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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Dedication & Inauguration Preparation 

Last weekend was an important day for the youngest Melo da Silva as baby Stephanie was dedicated to the Lord.

 

 

It was important to us to do this as it shows our desire to bring up Stephanie in the ways of the Lord. It is not a baptism and doing this doesn’t mean she is automatically a Christian, but it shows that, with God’s help, and the help of His church, we will seek to honour the Lord as we look after her and teach her. No tall order! It was lovely to have our small group at the front with us and two of the Pastors, Nahur and Marcelo, involved in that part of the service.

It has been a particularly busy 2 weeks as we set 16th September as the date for the official inauguration of the Instituto Engrenar. We are opening the workshop from 3-6pm for folk to drop in and see the workshop and the type of work we are doing, and holding a service at 7.30pm, all with live music, snacks and fun. Daniel and his team have been busy making items (table and chairs, shelves, tables etc) to show off their capabilities as well as completing finishing touches to the workshop. Behind the scenes, we have been sorting paperwork and spreading the word about the event. We have been inviting everyone who has been involved, from folk who work at construction shops, to neighbours, churches and the recovery houses. Please pray for this day if you are a praying person.

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Invitation to the Inauguration

There were 2 holiday days here this past weekend for Brazilian Independence Day and it was Sao Luis’ 405th birthday. We spent Friday at the sitio (weekend house in the countryside) of a friend from church which included a barbecue and pool for Antonio. Antonio and Daniel enjoyed a funfair in the evening with friends.

 

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A proud big brother moment

I will be posting some pics on Facebook this week of what to expect at the Inauguration so look out for that.

Have a good week!

Wedding Bells

Last weekend, we enjoyed being part of a group wedding at the church. The church hosts these ‘community wedding’ every so often for various reasons. The basic premise is various couples all  get married at the same time in one service. People often opt for this kind of wedding when they have perhaps been living as man and wife for some time, but never been legally married, or perhaps they have only ever had a civil wedding but would like a religious ceremony, or it can obviously be a cost saver too. Whatever the motive, people put on their best clothes and get ready for the celebration. Decoration is a big deal here and the church was looking lovely. The wedding was due to start at 7pm (weddings are always at night here, when the temperature drops. Only mad folk from Scotland like to float the boat and do the opposite) but in actual fact began around 9pm- no surprises there. One of the reasons for the delay was not even the 7 brides arriving late, but rather the organisation of the mammoth procession as the bridal party came into the church.

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We had  the privilege of being ‘padrinhos’ for Daniel’s sister who was getting married. She was married in a registry office years ago but never in a church. Padrinhos are the couple the bride and goom choose to be part of the day. They don’t have bridesmaids and groomsmen as such here, but rather couples are chosen. Also in the line up, which was beginning to look like the welcoming of each country at an Olympic opening ceremony, is the arrival of the groom, who enters with his mum, or a female from the family to represent his mum, the flower girl, and the bride herself who enters with her dad, or another man from the family. Leonilia chose her nephew, Márcio.

Once everyone was semi-organised, the proceedings began. The rest of the ceremony is fairly typical, with songs, a message from the Pastor, the vows, the signing of the register, and, here, the Pastor does a ‘wine ceremony’. To be honest, I didn’t really understand what it was all about at my own wedding, but it makes a bit more sense now. Essentially there are 2 cups which represent the lives of the couple. They are poured together and can no longer be separated. The wine represents spiritual food so the wine is then consumed by the couple. There was a small reception afterwards with cake and lots of photographs.

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Stephanie’s first wedding

Daniel’s family chipped in so that Leonilia and Zé Carlos could have a night in a hotel afterwards as they never had a honeymoon the first time around and never have much time to relax. Despite the groom being unsure of the idea, he was persuaded and they were very grateful for the gift!

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There were more celebrations on Sunday evening as the church celebrated 25 years of the women’s prayer group. There were songs, testimonies and many thank yous for the faithful perseverence of the group of ladies who have blessed many people over the years with prayer, visits and practical help. Daniel told me there is a lady from the group who has been praying for him for decades now. What a lovely thing!

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Over at the workshop, the growing team has been busy beavering away as they simultaneously learn and make. The young boys who come along for the day are going strong. We weren’t sure if they would really stick it out but so far, so good. The boys go to a public school which hasn’t been functioning for 3 months. It seems the teachers are on strike…or something. As I have said before, the public education system is pretty poor and teachers regularly don’t pitch up. PE lessons are taught in a classroom and there is little or no practical element to any subject. Pupils end up being very far behind with their coursework which later affects their progression to further education. It’s a sorry state of affairs, which is maybe no surprise why these boys want to do something with their time. The  team made a security gate this week, with the help of Pedro.

It was encouraging to see Raílson, from the recovery house, teaching the young boys what he has learned. Raílson is doing very well. He is diligent, quick to learn and shows great attention to detail.

Daniel took the boys out this week for something to eat too, just to relax a bit. Speaking of relaxing…

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Cousins Vitoria and Ana Raquel share a story with Stephanie
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Antonio and Ana Raquel got too comfy in the Brazilian B and Q

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As always, we love to hear from everyone so please feel free to drop us a line or arrange a skype even. I might not always reply right quickly, but I will try!

 

New Trainees & More Fabrications

A couple of Saturdays ago, a lady approached us at the workshop with her son asking if he could sign up for the mechanics course.  We are not quite at  the stage of providing national recognised qualifications (though we are working on it behind the scenes with the help of some friends!) but, nevertheless, this young boy of 16 was keen to have  an opportunity to learn something useful. We are finding more and more parents who are keen to keep their kids busy in this way. With a 3 year old, I can relate to wanting to keep energetic boys in the right kind of busyness! But here, we can see the danger as children grow into teens and are all too easily strayed away from the straight and narrow and enter into the world of general nothingness, unemployment, drinking, sex, drugs and, in some cases, crime.

Junior has been coming every morning to learn with Daniel and Railson and is proving his commitment and desire to learn. He joins the bible study too.  We don’t believe he is a Christian but he is having the opportunity to hear the Word.

More and more folks in the local community are taking notice of what is happening at Instituto Engrenar and there are now two other boys also coming along to spend the day with Daniel. These boys’ story is interesting because they come from a family who have practised candomblé (a religion based on witchcraft) for many years. It is dark scary stuff (think drinking blood, worshipping animals at its more extreme) but encouragingly, these boys used to go along to an evangelistic kids’ club in the area that was run by Daniel’s family. They both have heard the truth of the bible, and apparently their behaviour was less than perfect at the club but we know God uses the foolish things of this world to shame the wise (1 Corinthians 1:27). When the boys’ gran was dying a couple of years ago, on her death bed she said she didn’t want her family to follow the same path that she did as it only brought her misery. She wanted her family to close the ‘worship’ centre that she held in her house. What an opportunity to have these boys around for the day.

Daniel and Railson have been finishing off a few jobs in the workshop, including some much needed storage for tools! They have also made 2 pedastools for a community wedding at the church this weekend. I will say more about the wedding in the next post. Daniel also made a basketball hoop for a special customer…Antonio. A plastic basketball hoop here costs in the region of R$80-100, that £20-25. Daniel made it for much less, showed Raislon how to do it, and now it can be something that we can make for others who probably couldn’t afford one in the shops. The boys will even fit it for free!

We contiue to work on the legal side of thing for the project to be officially recognised and we are planning a meeting with the leadership team next month, followed by the official inauguration. There is lots to be done between now and then! The English classes will start the following week after the offical opening. Preparations are going well and I am looking forward to the challenge.

A few pics of the kids..and signing off.