Follow by Email

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas in Brazil

For some Christmas is a time when we remember the happy times of our childhood, family and friends gathered, gifts to unwrap, the unbridled excitement and anticipation of what awaits.

For many, many children and youth in Brazil Christmas is a time of dread, it is an excuse for parents and relatives to drink to excess, get into fights and possibly take it out on them.

One Christmas Rick Bergen, the Xingu mission director sat with a group of young boys during one of their meetings.  He asked them each to share their favourite Christmas memory.  He was faced with a circle of blank faces.  Trying to start the discussion, Rick shared one of his favourite Christmas memories when his father hid a new watch in some oranges.

He started with the boy next to him, 'What is your favourite memory of this time of year?'
"I don't have one" and as he went around the circle the reply of 'Me neither' was echoed again and again.

Then one boy said, 'oh wait, remember that time we all played bottle caps in the street?' and they said, 'oh ya! that was a good time!'  That was their best Christmas memory.

Since then, as Xingu celebrates Christmas with a big feast and special Christmas Eve service every year, they are creating new, happy memories about this joyous holiday.

We hope that you and your family make some amazing memories this Christmas too.

From the Snells to you and yours, Merry Christmas!

Support and Departure Update

A rock and hard place doesn't sound like a very comfortable place to be does it?  Sounds closterphobic and painful.  The truth is anywhere, after a long enough period of time can become comfortable-even in the rocks.

Phil and I have been in that spot since we moved into our new place.  We are ready to launch into the ministry we feel God has called us into yet we are lacking the funds to go-somewhere along the line, we lost momentum, nestled down between our rocks and fell asleep.  We stopped taking steps forward in Faith.

Spelling faith R-I-S-K doesn't equal comfort, it equals heart thumping fear, stepping off the edge of the cliff and trusting the water will be there when you make impact.

The water is the funds we need to survive and do the work in Brazil, the cliff is taking the steps forward.

We had been aiming for a January departure, this was in part because the mission director Rick Bergen is going to be in Maraba for 6 weeks from the 8th of January.  We are not leaving in January.

We have $1600 in monthly commitments and $11,500 in start up funds.  We need a minimum of $3,000 to go and $5,000 for full support. This is the rock and the hard place we are in, we need to have the commitments to go but sometimes God doesn't start supplying the water until you jump.

We are praying about what this looks like for us, what our next faith steps are.  We also ask that you would pray about how you might play a part in it.  We need prayer and financial partners in this journey.  I know at this time of year budgets look scary, but maybe, just maybe, if God is asking you to join us, the provision comes after the commitment?  Will you take a leap off the cliff with us?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

From the Depths of Despair

Before I began this faith journey and decided to begin a relationship with God, I saw 'religion' as a crutch something to hold people up when times were tough.  For several reasons, I see it in a very different way now; this story is just one example.

Three and a half years ago while sitting at the 'Mom's table' at the Cambridge Family Early Years Centre, I met a woman named Amy.  Amy was bouncing a baby girl in her arms.  I asked how old her baby was and she explained that she was three months and had had heart surgery at just 6 days old.

Flash-forward 8 months, another morning at the Early Years centre, and Amy was beaming as little Brooke was crawling across the floor, just a week or so shy of her first birthday and the cardiologist had given her a clean bill of health and was ready to see her just twice a year.  Life was looking good.

Brooke 3 days before she died.
The following Monday I visited the centre again and was asked, 'did you hear about Amy's Brooke?"
"No" I replied.
A small newspaper clipping with her sweet face was handed to me; it was from the obituary section. She had died on Saturday, just 3 days after I had last seen her.   I gasped, in shock and disbelief.  

Brooke had survived open-heart surgery only to die of complications of pneumonia.  They buried her on her first birthday.  It just didn't make sense.
The Mom's that frequent the "EYC", as it is affectionately known, are like a family.  We all share our frustrations, our triumphs and our questions about motherhood together.  This incident rocked our world and made us all face every parent’s worst nightmare.  We tried as best we could to support Amy through the grieving process.

What does all this have to do with this blog, our work in Brazil?  Hang in there; I'm getting to it.

About a year after Brooke died I approached Amy and asked her if she would like prayer.  I have to admit I was nervous asking her, although I don't hide my faith you never know the reaction you'll get when you invite someone into it.  But I had nothing to lose and I knew from experience, she had everything to gain.

Amy came to my house and we surrounded and prayed for her.  While we prayed, a picture came to me of Amy in a deep dark well, scared, confused and trapped.  There was no light in the well and it seemed, no way out.  I had the overwhelming feeling of despair.
I also felt that if she were to reach up in the darkness and trust Him, that God could pull her out of that well of sadness, that He desperately wanted to help her, after all if anyone should understand the pain of losing a child, shouldn't He?   Amy said that she just couldn't trust God, she was angry with Him, and blamed Him for her daughters’ death. 

A few months later, I invited her to Alpha and she politely declined.

Two more years passed, and I saw Amy occasionally when our paths would cross and most times her grief was obvious, her pain was raw and her anger hot.  

After I published the first blog I got a message from Amy asking me to call her.  When I did she explained that she felt stuck, that she wanted to go forward but didn't know how.  She and her husband wanted to try Alpha.

Over the weeks of the course I watched an incredible transformation happen in Amy; the anger cooled, the pain was not as raw, and something incredible, I saw joy in her eyes. A light that had gone out the day her daughter died was beginning to shine again, brighter than ever before.

One of the weeks of Alpha was about hearing God speak, and half way through the evening Amy was bursting with excitement, she said she felt like God was speaking to her, that He wanted her to work with bereaved families, to help other mothers like her.  Amy now had HOPE.

After three years of cyclical grief and despair, she had dramatically turned around in three short months.  Amy was no longer angry with God; she had beginning to see God working something very good out of her painful loss.  The healing had begun.

