Brazil Update for 4/24/2010

Someone flipped a switch.

The “on” position referred to rain, and it wasted no time in getting started. March was an incredibly hot month with clear blue skies every day; then April came, and with it, rain. The skies are now filled with clouds, the sun is desperately trying to peak through, and the humidity is hanging like a weight on your shoulders; the heat is oppressive-sapping you of all your energy and strength. The constant wind that we have counted on for comfort is often nowhere to be found and things have become very uncomfortable.

Our house has many openings that are impossible to close off to the outside, so this morning I had to navigate large puddles in attempting to make the breakfast table. William did his usual boing-ing out of bed and running for the stairs like Christmas morning, only to find himself flat out on his back, lying in one of the many indoor lakes. The roads here have no drainage whatsoever so, often the streets are flooded with huge puddles. Last year we were driving small Fiats with very little road clearance. I would drive up to the water’s edge, kick off my shoes, roll up my pant legs, and wade into the center, making sure we could pass before attempting the ocean crossing. Thank God He’s provided us two vehicles that are capable of rough roads as well as water crossings.

What an answer to prayer and another hurdle that God has helped us over: finding us vehicles perfect for the work He’s called us to, here in Brazil. Cars are so expensive here, used vehicles are a real gamble, corrosion is a huge problem because of the ocean air, and the roads are awful, taking their toll on any of the vehicles used around Natal. Some of the speed bumps are so high you’ll hang up and drag if you don’t cross them on the diagonal.

One night, Lori and I were desperately looking online for a car in the Natal area when we saw what looked like a nice little SUV. It was two years old, had low mileage, and was seemingly well-maintained. The contact person’s name was Nildo. When we contacted Nildo, we found out the vehicle was nowhere near Natal, but rather about twenty hours inland in the city of Brasilia. Brasilia is a fairly brand-new city, built to be the capital and pride and joy of Brazil. It is flawlessly designed with perfect roads, no speed bumps, and is far from salt-saturated air. Nildo willingly drove the twenty hours to Natal just so we could look at his truck. As soon as we saw it, we were re-affirmed that God was answering prayer, meeting our needs, and working far outside our pre-conceived boundaries. It was a black truck (Lori’s preferred color) with black leather interior (Lori’s preferred choice) and it was perfect, as if never driven. Nildo was an obvious fanatic-the kind I often made fun of!- but just the guy you’re not making fun of when you need to buy a used car. It was a five week process before the truck was in our possession. At times, it looked as if it might never happen. The constant complications were mind boggling, but she has it now, loves it, and it serves our need perfectly.

I was still in search of a pickup for myself, over and over again coming up empty. The trucks were beat, the mileage high, and the prices out of this world. I found one truck at a dealership and he accepted my offer. When Lori went to transfer funds, he informed her that there was a small lien on the vehicle. “No problem,” he said. “Give me the money, I’ll pay off the lien, and in a few weeks the truck will be yours.”

Hmm. What would you do? We walked away from that deal. Only days later, Nildo called from Brasilia. He had found me a truck. It was perfect, it had low miles, it was the model and color I wanted and thought I would never find, and it was priced considerably less than anything we had been pricing here. It was a close friend of his that was selling. If we were still looking, he said that he would put it on a truck and ship it to Natal for us to inspect. We both thanked God, and agreed to buy the truck on Nildo’s word, sight unseen. I picked it up a week later and it was all he he claimed it was. It’s perfect; it has been meticulously maintained. I’m sure that only since it’s been in my possession, has it ever been used as a truck. We are so thankful that again God has proven to be a kind and reliable master, who provides abundantly for His servants. What a huge blessing to have that behind us, and no longer have to pay ridiculous rental fees that added up to a small fortune over the last eight months.

We bumped the number to five hundred and fifty, because we kept running out. I would close the bin at the second-to-last stop, knowing there wasn’t enough sandwiches to cover the multitude waiting at the last stop.  While we would have been so excited to see God multiply the bread and mozzarella-mortadella, we arrived at the last stop, opened the bin, and realized that God just wanted us to use commonsense and order more.  I wasn’t expecting to open and see a full bin, but every time I reached in I wanted to come up with another sandwich.

Two weeks ago, we arrived at one of our stops to be greeted by a young man who had ridden his bike about fifteen miles from his home, waiting the day at our last stop, hoping to see us. I didn’t recognize him, but immediately Lori knew who he was-Adriano. Clean cut and dressed in nice clothes, he had a big smile on his face. He had come and waited for us-to tell us that God has saved his soul! He was living with his family now, far from the Ponta Negra stop, where he once washed car windows and waited with his buddies for our arrival on Thursdays. He wanted us to know what it was that made God become real to him, made him realize that a new life was possible, and convicted and convinced him of God’s personal love for him: the distance we travelled to bring him the Gospel!

