor will see everyone on a first come, first served basis. It is usually a time consuming process and I will never again
moan about a 20 or 30 minute wait on the NHS to see the midwife. Midwives don’t really exist here and it´s usually a 2-3 hour wait to see the gynecologist doctor who is doing my ante-natal care. It´s the way it is here, and I am grateful for the care I am getting, but I do feel saddened that the poor service provision is the norm here. It feels like it could be such more efficient, even with a lack of resources.
All of these jobs, and many, many more I won´t bore you with, take a lot of time and Daniel has had to take time out of the project to help me with things that are tricky to resolve by myself. It is tiring for him to be dealing with so many things and we continue to pray for the right people to be involved with the project on a more regular basis to help share the load.
Our small group continues to meet weekly, now on a Friday night, which suited folk better than a Wednesday. There is a real mix of maturity and experience in our group and we need much wisdom as we try to give opportunity for all to learn and contribute.
We continue to be busy at church and there have been several celebrations in the past 2 weeks, including the Senior Pastor´s 65th birthday and Mother´s Day, which is a big deal in this culture. The Sunday School prepared a presentation for all the mums. We heard a special bible message and all the mums got a wee present at the end.
Antonio´s school also had a special presentation for the mums and we were invited to buy a souvenir t-shirt with your child´s handprints on it. It is super cheesy but I went in for it anyway. Daniel´s family celebrated mother´s day with a big lunch at home and gifts for Daniel´s mum.
Mums were presented with a gift at church
Antonio was dressed up for his class´s performance
Dona Arlete was happy with her gifts
Mother´s Day involved lots of food
There is never a shortage of celebrations here in Brazil. A new kind of celebration here is to have a party for every month of a new baby´s life and invite family to come round and eat cake and snacks. People sing happy birthday and there may well be decorations. My initial thought was that it was a bit over the top to do this but I realized that part of the reason is for the guests to bring presents, such as nappies, which are expensive here. We enjoyed popping along to Daniel´s nephew´s son´s 7 month party. It´s a way of bringing the family together and eating food so everyone´s a winner, especially baby Benjamim.
We also organized a baby shower for baby number 2 who is due within a few weeks. I dithered with the idea of doing this, but we decided it was a good way to get everyone together and allow folks to contribute to the many things needed when having a baby. Family, our small group and other friends from church all pitched in to help with food, decorations, favours, and just a few un-embarrassing games. It was still a mad dash to organize things but we got there in the end and I was very grateful to all those who helped and brought gift.
The Pastor´s birthday was this week and the whole of last Sunday´s service was effectively a thanksgiving service for his life. Pastor Nahor and his wife Noemia are humble people and we cannot fault their work effort and commitment to the life of the church. It seems that it has been several years since the couple had a proper holiday and the church presented them with tickets for a surprise week away. Apparently it was the only way to ensure Pastor Nahor took time off!
The birthday boy
A presentation for Pr Nahor from the junior brigadiers
We managed to access the live link to services at Niddrie Community Church, our home church, and it was great to tune in on Sunday.
We are ever grateful for the support from folks back home and regular Skype chats, emails and messages, as well as the financial and prayer support we literally couldn´t live without. My mum is a hero for sending specific items that are either pricey or don´t exist here!
Please continue to pray for us in the busyness and ups and downs of life here. Pray, too, for a safe and speedy arrival of baby number 2 in due course. More posts coming soon!
Last Saturday saw the first ever official event at the home of Instituto Engrenar: a second hand sale and mini fun day. We decided to organise this event for the community to come in and see the structure properly and hear a bit about its purpose, especially with regard to our Christian witness. A second-hand sale, or “Bazar”, as it can be called here, is a useful event for the immediate community as the area is quite needy and we hoped this could be something practical. We sold snacks and drinks and offered a trampoline for the kids.
It was a mad dash in the run-up to the day, as the men who have been building the walls and the second floor of the workshop were working right up until after 5pm on Friday and we were due to open at 9am on Saturday, having cleaned the site and made it look presentable and having hosted our small group on Friday evening(!). The help we received from family, small group and wider church family was simply indispensable and actually quite humbling. Folks had already come round to our house on the Wednesday night to price the items we had gathered to sell. We ended up with plenty of donations of items which was excellent. Some even donated new items for us to sell. The church kindly lent us clothes rails and hangers so the project’s trailer, as well as our huge suitcases from Scotland, came in handy for transporting all of the stuff around.
