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.

JeR
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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

Painting Party & Father’s Day Celebrations

Last weekend was really  encouraging as we invited folks to come and help paint the workshop, with a traditional Brazilian feijoada lunch as a thank you! We were thankful to have plenty of people involved from the church, recovery house, family and even the neighbours. It never ceases to impress me the way people just muck in here and don’t expect anything in return. It is somewhat to do with the fact that people here understand what it is not to have much in the way of material possessions, so when one is in need, the community steps in. People offered to donate and make food, others brought fruit and fresh juice without being asked, others put in hours of physical hard work, and all of it done with smiling faces and great camaraderie. 

The workshop was transformed in a few hours and now looks much more like the finished article. During the week Daniel and our trainee, Railson, painted the banister, the front gate and other details inside, as well as continued to weld items for the workshop as practice, such as stands for tools.

Antonio has had a cold this week but still managed to pop out to our friend, Cosme’s, birthday celebration and a trip to Tracoá, which is a nature reserve with a playpark and restaurant. There aren’t many places like that here and we enjoyed it so much we’ve been twice in week as we returned yesterday (Sunday) with Daniel’s mum.

Yesterday was Father’s Day here and, like Mother’s Day, it’s an important celebration. Schools and churches often put on events. Brazilians are big on cheese (not the edible kind) and it was sweet (and quite amusing!) to see lot of Dads and kids wearing matching t-shirts yesterday with slogans like ‘First time Daddy’ or ‘My Daddy, My Hero’ and often with printed photos. Antonio’s school organised a presentation for the Dads, some food and a mini football tournament. The church also followed the theme with kids singing at the front, a special message and momentos for all the Dads.

Onwards now to another week of work in the heat of Sao Luis. Our theme at small group on Friday night was resting in God, which does not always come naturally to me (Linsey) so it was a good study for me to prepare. Here’s my verse for the week-

Philippians 4:6
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

and in Portuguese for those who wish to practice their language skills!

Filipenses 4:6
Não andem ansiosos por coisa alguma, mas em tudo, pela oração e súplicas, e com ação de graças, apresentem seus pedidos a Deus.

Signing off for now!

Multicultural Melting Pot with One Thing in Common

What could possibly unite Indian tribes, Haitians, the urban poor and upper class of São Luís and even a couple of Brits? It can only be the name of Jesus Christ. All of the above people groups, and more, joined together at the church’s missionary conference this month. There were talks and worship sessions over 5 days. We enjoyed meeting new people, hearing how the gospel is changing lives in many places and especially singing “How Great Thou Art” and “How Great is our God” in Portuguese, English and Guajajaras (language belonging to the tribe of the same name). A touching moment was when Pastor Sergio from our church announced the Sunday School had collected an offering for the youngest missionary. We were surprised to hear him call our Stephanie (at 6 weeks old)  to the front to receive the gift!

Obviously a conference like this costs money and the church did a few fundraising events to help with the costs, including a football tournament which was right up Daniel’s street.

Instituto Engrenar continues to move forwards with pace. We have another recruit with us from the “Casa de Davi” recovery house. Raílson has been a welcome volunteer with a great apt for welding, learning the bible and pitching in all round.

It’s always challenging to consider the perceptions and judgements we wrongly make of people. Ever since I first met some street kids at a drop in centre here, I was impressed by how polite and respectful they were (Mez probably had taught and warned them well, but even so!). All of the guys I meet from the recovery house are helpful, mannerly and friendly with the kids and I. They don’t hesitate to come over and carry bags or the car seat for me, are inquisitive about Scotland, play football with Antonio and get on just fine in day to day situations; the sad problem is just their vice. Drugs and alcohol destroy lives so easily, and often subtly, but we hope we can give guys like Raílson a second chance.

Raílson helped Daniel to make a table for the workshop and has helped both he and Pedro to make gates for another client and an extension to Daniel’s sister’s snack bar.

The workshop now has a staircase, has better access at the front with a proper pavement, and on Saturday we’ll have a group of people coming to paint.

We celebrated 7 years of marriage on 17th July with pizza with all the family! Our family has grown a bit over these years…

Thanks all- more news soon.

Rules for Driving in Brazil

Driving in any foreign country can be an adventure and it can often feel like you have to drive by the seat of your pants in Sao Luis! Having passed the time limit of when I (Linsey)  could use my foreign licence, we finally managed to get hold of my Brazilian driving licence and I now am fully aware of the highway code in this country. Low and behold, it´s not too dissimilar to the UK. The problem here is a lack of enforcement of those rules, which leads me to my own take on the alternative rules for driving in Sao Luis….

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  1. Overtake whenever possible
  2. Do not take red lights literally, go on through whenever it´s roughly safe
  3. Honk at road users as soon as red lights change to green (the driver in front is likely on his phone anyway so it´s good to let him know the lights have changed)
  4. Beware of dimly lit roads at night: speed bumps, holes i.e. craters in the road, cyclists, pedestrians and perhaps the odd alligator, make for unfortunate hazards
  5. When on a motorbike, be sure to zip along in any lane you like in ridiculous high speeds. Ideally wear a helmet and covered shoes (no flip flops); it is the law afterall.
  6. Use indicators minimally (it´s more exciting to randomly pull over or turn a corner without warning to other road users)
  7. If you do not have a car and need to do the nursery or school run, a motorbike will suffice. 2 children can easily, if not safely, be taken on a motorbike with 2 adults. Ideally tell everyone to hold on if they are the right age to do so
  8. In the unfortunate event that you are stopped by the police for something, talk sweetly to them and they may well let you off for any infringement, or, in addition, they will usually accept a bribe
  9. If you´re looking for an adventure, follow road signs and look for street names. These often don´t exist or are incorrect, so you can find yourself on a mystery tour
  10. Amidst the general lack of pavements, pedestrians and prams share the road with bicycles, donkey carts and motorised vehicles, so be sure to use your horn to alert all of the above to get out of your way

In order for me to obtain my Brazilian driving licence I, fortunately, did not have to take the full practical test here, but I did need to go through the process of converting my UK licence. It was fairly straightforward, if a bit of a time waster.

  • Translate UK licence with an official state recognised translator
  • Head to the Department for Transport with that translation, along with copies of a whole host documents like my visa and proof of address
  • Have fingerprints and photo taken
  • Carry out medical exam and psychological tests (!) in a specific medical test centre
  • Sit a theory test or do a theory update course at a driving school for a week (I opted for the latter as the thought of learning the Portuguese terminology for driving at 9 months pregnant was a little daunting!)
  • Pay the fees for all this

So, off I went to driving school and doing the course was an experience in itself. Those trying to obtain their licence for the first time have to do attend 15 lessons and fingerprints are taken at the start and end of the lesson to ensure attendance. Ironically, folk sometimes pitch up at the start and at the end just to have their prints taken and don´t sit in on the lesson. I know I always rant about corruption, but just another wee example: when we looked into test centres, one told me that it was not necessary for me to actually go to the classes. I could just pay the fee and give them my fingerprints. Now that was a tempting offer as I was getting uncomfortable close to due date and had plenty other things to do but, as Christians, we had to decline. Rules are rules afterall. The centre I went to were very helpful, and even on the morning their system crashed, our prints coudn´t be collected and the lesson was cancelled, the staff allowed me to come to the class in the evening so that I could finish the required number of classes in the same week. Ah, the good and bad in Brazil. The systems are flawed to say the least, but the people make up for it!

Driving, on the whole, is actually fine here, but it certainly keeps you on your toes and you really need eyes on the back of your head.