What a thrill it is, to be passing out sandwiches and juice and God’s Word, while seeing fruit from your labor standing right before your eyes. We had the chance to talk with him after the hungry were fed, and you could see on his face the joy that God had now placed deep within his heart. Staying in touch with these kids is very difficult with no means of contact, but he promised to find us, once in a while on Thursdays.

The circus is in town. We saw the big tent being set up when we arrived at our Machadão stop, right in the center of Natal. Surrounding the filthy dirty tent, were twenty little camping trailers, hardly fit as shelter for a pet, and hardly road-worthy. There was one larger wreck-of-a-trailer that I guessed was the communal showers and bathroom because it had a large drain pipe that exited the trailer’s back and dumped into a large hole that had been dug in the ground.

This happy environment was cordoned off with a dilapidated, rust-ridden, steel fence. I imagine that the fence’s purpose was not only to keep non-payers out, but also to keep their acquired attractions in. I went to the fence and yelled for the people to come. I wish I could aptly describe the little faces that came from every corner, lining up along the fence like little prisoners. Their hands reached between the bars, excitedly grasping whatever we gave them. I know your heart, like ours, would have been melted. Filthy, dirty children-boys and girls wearing only underpants that may once have been a color, but now all matched the color of the dirt they were living in. Many of the children were deformed, and their deformities were being used as a means of profit. All their faces showed the hard lives they have already lived, even though the oldest was fifteen. When we asked how long they would be in town, their response was, “As long as people come and pay to see us, we’ll be here.”

It’s been four weeks now, and they’re still entertaining the people of the city. I find comfort in knowing that while they are here, we’ve been able to feed them sandwiches for their hunger, cold juice for their thirst, and-best of all!-tell them the old, old story; the Lord Jesus Christ satisfies both the hunger and the thirst of their precious souls.

Last week we met a young man named Enrique. He was sent to us by a concerned citizen, who had heard about the work that God was doing. He had told him that he could get some food for his starving body, and maybe some help with his life.

Enrique was a professional chef who had once worked in all the big hotels in the city. He was a father, with children and a wife who loved him, but couldn’t take his addiction any longer. He was living under the soccer stadium, sleeping in the dirt, and had had no shower or change of clothes for three weeks. He was begging us for help. We made arrangements to pick him up Friday morning at ten o’clock. If he was serious, and was there when we arrived, then we would take him to the rehab., where he would hear the Gospel and hear that God can help him overcome the sin of drug abuse.

Friday morning I loaded the truck with about eight hundred dollars worth of food, purchased for the rehab, and made my way to Enrique’s stop. He was there waiting, happy to see us, and quick to get in the truck and make the trip to the rehab. You can imagine our disappointment when the admissions person took one look at him, then informed us that this was his third time there. “He comes for clothes, a shower, and a hot meal,” he said. “Then he’s off looking for his next fix.” So, it came as no surprise when we heard he had only lasted the weekend. Once again, he turned his back on God’s offer and chose his life of drugs, filth, and vile sin.

While at the rehab. I asked Clesso if he wanted us to take him home to visit his family, a break he had earned for exemplary behavior. His face lit up, he looked towards his counselor who gave him the nod, then ran off to collect the few belongings he had. While he was gone, they again took the opportunity to tell us about the amazing transformation that God has accomplished in his life, and how wonderful he’d been to all the other men, helping in any way he could, in an effort to put the love of God on display.

He left with us, full of excitement at the thought of seeing the grandmother that he hadn’t seen since checking in at the rehab six months ago, and the rest of his family-some of whom he hadn’t seen in two years.

It was at least two hours of driving due west. We headed well into the interior before arriving at his small, humble village. It was a nice ride, and we saw landscape and lush foliage-so different from the sand dunes we’ve been surrounded with the last nine months.

Everyone was home, all sitting around the front door of the little house, and all eyes followed the truck as we pulled up. This was the most exciting thing they had seen all day, and they had no idea who we were or why we were there. That is, until Clessio jumped out with the huge smile that seems to consume his whole face. Looking back now, I remember yelps of excitement, looks of unbelief, overwhelming joy, and happiness. He ran and threw his arms around his Mom, grandmother, little brother, and sister in-law, and they looked into the eyes of  a transformed son that had come back home to be with his family for Easter.

We dropped him off Friday reminding him as we left that we had promised the rehab to have him back by Monday evening.