On the last night of Alpha we prayed for each other, and as I laid my hand on Amy to pray for her, tears sprang to my eyes.  The picture I saw when I first prayed for her reappeared in my mind only now there was a light shining into the darkness; a ladder on the wall of the well and a hand outstretched waiting to pull her up out of the pit. 

Although a crutch can support you when you are injured, it can't pick you up when you fall and heal your wounds.  Having a relationship with God is so much more than a crutch. What I have seen God do in Amy's life and in many other lives as they have opened their hearts to Him is remarkable.  He has picked them up out of the depths of despair and set them dancing.

The joy I feel when I see Amy and Victor fills me to over-flowing.  It is a reminder of what God is capable of when we LET Him in, because it is a choice.  Our God has so much love for us but He is not forceful-no one wants love to be received out of obligation. There are so many broken lives full of pain and suffering in the neighborhood we will work in and I look forward to introducing and inviting them into the unconditional, healing love relationship (not religion!) that God has to offer and see the miracles happen.  

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

This Saturday-Wedding Gown Sale/Fundraiser

When I was five years old, my oldest brother Kevin got married.  I was asked to be the flower girl and it is probably still one of my fondest memories as a little girl.  Dressed in lace from neck to ankle and hair piled in ringlets on top of my head, I thought I was living a fairy tale!  I even danced the night away with the ring bearer, it was a night to remember.

Laura, my brothers wife loved weddings so much she dreamed of one day opening a bridal boutique and eventually saw that dream realized.  Unfortunately, for several different reasons, the store had to close a year ago.  Two hundred dresses sat waiting for their bride in a storage locker until the idea came to her to donate them to help us raise funds for Brazil.

We are speechlessly grateful!  Thank you Kevin and Laura!

We are holding a one day clearance sale this
Saturday November 5 from 10am-6pm at the Eagle Street Community Church, 950 Eagle Street N.

So, if you know any brides, send them our way!  The dresses are beautiful, that much I can guarantee.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Some Things are Universal

Some things are very different in different countries.  Cultural differences and physical differences can divide people, it's difficult to connect to things you don't understand.  In Africa, time is a whole different concept.  Setting a time for a meeting is more of a suggestion than a definite.  In Brazil, lunch is the big meal of the day, followed by a siesta when the heat of the day makes most things unbearable.  The pace of life is slower and if you are from North America it can sometimes be extremely difficult to shift gears and flow with that rhythm.

But there are some things that transcend culture.  A mother's love is one of them.  I wrote a couple weeks ago about the tragic death of one of the youth's mothers in Maraba.  At that time all we knew was that she had been shot.  The full story has now come out.  Zeyzem's brother was involved in a gang, as I have mentioned before this is a common pattern for youth in this neighbourhood.  He was also prone to dangerous and violent fits of rage, so much so that his girlfriend and child left the home.  His mother prayed ceaselessly that he would be delivered from the bondage of this gang.  On the sunday evening before his mothers death, Zeyzem's brother came to the front of the church and surrendered his life to Jesus, asking forgiveness and promising to turn away from his former life.  His mother's prayers were answered.  I have said before, God forgives gangs don't.  Leaving a gang is not something you can do easily.  The gang came for Zeyzem's brother but as they entered the house and aimed their gun to shoot, Zeyzem's mother put herself between the killer and her son, taking five bullets into her own body and giving her life for the life of her son.

Sandy Thiessen was diagnosed with terminal cancer two weeks ago.  Her family gathered around her to spend as many of the last moments of her life that they could, their hearts in agony at the thought of life without her.  A few days after her diagnosis results of a liver biopsy showed that the cancer was treatable.  This news came on the heels of a horrendous night of pain that couldn't be quieted by medication.  Sandy had a choice to make.  Would she fight for her life or accept death?  She turned the question to her children.  What did they want?  Despite the intense pain and illness she was living with at that moment when her children looked at her and asked her to fight she said 'Yes, I will'.

Two mothers, one chose death for the life of her child and one chose life for the love of her children.

Sometimes it's easy to put to the back of our minds the suffering and challenges that people face in other countries.  They live different lives, it's hard to connect.  But the bottom line is that we are all people with hopes and dreams, and the need for love and acceptance.  Our houses, clothing and daily lives may look very different but our hearts are the same.

Friday, October 14, 2011

At the Gates...

The feeling we have right now reminds me of two things.  Horses and pregnancy.  How are they related you may wonder?  Let me explain.

Have you ever seen horses race?  There are a few moments before they fire the starting pistol while they are at the gates, and they are stomping the dirt, their nostrils flare, their shoulders press into the gate straining with all their might to do what they were born to do, to do what they have trained to do, to RUN.

Have you ever been pregnant?  There are a few weeks before the baby is born when you feel like you might be the first woman to be pregnant FOREVER.  When a woman first gets the news that there's a new life growing inside her belly there can be two feelings, elation and pure terror.  That new life growing, is going to keep growing and eventually you will have to push it out of your body!  By the time you are nearing the third trimester that fear is replaced by sheer exhaustion, discomfort and the desire to finally meet this new human being, to hold them and love them and see who they will become.

I guess right now we feel a bit like a race horse in the third trimester.  We have been preparing for this for a long time, probably since before we even went to Brazil.  We have finished renovating and sold a house, shed many layers of things we don't need/want and can't take with us and shed many, many tears.  We have prayed, had others pray and confirmed that we feel God is leading us into this.  We have started the good-byes.  Two months ago we said good-bye to the street I have called home since long before I actually lived on it.  We have said good-bye to the community that went along with it.  We have been riding this emotional roller coaster for more than a year and the fear of what's to come has now been replaced with the desire to GO!

We are trying to live in a place of expectancy not expectation (thank you Art!), we know God can and will pull all the pieces together, but it may not look like we think and it may not be when we think.  We are learning still, always, to trust that being the creator of the universe He might just know what He's doing.

