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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Alpha Hit's the Streets

"Tia Jennifee, tia Jennifee!" shouts a small voice.  I look over the hot pan of beans I'm carrying from the Kombi to see little Emily running towards me, arms outstretched.  In the absence of her beloved 'tia Deanna' she seems to have taken a shine to me, and I am not complaining.
Emily (Eliete's daughter) and Ruan (Kita's son)

She's hands down adorable.

I put the pan of beans down on the blue satin cloth covering a table outside the house of another friend of ours, Kita and bend down to scoop Emily up in a big abraço (hug).  She chatters away to me about this and that and I nod but unfortunately since she's only three and I'm still learning Portuguese, she's hard to understand.  But we hang out anyway as we wait for the people we invited to attend our Alpha Na Rua (Alpha in the Street).

The tables are adorned with red and white checkered table clothes and set up right in the dusty street.  There are few cars in this neighbourhood so blocking off one area is not a problem.

The sun is starting to set at it's usual time, life near the equator means equal amounts of dark and light.  Unfortunately, in this neighbourhood there is more darkness than light, something we are hoping to change.

Seven o'clock comes, and as I do every week, I worry that no-one will turn up.  It's in that moment I have to remember that God will call those who he's working on, it's not a worry I need to have.  But, as it also happens every week the minute we lift the lids off the pans and start to serve the food, our guests arrive and soon our tables are over-flowing with people and children, and the bubble of conversation mixes with the chirping crickets, barking dogs and cicadas still buzzing in the night heat.

By doing this on the street, we hope to remove some of the barriers people have between them and 'the church'.  We've taken down the walls, invited them to our table to eat, talk and question life's biggest questions.  Alpha is a twelve week, non-denominational introduction to Christianity.  It allows people to ask questions, discuss and wrestle without judgment.

This weeks Alpha is an introduction to the Holy Spirit.  When the video ends instead of having our small group discussions, we gather everyone in a circle and pray for them.  As I'm praying for woman,  I notice a group that has gathered across the street, watching from a distance.  I ask my husband and one of our young adults to go and pray for them.  Our young adult is a bit reluctant, I'm nudging him to the edges of his comfort zone.  They offer, and only one accepts, it's the lady who lives in the house directly opposite to where we are and she has been watching every week, this week she's decided to take part.  I offer to pray for her and she accepts. After I pray her eyes are bright, and her smile is wide (the first time I've seen her smile) and she thanks me, says "I really needed that prayer".

As we finish for the night and pack up the chairs I notice, that sitting in the dark is a woman I've begun to know.  I ask our pastor's wife Monica to come with me to pray for her.  As we sit and chat with her two men who are sitting with us chat with us too.  We pray for the woman, and afterwards one of the men says something quietly, I can't hear him.  Monica asks if he would like us to pray for him.  He nods.

We rally the troops and surround him.  As the others are praying I see a picture in my head of this man in the dark, so dark he can't see the hand in front of his face.  Suddenly, there is a light so bright it illuminates everything around him, and there's path in front of him. I sense that there is some fear of this light.  I explain the image to him and tell him not to be afraid, that the light is good, the light is Jesus and he has a plan for his life.

We finish and he thanks us and heads home.  Monica asks 'Do you know what he said to me?'.
'No, I couldn't hear him' I respond.
'He said yesterday, he wanted to put a rope around his neck and kill himself', she says.

My eyes widen and I think of the image I had in my head, of him in the dark, and then in the light.  I say a silent prayer for him, I hope that something in his heart just changed, that the light is illuminating a path for him out of the darkness.
.

There's a story about a child throwing starfish who've been beached, back into the ocean and someone asks why the child is bothering, there are thousands and thousands of starfish he can't save them all.  The child picks up another starfish and puts it back into the ocean saying, 'No, but I just saved that one'.

There are thousands and thousands of starfish in our neighbourhood, we can only pick up the ones God puts in front of us and put them back in the ocean.




