Video Blog #3: Aningas

Martin’s 3rd video blog gives us a great view of Aningas- the village itself, the work there, and the land for the orphanage. Enjoy!

Martin’s Video Blog

Check out Martin’s three video blogs from his time with us in Brazil. Enjoy!


After arriving safely in Brazil, Martin gathered his thoughts and impressions into our first video blog.




Martin’s second video blog gives us a glimpse of the favelas of Brazil.


Martin’s 3rd video blog gives us a great view of Aningas- the village itself, the work there, and the land for the orphanage.

Mother’s Day in Aningas

For Mother’s Day this year, we baked a cake. A huge cake! Two delectable layers of white vanilla, dripping with melted dark chocolate. We figured, let’s go big, make sure everyone gets a good size piece. Somehow whether big or small, the ladies in Aningas can make a cake stretch to fit the crowd. This time though, there was little stretching, and much to enjoy!








Before eating the cake, we had a lesson. Being Mother’s Day, we decided it was the perfect opportunity to get the story straight about Mary, the mother of Jesus. With strong ties to Catholicism, most people here exalt Mary, believing that she was divine and therefore deserving of worship. We looked at the marriage feast in Cana: “His mother saith unto the servants, ‘Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it’” (John 2:5). Here, we noted the importance of the fact that Mary pointed to Jesus as the one to follow, the one to listen to and believe. Again, the adults and kids heard how Jesus was the One who freely gave up His life to save us. Mary, while she did have the precious privilege of being His earthly mother, needed salvation from her sins just like we do. He alone is worthy of praise! Only He can save!

We closed in prayer and then the kids lined up to say their memory verses. Caroline and the four girls (Nadine, Natalia, Layane, and Rita) took the names down of all the kids who had memorized the verse for the week and then let them take a special prize gift that we put together in honor of Mother’s Day.

The gift was a small glass bowl filled with chocolate candies (yummy ones too- a rare find here!) and a colorful spoon, all wrapped up and tied with a bow. The kids were very excited to be able to take them home to mom.         


Current Prayer Requests

These are some of the battles we’re facing…


Please pray for the future orphanage. We met with the developer hoping to at least get started on permits. He said it was pointless to go forward until we are recognized as a non-profit by the government here, as we are in the US. A lawyer has been working on that process for us, but it seems slow and endless. Please pray that God expedites what could be a very long and tedious process.


Pray for the street work. The dynamics of that work have changed greatly. There’s not the number of kids working the streets as there once was. Don’t be fooled into thinking things here are improving. They’ve just moved on, and we need to find them. We’ve lost count, but guess that about forty boys have been taken off the street and brought to the rehab. I would love to tell you that they’re all success stories, but that’s not the case. We seek for one lost soul, with the help and diligence of our Lord.


Pray for the work in the favelas. This work in the slums is ongoing. Along with the feedings, we have been doing all day first-aid care, either door to door or by setting up a table near our truck. We’ve been taking some of the teenagers from Aningas to help us. The conditions in the slums seem to become more desperate with time. There have been days when we have left the favelas and gone straight to the hospital with folks whose condition was beyond our help.

We had been purchasing medical supplies direct from a distributor. On our last visit, the owner informed her that the government had changed the rules and we will no longer be able to buy there. Please pray that the Lord finds us another resource.


Pray for Aningas. We have made some real inroads there. Many of the families have embraced us and are so thankful for the times when God, through us, has helped them. Satan is not pleased. There have been a couple of rumblings through the village that some are not pleased with these Americans. “Who do they think they are showing up and taking over?” God knows we’re walking a fine line. We do what we can, we help where we can, and we leave the politics of being accepted to God. It really has been humorous to watch God silence some of the naysayers using their own family members, who have started to attend on Sunday nights. Pray for Fatima, who is in the hospital. She recently began attending on Sunday nights, bringing her little daughter, Kathleen. Fatima’s mother is a devout Catholic and the loudest “rumbler.”

Our Sunday night effort has grown considerably. The kids are now rewarded for learning memory verses. We have changed our approach. We now focus on Bible verses rather than lessons. They need to understand that what we’re teaching is from God’s word. Some statements made they haven’t liked. They need to know that their argument is with God. When we show them what God says and where it is found, they have accepted the truth.


Sunday School Lessons

Layane’s sitting in the roped off section of the Galpão where we’ve hung a picture of pigs. She’s playing the part of the prodigal son, pretending to munch on cornhusks while lamenting the fact that all of her friends, Nadine, Cassio, and Manoelhio abandoned her when her ten reais inheritance was gone.

When the prodigal repents and comes home, Layane kneels in front of Rita, playing the father, who promptly tells her to stand up and wraps a robe (a blue towel) and a beautiful ring (one we borrowed from Caroline) on her finger.

For our English lessons this time around, Stephanie and I decided to focus more on the Bible stories. Instead of just telling the story in Portuguese and then having the class learn twenty new English words, we had them act out the story. This was much more engaging and entertaining for the kids and they were able to remember the story and the message in greater detail.

To start, we asked volunteers to come up to play the parts. Then Stephanie read the story from the Bible while I went around passing out the props and the lines for them to read as it went along. Even the shy kids were surprisingly enthusiastic, going so far as to vigorously throw the net over the side of our makeshift boat in the story of the disciples and the catch of 153 fish. After performing the little “teatro” we would go through the worksheet with them and practice a few English phrases that went along with the story for the day.

In the story of O Filho Perdido (the prodigal son) they learned the words run, spend, come, and forgive as well as how to use them in a sentence. For O Bom Samaritano (the good Samaritan) they learned hurt, help, and heal. For each lesson they also learned a corresponding gospel verse. By the end of our final week many of them were able to recite multiple verses from memory. We even offered five reais to someone who was willing to try and they all shouted “não quero, não quero cinco reais. Só os versículos!” They didn’t want the money. They just wanted a chance to try reciting the verses!

Again, we’ve been amazed at how receptive these kids are to listening and learning from the Bible. They see the truck coming through the main road in Aningas and five minutes later they’re all lined up on the benches ready for the lesson to begin. Some of the kids who were coming to the lessons last time we were here brought the little notebooks and paper to classes this time. They keep all of the worksheets and even some of the older kids (around 15 and 16) tuck the coloring pages away for later.

This month has flown by and it seems like we haven’t had enough time to spend with the kids in Aningas. Despite our looming departure in two days, we’re looking forward to going back one last time to say goodbye and to give the kids individual picture collages of memories from our time together.

These are smart kids, kids that hope to leave Aningas and do big things. Some of them want to come to the United States someday. But for right now, we have the chance to share our love of Christ with them. Please pray especially for some of these older girls who have shown an interest in the lessons and in learning more about the gospel on Sunday nights. We hope the lessons have been entertaining, but more importantly that they might bring spiritual blessing through the messages and verses they have learned.

The Cabinet Shop

Working with the boys in the cabinet shop
Some of the product we’ve built
This is a box built to fit in a pickup truck bed. I told the little kids to fill it with plastic and we
would bring it to the recycle yard and any money they earned would be theirs. 

Trying to get the village to start recycling.

The Gospel in Aningas

The Gospel being presented to the folks in Aningas

Neldete showing us one of the three new machines that the women were able to purchase!

Thanksgiving in Our Hearts

With Thanksgiving in Our Hearts

Where should I begin? What should I include and what should I leave out? So much has transpired since we visited home in July.

I would like to begin by speaking well of our Heavenly Father. God is a good God, His word is reliable, His promises are trustworthy, and He truly does work all things for good.

I really don’t want to rehash the assault on my family, other than to mention the great things that God has brought out of an awful experience.

It was early on a Thursday morning when we were awakened with the call that Lori’s truck had been recovered. Thursday was our street feeding day, but once again our plans were being turned upside-down. We had to take a dune buggy to reach the truck because it had been abandoned it in the middle of a sand dune park, quite a distance from a car accessible road. It had no wheels, no tires, no battery, no radio, no wipers, every fender was either smashed or damaged, and it was sitting on its side half buried in sand. The police let us know that it was our problem to recover it from the dunes and cautioned us that leaving it there another night would mean even more damage.

