A Note from Rick and Noreen Lawson

One of the first things that comes to mind when walking through the favela of Cambuim are the words of the Lord Jesus, “For you will have the poor with you always” (Matthew 11:6). But just how poor is poor? I went through streets of dirt and litter. The walls of the homes that lined the streets were an assortment of trash and scraps of wood, serving as a shelter for these poor people. The river that wound its way through the village consisted of runoff waste-water with a smell that stopped me in my tracks. 

The word “poor” is defined as having little or no money, goods, or other means of support. This brief list can never describe the feelings and emotions felt when actually meeting the faces of these people that survive in these conditions. Going on about how sad the situation is would only be repeating what has all ready been reported on this website. Instead let’s focus on the positive.

In Matthew 26:6 the Lord is found in the home of Simon the Leper. A woman of Bethany is there having an alabaster box of precious ointment and has poured it on the Lord’s head to anoint him for his burial. The gospel of John tells us that He was there with Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead, and that, “…many Jews went away, believing on the Lord Jesus” (John 12:1,11).This is the goal of the effort that is taking place in Cambuim. To show these destitute people the way to the Lord so they might also believe in Him.

We also read in the gospel of Mark, “She (Mary) has done what she could” (Mark 14:8). In Cambuim, attempting to give out a few sandwiches, a little juice, first aid, and some donated clothes in order to pass on God’s Word is all we can do. God has to do the rest.

God has promised a blessing in this work. For the Lord spoke of feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, and said, “inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).


Happy at Work!

Appreciate your continued prayers. First day in the streets brought rice and beans and juice that they had prepared the night before to the street children. In the back of the pickup- Stephanie is serving rice, Andrew handles the beans and on the ground-Katie tops the dish with Farofa (think grated cheese) and distributes to the street kids.
Andrew commented on the ages of the kids getting food… thinking that they were much older than he had thought. What he discovered was they appeared to look older but most were in the their early teens…. The life they are living has added many years to their faces.

The respect for the word of God, tracts, and prayer is an encouragement. And we are praying that His word will be blessed !!!!

Tables and Benches and Eternal Siblings

Hi everyone!
I’m checking in with you, to touch base with my eternal siblings at home. I wanna let ya know we’re all fine, and spend some time updating you all on the events of the past few weeks.

Did you just shudder at that “eternal siblings” expression I used? Don’t worry, I’ll have my perfect body then, and be much easier to get along with. Don’t forget we’re going to  be together forever. Thank God He’s going to fix all the flaws, and we’ll be the person we’ve always wanted to be in life. And besides that, we won’t be occupied with each other.
I just came across that passage where the religious rulers thought they had backed the Lord Jesus into a corner by telling that story of a woman who married a whole family of brothers. He told them they were narrow-minded fools, who had no idea what heaven will be like. He told them that they thought with the typical, small mind of a human, who can’t get beyond the familiar, flawed relationships of earth. He told them that they will have a partner in heaven, towards whom they can show all their affections. This One will fill every relationship void we’ve ever had. We’ll constantly long to be in His presence, all of our affection focused on Him. It will be a perfect relationship, just the way He always intended relationships to be on earth. We will find absolute loyalty, faithfulness, pure and flawless love, and He will be the spouse we’ve fallen in love with. He will be our better half. Our marriage vows will contain words like forever, no one else, never separated, and everlasting love. I guess that’s why we’re called the Bride of Christ.

I’m finding it difficult punching these keys, with one very important finger fat with bandages. I’m slated for surgery on Wednesday, to re-attach a nerve severed this week while working in Aningas. It happened on a Monday morning and I was delegating jobs to the four boys who are now working alongside me in Aningas, learning how to work with wood and make simple furniture.

One of the jobs I gave out was very unpleasant, so being a thoughtful boss, I went out to help the boy complete it. There was a large, unsightly pile of trash, that had evolved as a result of our remodeling the Galpão, and I wanted it gone. We built a large fire pit out of cement blocks (about six feet by six feet by four feet tall). The idea is to allow the trash to accumulate throughout the week, than burn it on Friday. The present pile was a mixture of flammable and non-flammable waste. We had no gloves, so we began sifting through the pile with bare hands (very foolish). It wasn’t long before my hand came in contact with broken glass and came out of the pile with a large gash. I immediately knew serious damage was done, because I lost all feeling in that finger. I stopped the bleeding, wrapped it up, and finished off the day.

