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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Feliz Natal/Merry Christmas

Christmas in Brazil is definitely a different experience.  So much of that 'Christmas feeling' I realize is wrapped up in the shopping, the snow, the crazy lineups and parking lots.  I haven't had that here.

Instead, we've picked mangoes, played 'futebol' (foocheebol) and hosted a childrens' Christmas party.  I asked one of the girls here how Christmas is for her at her house.  She had paused, and said 'so so' and I asked 'why?' She went on to explain there's usually a lot of fighting and hurtful things said to each other.

This is the case for a lot of the kids here, Christmas isn't always a happy time and for many there are no gifts on Christmas morning.

So, to try and bring a joy and a light into an otherwise not so happy time, we have three Christmas events, a childrens Christmas party with games, and food and yes presents. A night event for the youth and a neighbourhood churrasco (BBQ) with lots of mean, rice, pop and salad.

On Friday afternoon, we held the childrens's party.  Deanna gave a message before we started the festivities about gifts, that we don't have to work for a gift, that we would never turn down a gift and that that's what Jesus is to us, a free gift, no strings attached all we have to do is take it.

We had just over 100 kids attend, we had several games, and then drew numbers for the prizes.  As a number was called and a child had won a gift they ran so fast I couldn't get a clear photo of them to reclaim their prize.  The girl pictured below said to me after she got her gift, "I'm so happy, I was afraid I wasn't going to get one".  Her face was radiant with joy.

That's my wish for all of you this Christmas, no matter what life is handing you these days, that you would receive the gift, no strings attached, and that your faces would be radiant with joy.

Merry Christmas everyone near and far.  May the peace of the saviour fill you today and everyday.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

This week, I have few words.  Having lost a very dear friend to me just a few days ago (the third death in 5 months) I find I'm at a loss.  So I thought I would share photos that I have taken in our three months here.  I have set it to the first portuguese worship song I understood the lyrics in the chorus.  Enjoy, comment, ask questions.  

I hope to be in a place to share more next week.  Until then, call a friend you haven't talked to in a while, hug your family, and God bless.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Seen and the Unseen

In a crowd, in Canada, I was never known as 'the quiet one'.  I am extroverted, I love people, I love to tell a good story and I love to get to know people.

Last weekend I participated in a silent "Encontro" (Encounter) weekend. Normally, this would be a challenge for me.  This time, however, it was almost a bit of a relief.  I didn't have to try to awkwardly paste together words hoping they sounded something like a sentence and at the very least got my point across.  It should have been easy, right?

For the most part it was, it levelled the playing field.  There were times, however, when the rules were broken and the girls whispered, giggled and chatted.  That's when it was hard.  I longed to feel a part of it, to share stories, to understand the really funny woman who had everyone in stitches.

I felt almost invisible...although that isn't really the right term because it wasn't as though people were ignoring me, more that I felt like they couldn't SEE me, who I am.  I was smiling on the outside but jumping up and down on the inside saying 'I'm in here! There's a person in here longing to get out! Longing to know you!"

Putting my self-pity aside, however, the weekend was an incredible thing to be a part of.  The bottom part of the chacara was wrapped in colourful cloth, closing it off to the outside world, one reason being jealousy and infidelity are huge issues here, most men wouldn't allow their wives to go if they knew other men might be here.  The other reason was to create a true retreat, removing all distractions.

We were told that for the weekend we were 'princesses of God', we needn't lift a finger, all our needs would be met.

There were many opportunities for the women to receive prayer, to come before God, (sem vergonha) or without shame or embarrassment , to lay their burdens down.  The burdens some of these women carry are big, and heavy and have weighed them down for many, many years.

 I was struck by how powerful these times were, how heavy the presence of God was, how evident it was in the way the women were weeping.  Thousands of miles from home, a different climate and a different culture, same true God.

We were also given some pieces of paper, to write messages to each other.  I only wrote a few-some words in portuguese followed by words in english they would have to translate, I felt sad and a bit of vergonha that I couldn't write more.  It seemed I was silenced even on paper.

At the end of the weekend, we were all brought into the room where we had shed our flip flops and sat to listen, pray and receive for three days.  We were told to sit with our eyes closed while a worship song played.   A few minutes later we opened our eyes to find a bright shiny parcel at our feet, with our name on it.  In my case 'Jhenifer'.  Love it.