We didn’t know where to start, what to do, who would help us, or how we could get the car off the dunes and out of the park. We put the feeding off, no doubt disappointing a lot of kids, and went to work. How difficult would it be to buy tires, wheels, and a battery? We spent all day, going from one place to another, at times feeling like we were going around in circles, and nobody was able to fit the correct wheels to Lori’s truck. I remember looking up at the sun as the day was slipping away. I knew that at five-thirty it would be dark, and any hope of recovering the truck would be lost.

Finally, we were able to locate some used, junky-looking wheels, but they would work. We bought the tires, wheels, lug nuts, and battery, and headed back home as the sun began its descent.

Souza is a local buggy driver who, over the past year, has become a friend. He knows the dunes well, so we called to ask for his help. “I can’t help right now, I’m with clients on a buggy tour,” he said, “If I’m able to, I’ll come later”. Nielson, William, and I loaded the truck with tools, shovels, and gas and headed out, knowing that we would have to figure this out on our own.

The sand is really soft, so I didn’t even know if my truck would be able to climb the steep dunes. The sun was now dropping below the horizon and time was of the essence, so I put it in low 4×4 and went for it. I crowned the first dune, dropped into the valley, and then crowned the second. You can imagine my surprise as I  looked down to see Lori’s little truck surrounded with buggy drivers! Souza had dumped his clients, rounded up his buddies, and was waiting my arrival. For a moment I found myself with reason to be thankful as they jumped my truck, unloaded everything, and went to work to save our vehicle. It wasn’t long though before the worry came back. They informed me that the threading was wrong and none of the lug nuts would work.

We were out in the middle of nowhere, it was just about dark, and everything was now closed. I had nowhere to turn and started to feel very alone. I got down in the sand, with my back towards the men, looked to heaven and began to ask, “Why? Lord, I’m yours, my family is yours, our life is yours. Help!” I had done well till now, but no longer could I hold back the tears. I asked God how He planned on producing anything of value from the past week’s events. I asked Him how He could use  me with such wavering faith. My kids were scarred by the assault and were now living with real fear. I  was helpless, as the dad, to protect them. We had lost everything of value that we had. And now, I wasn’t even being helped after the fact, as I tried to get our life back on track. I needed God’s help to get the right lug nuts. I recommitted the car to God, and prayed for His help to get it out of the sand and back home before we lost it completely. It was a moment of real doubt, and I gave up.

I turned to let the men know we’d finish this the next day. But they hadn’t even noticed my little breakdown, they were feverishly making phone calls. “Let’s go,” Souza yelled, “We’re not done yet.”

We climbed in a buggy and headed out to find help. We went through the village, from one house to the next without any luck. Finally Souza called a friend who owned an auto parts store. The friend agreed to open up his place, and see if he could help us. He was able to come up with enough to put three lug nuts on each wheel. “Pay me if they work,” he said. Then, he locked up his store, and we  headed back to the dunes. I was overwhelmed by this effort to help, and felt a bit better.

We crossed the park entrance, climbed the first dune, and then veered wildly off course. The men had caught a fox in their headlights and felt there was time enough to chase him around the dunes. We arrived back at the truck, and it was pitch black. Souza’s friends had lit the truck with their buggy lights. They had dug it out of the sand and were ready and waiting our arrival. Within an hour, the tires, wheels, and battery were installed, and they had pulled the truck out of the sand pit and off the dunes. All I could say was thank you to these friends, hoping that some day I could repay them. With a great feeling of relief we all headed back home.

Would God answer the desperate prayer of a wavering Christian as he knelt in the sand and questioned God’s divine plan? Well, let me tell you about the events of the past few months, and you decide.

It was going great, we were working hard every day and making real progress. The land for the orphanage was just about cleared. I built gates and fences at the entrance, and was looking to get my hands on a backhoe so I could start breaking ground. The plan was to get one house up right away. We had asked the street kids if one day they might want to live with us. We told them why we believed God had sent us to them, telling them what we believed God had in mind. Since then, every time we saw them, they asked if our house was ready yet. “No,” I would respond, “But we’re working on it.

As quickly as this work began it was stopped, dead stopped. We were cleaned out, and didn’t have the means to keep going. Why would God stop the very thing He gave us to do, we wondered. After all this was His project, His work; He loves these kids more than we ever could. Doesn’t He want them off the street and under Godly influence as soon as possible? There seemed to be no barriers, no obstacles, nothing but green lights. We were told by everyone we talked to here to just go build it. Everyone in Aningas was excited about this great new project that had come to their little village.

Suddenly, I was sitting at home, the boys were not working, and, seemingly, nothing was getting done. How hard it was to be still. We were alone here with God. I had no place else to turn, no one to get advice from, so the answers I needed could only come from heaven. I did the only thing I could do, I dove into my Bible. I read with a desire to hear God. I read expecting answers. I wish I could put in writing the wonder it is when God starts to speak to your soul and warm your heart. Maybe on some level I can better relate to those two travelers, trudging along in a fog of confusion and doubts and sadness. Going home to Emmaus was their only option, there was no place else to go. Then the Savior arrived and began to open the Scripture to them. The immediate response to revealed truth is a warm heart and a renewed spirit.

God showed me Lamentations 3, and taught me how to praise Him in the storm. When the hard time comes, wait passionately, seek diligently, and hope expectantly. Wait for Him to right the wrongs, for He must. He can not fail. And as you wait, worship. Seek to find God in the trial, because you are not there alone. Hope expectantly because recovery, restoration, and help is on the way.

Oh how well I remember hitting bottom (says the writer). But there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering I keep a grip on hope. God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, His merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great His faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say this over and over) He’s all I’ve got left.

I would love to share more, but suffice to say that God’s Word has been a real comfort to my heart as well as Lori’s. When I put my Bible down, I picked up my many notebooks filled with material that I had been neglecting. I would work hard at the language each day Eliel was teaching, but the next day I was back out working with the boys. I could tell that Eliel was a bit annoyed that I wasn’t being diligent every day in learning the language. One day he said, “Look Mark! I know this is difficult, I know you would rather be out working, but if God’s going to use you then you have to learn how to speak. You have helped me so many times as you shared the things God’s given you. Look around. All these souls, they need to hear God speak through you as I have.”

He’s been so excited the last few months seeing, as he puts it, real progress. One Saturday we had his family over to spend the day. We were in the pool, and I was talking to Eliel’s wife Eliane. Sophia, (their nine-year-old daughter who speaks some English) was swimming at the other end of the pool. I didn’t know she was listening till she yelled, “Wow Mark you’re really learning.” God took me out of Aningas, put me in a chair, and forced me to open the books. I’ve learned so much, but please keep praying! I’ve so much yet to learn.

Our landlord wanted to raise the rent, but we said no way. He kept hinting at it so finally Lori and I went to visit him at his office. We needed to discuss our concerns. Once again we explained why we were here. With so many needs, there was no way that we could commit more than what we were already spending for a home. We made it clear that if he insisted, we needed to start looking for another place to live. He didn’t back down, so on top of all we were doing, we also began to keep our eyes open for another house. We were coming up empty, finding nothing that would suit our family and the many coming to visit us and help in the work. After being assaulted, the kids made it clear that they were scared and wanted to find another place to live. This concern quickly moved finding a house to the top of our daily prayer list. What was once a relaxed and casual looking, became a diligent search.

Rogerio is a character, to say the lest. He lives in our little village, and presents himself as the local real estate broker, with his finger on the pulse of Jenipabú. He spends his days in the center of town, swinging from a hammock on the front porch of a house. He’s waiting for clients to come to him. He only has a bike so if you want to tour available property you had better be able to provide him with transportation.

I had gone into town to collect our mail at the little post office when he accosted me. Determined to sell us something, he never leaves us alone. I’m doing better with the language and most of the time can connect the dots and figure out what people are trying to say. My plan with him was simple, smile and nod till he runs out of words, then move on. He pummeled me with words, as he always does, I smiled and nodded as I always did, bid him fare well and made for home.

I had gone out for something first thing Saturday morning. When I returned, Lori and Caroline were gone. When they returned, Lori was a bit annoyed with me. “Why did you make an appointment to go and see houses with Rogerio if you weren’t going to be home?” Apparently, I had agreed to go house shopping Saturday morning. He had made arrangements with the home owners, and showed up at the house only to find me gone. Lori felt bad, and agreed to go, hoping it would make him feel better. “We saw one house that’s really clean,” Lori said. “It’s small, but the rent would be half what we’re spending now.” After she described the house I felt that I should go see it. “The house is also available for purchase, but something must not be right, because the price seems very low for ocean front property,” Lori said.