We also figured it was a good time to get some t-shirts made with the project logo on them. They go well with the work uniforms which are ready too.
Having delivered flyers during the week, and driven round the immediate streets with music playing and a microphone to tell people what was happening, the punters were soon due to arrive.
Family and friends were setting up from 6am on Saturday, and an impressive effort from everyone creatively displaying items, allowed us to be ready just about on time. Our Pastor here, Pastor Nahor, kindly came along to share a message from the bible at the start and prayed for the work of the project. Some people were called on to set up the speakers for music, others sang and played instruments, or served on the till or helped watch the kids, who also collaborated by playing away and allowing us parents to be busy!
There was a stready stream of people coming in all day and we couldn’t quite believe it when we were told we made R$400 by lunchtime. By the end of the day, we made over R$1200, with which we were really delighted, and importantly, we were able to spend time chatting to folk about the workshop. The atmosphere was really positive and enjoyable. We had some clothes leftover so are already planning the next Bazar and how we could improve.
The workshop is nearing completion, for at least the main structure. Daniel was needed to weld the beam for the second floor.
After a long day on Saturday (there was a church prayer meeting on until late on Saturday that Daniel also went to), Sunday was a day to relax at the beach and enjoy church.
We continue to be very grateful for the ways in which God is providing for us and this ministry. Thank you to all who are making this possible.
There has been so much happening and many highlights over the last week or so that I think sharing the photos will say everything much more succinctly than my rambling.
It was great to celebrate Easter here in Brazil and see the type of things that take place. The celebrations started at Antonio’s school before they broke up for a short break. (Most places just take Good Friday off here.) During Holy Week, the kids learned about the Last Supper and had a special snack of bread and grape juice! On Thursday every class performed something for parents. Antonio and his nursery school age accomplices sang, danced and, in Antonio’s case, jumped to an Easter song. The school is based on Christian philosophy but, even so, I was impressed by the importance placed on the true Easter story. The freedom to talk about God and the bible is a great benefit to living in Brazil, but as the Easter performances were taking place, one of the harder realities was also visible. On arriving at the school, armed policeman were casually walking along the road the school is on, wearing their bulletproof vests and very visibly carrying their rifles. Several police helicopters flew overhead as the police closed in on a local criminal. Fortunately, it didn’t take away from the show.
Antonio was dressed up and definitely one of the most enthusiastic performers
The military police circled over the school car park during the show
On Good Friday all the family got together for lunch, the rain sadly started in the middle of food but it dampen the spirits! The church put on a superb performance of the Easter story at two packed services on Easter Sunday.
Jesus on the cross. Antonio still asks questions about it. The actor was very good!
Good Friday lunch pre-tropical rain shower
On Easter Sunday it was an encouragement to bump into Adriano (above) at church. He spent many years on the streets and in out of recovery houses and Daniel has had contact with him over many years. Daniel has seen Adriano at his worst, appearing on his doorstep literally beaten to a pulp by dealers and unrecognisable, as well as at better times while living in J.Lima recovering from illness, only to return to the streets months later. However, today he is training with JOCUM (YWAM in English, or Youth with a Mission) and certainly looked well and was optimistic about the future. We pray he’ll remain firm this time and not be tempted by the draws of street life and drugs.
It was the “Dia do Índio” or Indian Day on 19th April and there were many children leaving schools and nurseries dressed up as indigenous people. Antonio was in his element and the headdress is still requested every so often!
A wee Indian poses in the school garden
Antonio and his cousin Ana Raquel
In terms of the project, it is great to see the outer walls nearly finished and the interior taking shape.
The walls and bathroom area take shale
Side view of the exterior
Daniel welds the supporting beam for the mezzanine level
Daniel has had no end of hard work picking up materials in the trailer we invested in for the project and making sure everything is running smoothly with the builders we are using for this part of the work. But things are moving at pace and it is a race against time for the area to be looking presentable for a second-hand sale and mini fun day we are organising for Saturday. The idea is to let the community see what we doing (lots of people think the building is going to be a church or even five-a-side indoor football pitch) and share the purpose of it all while raising some funds for the project and having fun. We have received many donations of clothes and items and have already got a team of helpers, both for which we are very grateful.
Daniel also had the privilege and challenge of preaching at the Primeira Igreja last Sunday. The message on being an ‘Authentic Christian’ was well received and we trust God was speaking through his word.
I’m sure there is more for me to share but I’ll call it a day for now. Thanks for your interest and support, as always.