So, in the mean time we continue to contact friends, family and anyone who will listen to share with them what we are embarking on and ask if it is something they want to be a part of.  For those of you who have already said yes, our words of thanks will never properly express our sincere gratitude.

At the end of November we will hold a concert to help raise the necessary funds for the pistol to go off and open the gates.  Both artists playing are amazingly gifted and we feel so blessed that they are willing to share their talents to help us.

Here are the details:

November 26, 2011
Venue TBA
Cost: $15/ticket

Some of you have responded to say you can't make it but would like to buy tickets anyway.  The easiest way to do that is to click the link at the top of this blog and it will take you to a secure paypal donation page, you will also receive a tax receipt that way, for those of you who have said you want to come, we will have tickets available for purchase at a later date-stay tuned!

Thank you to all of you who have already committed, we are seeing the mercury rise on our support thermometer to almost 1,000/month!! We need 3,000 for the green light so we are 1/3 of the way there!

We are always open to chat, answer questions or just hang out with you before we go.  Please don't hesitate to contact us we are never too busy.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Weeping may endure for the night, 
but joy comes in the morning!!
Psalm 30:5

I can hardly believe what I just read on Sandy's daughters blog-she has been updating us all on how Sandy has been doing.  The results of a biopsy done the other day have come in and she has Burkitts Lymphoma which is a very aggressive but treatable form of cancer.  Here is what her daughter wrote:

"Tonight was horrendous. Rachel said it was the worst thing she's seen in her nursing career. Mom was vomiting and had diarrhea and was in excruciating pain. The nurses couldn't give her enough meds to kill the pain. My brother called to tell me mom might pass tonight. I cried my face off while Paul and I waited for Sue, my mother-in-law, to arrive to stay with Safiya. As we pulled up to the hospital, my sister called to tell me the results of the biospy were in and mom had Burkitts Lymphoma, a very aggressive type of cancer but treatable.

By the time I got up to her floor, mom and dad were in her room trying to decided if mom wanted to go ahead with the treatment or if she was ready to die. If she chose not to go for the treatment, the doctor estimated she had two weeks to live. Mom said she didn't know if she can handle the chemo but said she would do it if all of us kids wanted her to. We do want her to so she is going to go through with it.

This does not mean mom will live it just means she may live. So please pray for her. Pray that God gives her the strength to live. We want her around so badly but we also don't want undo suffering for mom."

Friday, October 7, 2011

For Sandy

Last January, shortly before I started this blog, Phil and I and the Kilborns shared five days with a couple by the name of Dan and Sandy Thiessen.  They were sent by the Xingu Missions board of directors to 'evaluate our readiness' for missions.  GULP.

Let me just say it is a little nerve wracking finding out that two counsellors are coming to 'evalutate' you.  They weren't going to do any deep light in your face inquisitions, no, they were just going to MOVE IN WITH US, for 5 days.  I think, given the option I probably would have taken the inquisition!  Not that we had anything to hide, but the thought of someone watching you for five days to see if you are fit to be a missionary is more than a little unnerving.

We went as a family to the airport to pick them up, which is strange when you've never met someone-thankfully it was the Kitchener airport which is quite small, and  I had had the presence of mind to send a photo of us before we left so they knew who they would be looking for.   When they came through the doors and waved at us we welcomed them and Sandy immediately paid attention to the kids.
Dan admitted that he was tempted to send us a photo of a completely different couple, just for fun and we knew then that we would get along just fine!

Within a very short time we felt completely at ease with them as they moved into our 'crazy commune' with us.  Sandy's ability to engage children and make them feel important made me so aware of how busy my life was and how little time I spent actually playing with my children.  I watched as they lit up whenever she was in the room.   Dan shared with us how they had had a difficult past 10 years as Sandy had suffered from chronic fatigue.  The hardest part he said, was that he always felt like part of him was missing when he had to travel without her, that they were so much more as a team.  They shared with us about their own experiences as a missionary family in Israel when their children were small.  We laughed, we hung out and just got to know each other.  We packed a lot into those five days and it felt like we had new family members.

After the five days were over we had to say good-bye but with assurances that we would write and stay in touch, that they would help us with any problems or issues we might be having with the transition.  And with their full recommendation that we were ready to be missionaries.  We have kept in touch over the last 10 months,  Sandy has often been the first to comment on these blogs and we have been able to skype a few times.  The last time we spoke she said she was feeling better than she had in years and was even thinking of coming to Brazil with Dan in January, I was overjoyed!

Two days ago, again on facebook I noticed a tag on Dan's status that said 'for updates on Sandy please see our daughters blog'.  I clicked the link and what I read shocked me to the core.  Sandy had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Even as I type this now, tears are streaming down my face.  I was immediately so heartbroken for her, for her family and grandbabies that I know she absolutely loves with all of her heart.

The latest update said that she was still in hospital after a biopsy but would be returning home, where she chose to be.  Her family is gathering close and they are praying for peace and for as little pain for Sandy as possible.

I know you may not know her or her family but trust me when I say it would be impossible not to love her if you did.  So, could you please pray for her, for her family, for the love of her life as they have to face the unspeakable?

Sandy, if you are reading this or having someone read it for you, we love you and we are praying for you, and hopefully people who read this blog will be praying for you too.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

News from Brazil-Zezym's Mother Has Been Killed

As I settled into bed friday night I was flicking through my facebook news feed and noticed a post from Monica, the Brazilian Pastors wife in Maraba to Rick, Deanna and Chelsea:

"Oi como esta, tenho uma noticia ruim para da, mataram a mãe do zezim hoje de 9 pra 10 hora da noite."

Just last week I had learned the word 'ruim' which means bad and that word was in her post. I could decipher that it had something to do with his mother and happened that day at 9 or 10 at night. I translated the other words I didn't know and worked out that Zezym, one of the youth who plays drums in the worship band, and was almost always smiling when we were there, has lost his mother, she was shot and killed.  Zezim is only 17 years old.