The next day I went to see the house with William. I saw tremendous potential and came back really feeling that we should pursue purchasing or renting the house. It is located about ten buildings down from where we’re living now. It’s in a tight little community of very secure homes, all of which are equipped with a security system that includes a Guard physically checking on the properties every two hours. The other home owners even had cameras installed so they could watch the road and beach front and pick up on anything suspicious. We spent the next few weeks continuing to look for a place to live, but also praying specifically about this house. Everyone we talked to felt the price to be very low for ocean front property. Dad and Mom arrived to spend the next five weeks with us. It was very comforting to have family with us, and more than once we took advantage of their shoulders. We told them about the kids wanting to move, and the house we had seen. We asked if they would come and look at the house with us. We made arrangements and were able to bring them over and get their take on the possibility of moving. Mom thought it was nice, though a very simple house. She could see that it was well maintained. But she also saw what would be involved if this house was to accommodate not only our family but also the many that come to visit. Dad immediately saw this as a  tremendous investment opportunity, and encouraged us to make an offer.

Once again it was a Saturday morning, and the persistent Rogerio showed up in the front yard unannounced. I could see that he wasn’t going away until we told him we weren’t interested or made an offer. We got the kids together, and while he waited on the patio, we commended this whole thing to God. “This will be Your house, so please tell us what to do,” I said. With that we had a quick family discussion. Together we agreed on a price that we believed, if accepted, would indicate to us that God was leading us. It was considerably less than the asking price and it was un negotiable.

We arrived at the house, sat with the home owner, and explained everything. We then made the offer.  She immediately refused. She then informed us that this was her daughter’s house, not hers. “She wants to sell because she never uses the house. She lives in France and the burden of maintenance has fallen on me. It’s her house, so it’s her decision.”

After that explanation, she made a call to France. Lori talked with the daughter and explained what we were doing in Brazil. “This house will be used for God and this is what we are comfortable to offer.” Lori said. “It’s a wonderful work you’re doing, the offer is very low, but let me talk it over with my husband and I’ll get back to Mom,” she said.

We were called a few days later with what the mom, Salette, said was good news. “My daughter has accepted your offer and only asked that you take care of Rogerio’s commission. Again a call was made to France and Lori talked with the daughter. She explained that we could not go one penny above what we felt comfortable offering, before God. The daughter said, “Sorry but no,” Lori thanked her for her time and hung up.

The house has a big, covered patio and we were all just sitting enjoying the ocean view and breeze, and so we were slow to get up.  Dad, Mom, and Lori were having a light conversation with Dona Salette while William and I were playing with her dog. The phone rang. It was France again. “I’ve thought about this and changed my mind,” the daughter said. “I want you to have my house, and I’ll sell for the offered price, no strings attached.”

This has not happened yet. We want to do our due diligence. We’ve had an engineer inspect the house, and an architect has been working on plans I drew, so we can see what changes will be needed, along with the cost. We also have a lawyer checking all the house’s documents. If this all checks out, then we would like to go forward, God Willing, and make this purchase. Please pray that God will continue to guide.

Ed and Gilvânia are a couple that we met as a result of our house hunting. We had seen the sign every time we drove by. It’s just about two miles from our present house. We knew that behind those walls was a house with a pool, and it was available for rent or sale. We hadn’t bothered before, but things had changed, and we knew that this needed to be pursued. We made arrangements to visit on a Saturday morning. Ed was waiting at the gate when we arrived. He greeted Dad, Mom, Lori, Caroline, and myself “Bom Dia”, but that was the last thing spoken in Portuguese. From then on, he spoke flawless English, as he and his wife made us feel very welcomed. A quick tour of the house and we knew that God had other reasons for this meeting. “My wife and I met and married in the US,” he said. “We’ve spent most of our life in New York. I received my engineering degree while there, and was involved in developing projects throughout the city. We came back to Brazil, knowing we would have to adapt to a completely different life, but the cost of your stressful life was too much for us. I’m a developer here, and Gilvânia is an attorney. Though our professions are hardly as financially rewarding as in your country, we really like the lifestyle here.”

I was itching to go back to work on the orphanage and saw this as an opportunity to talk to a local construction guy in my language, and pick his brains. He graciously answered all my questions, and I could see a real interest on his part to help.

While Dad, Ed, and I were having this conversation, the women were off in deep conversation with Gilvânia. “Ed,” she said, “Remember the people I told you I saw in the city that day feeding the street kids! Well, these are the people.” We had taken enough of their time and were leaving when they asked if we would come back and tell them more. We agreed and made arrangements to come back the next day.

Ed had his architect Antonio waiting for us when we arrived. “Tell us more,” they said. So we started from the beginning and laid it all out so they could see, if not understand, that we were here sent by God to do His work. “How far into the project are you,” Ed asked. “We purchased the land and cleared it,” I said. “We would have been well into construction but God shut us down.”

“Do you have a detailed plan?”  Ed asked. “Have you checked local building requirements, have you tested the soil, do you have permits, how about septic, water, and electricity?” To all of his questions I answered no. “I know these are all requirements at home,” I said, “But here I was told to just build it.”  “Everything required to build in the US is also required here,” he said. “The problem is, right now no one is enforcing it. The laws are in place, the north of Brazil is about to explode with development. Huge projects have been approved. All these laws are going to be enforced. If you go ahead without your permits in place, you will have invested a lot of time and money into something that could be easily stopped and shut down.”

He described a huge resort project he was presently involved in building, on the coast. When he told us where it was, we realized it was only a few miles from Aningas.  He had already gone through all the steps, he had already dealt with all the same people we would have to deal with. He and Antonio were so excited as they listened to God’s plans, and offered their expertise. It’s not hard” Ed said, ” it won’t take long, and it won’t cost much. We know how to do this, and we can help you through the process. We’ll help get the permits, we’ll help draw plans that work, and get them approved and stamped. I’ve found reliable contractors, and I’ve given them lots of work; I know they’ll help. I have already negotiated with all the local vendors and have volume prices. If you like the products we’re presently using, we’ll add your order to ours and get you the discounted prices. I’ll talk with the investors we’re currently working with, who knows, maybe they will be willing to help.”

Since then, we have met together many times. He took us to see his project, took us to meet some of his vendors, introduced us to his team, and has begun preliminary planning. We took them up to see the village of Aningas, and to look over the property. They loved the land, they told us it was perfect. As we drove through the village, all our friends wanted to stop us to say “hi”, as is always the case. “The Americans are very popular here,” Antonio remarked from the back seat.

God allowed us to face an awful experience. As a result, Aningas and the orphanage came to a screeching halt.  This is His Work, and it will go forward when He says so. We are only stewards of this Work, and our responsibility is to follow and obey God. We needed Ed and his wife; we just didn’t know it. What a disaster had we pushed forward, ignorant of all the requirements, and made a mess. But God wasn’t going to let that happen. As hard as it was to face, we experienced God step in and shut us down. He brought Ed and Gilvânia into our lives, and once again assured us that He’s in total control.

It’s been hard to watch my kids lose the innocence that life, in time, takes away. Dad’s not the tower of strength they thought he was. Mom and Dad can no longer guarantee that all will be well. William told his mom that he doesn’t like that he has to think this way now. “I just want to go back to the way I used to think and feel,” he said. Please pray for the kids, this has been especially hard on them.

I was struck while reading in Luke 15, as Jesus gives the description of what he calls a true disciple. It includes a willingness to be completely empty of self, so God and His will stands alone, a willingness to bear the cross of reproach that comes with your link to Christ, and a willingness to take what is dearest to you and let it go. Discipleship is linked with sacrifice, and without it we are described as salt with no flavor. Sometimes I think we deceive ourselves into thinking that it’s possible to be salt with less flavor. The Lord Jesus says, “no flavor.” Either you are a disciple or you are not. You are effective or of no effect. There are no in-betweens with God.