That night I met Lori in the city, and we went to the emergency room to get the cut assessed. The doctor on duty looked at the cut and told us we would need to see a hand surgeon, because he suspected that I had cut through the nerve. They cleaned the cut, bandaged it, and gave us the name of a hand surgeon to visit the next day. The following morning, Dr. Hélio looked at the cut and confirmed that the glass had gone deep and severed a nerve. “I can’t guarantee success,” he said “but the nerve needs to be re-attached.”
With that, an appointment was made at the hospital for the coming Wednesday, and I got ready to go “under the knife.”

We finished our first project, in Aningas, and the boys are so proud of their accomplishments. I decided to start with a simple 60″ trestle table with two matching benches. Considering that it’s the first thing the boys have ever built, and the first time they have ever used a table saw, power miter box, nail gun, screw gun, and a router, they did an awesome job. We made six sets and I think we have sold them all.

It is complicated here because everything is sold in the form of payments, and I mean everything. You buy a week’s worth of food at the supermarket, and the first question they ask is if you want to pay once or if you would like to make payments! The savings for those who make one payment is about ten percent, but most folks can’t go that route.

I gave one of the boys the responsibility of keeping track of these payments for me. We want to move a lot of product at a tiny profit, rather than make a huge profit on lesser volume, so the boys can stay busy, continue learning, and more boys can be given the opportunity.

Covering all expenses I can sell the table and bench set for R$278.00 or about $150.00 US. That’s a good deal, no? We had a local bar approach us after seeing the finished product and ask if we could make several round tables for them. I showed the boys our next planned project and they were all excited. I’m also thinking to create a bunk bed system that can be configured several different ways, and added to, as needed, with a selection of accessories available, as well( dressers, desks, trundles). Most of the folks in these villages sleep on the dirt floor or swing from hammocks, and I’ve been asked several times if we could make them beds. Many of the kids have health issues because their mattresses are on the dirt floor, which is rife with all kinds of unhealthy living things.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been taking my boys into the city, which to them is a real treat. Eliel, my friend and language teacher, owns a small house on the south side of the city, that for some time he has rented. The rent from this house covers the rent on the house his family presently lives in, north of the city. His tenant moved out after running up a huge water bill. He left the house trashed and a mess, and left Eliel responsible for his mess.
First and last months rent as a safety precaution, ha! Security deposit, ha, ha! Signed lease, Ha ha ha, no!

Everything here is based on verbal agreement, and people live month to month, or in many cases, day to day.
With no money coming in, no money to repair the damages, and no one to help him get back on track, I raised my hand, jumped up and down, and begged Eliel to pick me. I leave our house at about seven-thirty, drive the forty minutes to Aningas, get the boys, drive the hour and a half to the city, work till four-thirty, and get the boys home in time for school which starts at seven o’clock.

The school bus leaves the village about five-thirty, and I missed it last Wednesday night, getting the boys back about six. Paulo thought he had wiggled out of school for the night, and quickly lost the grin when I told him,  “No, no, I’ll drive you in,” insisting on the importance of education. These boys are accountable to no one here. No one makes sure they’re at school, no one calls their home if they don’t show up. If you’re not self- motivated, you’ll never get an education. Vaughn, one of my boys, is pushing thirty, with a family to support, and is unable to read or write.
So, that Wednesday night, I waited while Paulo showered and dressed, and collected him along with his pretty, sixteen-year-old wife, and headed off to their school. Forty minutes into the ride, we passed the bus he missed. It was chugging along, making stops and collecting kids as it went.

“Where is this school?” I asked. He smiled and pointed farther down the road. It was a good hour when finally we arrived at the high school that servers the surrounding communities. One hour, driving straight from the village to the school, or an hour and a half ride, on a bus that makes stops the whole way.
“What time does school get out?” I asked.
“We finish at ten o’clock,” said Paulo.
“What time do you finally get home?” I asked.
“We’re back in the village by midnight,” he said.