I understand this pain, I lived this pain.  Just the other day I was sitting at the table with Faith and she asked if 'Nana' was my mother.  I said, 'No, hun remember I told you my Mommy died a long time ago' she then asked, 'How old were you when she died?" "18" I replied.
Her face grew sad, and she looked at me with those giant brown eyes of hers and said, "but when you're a teenager, you still need your Mom".  Wise words from a five year old.  Her words echoed a clear memory I have from my mothers funeral when someone said exactly that to me.  I had to step away from the table for a moment so she couldn't see I had tears welling my eyes. The truth is you do still need your Mom when you are 17.

This morning at 8 am Brazil time (9 am our time) they will take the body to the cemetary, Art and Cyndi will go with them.

My heart aches for Zezym as I think about the long road of grief he will have to navigate.  Thankfully, with Monica and Ivanildo, Art and Cyndi and all the youth in Maraba he has a very LARGE family that will surround  him, council him, love him and help to carry him through this tragedy.

Please, would you pray for him? Pray that God would heal his heart, bring him comfort.  I know (from experience) that God brings great things out of deep sorrow.  But the pain in the time it takes to see that good is great.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Life in Limbo-What are You Waiting For?

I know, I just sent you a blog the other day, but I felt inspired to write.  So here we are.  I must also say that a lot of the time when I sit down to write I have only the first part in my head, and then my fingers seem to take on a life of their own.

Have you ever read the Dr. Suess book "Oh The Places You'll Go?" There's a part in it where he talks about a place called the 'waiting place'.  Feels a bit like that's where we are right now, waiting to head to the "Jungles of Nool" (a.k.a Brazil).   We can't go back, we've come to far, but we can't quite move forward, either. (really tempted to rhyme here!)

"Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.

Everyone is just waiting."-Dr. Suess

So, a quarter of the way there but still fully here we try to live day by day, minute by minute, stuffing as much life into our days as we can.  We try to visit and spend time with friends more than usual, with the 'I don't know if I will get another chance before we go' at the back of our minds.

It can be a difficult place to be in if you let it.  Frustrating not knowing if your coming or going. Unless you see it as an opportunity instead of an obstacle.

What if we just always lived our lives like this, like we didn't know when we might not see friends and family again, squishing as much living into life as we could?  Savouring moments and afternoons and conversations.  Shouldn't that be the way we are all the time?

When someone dies, the first thing out of peoples mouths is often 'But...I just saw him".  How can someone be here and then not? It's hard to wrap our heads around isn't it?  And then there's that gnawing feeling of all the words unsaid and things undone the endless list of 'if only's'.

I want to encourage you to "Carpe diem", seize the day, every day, even if you are going to keep your feet firmly planted on your home soil all of your days.   Live like you are getting on a plane tomorrow and see how that changes your relationships, your perspective and your attitude towards the little things and the big things in life, are you still waiting?

That's not for you!

Somehow you'll escape
all that waiting and staying.
You'll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.

With banner flip-flapping,
once more you'll ride high!
Ready for anything under the sky.
Ready because you're that kind of a guy!"
-Dr. Suess

If you are still waiting, what are you waiting for?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Forging New Paths

When I boarded a plane for Africa 13 years ago I was just 26 years young, untethered and free to explore the world as I saw fit.  I had a childhood dream that gnawed me into action because sitting still for any longer felt like it would eat a hole in me.  After all, what did I have to lose?  I wasn't married or in a relationship, I didn't have children, there was just adventure waiting for me and I was ready and willing to find it.

As I said good-bye to the family and friends who had made the trip to the airport for one last hug, my Dad took me by the shoulders, looked me square in the eyes and said, "I have NO idea where you get this from!".

I was the last born but the first in my family to travel like this, to go anywhere outside of North America.  After having six children, my parents couldn't do much more than camp, with all of us at their ankles. 

There were two people who had a huge impact on my love of travel.  I had a teacher in college who loved to travel and figured out how to create a course around it.  We studied the culture, animals and customs of Guatemala and Belize for several months, reading and listening to each other share what we had learned and then spent three weeks there.  I will never forget the feeling of stepping into the airport in Guatemala, how the soupy air felt like it was something tangible you could touch or the heart wrenching site of small children in torn clothing with large brown pleading eyes, grabbing your hands and saying the few english words they had learned 'Please I am hungry'.

Another influence was one of my best friends, Michele (that's her in the right hand picture above on the left, wiping tears).  We worked together in a call centre in Toronto and she went on a safari in East Africa.   I watched her plan and make the trip happen and it took Africa from something far off and untouchable to something I could feel in the palm of my hand.  I saw a fork in the road I had never seen before and I decided to take it.  I would make Africa happen.

Sometimes the way we live our lives creates a path that our children will also follow, and sometimes they see another path and decide to take that one.  But, if there isn't someone or more than one person to show them there are other paths, they may never know they have a choice.  Now if you are raised in a healthy environment and agree with the way your parents raised you and you choose that for your family, great!  But let's say you weren't, let's say your Dad wasn't in your life and your mother was addicted to alcohol, prone to fits of rage and she hit you whenever she got the chance.  Let's say she had a boyfriend who came and went and when he was around he beat your Mom and snuck into your room at night. What if that was the only path that was laid out for you?  What if that was the only kind of life you saw around you? 

Then along comes this family from a far away place, they look so different from anyone you've seen that you can't help but be drawn to them.  Your curious, where are they from and why have they come to your town?  They say wonderful things to you, things even your own mother has never said.  They offer to teach you music, soccer and celebrate your birthday-no one has ever done that before!  They LOVE you.  They also talk about what love looks like, and how a family can look when they all love and respect  each other.   They start to help you understand that life can be different, they offer a choice, a different kind of life than you have seen but it's a good life.  