I watched the life of my family threatened; I almost lost what is dearest to me. Abraham was called to do the same and was willing. I want so much to be His disciple, but the question is, am I willing? I’ve watched as my kids have turned from Mom and Dad, deciding that the best one to trust here is God. They sleep in the same room now, and I listen sometimes as together they pray for God to watch over us all, before turning in for the night.

Caroline and I were out the other day and came across an awful accident. A man was laying in the street face up, his eyes were in that open stare, blood was coming from his mouth. “Dad! He’s dead,” Caroline gasped. Immediately, she turned off her music and began to pray out loud:  “God please save that man’s life, and if he has to die then please God, was he saved, can you take him to heaven? And oh God, please come close to his family.” She said “amen” then sobbed quietly as we made our way down the road.  Our children have been exposed to some very difficult things. It is probably just as well we didn’t know this before coming here. God knows best, and provides information on a need-to-know basis.  Please pray for our children, they are committed to this calling as much as Lori and I are, but they have been asked to grow up so fast.

We found Kilometer 6 just days after our assault. We had been told about it and finally were able to locate where these people lived. I’m going to post pictures on the blog because there’s no way I can describe this living environment with just words. The one thing that will be missing in the pictures is the awful smell. There are probably two hundred people, living in shelters erected from trash. We’re starting to learn their names but there are so many. There must be more than sixty children under ten living in this filth. They have no clothes to speak of, many only have underwear, and that has yet to be changed. They’re dirty, sick, and some of them run around with open sores. If they want to survive then they better be able to fend for themselves. Just last week we heard of a six-month old baby dying because bugs got into her skull, laid eggs, and ate away at the baby’s brain. The need is so great and what we do seems so inadequate. Please pray for this community; they need our God so desperately.

I won’t take the time to tell you how this happened, but we were approached by a local TV station. They picked a day and followed Lori and me and Dad and Mom as we did the feeding. We were interviewed and had a chance to speak well of our God and the work that He gave us to do. They filmed us while we fed the kids, than walked with us up and down amongst the cars as we passed out Bibles and tracts. Pray that God uses this for His glory. So often I worry that this kind of thing will exalt us, while the living God is overlooked. Pray that God will continue to help us decrease so that He may increase.

Currently, we spend two days per week on the streets, feeding and distributing Bibles, tracts, and the Gospel, with God’s promise that His Word will accomplish what it was sent out to do. We speak in the Gospel every Sunday night in Aningas. Sometimes we have a good number out including adults, but most times it’s all kids. There are four teenage girls that come faithfully and listen reverently. Pray for these girls that God reaches their heart with conviction. One day a week is spent with Eliel studying the language. He leaves having given me enough homework to keep me busy throughout the week. At least once a week we’ve been meeting up with Ed and his team as we continue to work towards building a home for these desperate children. Then, we fill in the gaps with the mountain of need here as best we can.

Time goes by so fast, and too much has passed without an update. I feel, in many ways, like we’ve just skimmed the surface, but I hope in some way that this helps you understand what God has been doing, so you are able to pray intelligently. For the many of you who reached out to us, and the many ways in which you did, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. God used you to encourage us, helping us to get back on our feet and push forward. We’re in this together, and lately I have keenly felt the reality of that truth. Please continue to pray for us as we remember you all at home.

We love you all very much in Christ.

Servants together for Christ,

My Time in Natal

Lori asked me to write something for the Brazil Update site when I returned home and had something bigger than a hand-held device to type on. Several of the Christians in my own assembly have also asked me to write a summary of the trip. This diary-style report attempts to satisfy both audiences. I apologize to the regular blog readers for the names and details I have included that you are already familiar with. The rest of you might want to go to to see pictures or read past updates or register your e-mail to receive future updates.

August 12-29, 2010

My niece Anna and I arrived on a Thursday afternoon at the usual time each week that 600 sandwiches and 40 liters of juice are dispensed throughout the streets of Natal with love and compassion and a printed message of the gospel. Because of our Thursday arrival the work was postponed until Friday and we were privileged to participate on our first day there. The trip around the city that day included 10 stops and took about 7 hours. (This large time factor is due to the time spent at each stop as well as the condition of the roads.) At one stop a woman told Lori that she was tired of her sin and asked to be prayed for. After Lori prayed with her, a city worker walked up and told this woman and Lori that he had been saved for 9 years and began to quote verses and discuss the gospel with Lori so that this woman would hear what God had done for him. We left them talking together; knowing God had arranged this seemingly coincidental meeting. While Anna gave out the sandwiches at each stop, Caroline and I dispensed the juice and Mark and Lori moved among the kids, speaking to them, putting an arm around them, sitting with them or praying with them as they ate. It is difficult to tell the ages of these young people from their faces as many look 10 or even 20 years older than they are due to the harsh conditions of living on the streets. It is heart warming to see how they look for the new gospel paper that comes with the sandwich. One young man told Lori that he lives in an abandoned building and with whatever light is available at night he reads the papers over and over. I couldn’t help but think how difficult it might be for these souls to grasp such a message of hope in their present living conditions and yet they readily acknowledge that they know God has sent “friends all the way from America” to them as no one in their own city has shown any care for their physical or spiritual well-being. Please pray for this work as God continues to present personal opportunities to share the gospel with these souls.

Sunday evening Mark gave a short gospel message to the children in the village of Aningas. The children gathered in the galpão, a large multi-purpose building in the center of the village that Mark and Lori have been given to use and which Mark has remodeled. About twenty four children came in and sat on benches but more came and stayed outside near the doorway to listen and watch. Caroline and Anna walked to the houses of some of the teenage girls and brought them to the galpão. Two adult sisters who are Christians also attended and the four young men that work for Mark came and sat on the work table. Mark stood facing them to get their attention and spoke the message in English and Lori translated. The message was simple and short and many of the older children listened with interest. We had brought juice and cookies in Mark’s truck and the children eagerly accepted these treats before walking home. Please pray for this new effort and the Seed that is being sown as the weeks go by, that these children will believe the gospel.

On Monday morning Mark and William packed up the 4-wheeler and left for Aningas to continue clearing the land they have purchased to build an orphanage. (Aningas is about 45 minutes north of the city of Natal in a rural area.) Lori, Caroline, Anna and I headed about 45 minutes in the opposite direction to visit the orphanage that had moved this year from a favela (the Brazilian Portuguese term for a settlement of self constructed houses with narrow and sometimes impassible dirt streets) to a rural area in the south of the city. We stopped for several large sacks of basic grocery and cleaning supplies and delivered them. The supplies were gratefully accepted as from the Lord.

Two years ago I visited this orphanage when it was located in the favela and remember the crowded and inadequate space for these children with no place to play except on the sidewalk. Cleide, the Christian woman who runs this orphanage was sleeping on a foam mattress that she kept in the closet during the day and dragged out to the living area to sleep on the floor at night. It was wonderful to see how the Lord has provided for them in the intervening two years. They now have a large yard that is fenced in and includes some animals and a garden. There are two buildings so the boys sleep in the main building and the girls and woman have bedrooms in the other. The children proudly showed us around, smiling and running. A judge has recently assigned a single mother with five children, including a newborn, to this place as he has been impressed by how it is run. We made note of a few clothing needs so that we could return with some of the donated items we had brought with us. Please pray for this woman and her family (her husband, daughter and parents) and their tireless work to care for these orphaned children.

The rehab center that Mark and Lori have taken some of the young people from the streets to is in the same area as the relocated orphanage but we did not have time to shop for and visit both places in one afternoon so planned to return the next Monday. Sadly, with the events that took place the next weekend we were not able to visit this place on this trip so I did not get to meet Clessio, the young man who was saved there. This rehab center is a non-denominational Bible-teaching rehab center with a nine month program. It was started by a man who, through the help of a pastor, beat his own addiction and was saved.

Tuesday morning Lori worked on the order of New Testaments and Gospels of John that she had started in the spring. She had only received about one half of the original order and it is taking many e-mails and telephone calls to see when the rest will be printed and if they will honor the original price. No replies. We prayed about it and later in the day they finally confirmed that they agreed with both the original price and the remaining quantity that would be delivered. (Note: she received about ten percent of the order after we left but with no indication as to when the rest will be coming. This is how this type of process goes in Brazil! I’m sure it is back to more e-mails and telephone calls.) Please pray for this part of the work as Mark and Lori desire to place a Bible in the hands of every person who wants one and will only be constrained by production logistics and pricing.