It was very late when my day finally ended. I made the trip home deep in thought, trying to enter into the hard life these people live just to survive. Paulo’s day starts about six in the morning, he works all day, cleans up, and heads out for school. Then, he finishes the day on a dirt floor for a few hours of rest, only to start it all over again.
I’m getting close to these boys, they look up to me and respect me, and they have even brought me to meet their families. Please pray that I honor God as I work beside them each day. I envision sitting with them someday, as together we remember the Saviour Who died for our sins. I envision the day when, by God’s power, they grow to be leaders that are shepherding the small flock that God called out of Aningas, to honor Him. Please pray that God helps us to let our light shine in Aningas, so men will see our good works and acknowledge and glorify the God of creation. What a privilege to be the ones chosen to bring them the message about a life so distinctly different than the one they’re presently living. This life I’m telling them about is eternal in nature, available to them, and they are being pursued by the great God of love.

Aningas may be an invisible village to the folks in Natal, who know nothing of its existence, but it is a village that has been singled out by a God who has great plans for these very humble people. The people in Aningas have welcomed us into their homes, and by doing so, have welcomed God. That’s the kind of folks that see God’s blessings.

God is now a property owner in Aningas! That’s kind of a funny statement considering it’s all His to begin with. With the permanent visa in place, we were now able to purchase the six and a half acre parcel of land that, God Willing, will be the site of an orphanage. So, we went back to talk to Iranilton and his dad, owners of the land. Maybe he was affected by all God has done in the village to date. Maybe his thinking was that as Americans we were rich, and thought we should be sharing the wealth with his family. Whatever the reason, when Lori approached him on that Friday afternoon, he had raised the price of the land to fifteen thousand reais, from the originally agreed-upon ten thousand reais. Lori told him we would need to pray about this and came home to tell me the news.
We spent the weekend bringing this to God and asking Him how we as His servants should proceed. By Sunday night it had become very clear to us what God wanted. If this was God, if He had a great work for us to do in Aningas, if He had in fact called us to rescue these children off the streets and provide them a home where God could care for them, then the land would be sold, to God’s work, for ten thousand reais.

We found him working in his garden Monday evening, and approached him with this answer. I did the talking and, once again, explained our reason for being in his village.

“We love the property,” I said.
“We have no doubt that it’s worth all of fifteen thousand reais and we think that you should get as much as you can for your land. But this is not our money, it is God’s. This won’t be our land, it will belong to God. We are here as representatives of the buyer, and He is able to make the land available for the original price, if it is His will. And if it is not His will, we do not want the land.”
“Antonio offered me considerably more,” Iranilton responded,  “but I don’t like him and wouldn’t even entertain his offer. Your family has brought blessing to our village since you first arrived, the plans for this property will only bless my people more. I want you to have the land and will sell it to you for ten thousand.”
The next day we received this news from one of our many co-workers at home:
“It is time to purchase the land; we will wire the funds into your account so that they’ll be there and ready to use when the moment comes. God bless you both.”

Did you ever go down a city street full of traffic lights, and time it so that all the lights turned green just as you approach? And you think that’s just the coolest thing and aren’t I lucky today? It took us five weeks to buy a car and I was dreading this process of buying the land thinking it could only be worse. Within three days and two trips to the town hall in Ceará-Mirim, the document was in our hand, and the land belonged to God. Lori did what she does so often, blowing a kiss to heaven, because she’s just been reassured that God is still with us, and He has things well in hand. I enjoyed the run down Main Street watching God turn each light green, just as I approached it.

There’s a window-washing squeegee in the garage, that now stands as a memorial to a very heart-wrenching day on the streets. Lori originally bought it for João, who had asked us for a new one. Every Thursday we made sure it was in the truck as we left to spend the day feeding the city street kids. João was never at his stop, so the squeegee rode back home with us, to be stored with all of the Thursday paraphernalia, waiting for the next week’s feeding.
Frank was good guy. He always had a big smile on his face, and was always so happy to see us. He seemed so out of place living on the streets, and in my mind and heart, I had hopes of seeing him as living evidence of a God-transformed life. We prayed for God to use him to bring the message of life to his street companions. I remember watching him one day as he pulled on this very cool shirt, that I found among the donations and saved just for him. He was so excited at the way he looked in it, and I thought how heart-warming this would be to the saints at home, who had taken the time to make sure Frank had a shirt. If we arrived at his stop and he wasn’t around I’d go find him. I knew where his piece of cardboard was, under a big tree behind a local street vendor. He would be taking his afternoon nap and he was never annoyed that I had reached down and shook him awake. With that so-happy-to-see-me smile on his face, he’d jump up and walk with me back to the truck for some lunch.