Here is a 3 minute video about Alpha in the streets and how you can help.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Taking Samples to the Lab-Another Adventure in Learning Portuguese

Something microscopic seems to have taken up residence in my GI tract.  Sorry, that's the cleanest way I can put that.  I   have been feeling unwell on and off and then it took a turn a few days ago.  I was advised to take some 'samples' in to a local lab to see if we can get to the bottom of it...pun intended.

My darling husband was kind enough to go pick up the containers for me but that's where his kindness ended.  Once the samples had been collected, I had to take my woozy, pale and sweaty self to the lab to drop them off.

One problem.  I forgot to look up the medical terms for the...uhhh...samples.

So here's how it went down:

I entered the clean office and the cool of the air conditioning washed over me like a welcomed rain.  I felt a little better already.  I approached the counter where two women sat and greeting them with a perfunctory, 'bom dia'.

That's when I realized I was stuck.  I had a bag, two containers with bodily fluids and no idea how to explain what they were.

I stumbled along with, 'I need to..umm...make a test...'  I stopped there hoping she would immediately know what I meant and free me of my bag and my humiliation.

I was wrong.

She blinked, smiled and said, 'what?'  

It was in that moment that I realized the only words I had for what was in the bag.

I continued, sweating a little more now even with the air conditioning, my face I'm sure had gone from a pale shade of greyish pink to a sun drenched red in seconds.

'I, um, I have to make a test....I umm...I have...' I was putting off the inevitable. I thrust the bag forward over the edge of the counter and blurted, 'Pee pee, and poo poo' in portuguese, and then giggled a little, I mean what else could I do?

I apologized and explained that I was Canadian and I was learning Portuguese.

Thankfully she returned the giggle and asked if I would like to test a stool and urine sample (those words are now indelibly imbedded on my brain).  I nodded.

She freed me of my samples and I made a hasty retreat to the Kombi.  

Hopefully the results will reveal the uninvited inhabitant and I can free myself of it and my humiliation.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

You Can Change The World By Doing This One Simple Thing


There are a lot of horrible things going on in the world right now, wars and disease, things that can make us feel like the world is falling apart and that we have no power to change it.  But I say we can change it, and it's simple.

Love people.

If we expanded the circle of people we love and would do anything for to include more than the people in our immediate family, if we truly loved our neighbours as ourselves, I think the world would be a different place.  Instead of focusing our energy, time and Facebook posts on things we can't change, I challenge us all to have the courage to change the things we do have the power to change, the things that are right in front of us.

My friend Rob Hall who died in Zambia while helping people there learn how to use a small piece of land to grow their own food used to say 'lean into the things in front of you, and there you'll find the Kingdom of God'.

The Kingdom of God IS love.

There's a reason why the second greatest commandment in the Bible is to love your neighbour as yourself…we have the potential to change the world, we just need to tap into it.

It's a well known fact that the power of love is the greatest force known to man and each and every one of us has it living inside of us.

So, I challenge you, in the days and weeks to come.  Open your eyes to the things around you, look for ways to love your neighbours, and by neighbours I mean anyone in front of you.  Maybe the elderly lady at the grocery store needs help with her bags.  The single Mom who lives next door, offer to babysit (for free) so she can have a much needed night off.  There is more than enough need and more than enough love we just have to be willing to see and do.

I think you'll be blown away how simple acts of kindness to others will not only shine a light in their lives but in yours too.
-- 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Aliens In The Grocery Store

Normally, I shop for our food alone.  Just little old me, silently and swiftly moving (now that I know what to buy) around the grocery store and as far as anyone is concerned I'm just one of those 'branquinhos' or light skinned Brazilians.  I am incognito as long as no one asks me to speak.

Unless of course, my kids come with me. For those of you who know my children, they are anything but quiet.

They blow my cover every time.