That afternoon we girls headed to Aningas. Caroline and Anna gathered a few of the teenage girls together and spent time with them in the galpão where Anna was able to practice the Portuguese she had been studying and the girls were able to practice the English they had studied with Stephanie and Katie earlier this summer. Lori and I visited three homes with Nildete, a government social worker who lives in the village. Nildete is a Christian. Her job is to assess the needs in each household each month. There are about three hundred families in less than two hundred homes. Unfortunately nothing much comes of the government reporting and sometimes there is quite a delay in her being paid but it gives her a good handle on the living conditions of each family on a regular basis. Mark and Lori keep a pantry stocked with basic food items such as rice, beans, salt, sugar and flour and Nildete has access to that supply as needed. Her work helps them focus on critical needs. Please pray for Nildete as she faithfully does her work with a genuine love and care for these families.

Some of the families in this village live in stick huts, others in simple cement houses with dirt floors and the more fortunate ones in simple cement houses with cement floors. Most of the houses are divided into a kitchen, bathroom, living room and bedrooms by sheets that hang in the doorways. The ceilings are open to the roof for ventilation, and there is usually a gap between the top of the walls and the roof. Most bathrooms are primitive. Most homes seem to have two small bedrooms. I noticed in one house that there were mats placed under the bed (a rough wooden structure only about six or eight inches off the ground and with one thin mattress on top) for children. Visiting these families was quite a unique experience for me as even in these destitute situations people are reluctant to ask for help. One mother had three boys who needed clothes and shoes. Another mother with three girls was too ashamed to tell us what the girls needed so we guessed at sizes for clothes and shoes. Nildete told us they had had no food other than rice and beans for several days and so we added fresh vegetables to the list for this family. The third mother had just moved into her house the weekend before. She had left an abusive husband and moved into this house with their three children and two of his children from a prior relationship that he did not want. She is also pregnant. She has no job and no money and a few neighbors were sharing their meager supplies with her but she did not even have the money for rent which was the equivalent of only $30.00 per month. We made a list of the children’s sizes and Lori agreed to pay the first month’s rent when it became due to give her time to settle in and for her teenage boy (from her husband’s prior relationship) to get paid from a job he had gotten.

In the homes, Lori hugged and talked to each mother, telling her that God had heard her cries on behalf of her children and had sent us to provide some clothing and shoes from donated items. She asked the names and ages of the children and prayed with each mother for her family, asking for their physical and spiritual blessing. Each mother listened to the heartfelt prayer with tears in her eyes. Nildete also invited each family to hear the gospel message in the galpão on Sunday evenings. Please pray for the salvation of the families in this village and that registering VaLivre as a non-profit organization in Brazil will allow more items to be sent for this purpose at the lowest shipping and tax rates.

I should note that as we were walking around the town we were passed several times by William (whom I have dubbed the “pied piper” of Aningas) giving rides on his 4 wheeler to several of the kids. He has an amazing way of befriending everyone, adults and children alike, and they love him. I should also note that he and Caroline have become quite fluent – at least it appears they communicate in Portuguese with ease. When we returned to the galpão to collect the girls, we found Mark not so at ease in the middle of his Portuguese lesson with Eliel. (Eliel is a missionary from São Paulo to the state of Rio Grande Do Norte and lives near one of the assemblies in Natal. He learned English in college and it is very proper. He is a very warm and friendly person and a patient but strict teacher!) Mark has quite a large Portuguese vocabulary but is learning grammar and by the expression on his face one can only conclude that it is quite tedious. Please pray for Mark in this effort as he truly wants to be able to communicate and speak his gospel messages in Portuguese.

Wednesday we sorted through the donated items and packed the donations for the families we had visited, shopped for the vegetables we had put on our list and headed to Aningas. We dropped the donations off and they were shyly accepted with tears and thanks. Again I am struck by how readily people in this village give God the credit for the things they receive. Anna and Caroline went with the girls from the village to the lagoa (lake) for a visit and a swim. Nildete told us about another family we needed to meet and we went to a stick house and met a mother, her three children, her sister, sister-in-law and another family member. The biggest need in this family was shoes so we took them to the galpão and let them sort through the bins of flip-flops and Crocs that had been donated earlier in the summer. They each left with a pair of shoes and a smile and a thank you.

Outside the galpão we met a fourteen year-old boy named Alfonso who has been attending the gospel messages on Sunday nights. He is usually the first to arrive and “dresses up” by putting on a pair of long pants. This boy appears to suffer from a disease known as Pica. This condition emerged after the death of both of his parents four years ago. He eats dirt and other non-food items and sleeps by the river with the animals. He has an older sister who lives in a house but does not really care for him, although there may be a mutual problem there because of his illness. Lori approached him and although he doesn’t usually talk to anyone, he let her clean his feet and put some medicinal cream on them as his feet are in very bad shape. This is an extreme case of a child who needs proper nutrition and care and the kind of child that the orphanage is intended for. Please pray for this young boy in particular as he faithfully listens to the gospel messages that God will save him and that Nildete and Lori and others will be able to get him the help he needs for his physical condition.

As a side note, it might be interesting to describe the business and bill payment process in order to understand how things operate in Brazil. The systems are all very labor intensive. In a retail store you don’t simply choose an item and take it to a cashier, you take the item to a person whose sole job is to write up a sales slip and then you take that to a cashier so you stand in two lines. Paying bills seems a full-time job. You must go to that vendor’s bank and pay in cash. You can’t pay in advance so you must do this each month for each vendor. When a legal signature is required you must have your signature authenticated, which is like a notary public seal but requiring many more documents to prove your identity (e.g. birth certificate, marriage license, etc.) and each time you need to do this you must produce the documents. Lori asked for 10 authentications at one time and she said they looked at her like she was trying to pull a scam. She is carrying a large file around in the car and every week one or two of these needs to be fit into a day and it is quite a disruptive responsibility.

On Thursday we assembled the sandwiches and mixed the juice for the weekly feeding. The sandwiches are made of mortadella (a popular bologna type meat) and mozzarella. While most of these children eat mortadella, they very rarely would have cheese so this is quite a treat. All 600 rolls are delivered to the house each week from a local bakery. The juice is Tang but it is in Brazilian fruit flavors and very much improved over the Tang I remember from the ‘70’s. The whole prep process, including slicing the rolls and cutting the meat and cheese, takes about two hours.

This week it was eleven stops in six hours as a couple of the stops had only two or three people. At one of the stops someone suggested a new place across the city for Lori and Mark to consider as a potential stop. At the final stop a deaf girl in her late teens or early twenties came to get sandwiches and juice. When she looked at the gospel paper, she started gesturing for several minutes very intently and with a fierce look in her eyes. We did not know if she could actually read but she seemed to know that the paper talked about God. Mark, Lori and I watched her carefully as she would poke us if we looked away. We concluded that she was trying to communicate to us that she knew God from a young age but that He had not been good to her. Lori bravely tried to use her language of gestures to tell her that God loves her but the expression on her face did not change and we could only pray for her as she walked away. At least she took the paper and we prayed that she could and would read it. During this time, Anna was taking pictures of all the children and they were crowding around to see the pictures on her camera and then wanted their pictures taken with her. They didn’t want her to leave but the sandwiches and juice were long gone and so we headed home before dark. (The sun sets about 5:15 p.m. and rises about 5:15 a.m.)

On Friday, we were back in Aningas. At the galpão, Lori gave some of the young girls an English lesson through the making of beaded bracelets. Anna helped her with this while Caroline and I gave some of the younger children Bible story pictures to color. At the other end of the building, Mark was working on what I called his contraption but which he called his masterpiece. This is the very sturdy wooden structure that fits perfectly into the back of his truck and holds 2 double thermoses and three large (water cooler size bottles) juice containers, a cooler of ice, a tall sleeve of plastic cups and a pump mechanism to get the juice from the bottles to the thermoses. It is quite an impressive structure but it takes abuse on the drive around the city and must be repaired from time to time. Look closely at posted photos of the street feeding for this red furniture marvel.