I put the squeegee into the back of the truck a few Thursdays ago, with Frank on my mind. I knew he’d be there, his window washing tool was on its last leg, and João was never around.
“I’m giving it to Frank,” I concluded.
We pulled up to the intersection, jumped the curb, parked on the median as always, and started exiting the car. Lori was met by one of the kids waiting for our arrival. I could tell by the look on her face that the news wasn’t good. She started to weep uncontrollably and I couldn’t get any information out of her. Finally, I made out what she was trying to say:
“Frank is dead.”

At eight o’clock, either at night or in the morning-we have heard both-Frank was on his corner in Petropolis, washing windows. A motorcycle drove up, with two men on it. The driver pulled a gun delivering two shots. One shot went to the head, one to the chest, and Frank slumped to the ground, breathed his last, and went out into eternity. Edivan, alias Meio-Kilo, alias Rafael, told us the story.

“I was standing right beside him, I saw it all, and ran for my life,” he said.

The kids all wanted us to believe it was random; they told us that the two men on the moto were drunk. It may have been, but most of the time these shootings are for one of the following two motives: the victim owed money, some as little as R$5, or US $2.75, or the police, on or off-duty, were “executing” a random street kid “purging.” Edivan claims that the second bullet was aimed at him and he narrowly escaped with his life.

After much time, with Frank’s body lying in the street, the polícia arrived, went through the motions, and took his body to ITEP and no one is expecting to hear anything more about this. With no Identification or documents, Frank technically never existed, his body will be buried with other unknowns and forgotten, and life will go on.

It started to pour rain as we climbed back into the truck and made our way to Igapó, the last stop. Lori pulled out her i-Phone and played some hymns and quietly we listened, as through the music, we were reminded of our only responsibility:

“Tell them, even if they won’t believe you,
Tell them, even if they won’t receive you,
Just tell them for me. Tell them that I love them,
And I came to let them know.
Tell them on the streets
And on the high ways
And tell them, even on the bi-ways
Tell them I can mend the broken heart…
And I came to let them know.
We arrived at Igapo, our last stop. It was dumping rain and we just wanted to go home and end, what had turned into, a very sad day for us. We knew we had no right to let the kids down and skip this last stop, so Lori and I stepped out into the pouring rain just wanting to get this stop over with and leave.

Adriano was waiting for us. His clean white button-down shirt was drenched and sticking to his skin. He had ridden the fifteen miles on his bike once more, wanting so much to see us again. He was so thankful that we had been sent by God, who had reached and saved his soul. He stood beside us in the rain. The kids poured out of their shelters, running for their food and drink and then dashing back to any overhang they could find. Adriano spoke to any willing to linger in the rain, telling them of God’s power and the great transformation that had taken place in his life. We stood in the rain till all the sandwiches and juice were gone, hugged him goodbye, and parted company.

As we walked back to the truck, I saw Lori kiss her hand again and raise it towards heaven. To a God who is so good that He sent Adriano to be a comfort to us. With a God this kind and this loving, we can trust Him to always do what is right and what is just.

We drove home and we went to our bedroom. Lori threw herself across the bed and I listened to the quiet sobs. Frank had seen God, in our care for him; we know that because he told us. We had put the gospel in his hands, he had heard it from our mouths many times. He was always respectful, and he bowed his head and closed his eyes as, often, we prayed for him and his street buddies. He told us, on more than one occasion that he “had Jesus in his heart.” He’s beyond help now and only God knows where his soul is. Our prayer now is for his tragic death to be the means of reaching the hearts of his companions.

I would put him in his forties, with the ruts of a very hard life carved all over his body. His hair hadn’t been cut, his face hadn’t been shaved, nor had his clothes been changed, in what looked like years. He had one tooth left, and that one was was hanging on for dear life. We had never seen him before, but that’s not unusual. He lives under the stadium and he hadn’t eaten in a very long time. What caught our attention was how quickly he recognized our being there as God speaking to him and showing him His love. It’s a busy stop, and we did our best to listen to him, while handling the crowd around the truck. He just kept thanking God over and over, and as he did, he began to weep. I turned towards him and he put his head on my shoulder, as if finally God had provided a moment of relief from the pain of what was his life. I held him as he wept, loaded him with food for later, and made sure he knew we would be back next Thursday, God Willing.