The Olympics, the World Cup, a booming economy….only a few years ago Brazil was emerging as a big player on the global market. However, it’s rapid growth decelerated in 2013 and the nation continues to experience political and economic crisis. This South American country is less of a Pacific Puma (a name given to the growing economies of Mexico, Chile, Peru and Columbia), and more an injured Amazonian parrot.
So what went wrong? And how is it affecting the people? Can Christians in Brazil do anything about it?
The rising itself has caused a leap in inflation and a crash in the housing market but I am prepared to suggest the problems largely stem from a deeply embedded web of corruption which permeates each and every aspect of life in this country. Brazil is the 4th most corrupt country in the world (behind Chad, Bolivia and Venezuela) according to the World Economic Forum. The news here is full of stories day in day out day about corruption and fraud. Economists estimate that corruption costs the Brazilian economy 100 billion Brazilian reais (£2.5 billion) every year. The well reported scandal surrounding the public owned petroleum company, Petrobras, was just the tip of the iceberg, yet an uncovering which sparked the economic collapse. An investigation into black market money changers and price-fixing led to the doors of politicians and executives of two dozen engineering firms. Ultimately, President Dilma Rousseff faced impeachment in 2016 and the arrests and the Federal Police’s investigations into all manner of fraud and corruption continue. (The police probably need just as much investigating themselves but that’s an issue for another day). As much of this news came around the time of the Olympics, the world was watching closely and many foreign investors pulled the plug on their ties with Brazil.
It has been proven that corruption reinforces inequality in Brazil.
A massive disparity already exists between the richest and the poorest in Brazil and the rich continue to get richer, while the quality of life for the poor, and their disposable incomes, do not improve at the same rate. We are living and working in the poorest region of the country and here’s a few stats to demonstrate it:
The poorest municipal in Brazil is in our state, Maranhao.
4 of the poorest 5 cities Brazil are in our state, Maranhao.
Maranhao’s share of the Brazilian economy is 0.9%.
When I consider the state of affairs here in the “flagship” state capital, I can easily believe these stats. It is easy to lay blame with the politicians but, as we were hearing recently during a challenging sermon, some form of corruptionispractisednormallyherebymanypeople, sadly some Christians included. A few examples of common, every day illicit and illegal practices: driving without a licence, using water and electricity for free with homemade installations, parking in disabled spaces unnecessarily, downloading music illegally, claiming benefits when you no longer qualify (while Maria down the road then goes without and gets poorer as you get richer), paying the policeman a bribe to let you off for speeding, the list goes on.
Daniel once worked for a state-run organisation delivering pre-made hot meals to prisons in São Luís. When he started a new route, a colleague informed him of an established operation Daniel; extra hot plates were requested on the sly from the cooks and sold on to a chap on the street, before the correct number of deliveries would be made for the inmates. Daniel was told everyone who drives the route does it. He would just need to collect the money from said chap and drop off his meals. There was decent money to be made and no-one would find out, but fortunately Daniel told his colleague he couldn’t be part of that. This type of practice is everywhere. We can think of a wealthy friend of ours who had all the security measures in his house that you can imagine, and yet he was broken into. His night watchman was thought to be in on it. It can be hard to trust people in this city.
It is very disheartening that so much comes down to money and selfishness. We both managed to go to the church’s monthly prayer meeting last month, which interestingly runs 9-12pm on a Saturday. I was struck by how different the prayer points were, compared to the day to day things we would have been bringing to God back in the UK. One subject was the whole area of safety, both locally and state wide. We were asked to pray for protection for those coming to church, particularly from muggings, which are commonplace. Phones and bags are regularly pinched at knife or gunpoint across the city and can happen at any time of the day. In his lifetime, Daniel has had a bicycle stolen, a motorbike helmet and waterproofs, a decent watch and, as a young teenager, a talking watch, with which he was most enamoured. On each occasion, the thief had a weapon and threatened to use it if Daniel reacted.
I genuinely don’t worry much about safety, and of course, there are obvious things to avoid, but sometimes I am reminded that this can be a dangerous place if you’re not careful. If I drive home alone in the evenings, someone usually insists on following me in their car. I feel it’s a bit extreme, but I guess they wouldn’t insist if they didn’t feel there was risk.