After leaving the galpão Lori, Caroline, Anna and I all squeezed onto a couch in a small living room as we visited another family. This woman has been raising her sister’s twins for two years since their birth and has now taken in her other four children. Her sister died a few days after the birth of her twins as far as Lori can tell because she hemorrhaged after being released from the hospital and did not have the bus fare of about $30.00 to go back to the hospital in the city. We made a list of the sizes of these children to help with some clothes and intended to come back on Monday but that was postponed because of the events on Sunday night and Lori had to make the delivery a week later.

We drove over to see the land and the progress on clearing it. It is a beautiful piece of property and Mark showed me the plans for the buildings and gardens and animal pens. He has already built a large gate at the entrance. William and the young men working on the land had found a large bee hive and one of them offered to smoke the bees out so we could get some honey. It was fun to watch this process but there was no honey after all that work! There are willing workers here but manual labor is very slow and inefficient as they burn the scrub they clear. However, renting machinery is not yet a possibility as it is unreasonably expensive. Mark is hoping to find someone who will rent him a machine at down-times or for a much lower price and is waiting for God to provide this. Please pray that God will provide the funds and machinery needed for this building project.

We spent the weekend relaxing, taking care of some necessary errands, reading, swimming in the ocean or pool and talking about the scriptures. Since I have come home I miss the thought-provoking nuggets that Mark would toss out to us after a couple of hours of private study on the lanai and the long and probing conversations about the scriptures with Lori. Anna, Caroline and William took a three hour buggy ride on the dunes but that much exposure to the hot sun would be too much for me so I had to decline even though it sounded like great fun. The rest of the weekend it rained.

Sunday night we went to Aningas for Mark to speak another gospel message to the children. They already knew one chorus that had been hand written on poster boards. Lori found six more choruses in Portuguese so she printed them on sheets with Caroline and Anna’s help and we tied the two sheets together with ribbons to take with us. The children thought these sheets were great. One of the songs was “At the Cross” and the two sisters (Nildete and Sandra) already knew this and helped sing it to the children. Unfortunately I was no help as I didn’t know how to pronounce the words although the tune was very close to the one we sing. Mark asked questions about the previous week’s lesson and one of the older girls answered them well and won a prize. When a few of the others saw how this phenomenon worked, they listened a little more intently this week.

Some of the other people I should mention are those who live on the property with Mark and Lori. A family lives in the house inside the front gate. (The entire property is surrounded by a wall except for the beach front where there is a fence.) Neilson takes care of the property and lives there with his wife Simone and their son Lucas, who is 9 years old. He is William’s shadow when William is home! None of this family is saved. Inacia is a Christian from one of the assemblies in Natal and she lives in the house with Mark and Lori from Monday to Friday, cooking and cleaning. She is a warm hearted mothering type who works tirelessly and lovingly. She goes home on the weekends and Simone does the cooking those two days. When I was there two years ago the cooking was really great but was mostly Brazilian fare. Under Lori’s tutelage and guidance, there is a much wider variety of food and some great pasta and meat dishes! Please pray for this family’s salvation and for Inacia’s blessing as she has become an integral part of the work here.

Sunday night we were all sleeping at about 1:30 a.m. Three young men, armed with a home-made machine gun and a rusty revolver entered the house through my open ground-floor window. I woke up suddenly and glanced at the window and saw a young man’s face. I immediately got up only to realize that there was at least one person already in my room. I surprised him and he surprised me and before I knew it I was struggling with two of them. I screamed for help (it would sound more ladylike to say “called” for help but the others would be quick to correct me!) and they tried to muzzle me. After a struggle which seemed long but was probably just a couple of minutes, I could hear that someone was awake upstairs and I stopped struggling. Two of them pushed past me into the house and the other poked something at me and gestured for me to get upstairs. Meanwhile, Inacia had heard me and was able to get out of her room at the side of the house and bravely ran down to the gate house to call the police. The neighbors also heard me and called the police.

When I arrived upstairs with the third bandit behind me, Mark, Lori, Caroline, William and Anna were all on the floor in the hallway with the guns trained on them. I found out that Mark had been heading down the stairs and met them heading up the stairs with their guns pointed at him. Everyone else was awake and in the hallway by then except Anna, whom they woke up with a gun pointed at her face and told her to get into the hallway. While at least one of them pointed a gun at us, the other two began to loot the house of every valuable item, including laptops, i-phones, cameras, watches, etc. At times they spoke to Lori or William and demanded that Lori get things for them. It made things very tense for us when they took her out of sight. The bandits were yelling for cash, assuming there was a large amount in the house and looked unconvinced that there wasn’t more. William bravely suggested that they could exchange the American money they found and it would be worth more in Brazilian Reais. (1 Real is worth $.58. When you shop you can multiply all the prices by 60% and get the U.S. dollar value. $1.00 is worth R$1.72 so you can add 70% when converting from U.S. $ to Reais.) They seemed to accept William’s answer and moved on to loading the things in the car. They had made Lori get them the keys to her car so they could use it to transport all the stolen items as they had come on foot. They had tied each of Mark’s, Anna’s and Lori’s hands and made us all go into the master bedroom and closed the door. They had tied Lori’s hands with a nylon zip-tie and then yanked on it, virtually cutting off the circulation to her hands. I had been able to undo the knots in Mark’s rope/string by the time we heard the car start up and Mark got down the stairs and out the front door as they drove away. At the same time the police arrived, missing the bandits by less than two or three minutes. We quickly found something sharp to cut Lori’s and Anna’s ties off.

The whole time the bandits were looting we were alternately praying for and talking to each other, honestly expecting that our lives might end that night. Although the bandits seemed to be interested only in the goods and not intending to harm us (evidenced by the fact that they didn’t shoot me or try to suffocate me at the outset) they were carrying home-made and old weapons, which are known to be very dangerous, and they were very nervous and agitated and therefore seemed inexperienced and unpredictable.

Caroline’s verse during the time we all lay in the hallway has stayed with me in song. She was repeating to herself Psalm 18:10 “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.” What a fitting verse for God to give to her in that moment! Clinton Utterbach wrote this verse to music and the Gaithers sang it in one of the homecoming productions. (For You Tube fans you can type in The Name of the Lord – Gaither and see it performed.) It continues to come into my mind when I think of that night.

When we were all outside with the police and they had gone in pursuit of Lori’s car and we were no longer in immediate physical danger, we prayed together and Mark thanked God for preserving us through the experience and asked God to show us what He wanted us to learn from it. We had keenly felt God’s presence during the robbery, but when we started to think of the many ways the events of that night could have unfolded and what might have happened we could see this more clearly and rejoice in God’s care and control over all of it.

Understanding that the bandits are “just like” the street children in Natal that they are trying to reach with the gospel, and knowing that the police at times tend to shoot them without “due process” Lori revealed to us that she had prayed that if the police were going to shoot them that they wouldn’t be able to find them until they would be brought to justice in a proper way. When she shared this with the woman who runs the bakery that delivers the 600 rolls every week, the woman was amazed and soon this testimony was reported around the town. Please pray for the salvation of these young men.

The aftermath of that night opened up the world of the Brazilian police for us and a new list of vocabulary words for Lori. First of all, there are many different types of police. There are military police, civil police, tourist police, car theft police and more and I won’t even try to describe the differences but we found that they don’t share any information because we had to give it all to each of them. (That is, Lori had to give it to all of them! During this process she had the additional burden of being the one we all relied on to communicate with the authorities. What a headache.) They don’t have a system for fingerprints so they don’t do anything at the scene except ask questions. We headed to Mark’s pickup (where he discovered the bandits had stolen some things including his prescription sunglasses) and it was a tangle of arms and legs in the extended cab as seven of us got in to ride into Natal to the police station. One of the police groups told us that they had spotted the car but “lost” it at the bridge into Natal. They would discover later that the bandits never crossed the bridge – they went next to it into a town only two beaches away from the house. From the first police station Lori called Eliel and he and his wife left their children with grandparents and came down to help. They were very kind and caring and it was a big help that William and I could ride in their car when the police told us we had to drive to a second police station.