Lori and I looked at each other and and she put into words what I was thinking:
“This just isn’t right, this is not what God ever wanted, nobody should have to live this way. If the circumstances surrounding this man’s life touched our heart, how heavy the heart of the Savior must be, as He daily sees the pain and hunger and thirst and injustice, that sin has brought man.”

We were getting ready to leave the Ponta Negra stop last week, after feeding a record number of boys. I was putting everything away when I saw Lori off talking to Luiz-Eduardo. He’s a regular at this stop, along with his wife, four-year-old son, and one-year- old baby boy. When I looked again they were praying, which told me something was up. I made my way over as Lori looked my way with an expression of unbelief on her face.

“He borrowed seventy reais (US $36) from one of his buddies and was able to pay off a drug debt,” she said.
“Monday was the deadline. If he didn’t have the money, he, along with his wife Luciana, and both children would have been shot to death”.

This is a tough street kid who was now standing with tears in his eyes, well aware of how close tragedy had come to his family. The threat was real, and the death sentence would have been carried out. These heartless dealers would wipe out a family and never think twice. His heart was now open to the gospel, and he wanted nothing more than our cries to God on his behalf, and the well being of his family. It was good to see the little family this week safe and sound. We piled them all into the truck and took them to the supermarket for food and some milk for the baby.
The highs and lows of working with these kids leave us drained. Just the experiences we have with them each Thursday leave us spent. After the tragedy of Frank’s death, we are filled with a sense of urgency.  We’ve come to know many of the kids by name and they have shared so many painful stories with us about their lives. Our hearts go out to them as we do the only thing we can: show them the love of God and make sure they understand that, in a city, teaming with people who have no interest in their well-being, God cares, He sent His only Son to die on the cross for their sins, and He sent us to make sure they know.

The editor gets this next, and I know she’ll add anything I may have left out while correcting my many mistakes. I’ll close now thanking you all again for your support through prayer and e-mails. It’s such an encouragement to our family knowing of your burden for the work God has given us to do here. Our prayer is that these updates will help you see just how much you are a part of the effort here as partners in the work of God in Natal, Brazil.
We love you all in Christ and look forward to seeing many of you soon,

Caroline and William

The Street Children of Brazil | A Research Paper by Andrew Rockey, 2010

When Andrew contacted me and told me he was writing a research paper on the street kids of Brazil, I was thankful. There is so much injustice, here on the streets of Brazil. There are so many children crying for help. There is so much need, hunger, sickness and death that these kids face daily. Their voices echo in my ears and in my heart throughout my days and long into my nights.

My heart cries out to the Father of the fatherless, to the God of Justice, to the One Who sees everything. My heart has one cry: “Lord save them!” I can’t help the appeal that would have me begging God’s people, “Pray!” Please pray. Pray as if they were your children. Pray for their precious souls. And do not stop.

What Andrew has written will help us all to pray more intelligently. We will understand better the plight of these children and the obstacles that they face. We will realize that the only answer for these children lies with God.

I pray that God touches your heart and renews within you a love for Him, a love for others, and an appreciation for all we have in Him.


Brazil Update for 4/24/2010

Someone flipped a switch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good night, and good bye, for now.

With Christian love Mark, Lori, Caroline, William.