As we stand at a display of school workbooks Faith is chattering away at the speed of light and I look up to see not one but five staff members hovering around the table we are near, all of them staring.  They gawk actually, mouths agape but they are quick to smile when I make eye contact and smile at them.  But it doesn't stop their eyes being fixed on the rapidly moving mouths of my children.

We get to the cash register and I speak Portuguese to the woman at the cash, but again my kids are there, making a game with the packages.  A new woman comes over to pack our groceries and Faith says, or more likely shouts, something in English and the lady packaging our groceries freezes, empty bag in one hand, package of sugar in the other.  She's looking at my daughter like she just arrived off of a space ship.

I laugh and explain that we are Canadian and that they are learning Portuguese.  Everyone smiles, but the staring continues.

It's a good thing it doesn't bother us because it happens all the time, whenever we leave the house as a family, actually.

Yesterday, three girls in the river thought we were from India.  I had a good laugh at that one.

Learning a new language is one of the hardest things I've experienced in  my forty-two years.  When you've reached this ripe age, you've been through the trials of childhood, the self-discovery of your teens and twenties, acceptance of who you are in your thirties and arrived in a place where you feel like you know who you are and what you stand for.

Take away your ability to speak and suddenly you feel like that person you've come to know is trapped in a plexiglass box.  People can see you but they can't hear you.  Your thoughts, opinions and stories all fall silent. You long to connect with other human beings at a deeper level but when all you can say is 'how are you' and 'it's hot' you're always skimming along the surface.

For an extrovert, this is a special kind of torture.

For the past three months our family has been the only English speaking family on the base here in Marabá, which has pushed us, immersed us and challenged us, but more than that it has HELPED us.

A couple of weeks ago as the sun was setting, I sat with Monica, the church's pastor.  We watched our kids paint, first on paper and then their whole bodies grunting like apes and running around the soccer field.  We swapped stories, laughed, talked about our families and things we'd learned about life in the past.

After the sun had set and our kids were scrubbing their skin pink to get the paint off,  I felt like the 'real me' was out and able to tell stories, make jokes and share my heart with another person.

It was like coming up from a deep dive and taking a big breath.

I'm far, far, FAR from fluent in this new language but I am finally feeling more and more like getting there is not impossible.



Saturday, August 2, 2014

Kombi's Maiden Voyage: From Maraba to Pacaja on the Transamazon Highway

When you think of the word highway the images that spring to mind are usually ones of long stretches of paved roads, cars flying by at breakneck speeds, several lanes with well labeled signs.  Well, throw all that out the window when you hear the term 'Transamazon Highway'.

287km of dusty, bumpy twisting road (with speed bumps of all things) stretches
between Marabá and the town of Pacaja where Xingu mission has a church plant just three years young.

Two weeks ago at the crack of dawn we piled five of our youth, backpacks and hammocks, cold water and even a puppy into our beloved Kombi and headed north west. It was an in-country mission trip to Pacaja.

There are two seasons here in northern Brazil, rainy and dusty.  We happen to be in the dusty season which is less dangerous than driving in the mud but the red powder that lays in the road inches deep flies up with every passing truck and billows in front of you like a red snow storm, making visibility impossible.  Several times Phil had to stop.

Could she be any cuter?
Six hours and one rest stop later we arrived and were well received in Pacaja.

We hit the streets to invite neighbours to the first youth service and a children's event the following day.

The pastors there fed us and took care of us while we ran the events, musical training and a few of our youth performed a skit and a dance.  It was a fantastic opportunity for our youth to be able to pay it forward to this budding young church.




Inviting neighbours

The Kombi is serving us and others well!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Are You Burned Out On Religion?

Are you tired? Worn outBurned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Matthew 11:28-30

I think a lot of people are burned out on religion.  I know I am.  The word itself makes me cringe.  Jesus didn't like religion either.

The word religion comes from the latin word religare  which means 'to bind'.