I opened my parcel and began to pull out bits of folded paper, messages written in portuguese and some even in english,  about how happy they were that our family had moved here, how they really liked me, what they saw in me.  I was more than a little touched; I was wrecked.  I sat with tears streaming down my face reading each one.  They saw me.  The unseen was seen.  The unsaid was heard.  Without saying anything at all.

When it came time to share what God had done for us that weekend, they wanted to hear from the Canadian.  I shared with them what their messages had meant to me, I cried, they cried we bonded.

When the weekend was over we all fussed to get ready for church, each of the women feeling like a new person.  God had removed the old and replaced it with new and there was a feeling of utter joy.

The men and other family members waited for us at the front of the church, which they had decorated in honour of our return, and as we approached fireworks lit the sky and we all cheered.  We remained a group as we stood at the front of the church during worship, singing and cheering and waving our arms in the air like we were at a concert.  The moment was 'tremendo' or tremendous and infectious.

This is why we're here.   To see hurts healed.  To see forgiveness given and received.  To see lives changed in a way that is only possible when we introduce people to the unconditional love of a saviour.     But, in the midst of helping others it's easy to push our own needs and hurts aside, sometimes they feel trivial against the backdrop of the mountains of pain here.  But for God no hurt of ours is too small to be healed, and He made that abundantly clear to me during the weekend.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Setting Myself On Fire-The Bible Lesson They Won't Soon Forget

"Who here has been hurt by someone?" I asked of the small faces looking back at me from their teetering wooden benches in the small front yard, our only light a small bulb hanging from some wires in the trees.

Every hand went up, some of them raised both.

"Who here has wanted to get back at them?" Again all hands flew in the air, this time they cheered as well.

Excellent, I had picked a great topic for my first time leading this small group of kids who are hungry to learn about Jesus.  Revenge.

I had no idea at that point how much 'hands' would play into my teaching that night.

I continued on with the lesson, reading from Romans 12:19-21.  The theme of the reading was that revenge is not a good idea, that we should approach evil with good and leave the discipline of God's children up to God.  By trying to seek revenge we are telling God we can do a better job than He can.

I had been told they loved visual lessons, object lessons.  I had practiced my lesson earlier that day, after all it involved fire so better safe than sorry.

I lit a small piece of paper on fire which was perched on the rusty lid of an old paint can.

As the small fire burned I said, "This represents the hurt that someone brings to you".

For the next part of the lesson, I poured alcohol into the bottle cap, we had decided that would be safer than pouring from the bottle.


I took the capful of alcohol and said, 'this liquid represents revenge' I poured it on the fire which immediately got large and dramatic and HOT.  The crowd ooh'd and aww'd.

Wow, I thought, I must have gotten my hand too close it's hot, why is my hand STILL SO HOT?!!

Pause to look down.

GASP!  Flame tips were licking the air from the end of my FINGERTIPS.  My hand was completely engulfed in blue flames, YIKES!

My father was a firefighter for twenty-three years, so one would think I would know how to handle the situation.  I had a cup of water next to me, but I needed that for the end of the lesson, so did I stop drop and roll?  Nope.  I shook that hand, adding more oxygen to the fire.  Eventually my mad waving and the fact that I had burned off all the alcohol caused the fire to cease.

The kids were laughing and yelling and basically finding the whole thing quite exciting.

Like anyone with stage acting experience I continued on without skipping a beat, and looked up to find a wide eyes audience looking back at me, some still giggling.

I smiled, and wondered how badly I had just burned my hand.

I took my small cup of water and said, 'this water represents love and kindness' and poured it on the fire. The crowd cheered as the fire was quickly extinguished, evil had been conquered by good, and their new small group leader had made an impression they would not soon forget.

How do I top that this week?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Caught in the Cross Fire-Adriano Shot in the Leg

Many people asked me before we left for Brazil, 'So, is the neighbourhood you'll be living in safe?'


It's a hard question to answer, there is a lot of crime that occurs just outside the gates of this 12 acre 'chacara' (farm) and in the neighbouring streets.