We arrived home at 5:00 a.m. on Monday morning and all tried to get a few hours of sleep but it was a little difficult since the sun was already rising. At mid-morning the owners of the house (both doctors) arrived to see how we were and then more police who looked around the property. The doctors contacted a Delegate (local official) to help expedite the process with the police. In the daylight we could see three pairs of flip-flops that had been kicked off at the edge of the lanai and the police took them. In between visits by all the different police, we ate a late breakfast and began to make phone calls home and to credit card companies as all of our wallets except Lori’s were stolen. (Lori’s was a purse/wallet combination and when they looked inside and not in the front slots they tossed it aside thinking it was empty.) We also had to find out what to do about our flights to the U.S. the next day as Anna’s passport was stolen along with Mark, William and Caroline’s passports. My passport was in a zipper pocket in my purse, which they left after taking my wallet, and Lori’s was in her purse which they had not taken.

Commercial: American Express was a tremendous help to us. Once we contacted them they stayed on the line for over an hour and contacted everyone else for all of us, including finding the closest U.S. Embassy that could process an emergency passport and getting them on the line to make an appointment. They also offered to replace the stolen items that had been purchased with their card. They lived up to their excellent reputation.

Inacia faithfully worked all day cleaning the house and mopping up the dried blood. Some of it was from the gash on my leg during the struggle but one of the bandits must have cut his foot (they were barefoot) on glass that broke in my room and had tracked blood all over. She kept stopping to hug everyone and her expression was sad. When Caroline asked if she wanted to go to her own home, she said couldn’t think of leaving as she was with family.

Monday night was tough. We all slept upstairs with all the windows closed. (The bandits had only stolen one fan, so at least each room had a fan.) I slept in William’s room and he slept in Mark and Lori’s room and Inacia slept in Caroline’s room with Caroline and Anna. Lori, as you might expect, did some roaming in the night to make sure everyone was sleeping. She also took time to download contacts and applications onto William’s i-phone as the bandits had not taken it supposing it to be an alarm clock. (The i-phone did not work as a telephone there but at least we had access to internet and e-mail.)

Tuesday we spent doing three things. (1) We made a police report on everything that was stolen. Anna and I had to make a separate report with the tourist police while Mark and Lori were sent to another group. This took over three hours. We went home for lunch and left William, Caroline and Anna home to relax and swim while Mark, Lori and I accomplished the other two items. (2) We went to the federal building to get a printout of Anna’s visa so there would be no problem traveling the next day to Recife to get her a new passport. Meanwhile, Dave (my brother – back in Michigan) had to locate Anna’s passport card at home and scan it and e-mail it to the U.S. Embassy because they said they would still require two forms of I.D. for the passport! (3) We went to the bus station to purchase tickets for all six of us to travel to Recife. There is no way, such as telephone or internet, to buy or reserve tickets other than to drive to the bus station – which looks like an abandoned building with booths set up in it – and buy them in person. (This reminded Mark of his first reports of work in Brazil, which sounded like they accomplished very little each day. The whole system is designed for things to be accomplished in a face-to-face, manual and unhurried way!) On the way home, we stopped by the new area that some of the street children had suggested and found the most run-down favela that Mark and Lori had seen anywhere in Natal. They quickly judged that a feeding here would have to be done on another day as they didn’t have the capacity or time to add it to their normal Thursday. They talked to a few people there and promised to come back on Friday with lunch.

Wednesday we got up at 4:30 a.m. and got to the bus station at 6:00 a.m. and rode five hours to Recife. The buses in this country are extremely nice. They are air-conditioned Greyhound or tour-type buses, with a bathroom and cooler from which you can buy sandwiches, snacks and drinks. We arrived in Recife and got the usual Brazilian directions to the embassy. This is quite an amazing concept. No one will give you more than one instruction at a time. They literally say “go straight past that light and ask again.” The next person says, “take the next street to the right and ask again.” The next person says “keep going straight and ask again.” No kidding. You have to ask as many people as there are turns and stops along the way. After finding it and going through airport-like security, we were shown to a small room (with three chairs although there were six of us) labeled “American Citizen Services.” The rest of the main room was filled with Brazilians waiting for visas to travel to the U.S. Two hours later they were all processed and it was our turn.

We had thought we might be shown to a room other than the small waiting room for our appointment but they simply came to the glass window and handed forms back and forth. When we asked if we could call Heidi (Anna’s mother) to get some information she needed on her form we were told that they couldn’t make international calls. What? They also refused to fax the police report to the airline for us as they could only send “official” faxes. Even though this building had a sign that said “U.S. Embassy” it did not feel like any kind of real link back to the U.S. Two hours later Anna had a new passport and Mark, William and Caroline’s applications had been accepted. (They will receive theirs by mail.) We found a restaurant for our only real meal of the day and then headed to the bus station and the 5:00 p.m. bus back to Natal. It arrived at 10:00 p.m. and we still had to shop for the street feeding on the way home. We arrived home after midnight making it a 20 hour day.

Thursday morning should have found us assembling the sandwiches for the street feeding but the call came in at 7:00 a.m. that the stolen car had been found in the dunes. The police instructed Mark and Lori to meet them there and they had to hire a buggy to take them to the place. It gets better. There were no wheels or tires on the car and no battery, rear-view mirror or windshield wipers. It did not appear that the bandits touched the engine. The police asked Mark and Lori how they planned to get it out of there. Talk about adding insult to injury! After meeting the doctors that own the house and the Delegate again, they found the only shop in Natal that could provide what they needed and had to spend R$ 4,000 (remember the math? Multiply by 60% to get the U.S. dollar value) and then Mark would still have to take the items to the site and put them on the car himself. When he contacted his friend Sosa, a local buggy driver, Sosa contacted four other friends who were all angry at the robbery on Mark and Lori’s behalf and they helped dig the car out, install the wheels and tires and battery and drive the car home. Their help even included getting an auto parts store to open back up because they didn’t have the right lug nuts from the first store. The car arrived home at 7:00 p.m. This was the first week that Mark and Lori missed a street feeding and we were all disheartened that a standing promise had to be broken. At home that afternoon, Caroline, Anna and I had already cut and assembled all the meat and cheese onto trays so they would now be ready for sandwiches for the new stop on Friday.

Another item we accomplished on Thursday after several phones calls and Lori invoking “the tone” was to get United Airlines to agree to let us fly home on Sunday at no additional cost. They had been willing to waive any change fees but stated that our fares were no longer valid and we would have to pay an additional $351 each to return home. (This is why we wanted the police report faxed to them.) We were persistent and they finally relented and rebooked our flights for Sunday at $0 charge.

Friday morning almost felt normal as we assembled sandwiches for the street feeding at the new stop. However, Lori had been told on Thursday that they wanted to see the recovered car at the police station in the morning. Lori and I got ready to drive it over there, arranging for Mark to pick us up at the police station on the way to the street feeding. Just then Lori got a slightly panicked call from the Delegate telling us to wait for a police escort so she wouldn’t be stopped driving her own stolen car! We had to wait ninety minutes for the police to arrive. Lori handed them the keys and they handed them back stating they would follow her. By this time it was raining and Lori pointed out that the car did not have windshield wipers, to which they replied, “go slow.” She did. Lori automatically turned on the windshield wipers once we got going and we had a moment of comic relief watching the stubs (which we bent away from the windshield) moving back and forth. One bright point was that the car seemed to be running fine.

On Thursday we had discovered that one of my stolen credit cards had been used. At the police station we gave them the information we had gotten by e-mail from the credit card company. I hadn’t been able to contact this company until Thursday and a transaction had gone through on my stolen card on Tuesday. The police were excited to have a real lead. They were able to find out what item was ordered and where it would be delivered. The address was in the beach area next to the bridge. The police staked out the address and it turned out the inexperienced bandits had used one of their own addresses!

During the police investigation, Mark and Lori were required to give names of anyone in their late teen or early twenty’s that they had worked with and reluctantly gave names of some of the young men in Aningas. The police found when they arrived in the village that everyone was eager to show them how much Mark and Lori had done for them and showed them how Mark had repaired and remodeled the galpão and the land they were clearing for an orphanage and told them of the families they have helped and the gospel messages and the Christmas dinners, etc. When Mark and Lori visited the police station the next Monday they noticed a new respect from the police along with an interest in their work in Brazil and wondered where it had come from. They soon learned of the testimony their friends in Aningas had given to the police on their behalf.