The grandmother apologized for the disheveled condition of the house as we returned Monday evening. She explained that Clessio’s brother, who is a husband and father of three, had been drinking all weekend and had wreaked havoc on the home where they all lived. They asked me to pray and it was a bittersweet prayer meeting-filled with thanksgiving for one miracle and begging God for another. We stood in a circle and I prayed for this family as one mother thanked God for sparing her son, and another wife wept outloud, as I asked God to liberate her husband from the power of Satan and save his soul. When I said amen, she slumped to a nearby chair with her face buried in her hands, shoulders shaking, and repeating over and over again, “Please God, only You, please do what only You can do.”

They had all seen the transformation in Clesso and openly acknowledged it as a God miracle. This wife of a troubled husband professes to be saved, but confessed that her faith in God had been shaken by her circumstances. Now, faith had been renewed as she looked at Clessio and was reminded that God still spares lives and saves souls. Please pray for this boy, Cleberson and Clessio’s mother who is not saved, but plainly acknowledges that God spared the life of her son. Clessio happily jumped back in the truck and talked our ears off the whole two hour trip back to the rehab.

Lori and Caroline have been spending a fair bit of time at the orphanage, and the visits have been very encouraging. Cleide has been feeling much better and has been spending her days back with the kids. We dropped by Easter weekend with some candy and small toys for the kids, arriving to find the house unusually quiet. We learned that Cleide had the kids at a special Easter Sunday School service.

The lease is up on the home they are using, and the landlord wants them out; he’s unwilling to renew the lease. Thank God for a temporary home He has provided, a little south of the city. Cleide and Lori went to check out the property and then accompanied two women from the minors judge’s office, who gave their approval for the site. The best thing about it is the huge piece of land that the house sits on. The kids will finally have room to run around and, hopefully, exhaust a bit of the boundless energy they have!

Most likely we’ll all be there to help pack and move the few belongings they have when the moment of moving arrives. Lori’s been helping with pre-moving organization and cleaning, although she’s having flash-backs of our own hectic, whirlwind move of last July!

Now that we have received confirmation that our Permanent Visa is waiting for us in Boston, we will be able to purchase the property that we believe God has chosen for the orphanage. Please make this a fervent matter of prayer as we move forward. We are very aware that destruction will be the result of moving independent of God’s will and purpose.

The women of Aningas are so pleased with the renovation of the Galpão, and it’s exciting to see them in there working every day. There’s an experienced seamstress who has been spending time with the women each day training them on the machines. They presently have six sewing machines that were given to them by a company who has contracted them to sew for them. Five more machines are promised to them, from another vendor who has guaranteed work. The building is quickly becoming a center of activity in Aningas, with mothers working inside, while the kids congregate and play around the outside grounds.

I have four boys from Aningas that are helping me work. We’re still working on the exterior of the building, but soon hope to introduce them to the craft of woodworking, and begin to teach them a trade. I sat them all down one afternoon and explained again why my family was working in their village. I gave them a simple Gospel message and told them to expect this every week. Please pray for them; they all seem very receptive to a message that they seemingly had never heard before. Vaughn is in his late twenties, married, and a dad of four children, all sick with respiratory problems. Paulo is about seventeen, a great worker who is eager to learn. Leandro, 17, is the boy who lost his eyesight suddenly, so we took him into Natal for treatment… Nego is his younger brother. They were both orphaned as children when they lost their parents to alcohol abuse.  Nildete took Nego in and raised him as her own. Others in the community stepped forward to raise the other children, who are grown up now.

Leandro lives with his older sister who has no husband, but three children. She depends on Leandro to support them all.

Teaching them will be very difficult, seeing that presently they know nothing, and seem to be afraid of almost anything that plugs in. Pray that while getting involved in the project of teaching them we never lose sight of the motive: their spiritual need and the well-being of their souls, as well as the souls of their families.

Many of you have heard me talk about Eliel, whom we’ve known since our first trip here in 2007. He and his family have become good friends to us, and many times have been a great help to our family. Eliel teaches English in Natal and he offered to spend time with me and help me with the Portugues language. I took him up on his offer and pick him up every Tuesday morning. He spends the day with me in Aningas, and I deliver him back home at night. This way, I can be close to the boys, while committing the day to studying the language. What a blessing it is to have this gifted language professor available to work with me at my convenience, teaching me what I so desperately need to communicate God’s message to the lost!

We’re all doing great and the weeks fly by with so many things to occupy our time. The kids are doing very well at school. I  believe that this report will bring everyone up to date on what’s going on here in Natal, Brazil.

We continue to ask for, and covet, the prayers of the saints as we take the daily steps that God lays out on our pathway. We can look back over the last nine months and see God acting as only He can-flawlessly!-and it gives us the confidence to move forward knowing that, right now, we are exactly where God wants us to be. That assurance causes us great joy and a true spirit of thankfulness.

Good night, and good bye, for now.

With Christian love Mark, Lori, Caroline, William.

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