Just two days ago one of the young boys who comes to the chacara daily was at a local restaurant/shop and a motorcyclist came up raised his gun to shoot someone, the person ducked and this boy, Adriano, was shot in the leg.

Adriano wasn't involved, he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

He had to spend the night with the bullet in his leg, in a public hospital things don't happen very quickly, especially when it's a long weekend.  The following day the bullet was removed and he was stitched up and sent home.  The mission provided the necessary antibiotics.

The reality is he could have been hurt much worse or even killed, had the bullet entered another part of his body.  Deanna said to him 'Wow, I guess God really loves you eh Adriano?"

Adriano at home after having the bullet removed.
'Yes, he sure does'.

We don't feel 'unsafe', I don't feel nervous.  The reality is though, that the area is known for crime, and that sometimes people are caught in the cross fire.

Please pray for Adriano, and for all the youth and kids and adults in our neighbourhood, that they would be protected, that they would be drawn in by the love and the light that we are trying to share with them.

We would love to see this area do a complete 180 degree turn to become a place people want to come to instead of shying away from.  To completely change it's reputation.

It's a God sized vision, but thankfully we have God on our side.

God Called Us, But Did He Call Our Children?

It's been a bit of a tough week or so.  Luke has been having some difficulties with his friends here.  Sometimes coming in to the house really angry or just overreacting to small things with big explosive anger.  We have disciplined him when his behaviour isn't appropriate and his anger ends up hurting someone or something.  We've also talked to him when things are calm about what might be bothering him, but the reality is, his eight year old brain might not even know why he's so angry.

Luke doing his 'silly dance' at the Children's Day celebration
Then, one day we had a break through.  He came in, very upset after having a fight with one of his friends who had been making fun of him.  He lay on my lap and instead of showing anger, he cried, he cried about missing home, he cried 'why do they make fun of me, I just want to play with them!' and  'why, why did we come here, why didn't we go somewhere else?'.  My heart broke for him and I did all I could do, I held him, I soothed him and let it come out.  Although it was hard to see him so upset it, it was also good to see the root of the issue surface, he was hurting, and confused.  Perfectly normal. Perfectly heartbreaking.

As a parent, making life changing decisions and following God's call on your life is very difficult knowing your decisions not only affect you but they affect your children, who, let's face it, don't have much say in the matter.  They are along for the ride.

Or are they?

Can we really believe that an all seeing all knowing and LOVING God would call only us not taking into consideration the affect it would have on our children?  Can we really believe that His plan for us doesn't include their lives, that although the experience may not always be positive, that even the hard parts, the parts that hurt are intended for our growth AND theirs?

Our children are a gift from God, not a possession.  He is their true parent, we are their earthly parents entrusted to take care of their physical and spiritual needs while on this planet.  We are to love them, to guide them, to teach them and to point them in the direction of Jesus.  God doesn't have grandchildren. Just because Phil and I made a conscious choice to invite Jesus into our hearts and lives doesn't automatically mean they have made that choice too.  That is a decision they have to make for themselves, one we hope they do, but one that has to be made of their own accord.

So, we have to trust that all the experiences they have in this life, good and bad, are part of His plan for them, part of their story and their journey.

It's definitely NOT easy.

There are, however, little things that happen that remind us that God is in it, things that fall into place just perfectly, that we couldn't have planned.

 When we were in Canada preparing to come to Brazil, the kids really, really wanted a dog.  For obvious reasons, we couldn't get one.  We said, that maybe, if it worked out and it was ok with the people here where we would live, we could get a dog in Brazil.  Maybe.

When we arrived on the 11th of September, we pulled into the chacara and Deanna said, 'Oh I forgot to tell you, 4 days ago Zoe (their Rottweiler) gave birth to two puppies'.  Phil and I looked at each other.  At first, both were spoken for but that didn't work out, so there was an extra puppy with no home.  Hmmmmm.

Two weeks ago we added a member to our family.  He's small, has dark hair, dark eyes and is cuter than cute.  We named him George. He's the second puppy and he's ours.

Just last week I worked out that Georges birthday, 4 days before we arrived would have been the 7th of September, also Luke's birthday.  God knew we were coming, and he knew that we had two children who desperately wanted a dog and just to make it special he made sure his birthday was the same as our sons.