I don't know about you but the word bind doesn't sound like what Jesus is talking about in the passage above, nor does it sound like anything He said in the Bible. Ever.

'Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly…'

Hm.  Living freely and lightly?  That sounds pretty attractive doesn't it?

Last night we held the first youth Alpha.  One of our youth, Max, took Alpha last year and gave his testimony.  He said that he learned through Alpha that a relationship with Jesus, is different from religion, it's something without pressure.

Most people here are very familiar with religion-but the idea that it's possible to have a relationship with Jesus-that's new.

Alpha offers a safe and open forum for people to ask and wrestle with the questions they don't have answers for, without judgment.  We want to introduce them to the Jesus that walked the earth 2,000 years ago, the one who wants to walk alongside them in their lives today.  Alpha is an effective way to do this. It strips away the religion that can bind us and gets back to the basics of what Jesus was about.

And it wasn't about binding us up, quite the opposite.

'Get away with me and you'll recover your life'

That sounds a little more like someone who has been set free doesn't it?

There are many things that bind our neighbours, family problems, abuse, addictions, the list goes on and on.  

They carry very heavy burdens.

Thirty-two of our young people came last night.  The tables were set with purple satin cloth, the food was colourful fresh, enticing and nutritious.  The groups ate, laughed and chatted before watching the video.

Afterwards we gathered in small groups to introduce ourselves and chat about what they thought about the video.

I have been a part of the Alpha course many, many times now and I have never experienced a time where God did not move, change and transform lives.

I'm so excited to see how He will touch the hearts of our youth who need so badly to be rid of their burdens, unbound and set free.

"I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)










Sunday, June 15, 2014

Choose To Believe Anyway

Grief is a funny thing.  If you've ever lost someone close to you you'll know this.  Some days you feel just fine, others grief tumbles over you like heavy waterfall, the force of the waters threatening to pull you under.

Today in Canada it's Father's Day.  Although I think of my Dad every day, days like this are harder than others.

My brother Kevin-died June 2012
Before what I affectionately call the 'tsunami' of deaths in my life, I wondered how my faith would hold up if really put to the test.  Would I hold onto the truths I have learned or would I shake an angry fist at God and run for the hills? Questioning all I had come to believe?

I think this past year was a pretty good test of that.





Nephew Craig died Oct 2012
Best friend Rob died Dec 2012
Dad, died Nov 2013


















I have seen grief ruin people.  The crushing weight of the pain of loss is something they just can't seem to get out from under.  I have also seen people bury it so deep in their hearts that the pain comes out in different ways, against other people, or needs to be quieted with numbing effects of drugs and alcohol.  Some turn off all feelings towards others to protect themselves from being hurt again.


The truth is we will all face loss in our lives, it's how we face it that can change our lives.

I've seen Christians turn away from God when suffering comes, feeling betrayed and hurt 'Why would a God who loves me allow this to happen?' They ask.

I can't profess to have it figured out, not even close.  I only know what I've learned through the storm in my own life.

Your faith is, was and will continue to be a choice.

This means that when you don't understand why things are happening the way they do, you choose to believe anyway.
When the gripping pain of loss comes, as it inevitably will in this life, you choose to believe anyway.
When financial strain seems to crush you, you choose to believe anyway.
When nothing makes sense and you feel alone…..choose to believe anyway.

This has been my experience.  In my darkest of days, when grief threatened to drown me, I chose to believe anyway.

What happens after you choose is where the incredible gift lies.  When grief sits on my chest pushing the tears out of my eyes, there is someone there to give that pain to, to pour it out to….and incredibly, each and every time I do this, the pain lifts, I feel light and free and full of an inexplicable peace and hope.

I know the pain of grief without faith and it's a dark place, a long road, a deep hole.  I don't want to stay there.


There is a faithful God who loves you more than you can imagine.  In your pain, He is there, with you.  He will redeem what is lost, restore what is broken, and help you to stand again.

But first you must choose to believe anyway.