Mark arrived with the truck and food and we all headed to the new stop. The deplorable living conditions in this favela are difficult to describe as the “houses” are truly lean-tos and shacks with donkeys and other animals living with them. The people started streaming out of the houses and surrounding us. Anna gave out over 500 of the sandwiches as they kept coming or returning. Caroline and I tried to dispense juice quickly but we could hardly keep up as they were bringing coffee pots and used 2 liter pop bottles to have us fill. Several elderly people came. The people were all smiling and expressing thanks and seemed genuinely thankful for such a treat and wanted to talk to us. Unfortunately, the language was a barrier for me and I could only smile and give them juice. Lori had gone into a house to visit the mother of a young man from another stop and Mark was calling people and taking a look around to see how many houses there were. They took the gospel papers with interest. Please pray for this new work as there is an enormous humanitarian need in this favela and many precious souls to reach with the gospel.

Lori and I took Inacia home that night. Her assembly had been very supportive. She had called them that night during the break-in and they immediately got up and opened up the hall in the middle of the night and gathered to pray together for us. This night when we took her home she told us that they were having a regular monthly all-night prayer meeting, which included fasting in the form of skipping dinner and getting to the hall at dinner time and praying through until morning. I believe she said the prayer topics vary each month but we were still on their list that night. It was very emotional for me to say good-bye to Inacia as she is truly one of the family. It was one of the many times I wished I could have talked to her directly, without a language barrier.

Saturday was a day of mixed feelings, long talks and hugs. We were anticipating our flights home on Sunday but had heavy hearts at leaving this family, this work and now this mess.

Sunday we got up at 3:30 a.m. and arrived at the airport at 5:00 a.m. Before going in, Mark pulled the truck over and stopped to pray and commit our day and trip to the Lord. I felt the effect of that prayer carry us all the way home. We expected this last day to go somewhat smoothly but it quickly began to unravel. We arrived at the TAM counter to check in and were told our reservations had been cancelled. Since it was 5:00 a.m. no one was answering the phone at United, where the flights had been booked through a partner agreement. There was no WIFI so the i-phone didn’t work and the internet café didn’t open until 10:00 a.m. so there was no way to work on this on-line. The pay phones in Brazil do not accept credit cards and do not make international calls. However, there are a couple of special phones that accept international calling cards so we went to purchase one. The lady in the sundries store at the airport patiently explained how to get such a card and ended with the amazing words “at least that is what I would do if the machine was working!” We went back to the airline counter where they tried again to contact United. They said the only thing they could do was sell us the two seats that were available (our own seats) for R$1,700 (at 60% this was over $1,000.) Of course we knew if we did this that we had little chance of recovering the money from United. We looked at each other wondering if we should keep trying or accept this as the Lord’s will that we should not leave that day.

At 6:00 a.m. we woke up Eliel and asked him if he could make international calls. He said he could and would and took down all our flight information. We tried calling him back every ten to fifteen minutes after that and his phone was busy for over an hour. They called us back to the desk at 6:50 a.m. and told us they were closing the flight and there were no other seats to São Paulo that day. We hadn’t heard back from Eliel so we all got back in the truck and headed home. On the drive home we reached Eliel and he delivered the news that he had gotten us on a 2:00 p.m. flight to Brasilia and then a 6:00 p.m. flight to São Paulo and we would be able to connect to our 10:00 p.m. flight to Washington/Dulles.

It is interesting how Eliel accomplished this. He called the “800” number for United in Brazil and chose English thinking he would get more prompt treatment. The recording gave him a “400” number. When he called, the person answering the phone told him, “It is Sunday, go back to bed.” Ah . . . Brazil! Eliel couldn’t believe this, especially since he thought the person should at least have said “It is Sunday, go to church!” He said he asked himself, “what can I do? I will start over.” This time when he chose Portuguese he reached someone and was able to get us other flights.

At noon we were back at the airport and said our tearful goodbyes. The remaining flights were uneventful although all of the connections left us no extra time and we landed in Detroit about 9:00 a.m. on Monday. Heidi and Blake were waiting to take us to my parents’ house so that everyone could see that we were home safely and hear about our trip.

Later that day, back in Natal, Mark, Lori, Caroline and William were called in to the police station to identify the first of three people they picked up as he was caught red-handed when the package was delivered. (An Adidas shirt purchased with my stolen card!) Lori told me they all recognized him without any doubt and signed a statement to that effect. The next day they were asked to identify the second and third suspects and again there was no doubt. Now they wait for the police to do their recovery work and “the rest of the story” will have to come from them when it concludes.

Mark and Lori have given up much and given much to do this work. I have watched them on both visits look to God and depend on Him to direct all of their activities on a daily basis. I also know in my heart that they would willingly have given up all of the possessions that were stolen for God. It is not the loss of possessions that has gripped them, but instead the delays and costs that have hindered God’s work. When they resumed the regular feeding the next week, Lori told me they were met by some with tears saying “we thought you would go back home to America.” They all affirmed that they were where God wanted them to be and they were staying. Please continue to pray for Mark, Lori, Caroline, William and Inacia, especially with increased security concerns, and for all of the work being done for God in and around Natal. There are so many souls to reach.

Lastly I would like to say that we all felt the comfort and support of being lifted up in prayer by many Christian friends and family when news reached home and it is difficult to express how much we felt ourselves carried by those prayers in the days that followed. Thank you.

Note: for more insight on the topic of the street children of Brazil, there is an excellent book Lori showed me titled “A Cry from the Streets” by Jeannette Lukasse. It is available for about $10 at CBD or Amazon.

Gospel in the Galpão

It smells like firewood and dirt and hot Brazilian air. We stop for ice, load the cooler and continue down the road to Aningas. We pull up to the Galpão and Mark backs in so the juice and the music face the open door. Hymns play in Portuguese and people come to see what’s going on. They move into the lit room and we spread the wooden benches into row.

Cold juice attracts a crowd and they come for a sip and a chat. Then slowly they come to sit. The kids pile into the front rows. The older guys stand back by the worktables and some people stay outside. Mark and Lori pull up a chair. Informal. Comfortable.
“We’re here to tell you about God.” He says.
Eyes forward, benches full. The kids whisper and poke and laugh, but we keep praying anyways. Adults walk in and out and talk out loud but we listen and close our eyes and talk to the Lord.
Last night we sang a hymn in Portuguese. Nildete’s voice leading, strong and sure. “E numa cruz por mim derramou sangue tão puro (and on the cross He shed his pure blood)…”
It was the second night that we packed up the juice, crackers, speakers, and bibles and drove to the village. The first time we came to Aningas (When Paul T and Andrew were still here) some of the people thought we were going to have a meeting. Mark’s guys have questions. Lizandra wants to know if she has a debt to clear with God. Can we have a bible study? Why are Mark and Lori here? Why do they come here and care anything about our mud huts and searching hearts?
“How can you be in Heaven?” Mark asks. Lori translates and we strain to hear over the whirring fans and whispers and noise outside.
A few mouths move with shy answers.
“Jesus Christ died for your sins. My sins.”
“Jesus Cristo morreu para seus pecados. Meus pecados.”

Fifty souls are in the Galpão. Fifty hearts needing a Savior. More stand outside, some peeking in, listening to the brief message.
We give out the bracelets. Gospel in a nutshell with the nutshell gospel verse printed on the key. Yellow for the streets of gold in heaven. Black for our sins that keep us from it. Red for the blood that cleanses. White for washing pure and spotless. Blue for clothed in robes of righteousness. Green for walking with new life. They read it, flip it over and read John 3:16. They tie a knot and the beads hang from their wrists reminding them of the message of salvation.
We give out crackers and more juice and the music plays again. More people come and talk and stand and listen. We give out all the bracelets to the 85 people who have come and they ask for more.
“Two weeks. Two weeks and we’ll be back again.”
7 pm. Sunday night. Crackers, juice, music, and a message. They’ll be waiting to hear it. Pray that ears might be opened, hearts might reach out, and lives might be changed.

Bracelets with a gospel message
Lori and Clessio – We visited him at his new location. It’s a smaller,
quieter area of the rehab down the street from the main center.
He likes it a lot better because there are fewer guys and it’s
easier for him to get alone and read his bible.
Some of the group from Aningas holding up their
new bibles that we gave them on the last day of class.
Baby Michel – He had a checkup today and is
healthy and strong. Lori bought him an outfit and
a little soccer ball so he can root for Brazil in the cup too.