So, did God call just us, and expect us to drag our children along through the muck and mire not caring what the affect would be on them or did he call the Snells, our family, with each of our hearts held gently in his huge loving hands, knowing full well that in order to grow and in order to draw closer to him we sometimes need to be stretched?

Yesterday, I was sharing with others Luke's experience, the frustration he feels when being teased.  Emma Bergen, who was born here said, 'it took me about a year and a half of living here [in Marabá] to figure out that when they tease, it's their way of inviting you into friendship' Huh.

Luke had a funny grin on his face when I told him and said, 'Well that makes no sense' I replied, 'No it doesn't, but does it make you feel better?'

'Ya, it does' he said smiling.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A New Normal

It has been seven weeks since we first stepped off the plane in Marabá, suitcases loaded with life, hearts loaded with mixed emotions.

Since then we have begun to get accustomed to a new normal.  Sometimes that includes an iguana on your head while doing math.

Our day to day lives have developed a rhythm of work and homeschool, language lessons and getting to know the many, many children who come here to collect mangoes or fresh drinking water, play soccer or volleyball or to come to church.

We are blessed to have children who are brave, outgoing and resilient.  For the most part they have grabbed their new life by the horns and are enjoying the crazy ride.  Sometimes, however, the changes they have gone through over the last two years do show themselves in their behaviour.  After all, they are kids and we have just undergone a major life change.  We are surrounding them with love, boundaries and prayer while we ride out the ebbs and flows of adjustment.  If they cross your mind, would you consider praying for them too?

It's mango season!
As parents we question all the decisions we make in life that affect our kids, and seeing them upset is indeed unsettling, but we have to believe that the plan God has for us is also for them, for their lives.

Art and Cyndi have also moved here from Cambridge, in fact we lived on the same street for a number of years and now find ourselves neighbours again in a very different setting.  Their son David commented one day, "I wish I had grown up here".  Comments like that help put things into perspective.  That and seeing them surrounded by a group of local kids, playing and laughing, shooting mangoes out of trees, it all helps make us see the good in such a huge life change.
George and Faith 'share' a mango

The language is coming along, and as it does so do our relationships with the Brazilians.  We have begun to develop a friendship with the pastor Ivanildo and his wife Monica, using the language we have and translating apps on our iPhones we are making our way through conversations, having laughs and finding out some of the things we have in common.  It's encouraging to have this friendship develop, we know it will blossom as we gain more use of the Portuguese language.

We can definitely feel your prayers and appreciate all you have done and continue to do to help us continue here.

Are We There Yet?

Do you remember driving in the car with your parents as a kid to a new destination?  The journey felt like a lifetime, you ached to just be there.

The mission here is on a new journey, taking things in an exciting direction, the vision is there, but the pieces of the puzzle need to be put together to get to where we want to be.   Some of those pieces are financial, some are logistical.  Are we there yet?

There has been a lot of construction going on to get us to that next place, a new wall around the front of the church creates a focused 'courtyard' where people can gather, sit in in the shade of the mango trees while they collect safe drinking water or just talk about life.
We are working on creating a community centre which will offer a number of different programs that kids and adults can get involved with.  Some programs will open up opportunities for them to break the cycle of poverty (e.g.English lessons, computer training) and some just for fun (e.g. movie nights, wii nights).

We are here to serve the community, to meet needs, build relationships, to love them like Jesus would.
 The front of the church will have a new addition, creating a church office, meeting room for bible studies and other meetings.  We will have someone available at the reception and in the courtyard to answer questions, and just generally be a presence so their is a sense that we are ready and willing to help or just talk.

Currently, the front of the property has a large gate and a wall (see photo below) from the street it's difficult to tell if you don't already know us, what happens in the chacara.  We want to open this up, take the wall down that separates us from the community and instead have a wrought iron fence, so the church, the courtyard and all the activity is visible from the street-a much more welcoming appearance.

There is an incredible amount of need here.  It can feel overwhelming if we step back and look at the big picture.  But when we take time to look at the individuals, to get to know them, to pray for them and start to see changes we have hope, and we give them hope.