Aside from the practical, offering a model for a different kind of life is what missionaries do, on many levels and over the coarse of many years, these kids do make the decision to forge a new path for their own lives and for future generations.   

In another town, 13 hours down the dusty Transamazonian "highway" is a town called Altamira. 17 years ago Rick and Deanna Bergen started meeting with young children and youth in a dark neighbourhood notorious for it's crime, in their small garage.  Over the years the entire neighbourhood has changed as they loved and invested in the people of that community.  Those youth are now adults in solid marriages with happy children who will hopefully never have to experience the lives their parents came from.  Cycles have been broken.

This work in Brazil is not the kind where you will see huge changes over night, it is slow arduous work-but the rewards are so very worth it.

We are humbled to have the opportunity to serve these people and we hope you will feel moved to join our team.  They say it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a team to send a missionary and we need more team members!  Right now we are about 25% of the way to where we need to be for the green light to book tickets and apply for visas.  We still have a long way to go before January, but I know there are some of you who have been considering this, and have maybe made the decision but haven't let us know-could I ask if that sounds like you, could you let us know?  And if you haven't consider it, can you? You can either e-mail, call or click the link above to get started now on your monthly support.

Thanks again for reading, commenting and encouraging us on this journey we are so blessed to be surrounded by the family and friends we have.

Monday, September 5, 2011

What Exactly Will We Be Doing?

This is a question that gets asked a lot.  The big picture, the vision is taking a community from pain and disfunction into healthy relationships and hope for a better, brighter future.  But every big picture starts with  smaller ones.  Investing in individuals.  But I can't really explain that as well as the kids who have actually lived it.  They've come through some terrible situations and some still live in them, homes where fear and physical abuse lurk around every corner and streets where gangs and violence are taking the lives of friends and relatives.  For them, the 14 acre property that the Maraba mission runs on is a safe haven where they can learn to play soccer or guitar, be mentored and feel a sense of belonging and that they are loved, unconditionally.

The specifics of what we will do are sometimes as mundane as baking for a bible study night or making food for the youth as they work to build a new roof for someone in the community.  It is about supporting the nationals as they are encouraged and built up to lead their families and their community into a new way of life.

While we were there last year I asked several of them if they would mind me recording them telling their story about life before and after the Maraba Vineyard came.  I have  put two of them in this short video clip.  Please watch it, I think it will give you a better idea of the impact this mission is having on these kids lives.

Monday, August 29, 2011

When Do We Leave? What Do We Need? And Answers To Other Questions!

The time is drawing nearer.  On Wednesday night, during the worst storm of the season some of our best friends came to help us pack up all the belongings we had put in boxes into a trailer and Thursday the rest of our furniture on a truck and moved to our new home-for now.  Although it is 1,000 square feet smaller than our house on William Street it feels HUGE. This is probably partially because most of our 'stuff' is still in boxes in the garage and partially because there are now only four of us.  I keep waiting for people to come home.

Why did we buy a house when we are supposed to be leaving the country in a few months?

The expression on peoples faces is predictable when I tell them we bought a house, it goes something like this 'oh, that's goo-wait a sec, you bought a house? Aren't you leaving for Brazil soon?'
Yes, we are planning to leave for Brazil soon but the reality is we still needed somewhere to live in the mean time and, although we feel like Brazil could be a long term commitment, we are trying to be obedient to God and He doesn't always give you the full picture, usually just the next few steps.  If, for example we feel like we are supposed to come back to Canada after two years, buying a house will be very difficult after two years with no credit history.  This gives us a place to land should we need it and at the very least it is an investment.

So, when DO we leave for Brazil?

As plans stand right now we will leave for Brazil in January.  Here's how things look:

The Bergen family who have lived in Brazil for 17 years have come back to Canada for a 1 year leave while they help their two eldest daughters, who will persue their post secondary education here, assimilate into life in Canada.  Rick Bergen, will take a few trips during this year to make sure things are going smoothly and to help the two missionary families (us and the Raes) get settled.  The Raes leave in less than 1 week, they will be working with the same mission and on the same base as we will be.  When we arrive in January they will leave for a few months of language study while we have a chance to get our landlegs in Maraba.

This is the plan, but in order to make that plan a reality we still need to raise the funds.

Why do we need to raise funds?

The question has been asked, more than once, how will you live? Will you work there?

A few people have asked what we need, if there is anyway they can help us with our preparation.

We will be going to Brazil on religious workers visas, this DOES NOT permit us to be employed in Brazil.  In order for us to be able to go, to live and to do the work we need help.  We will need to raise 15-20,000 in start up costs (for flights, to furnish the house we will live in, buy a motorbike for  transportation) and $5,000 a month in support. I realize that seems like a really large number, and it is for a few reasons.  Some of the money will support us as a family so we can eat, pay rent and utilities (which are surprisingly expensive there) and the rest goes towards supporting the work the mission does, helping youth find hope for a future, changing whole families and eventually the community-it has been done before in several different areas where the mission has reached out in love to hurting people.

There have been individuals who have had enough passive income at home to support themselves-but it doesn't work.  Why?  When the going gets rough -the self supported get going.  That has been the experience over the years, not having a team of supporters just doesn't work.  When you are backed by a team of people who believe in you, invest in you and support you-you are buoyed up, by more than just their financial support, but by knowing there are people at home who will pray for you when you are down, who will encourage you.  You have a team of people to be accountable to.  Also, not everyone is able to pack up their lives to move to another country to help those less fortunate, but by supporting us to do the work you get to be a part of the big picture-and stay in your neighbourhood! 

What exactly will we be doing there?

