Our Story

Our story was required as part of the application to the US government for Vá Livre’s tax-free status. It was written in 2009.

How did I go from owner of ShopRite Supermarkets in Bristol and Waterbury, CT to volunteer on the streets of Northeast Brazil? What possible chain of events led me to leave a job I loved, my country, and my home and family to become a servant to the homeless, the abandoned street children and the needy; thousands of miles away? What led my husband and me to give away our claims to any future in the two businesses we had each worked in for over 25 years?

It all started in 1997 when Mark and I met our first Brazilian family.As we got to know them and more Brazilian immigrants, we realized the need for them to learn English and resolved to do something about this.We opened up our home and offered free English lessons at night.

Our motive for doing this was to show them the love of God and tell them the Gospel, God’s good news: For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but has everlasting life. St. John 3:16

In 2001, a law was opened for illegal immigrants to apply for green cards and we started to help our English students find lawyers and start the process of becoming legal residents.While their applications were being reviewed for approval, no one could leave the country. Soon five or six students were begging for us to go to Brazil to visit their families.They wanted us to see where they came from and they asked us to bring Portuguese Bibles to their families.

I left for Brazil on September 9, 2002. I arrived in Brazil and saw a need that I could never have imagined. Children without food, abandoned, sleeping on the sidewalks of the cities. I learned that there are over 8 million children just like this in Brazil.And my heart burned to help them. Day one, I went to the supermarket and bought carriages and carriages of groceries. But it wasn’t enough. I went back to the supermarket and Ithought, “I need my father’s checkbook; he’s got a lot more money than I!” I bought more groceries. But it wasn’t enough. I stopped and I thought, “I need my Heavenly Father’s checkbook!” The need was overwhelming, so because I was stuck, I called out to God to help.And I had the amazing joy of seeing Him work, using me. Because I needed Him and asked Him, He answered. I had never met “this God” before. I never needed to ask Him for anything at home. My Christian life was lived like a stale, boring religion until I came face to face with the real and living God of action.A God that required me to walk and live my Christianity and to serve others like Jesus Christ served. I’ll never forget the moment I looked up, blew God a kiss and thanked Him for waking me up. I had plenty of money, a good house, a college education,and a job I loved, but I never really lived until I lived Christ and lived for Christ. Nothing I ever had or bought gave me the pure joy that serving God gave.

There was no looking back. On my first day back to work, I told my brother that I couldn’t continue working in the supermarkets anymore.That was my last day. I told him to stop my paycheck.That was the last paycheck I received.

The work continued in Boston with Brazilian immigrants. Our house was open and the phone rang continually with new contacts and requests for help translating and interpreting.

God was calling my husband, Mark, to leave his work and serve Him, but Mark resisted until August 2006.When Mark left his business and turned it over to his brother, I did the same and turned over my interest in the supermarkets to my brother.We both knew that we were not going to turn back.We let go of what we had so that we would depend on God for the resources needed for the work in Brazil.Through the years, I had continued my visits to Brazil and was starting to set up a cooperative of women in the favela, or slum, neighborhood of Planalto in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte.

In April, 2007 Mark and I, along with our two children, Caroline and William, traveled to Natal, Brazil together for the first time.We spent time in the slums, we visited the women of the cooperative, we gave out clothes to the naked children in the streets. After 10 days all of us were heading home, but thinking of how soon we could return. The children saw the enormous need of the kids their age and were longing to help. Mark, a talented carpenter, was talking about all the simple things he could do to improve the living conditions of several families that we had visited. And so, just like that, our family unit was knit together in one longing to serve and love the people that told us they thought God had abandoned them. But miracle of miracles, He had not abandonedthem, but had sent them help from so very, very far away that His love must be real and it must be amazing.

We spent June, July and August of 2007 and 2008 working here in Natal and Aningas.We were planning to spend this year doing the same, when our house sold in Massachusetts. In ten days, we gave away all our furniture and packed up the house to move to Brazil. I committed to home schooling the children here in Brazil and we boarded the plane sure of just one thing: God called us and we will go.

We spend time each week at an orphanage in Ponta Negra playing with the children, cleaning, grocery shopping for them, helping the children with their homework. Just last month, we bought sinks and toilets and showers and faucets and started to bring running water to the orphanage to improve their living conditions. Mark just finished building cabinets to house the children’s clothes and shelves in the kitchen for better food storage.

We also spend time in a village called Aningas about an hour north of Natal.The village is located in the middle of the bush. It is primitive and desperately poor.There are 1,100 school-aged children in this village.There is a little elementary school there where we have worked to bring them running water and a water bubbler. Mark built desks for the children and tables and chairs so that they would have a place to sit while they ate.We bought each child a notebookand pencils and pens. Can you even fathom the fact that several children in the village were not coming to school because they had no paper? We bought a copier/printer for the teachers; they were using an ancient crank type carbon copier.We teach in the school; of course it’s about God. But we vary the approach and use art, geography, photography and English lessons to illustrate our lesson while giving the children a lesson that they love.

We served the 2,500+ residents of Aningas Christmas Eve dinner.We bought two pigs and two cows and had them “attended to” and cut up. Mark built grills using bricks and borrowed racks and the villagers helped cook over open fire.We made rice and Brazilian salad and served them from 12 to 6. Person after person came to us to tell us that they had never before been able to eat until they were full.When I hear comments like these, I realize how blessed I have been, how fortunate to have been born in the USA, and how that very blessing and fortune compels me to serve those without. For, how else will they know that there is a God and He sees their need and He hears their cry and He responds.

We spend time on the streets every week.We call it “treasure hunting”; when we look for the homeless children in the corners, under stacks of chairs and benches, under sheets of cardboard in the entryway of a shop.As we come to know more and more of them and they come to know us, they call us “Auntie” and “Uncle” and it is both a thrill and a privilege to us. Each week we bring them lunch and we sit and talk with them. Their needs are many.Their wishes are made up of a longing for a bath, a longing to eat until their belly is satisfied and a pair of sandals. It is not right that they are abandoned. God has not abandoned them and He is the Father to the Fatherless.And so we are here to do His work.

Our goal, God Willing, is to build an orphanage big enough to gather up these children and give them a home.The orphanage in Ponta Negra cannot fit one more child and yet, just last week, three children knocked on the door, begging to be taken in. No child should be left, abandoned on the streets, scared and hungry and without hope.

We have found a piece of land in Aningas and the price is right: $5,000 at the current exchange, for about 7 acres. God Willing, we’ll buy that land and start the hard work of clearing it and building.This will provide work for many of the villagers, continuing our work with them, at the same time.

This is what we’re praying for and working for.Thankfully for us, we work for God. Nothing is impossible with God.

And so, what caused us to leave everything we had and knew? The chance to work for the biggest boss there is, God.The chance to trade “pennies” here on earth for a treasure in heaven.You might consider it to be the most calculating, mercenary move we could ever have made.

I pray that as you read this, God will speak to you and you will listen. It will change your life.