At the prayer meeting, we prayed, too, for the church’s influence with the local prostitutes and the drug users who wash car windscreens for money at a big roundabout beside the church. Moreover, we prayed for politicians to take a stand for what is right and needed in this state. The member sharing these prayer points is a fireman and said that our state is improving at snail’s pace, not because of a lack of advancement projects, because he has seen many excellent plans to improve development here, but because these projects only come to fruition when someone can pocket from it. How tragic.
I like to think there is hope yet for this state but it will take a great upheaval in the political system and the church must lead by example. Christians ought to be above reproach and seeking to live honest lives which please God and not our own selfish desires or even other people. See Romans 8:1-14. Serving others without selfish ambition is such a turnaround from the landscape here and the church is in an excellent position to challenge government and step in where the market and state fail to provide what people need….cue our project. Instituto Engrenar provides practical training and hope to those recovering from substance addictions and the consequences of a lack of opportunity.
Some people believe that the crisis the country has faced is for the best, as an upheaval was truly needed. Time will tell if the government can convince its people and the world that it can be trusted. Meanwhile, there are a lot of needy people in this region who need to see the love of Christ in action.
It’s about time for an update, you may be thinking. Sorry folks, both laptops were out of action, as well as ourselves, to an extent, with really nasty colds. I (Linsey) am much better and relieved it has passed. Sinus pain is nasty, and I have a new respect for those suffering with sinusitis. Antonio and Daniel are not quite 100% yet but better than they have been.
We have much to be grateful for at the moment, not least for the progress and provision for the roof to go on the workshop and the flooring having been laid. It is amazing how God provides people from various corners to help just when we really need it. Daniel now has several buddies at the construction material shops as he is there so often. Wherever we go, he likes to explain what his material is for, with the hope of getting a discount, of course, but also to share his faith and see what the response is from the employee. He came across one chap, Junior, who is also a Christian and he offered to take a look at the building site. He stopped off one day after work and gave some very useful advice about how to put the roof tiles on and how much weight he felt the columns could support, which essentially changed our plans for the roof at the last minute. It’s not always easy to get good, honest advice and we were thankful for his input.
Once all the materials were collected with the help of a loan of a trailer from our friend, Pedro, from the church, the roof was on before the end of the day.
Daniel hurriedly collecting the sky light tile between a hospital appt for Linsey and collecting Antonio from school!
Local builders put the roof on
The roof tilee attach to the beams Daniel, Pedro and his brother, Manoel, welded.
The complete roof cover for the workshop
We we’re invited to a wedding anniversary celebration lunch for Raimundinho and Iraneide, the leaders of the recovery house we often team up with, Casa de Davi, or David’s House. We managed to arrange a day for Raimundinho to come and lay the concrete floor. He happens to be a builder, which is super providencial!
The very loud cement mixer rented for a few days
Raimundinho started the guys off, and a motley crew of various helpers did the rest! They were: Daniel (now available for all your building needs), Rafael (long-term friend from Primeira Igreja who has been involved since the start) , João (young man from Primeira Igreja who is from a tough area but has shown commitment to this work, Isaías (a builder who has been through recovery houses and and come out the other side), Manoel (Daniel’s hot-tempered welder brother who makes himself available to help when we really need it), Robson (Daniel’s nephew who pitched in when we were strapped one day), and not to forget Daniel’s teenage nephew and niece, Victor and Vitóri, who have pitched in around their schoolwork from the beginning. They might occasionally be gently encouraged by their mum, Lusione, an integral piece of this growing jigsaw herself, as she gives space in her house for our team to make and eat food, store tools, take showers etc.), but often these two willingly graft away and set an example to their peers. Praise God for so many people being willing to muck in for little or no payment. I (Linsey) often think how hard it must be for missionaries or charity workers who arrive in places without such a support network to tap into easily. We are very blessed in this respect.
Joao and Rafael filling the mixer
The family muck in
Isaias makes light work of 50kg bags of cement
The work carried on beyond sunset
Young trainees keen to play their part
In other news, our small group continues to be an encouragement as this new group get to know one another better. The group is in a different home each week. It’s helpful
that the rain has eased a little the past 2 weeks as it meant we could have the group in the houses which are less accessible due to waterlogged roads. There is no comprehensive drainage system in São Luis, apart from in the rich areas, so imagine torrential, tropical rain on a road which is not asphalted. The holes in the road, or craters, are dangerous and highly damaging for your car if you don’t or can’t spot them in time.
There are more posts and bits of news to come soon but hopefully our friends, family and supporters will be encouraged to see your support is making such a huge difference to the actual workshop which is already impacting lives for good.