This is a tougher question to answer, and it feels like I should be able to rattle off a laundry list. But it's not that clearly defined.  The base in Maraba is in it's fairly early stages, which means everyone does a bit of everything.  In the early days, we will be spending half our days learning to speak Portuguese (which will make us much more useful!) and the other half of the day will be spent working for the mission.  For Phil this will most likely mean building at first, and for me I will spend time homeschooling our children in the afternoons, and helping with whatever needs to be done for the evening church services and youth groups.  As we learn the language and get a better lay of the land, we will have a clearer idea of where we fit.  What we can't do is arrive in a new country, with an agenda.

Most of the kids we will be working with are coming from homes where abuse is common, addictions are part of every day life and no one has ever told them they are worth believing in.  Although it doesn't seem as tangible as some other forms of work, teaching and showing children that they are loved, that they have potential and that they can believe in themselves is the foundation that changes families, communities and cities.  It's a mission of Hope and we would love for you to be a part of it.

What about England?

This is still up in the air.  It depends largely on our personal financial situation.   It is a big priority for us to be able to get to England, see friends and family that we haven't seen in many, many years and may not see for many, many more.  But, we are holding it with an open hand and at this point it depends on how many houses I sell between now and then.  It also depends on whether or not we have raised the necessary support to get us to Brazil.  If we haven't raised the support, we need to stay to continue fundraising until we reach our goal.

What do we need?

What we really need right now is interest to transform into action.  We have many friends, family and collegues who have been following our story, some have even been inspired to make life changes of their own and this is awesome and overwhelming!  Can we ask, if you have felt this stirring something in your heart, if the videos and pictures and stories of what goes on in Brazil and what we will be helping with seems like something you want to support, can you turn your interest into action by deciding if you would like to be a part of the team that will launch us and carry us in Brazil?  It is a tough question to ask, but without you we can't go.  And for us to be able to know what the next few months look like we need to know where we stand in terms of financial support.  Ideally, we would like to have commitments from people by the middle of October, this would help us a lot, we can then better prepare our kids as well for what the next few months look like.
The other thing we need is prayer and lots of it! This is a rather tumultuous time in our lives, lots of change and transition for all of us-we could use the cover!

To set up regular donations or one time, just click on the link at the top of the page and you will be directed to a secure pay pal donation page.  

We really appreciate all the encouragement and support we have had from all of you so far.  Your words and comments on this blog are extremely powerful!!

Thank you!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Taking The Bait

Almost immediately after I hit the 'publish' button on my last blog it felt like the walls came tumbling down, like my faith in "God can do anything" was about to be tested.  I have to admit, I buckled in the force of the storm, I stepped out of the boat to follow him across the water, took a step and then realized I was walking on water-how could that be?   I began to sink, the water and waves crashing around me, enveloping me and sucking me down into the deep.  It's dark down there.  I didn't like it.  I was angry at God, I blamed Him for putting me into this crazy situation of giving up my home, my family and friends.  I was consumed, even if just for a day in the foggy haze of hopelessness.   We had no prospects of where to live and funds coming in to send us to Brazil have been slow and time it seemed had sped up days flying off the calendar.  I began to doubt our path, had we really heard right?  Is this really what we are supposed to do? I spent the day wallowing in self-pity and self-doubt-I cried out to God in anger in a way I have not done since I gave Him my whole heart nine years ago.   Friends rallied, prayed for us.  Slowly, I felt my anger drain.

Over the course of the next week things took a turn.  We managed to find the perfect investment property that we can live in until we leave for Brazil and rent while we are gone.  This seemingly huge decision that could have felt like a burden seemed to lift off a lot of stress.  We now had a place to be until we leave and a garage to store the things we aren't ready to let go of but can't take with us.

So, what did I learn in that storm?  I learned I have a long way to go on this faith journey, and that in the midst of the turmoil if I had kept my eyes focused on what I know to be true instead of my inward worries, doubts and fears I would have avoided a lot of anger, distress and despair.

One of the scriptures that helps me to keep that focus is Jeremiah 29:11

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

There is another force at work in this world, and his sole intention is to pull us away from God, he uses our fears, doubts and troubles to try to make us believe that God does not want what's best for us.  Often when we step out in faith to follow God we become a target for attack, the dark enemy baits the trap and waits in the shadows to devour us.  I took the bait...this time, but next time I hope I will recognize the signs sooner, and not succomb to the temptation to turn inward but instead cling to the promises I know to be true.  I am so thankful to have friends around me, who were able to cut the snare, shine a light into the darkness and get me free from the trap.

Recently, I was at a huge worship concert at Darien Lake.   It was amazing to see thousands and thousands of people, hands raised and united in their beliefs.  One of the performers sang Amazing Grace, a song that always, even when played on the bagpipes, makes me cry (it was played at my mothers funeral).  During that song we all held candles that in the wind kept blowing out and friends or strangers would turn and relight your candle each time the fire turned to smoke.  It struck me at that moment, that that is what it is like living in a relationship with God, and other believers, each time the wind comes to take that light out there is someone there to help you light it again, it's up to us to receive the gift.

We still have an uncertain future, we still don't have the funds necessary to support the work we will do in Brazil, the difference between now and two weeks ago is that I have hope again and not in the things seen but in the things unseen.  If any of you are struggling right now, and life seems dark and without hope, don't stay in the trap, reach out to someone for help, for prayer.  You don't need to fight the fight alone.  

This is the version of Amazing Grace, sang by Chris Tomlin have a listen:

Thursday, July 14, 2011

4 Years 4 Days, 2 Showings and a LOT of Work

After 4 years of work, 4 days on the market and 2 showings, our house had a conditional offer on it.  When we prayed about the sale of the house we prayed for a quick sale so we didn't have to keep the house 'like a magazine' for too long.

The closing date is August 26th, which is now less than two months away.  That's when things get a little unsure, unclear, unpredictable.  Phil likes to call it 'fluid'. I am trying not to call it homeless but 'houseless' as our wise friend Wayne calls it.  No matter how you look at it we are not sure where we will lay our heads that night.  I can't help but think what my friend Rob Hall would think of it, I can see him smiling and with a bit of a laugh saying, 'I think it's awesome'.