September 14, 2009

I read last week’s report and thought, “I really have to cut this down. I’m getting out of hand with these up dates.” You all know that I’m really not a big talker, right? Anyway, it’s time for another one of those: “this is what happened” reports.
I was reminded yesterday that God preserves us sometimes when we act very stupidly. Inacia and Lori have been washing all our clothes by hand since we arrived. I would feel guilty every time I put my pants in the laundry. I found myself wearing underwear longer than I should. I saw what was involved and felt so bad. Not so bad that I helped her, but bad enough to finally buy her a washing machine. The laundry room is made up of a sink and marble counter suspended off the floor, following the back wall, and attached to a wall at each end. The machine came on Friday so I decided Saturday would be a good install day. I was so anxious to get it in place, that I went to work first thing in the morning without dressing properly for the job. I got out my skill saw with the diamond blade, and began cutting out a section of marble, 27″x 24″, to slide the machine in. I made both cuts as far as possible with the saw, but those of you who know, realize that it leaves you a good 3″ from the back wall. To finish the cut, all I had was my sawzall with several metal blades, and so I began to tackle it with those. I got one side cut to the back wall and went to work the other. I must have been leaning on the top as I was cutting because in a split second, the whole piece broke off and fell to the floor, smashing into a million pieces. I looked down at my bare feet and quickly counted all my toes. One was bleeding, but they were still attached. As I stood there it began to dawn on me what had just happened. God was the only reason I wasn’t collecting my bloody toes in a jar and getting rushed to the hospital. Those of you who know how heavy granite or marble is, know that it’s only God’s kindness that I’m still walking around with just a scratch. A moment of absolute stupidity could have left me handicapped and useless to do the work I’ve been called here to do.
The kids started school this week, so all our days are now cut in half. They start at 8:30 am and we finish at 12:00 pm. I decided to sit in on their first class with Lori and realised that I needed this as much as they did. I really did poorly in school with no interest in learning. My real education began after Dad died and I was forced to take over the business. At 12:00 we have lunch and then head off to do whatever is planned for the day. Monday, I finished the food pantry in Aningas, so it’s ready now to be stocked. Tuesday, we went into the city to buy school supplies for the kids, and to make a car payment on our rental. Wed., we picked up some more stock that I needed and went into Aningas just to check up on everyone and see how they all were doing. Thurs., we were off to feed the street people, and three more stops got added to our route. I realise now how easy it would be, almost natural, to keep these souls at arms’ length, because of how fast you get sucked into their lives of problems when you show them you care. Very quickly, you can become consumed and overwhelmed, wanting so bad to help and feeling so helpless. There’s a vacant lot in the city, that was a part of our route ,where a whole family lived. We would often shop especially for them and bring them a bag of food. We arrived with a bag full of sandwiches, along with rice and beans that they had requested, just to find them all gone. One young man about 19 was still there, and he told us that Sat. night, into Sun. morning, while sleeping, they were attacked, beaten up; and whatever they had of value was stolen. So, the family left to go find another street corner that they could make their home. We asked about another young man, who last week we bought meds for; he was also missing. When we asked we found out that he was in jail. He was so hungry the other night that he chanced stealing some food from the local food store, and was hauled off by the police. I had to leave this meeting to help Caroline find a bathroom. I returned to see that Lori was still deep in conversation. She had her hand on a young man who stood listening with his head hung. She was speaking to him with tears in her eyes, which is my cue to get back and involved in the conversation. She looked at me as I walked up and said, “I don’t know what to do. He’s begging us to get him out of here, He wants to get clean, but rehabs. here cost money. He’s telling me of a Christian rehab. south of the city that cost about $200 a month. We’re his only hope and he’s begging us to help him. Drugs are his escape and without help he’ll wind up in jail or, most likely, dead, and he knows it.” How can you hand the kid a sandwich and walk away, when you know that there is more you can do? Every day we pray that God will lead us where He wants us to go, so we must believe that each person, whose path we cross, has been hand picked by God as one we need to help. This makes all our decisions very simple. Believe and Obey. So, we promised to go back on Monday to pick him up and go find out about this place of rehab.. I guess our only concern is that, while there, he’ll hear a clear Gospel and not get any bad teaching. Please pray for him; his name is Jose Mateus, nicknamed “Bruno”.