Children's Day (Dias de Crianças)

Beautiful smiles tell us we're brightening their day
October 12th in Brazil is 'Dias de Crianças' or 'Childrens' Day' it's a day all about kids, they are given gifts, there are parties and special events.    I was told that it's something like Santa coming for kids in Brazil.We celebrated Childrens' Day here at the mission on the friday before.  

We put the word out that we were going to have an afternoon of games, songs and prizes and weren't sure how many kids we would get, it's hard to tell with these sorts of things.

We had almost two hundred children turn up.  It was incredible to see that many small kids in our church.

Games with water balloons, funny dances and musical chairs helped keep them entertained and we followed up with a 'cachorro-quente' a brazilian version of a chill dog and a cup of pop.

Who doesn't love a water balloon toss?
Waiting for their 'cachorro quente'
There is very little for children in this neighbourhood to do, so anything on offer is exciting and special, it makes them feel included and loved.  This is why we are here.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Me Tarzan...You Jane; Learning the Language

It's the end of the day and my kids look like sugar donuts.  They've been playing in the sand of the volley ball court and the sand clings to their sweaty skin-they need to be scrubbed.

Luke is at the tippy top of the guava (goiaba) tree, his new 'jungle gym'.

"Luke, você tem das chaves?" I shout to him.
"Yah mom I have the keys!"

Apparently learning another language happens pretty naturally for kids.  Phil and I spend two hours a day in class to learn what he's learning just hanging out with his friend and listening to the other kids.  Oh to be eight again!

In the two weeks since we pushed 11 suitcases from Canada to Brazil (at least that's what it felt like) we have managed to unpack, make a kitchen out of raw wood and concrete blocks and have begun the process of learning Portuguese.  It's been a great ride so far.

We've settled in to a routine of working on the ongoing construction projects and homeschooling in the morning, language study and language practice in the afternoons.

Our kids are learning things too.  Like not to leave crackers in your Barbie house or it gets taken over by ants.

This is the first time for both of us to learn another language by being completely immersed in it and we're on a serious learning curve.  For two people who love to talk, get to know people and build relationships it can be a challenge but also a motivator.  We are eager to learn the language well and yes, maybe a little impatient.  We're a long way from fluency.

 Just today I was trying to explain something for which I had few words and I'm sure I sounded like a cave woman.

"I need do this.  You help me?"  or something like that....sigh...we'll get there.

Sometimes for fun we use the google translate app on our phones, speak a phrase of Portuguese into it to see if we're saying it right.  Either our accent is terrible or the app has some issues, the other night I was trying to say that I wanted to buy some ice-cream and it said I was trying to buy a transvestite.  Whoops.  I guess I better not go anywhere by myself for a while.

Saying all of that the buds of relationship with the Brazilian pastor and his wife Monica are starting to grow.  Monica is teaching us Portuguese and we seem to communicate enough for quite a few laughs, it's amazing what you can get across with a few words and a lot of body language and facial expressions.

Something that has been an absolute gift is seeing our kids flourish here.  It almost feels like we were trying to raise a pair of border collies in a tiny apartment and we just moved to a farm.  For any of you who know our kids you know they are full of energy, imagination and creativity and this rhythm of life, the amount of time they spend outside is good for their little souls.

Here are a few more photos of our second week.

Waking up 

Asleep in their 'pods' 
They had to wait for their eyes to open to hold them

Is there anything cuter than a new puppy?
There was a big grass fire on the property, this one was lit to keep the snakes at bay 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Week One-Unpacking and Settling In

It's a strange feeling to arrive in a new country and know that this will be where you will spend the next two years, and possibly many more.  It's even stranger still when it feels good.

Maybe it's too early, maybe the other shoe will drop next week, or next month but for now I'm riding the wave of feeling like we're exactly where we're supposed to be right now.

The team of women I am privileged to work with

We know there will be challenges, and language is just one of them.  The other is figuring out what to do with all of the 11 suitcases of stuff we traveled down with, when we don't have any furniture-it's a lesson in making due with what you have and resourcefulness!

We are looking forward to the weeks and years to come, to see where God will put us to work here where it's evident He is already changing lives.

Here are a few photos from our first week:

The looks better now

The hammocks are the kids beds for now

my boy asleep in his hammock 
The 'sapo' (frog)that lives in our bathroom

Lukes first day with the 11 and under soccer team
keeping up