You may be wondering why we would choose to sell our house so long before we are actually leaving for Brazil.  There are a few reasons for this, some practical and some spiritual.  My real estate experience says that it's a better time to list a house and a better time for the Kilborns to find one.  The other reason is that when we prayed about timing we felt strongly that, despite our later departure we were supposed to 'stay the course'.  With how quickly our house sold and the fact that the Kilborns found something that has everything they hoped for and more, at a greatly reduced cost than they thought, I would say we feel like we are doing the right thing.  We feel like we are paddling down stream.

This is where the real tough stuff of our faith comes in.  The soaring off the diving board, waiting for the water.  We will need a place to call home for the months before we leave, we also need to raise the money required for us to go.  We are still a long way off from either of these goals, and January, as far off as it can seem in the swealtering July heat, is really just around the corner.

A year and a half ago I had no idea our life would round this corner.  I was very content in my community, had (and still have!) a wonderful family and church family and really really great friends, life was sailing along in auto pilot.  It has happened quite quickly, so sometimes I have to give my head a shake, as life is still rolling along here it's hard to believe how much will change in the next few months.  But I do have faith that things will fall into the places they are meant to be, after all if God can change my heart about leaving this place I call home, He can do anything.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Deep and Wide

In some places along the Amazon river and its' tributaries, the river is so wide that you cannot see the other side.  It's hard to imagine a river that wide.  For the people who live in these areas sometimes the hopelessness is like the rivers, so long and deep and wide that to get to the other side seems impossible.

Gangs are a big part of the neighbourhood culture in many areas of Brazil and Maraba is no exception.  Sometimes you have to chose to either run with the gangs or run from them.  Fransisco is a kid who is part of the Maraba church and before becoming a Christian he led a very different life.  When we decide to take the leap of faith and put our lives in God's hands, all our past wrong doings are forgiven, and washed away like they never happened in the eyes of God.  God does not hold grudges, but gangs do.

There are people trying to kill Fransisco. They have come to the gates of the property where we will live asking if he is there, they have gone to his house more than once.  The Brazilian pastor, Ivanildo has gotten him to safety, he has travelled far to work with another missionary family.

People often ask, 'What will you do in Brazil?' And I struggle to answer that question,  I guess I think people often want to hear tangible things like buildings and water filtration (which is part of what we will do) but it's so much bigger than that.  It's offering them a boat and paddles to get across that giant river of hopelessness to a place they can believe they have a hope and a future.

So although bringing clean drinking water to remote areas is extremely important and valuable, bringing them hope is priceless.

John 4:13

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

This video clip is of Fransisco, thanking the pastors for all their help:

Please pray for Fransisco and for all the youth in Maraba.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Diving In

Four months ago, getting our house ready to put on the market felt like such a huge mountain to move.  The list seemed to stay the same length as some things got taken off and others added on.  It was exhausting, frustrating and at times felt like the impossible.  But here we are, with a finished amazing looking house.

Four years ago when we decided to sell our little bungalow that we had also been renovating to move in with the Kilborns I am pretty sure our friends and family thought we were all nuts.  I know the same can be said for now.  My brother recently posted on facebook 'And you WANT to leave a house like that?'

How do you let go of the tangible, beautiful, financially valuable things in your life for the things unseen?  How do you turn from everything you know to follow something leading you in the opposite direction?  There are several elements involved, faith, trust...and yes a bit of courage I guess, and maybe a little bit of crazy :)

In the past 10 years as I have tried to walk alongside what God has wanted for my life instead of what I want, I am continually shown that He knows what He is doing and He knows what's best for me-even if it doesn't seem that way in the moment.

For example, when I was approached to work with Art Rae in real estate I was taken aback.  I had no plans of returning to work until my babies were in school, and even then only part time.  But I decided to consult, pray and ask God what he thought of the idea.  The word that came into my head was 'The timing is right'.  Really?  Are you looking at the same calendar I am?  Cuz my baby girl is only 2.  I decided to go for it and the results have been awesome.  Despite the fact that I officially became a licensed Realtor in November 2008 when the housing market took a nosedive, things worked out.  If not for that work our family wouldn't have been able to do the mission trips we have done and our two families (Raes and Snells) would not have the relationship we do now, a relationship that will be vital to our success in Brazil as we navigate the road there together.

A man by the name of Gary Best described what really trusting God looks like in a book called "Naturally Supernatural".  In it he describes a scene of climbing the ladder of a high diving board, inching to the edge of the board to peer into the pool that looks really tiny from your vantage point and to top it off it's EMPTY.  It's at that point that you hear God say, "Jump, and I'll fill the pool".

That image has been heavy on my mind this week.  I feel like I have jumped off the diving board head first and now I am waiting for the water (house to sell, support to come in) to fill the pool.

So do I WANT to leave a house like this?  Truthfully? NO.  It's comfortable, it's pretty, it would be nice to enjoy the fruits of our labour for longer than a couple of months.  But if I have learned anything I have learned to hold these 'things' with an open hand.  The things of life are not what's important and at the end of my days,  I will not take a house and all it's trappings with me.

Matthew 19:29
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.

Our future is as uncertain as it has ever been.  As of right now we have no idea where we will live from November to January, or where the funds will come from to make Brazil a reality, and yet we feel a great sense of peace about going forward.

Matthew 6:25
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Letting Go of 'The Stuff'-Holding on to the Relationships

Moving is a huge task, moving to another continent is, well, a different sort of task.  When we left our last house to move into this 'crazy commune' as it has affectionately become known, we had a two month period between when we closed on our old house and when this house was ready for us to move into.  We needed somewhere to put all our STUFF while we lived in the Kilborns house and 'finished' this one.  Thankfully we chose to purchase instead of rent a 40ft storage container because it is STILL sitting where we had it parked it four years ago at the end of our driveway, and until recently it was still relatively full.