Maria is another young girl we have gotten to know. Every time we were with her in the past, she was wearing this plastic, baggy, cape like thing. Thurs. was really hot so when we found her, she was sitting on a wall in shorts and a kinda of halter top. She saw us pull up and stood to come over to the car. As soon as she stood, we realised she is pregnant. Six months pregnant in fact, and about to bring a child into the world with little or no hope of healthy life. She hadn’t seen a doctor yet, and none of the typical medical things had been taken care of. Why? Because she didn’t have any money for the bus. We gave her bus money so she could go get her ultrasound and check-up. We left her, knowing that we will have to keep an eye on her, as well. Please pray for Maria and the unborn baby.
Next, we came across a young fellow who was limping down the street. I called to him and he came over to the car window for some food. He was on my side and I could see while he ate that he had lost all his front teeth. He told us when asked that he was fourteen and held out his open palm to show us three coins he had successfully begged that day. I knew he was showing us with hopes that we would contribute to his fund, which, in time, would allow him to buy some antiseptic and bandages. When asked why, he held up his right foot to show us a raw open sore along the side, full of dirt and still bleeding. Lori asked him where the closest drug store was and found out it was just around the corner. She got out and the two of them went to buy what he needed, to at least clean and wrap his foot. Time and again, we have to keep telling ourselves that we can’t fix all the problems in Natal. We’ve come to help, as guided by God, with the hope that the work opens, first their ears, and then their hearts, to God’s Gospel. Please pray that God Himself directs the steps we take each day.
Last year I had made new tables and benches for the school in Aningas, so the kids could have a lunch area. Well, by the looks of them, I have to believe that since we left they’ve been sitting in a pool of water. I know the school has leaks everywhere, but I was still not pleased to see all the legs delaminating, to the point where they can no longer be used. So, Friday Will and I went to the village, with the intention of cutting off the bad plywood and replacing the leg bottoms with solid stock and setting them up on plastic pads. It’s so much easier to build new then to fix damaged stuff, but we got started and at least got one completed.
Lori’s been helping a young woman in her thirties get medical help for a medical condition in her eyes. She was told by the doctor that many here have this problem because of the strong sun and lack of eye protection. The way it works with the public health is that you show up, get in line, and wait. You may be seen, you may not be seen; when time is up, they close the doors and you will just have to come again another day. So Lori was up at five on Friday morning and had the girl at the clinic by seven. There were already fifteen people ahead of her but they did get seen by the doctor. So, that process has begun and it’s one more thing that Lori will have to see through.
Well, Family those are the note worthy experiences of the week, and once again I was unsuccessful in cutting this down. I feel like Mr Obama with his one hour speech on how to fix your health insurance problems. It’s kinda funny, but as I watched it the other night I had this feeling of being closer to home. There’s something about a live broadcast that makes you realise that what you’re watching is the same thing everyone else, at home, is watching and at the same time, too. That’s the one good thing I was able to get out of Obama’s speech.
Well that’s my missionary report for the week. Good night to most.
NOW! In the words of my dear uncle Fred ( who will always hold a very dear place in my heart and who I will never forget): Those of you with small children who need to be in bed, and those who need to be up early for school or work tomorrow, are free to leave the meeting at this juncture. Have you ever seen anyone actually get up and leave?) Those who can stay would be greatly appreciated, our brother has a short word of devotion he would like to share with us now. Ha! ha!
I’ve been reading in Exodus and thinking about that great moment in the history of God’s people when He brought them out of Egypt, and did it in a way they could never forget.
As a result, God expected to be given that place of honor in their hearts; that place where there’s only room for one. He knew what humanity’s estimation of Him would be. He himself determined it at the foot of Mount Sinai. When giving Moses specific instructions so he could judge fairly and rule His people, God told him that the value of a slave was thirty pieces of silver. Imagine giving that information to Moses knowing that a day would come when humanity would use that very value of a slave to show God what they thought of His only begotten ( only one of its kind ) Son. That’s how the world would respond to God’s mercy and grace but He expected more from His chosen.
( Exodus 19:3-36) “You have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to me. If you will listen obediently to what I say and keep my covenant, out of all people you’ll be my special treasure. The whole earth is mine to chose from, but you’re special, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. In other words, God showed them how special and how precious they were to Him, and the great lengths He went to to call them, and He only asked in return that He would be the only God in their heart. I thought of the countless times that He provided proof of His unique love for them and the special place they held in His heart. He only asked that the feeling would be mutual. He wasn’t asking for a place that He hadn’t earned. He asked them to remember their thirst and the bitter waters of Marah; to remember how He stepped in to make those waters sweet; to remember in Rephidim when Moses acting under His