Apologies for the delay in being in touch. We have moved house in the last week and haven’t had any internet. Here’s a bumper blog update to make up for it and keep you in the picture! We are really pleased to be living in a house now with a bit more space and being closer to the main ministry we’re starting. The area is safe (as safe as safe gets here anyway) and it’s just across from a 5-a-side football pitch which is handy!
There are cars and trucks with huge speakers driving all over the town playing loud jingles and messages. The TV is full of adverts of people shaking hands with children and making promises to improve the city. Our postbox is full of flyers with photos of people with cheesy grins. It can only mean one thing. It’s election time in Sao Luis.
If you’re a regular reader, you will be used to hearing about the corruption in Brazil. Election time is just another example of this. Candidates employ people to do their promotion and bribe others to vote for them by promising money to the voters. Candidates also seek out the biggest churches and ask if they can speak at the front as they know the ‘church vote’ is vital. Voting should all be anonymous but isn’t. The irony of this is that, if you don’t vote, you have to pay a fine and your name is not cleared, making it difficult for you to obtain certain rights such as to apply for a passport. We can assure you from personal experience that paying the charge for not voting is another bureaucratic process for the sake of a £1 fine, that is, of course, unless the security guard recognises you as “that guy who lives in Scotland” and stamps your papers and lets you go without you paying the fine or waiting in the queue.
It has been said before that those who go into Politics here with good intentions either become corrupt along the way, or are forced out of the picture. A family in Sao Luis called the Sarney family have maintained power and control over this city, and in fact the state, for over 40 years. The daughter, Roseana has maintained various political positions, including Senator. On one occasion, one of her fellow election candidates was proved to have committed fraud so he was out of the picture. On other occasions, candidates have been involved in mysterious tragic accidents. Someone else has managed to take her role and survived to tell the tale thus far, but her father, José Sarney happens to hold power at national level so everyone knows who really calls the shots. This family are super rich, as are most Politicians here. Maranhao state is a laughing stalk in Brazil and yet the rest of the country doesn’t seem to care or be able to do anything. Please pray for this situation.
The past week or so has been full of ups and downs. As one pastor was saying to us recently, making children is not difficult, looking after them is where the work begins, and so it is in the Christian faith. There are many here who want to know Jesus but the depth of discipleship is often weak, even amongst people who have spent years in the church. Even in the short time we have been here (3 months), we have seen new Christians fall into serious sin, we have heard of several cases of pastors and pastor’s wives committing adultery, we have seen marriages breaking up and coming close to it and that’s just what we’ve seen. Our work here is not one with quick-results but we hope for lasting change in the lives of those we are trying to impact.
We have really enjoyed being part of the local group who are trying to reach out to the neighbours. It is interesting working with a mix of denominations and seeing the different take on evangelism. For some, it is a case of handing in a leaflet and the work is done and for others, we are trying to suggest that sharing our lives, offering practical help and spending time with people is what is required.
Our main ministry is continuing with steady progress. We are encouraged to have had a bit more help recently from a few old friends which is great. Daniel’s friend, Rafael, has helping with the practical work and taking part in the bible studies and visiting contacts in the community. Another friend, Cláudio is a civil engineer and he has been helping with the workshop site.
We enjoyed being part of the missionary conference at the Primeira Igreja last weekend. As well as teaching on worship, we heard reports from various missionaries. It was really interesting to hear about local missionary work in Sao Luis in needy areas through our friends Fernando and Otacelia, work in Haiti (the church has a missionary there who came with her American pastor and another American couple who work with them) as well as work in this state with indigenous tribes. It is amazing to think that we are only 8 hours by car from tribes which have only heard the gospel in the past few decades. We heard about the work with the Guajajaras and Canela tribes. The Guajajaras people already have their own indigenous pastor and gospel workers. It was encouraging to see the importance the missionaries were putting on training local people who have much easier access to the tribal people than outsiders (it made me think of the work of 20schemes in Scotland!). The Guajajaras people have been translating bible study material recently. This tribe only had the whole bible translated 7 years ago by an American missionary. The Canela tribe is less reached and it was fascinating to hear the difficulties in reaching these people. They tend to take everything literally so, for example, when the Christians talk about the city of God, the tribal people would ask, “have you been there? What’s it like?” We were told that the Chief has left his tent to ask the Christians questions on many occasions which is a big deal. It was encouraging, too, to see the perseverance of some of the new Christians who, often are the only ones in their family to accept Christ.
Last night we also visited another church to present the project. We really enjoyed visiting this little church. The link was another American missionary, Carol, who lives near one of our friends and she spoke to her pastor to invite us to share our vision. It was an encouraging evening and we realised we have lots of connections to Carol and the church so we hope to visit again soon.
Anyone fancy some coconut water? We’ve put Antonio to work to bring in an income for himself…it was about time.
Over and out for now!