 The most common question about our ugly friend is 'What is IN there anyway?' The answer? We don't have a garage, so all the things you would keep in a garage, Phil's tools, Patricks' tools, camping gear, bikes etc.  The challenge now is getting all that out and into other places so the eyesore is no longer on our property when we have a for sale sign hammered into the front lawn.  Something we are hoping to have happen within the next week to two weeks.

We live in a society that puts huge importance on the acquiring of more and more stuff, better stuff, bigger stuff, the newest stuff....but it's never enough.  Like an itch you can't quite scratch it's never satisfied.  I was definitely a stuff hound many years ago and still feel sucked into it each Christmas-regretting it later when I feel like I have spoiled my kids.  Letting go of the stuff we have piled up over the last few years feels like lifting a weight off our shoulders.  I remember coming back after four years in Africa to sort through the boxes I had stored in my brothers basement.  On the way there I really struggled to remember what I had left there, aside from my journals it was a complete mystery to me.
All the things I had thought we were 'valuable' no longer held much importance.  

The 'stuff' is easy for me to let go of, it actually feels good, like putting something down you've been carrying for so long you didn't realize just how heavy it was.  Letting go of the people, the relationships..that's another story.

We are so blessed with great friends.  New friends that have become a huge part of our lives and old friends who have been there through so many of lifes' ups and downs.  I recently spent 4 days with 2 of my oldest and best girlfriends.  We have tried to do a 'chick getaway' yearly but as we have had children it's been increasingly more difficult to do and has become more of an every two to three year event.

We have been in each others lives for 25 years.  A quarter of a century.  We have been there through each others highschool crushes and first loves, the tragedy of losing two of our parents; a mother in September and then a father in November of the same year.  We navigated the rocky road of grief together, it was messy, it was painful but we came out the other side with an invisible bond that would act as a foundation for a life time friendship.  That foundation has created the kind of friendship that has spanned time and distance as we went on to University, marriage and the miracle of the birth of our children.

These are women who know everything there is to know about me, have seen me at my worst and my best and still love me.  When I embraced Christianity they saw a change in me, yes, but weren't scared away-knowing that the same 'Jenschell' was still there-just happier.

As I sift and sort all the stuff in my life into piles to sell, piles to throw out and piles to keep, I know there are people and relationships in my life that no matter how far apart we are, will always remain in the 'keep' pile.

Thanks Chiquitas for being more than friends for being sisters.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Roller Coaster

We are on this track now, this new roller coaster adventure with God.  We're strapped in, stomachs churning as we clickety, clickety, clickety, CLUNK climb the hill before the big drop.  From this angle we can look down, see where we were standing in line for what felt like a decade waiting for the next ride (ok in this case it has literally been a decade), we can see the people we left behind, waving to us as we make our big, slow ascent to the top.  Looking ahead of us though,we can't see what's on the other side, the hill is too steep.  We remember what it looked like from the ground, all it's ups and downs twists and turns.  We were excited to get on and feel the adrenaline.  But what will it feel like now that we are actually on the ride?

Not everyone is a roller coaster person.  For some, the thought of the heights, the plummeting hills and the corkscrew turns makes them sick at the very thought. 

This ride we are about to-ok correction-this ride that we are ON with God, it's not for everyone.  But that's why we were all made differently.  For some, the thought of selling their house, storing their sentimental valuables and heading off for an undetermined amount of time to another country and another culture is unthinkable.  For us it's something we get to do.

All that being said, we can't do it alone, we need the people on the ground cheering us on.

So ask yourself which category you are in.  If you love the ride but haven't been on in a while maybe it's time re-examine things, look at what it is that seems to be standing in your way.  Ask God (yes, he does answer) if that's what He wants for you.  If you aren't one that loves the thrill, look around you-is there something you can do here and now to change lives?

We need people here who are behind what we are doing, believe in us and the work we will do and want to be a part of making a change in the world but can't get on the ride to do it.  We need to build a team.

In order for us to make this Brazil thing a go we need to raise financial support.  Uh oh there's the money spot...This is one of the hardest parts of this journey, asking for help.  In order for us to live, eat, help, pray in Brazil we need to raise enough support to feed us and do the work we feel called to do there.

How much is that?  More than you think.  Brazil is an expensive country, hence why a lot of people live well below the poverty line.  For example, a used car here might cost under $5-10,000 there it's $30-40,000.  Clothes are two to three times as much.  Internet $250/month. You get the idea.

We need to raise about 5,000 a month.  I know.  Your mouth is hanging open.  Mine did too when I found out.    Here's how the money is used:

We take as little as we can to pay our rent, feed us etc.
The rest we will use to touch lives with God's love, meeting needs they can't meet themselves.  Investing in a future for individuals and for the community.

How do we even begin to raise that?  We have to ask, ask each one of you to see if your heart is telling you this is something you want to be behind.  There are several ways to do that.  You can decide to make a monthly donation, like you would adopt a child, except you are adopting a lot of kids, for whatever amount you feel is appropriate for you .  Or you can make a one time donation.  Whatever you feel.

We have figured out what we would need on a daily basis and it's about $150.  So, we are asking if you would consider buying a day or two, maybe your birthday or your Mother's birthday.  Every year, your donations will help us continue to do this work we feel God is calling us into.

We just need 365 people to say I'M IN!

Are you?

If your answer is yes, as of now, you can send cheques, payable to:
Xtreme Mercy Canada
# 3 – 8979 Broadway St.,
Chilliwack, B.C.
V2P 5V9
Please include your return address so they can send you a tax receipt.  If you prefer to give online, we will have that option available soon.

Thank you again, for taking the time to read, life is busy and it means a great deal to us that you take the time to join us on this journey.