instructions would strike the rock of Horeb, water gushed out to once again quench their thirst; to remember that great battle with Amalek, He knew the day would come when the memory of Amalek would be wiped off the face of the earth. But He instructed Joshua to document that victory as evidence of their God’s power. He told them to carry that proof with them and to never forget. And that jar they carried, did they know what that’s all about? See that white stuff preserved all these years? That’s God given food from heaven provided by a Father who will always meet the need of the children He loves and cares for so much. On and on the list would go, as God would give evidence to His people that He had earned that preeminent place of honor and worship in their hearts. Pass the stories on, tell your children, don’t let the generations forget the great things I did, for a people that were so special to me. Oh, there were times when they were quick to give Him that first place. They stood in reverent awe and Godly fear at the banks of the Red Sea. They watched the waves spit up those powerful Egyptian warriors, as if they were helpless driftwood rolling up on the beach. They would say from their hearts, (ch 15-8): God is my strength ( His presence in the cloud before me, leading me through the walled waters of this great sea); God is my song ( the occupation of my heart in worship); God is my salvation (His presence in the cloud behind, that stood between His loved ones and their Egyptian enemies.) This is the kind of God I have, and I’m telling the world.
(15:10-15). Who compares with you among gods, O God? Who compares with you in power, in holy majesty, in awesome praise, wonder working God?Salvation and strength, they had seen both that day. It had produced a song of worship as they stood on the river bank in reverent awe of their God, who had chosen them, out of the whole world that belonged to Him. Was He asking too much of them when He declared, (20:3) No other Gods, only me. ?
God declared that they should have: (20:4-6) No carved gods of any size, shape or form, ( helpless man made idols); or anything whatsoever, whether things that fly, things that walk, or things that swim. (making creation your idol rather than the creator ); don’t bow down to them and don’t serve them, because I am God your God, and I am a most jealous God. I am unswervingly loyal to the thousands who love me and keep my commandments.
God did so much for them, only asking for one thing in return. Israel only failed at one thing, but it was the only thing that mattered to God. He left them captives to Babylon, He turned a deaf ear to their cry, His heart was broken. What a disappointment, what a failure; they were no longer effective as God’s representation to lost humanity. He had never failed to come through for them. Constantly, in very tangible ways, He showed them He cared, protected them, gave them the best, made them a people that the nations of the world feared. How could they allow this God to be displaced? What could possibly have deserved that place of worship in their heart more than this God?
This is my burden. I believe God has given it to me. These things were written for our learning. God has seen fit to document these stories so that we learn from others’ failures and don’t make the same mistakes.
Make a list of all of our concerns at home: weak assemblies; young people leaving our assemblies; a lack of seeing God’s power among us; lack of great blessing in salvation; our lack of interest in God’s things; our feeling of staleness, coldness, lack of life; and our closing of platforms because we think that will ultimately solve the problem of poorly attended conferences.The list seems to be growing every day. I’ve watched well meaning men run around doing their best to address each problem. The frantic running from issue to issue to plug the holes of what seems to be a sinking ship has to stop. We can’t fix it, only God can. We need to look to Him for help.
God told Samuel to tell the people what He expected of them if they truly wanted Him back:
1. Clean house ( get rid of all your idols)
2. Put God back on the throne of your heart ( that place where there is only room for one)
3. Promise Him undying devotion and loyalty.
I would like all who are reading this to give thought to this verse. ( Exodus 20:22-26) DON’T MAKE gods OF SILVER AND GOLD AND SIT THEM ALONGSIDE ME.
Now my question to you and me: Have we asked a jealous God to share His seat with things that we also think deserve a place of prominence? There’s only room for one. We defend ourselves by saying that God is very much a part of our lives, but have we heeded the God given warnings? Or have we created a God of convenience? Are we are paying the price because of this? After all God did for us, and we all gave great thought to that today, is He asking too much to be number one in our heart. The moment we agree with Gods assessment and confess our sin, He will forgive us and we will see His great power among us again.
I don’t know how many are receiving this email. It started with just my family, but I heard it’s being forwarded to others. Some of you who may not know me very well, may read this and find it hard to take. This has become my great burden for our assemblies. Those of you who know me know about this burden because you’ve heard this all before. I would only ask of others that, before God, you give it prayerful thought. Ask God, from your heart, to show you if there’s any basis to the message. Is this really the sin that has caused what feels like a dormant God among us?
Though I may not know you please know that I pray for God’s people and I love you all in Christ.
Good night from Brazil.