Saturday, June 30, 2007

$10 of Groceries Goes a Long Way

A quick update before our great Michigan buddies leave today (we'll miss you!) and the Fort Worth teams go for a day of fun in the sun. I apologize, but photos aren't downloading very easily right now. I'll keep trying later this evening, so please check back when you can.

Thursday night all three VBS groups stayed at their respective locations to host a special dinner for the mothers (and a precious few fathers, as the men of this country do not often take an active role in parenting) of the favelas we had served all week. While every dinner had its own special flair, each group worked hard to make theirs an intimate and festive celebration, complete with brightly-colored tablecloths and table settings. Things we take for granted in the US - like paper plates and plastic utensils - are a true luxury in Brazil. In fact, the inexpensive plastic ware we hauled down here will be washed and reused over and over again for special occasions at each church.

The parents were hand-selected to receive an invitation by the pastors of each of the three churches we had partnered with. Many mothers had children that had been attending VBS throughout the week, but some did not. One pastor intentionally chose many women who were not Christians to attend, with the prayer that their hearts would be softened by what they had seen and heard throughout the week amongst the children of their community.

Mothers were seated in small groups with an American at or near each table. Our gracious interpreters who volunteer their time throughout the week were there to help us fellowship with our guests. We were so excited to share stories from the week about their children whom we had grown to love. Most of the mothers came speaking only Portuguese, save for the names of Americans their children had been telling them about all week - Electra was apparently a hit among the Brazilian kids, as dozens of mothers specifically asked to meet her! It's obvious that a sparkling personality and a quick sense of humor translates any language barrier, and that the kids of that favela found her as entertaining as we all do.

Simple fellowship was not our only goal, as we each prayed to be able to build enough of a repoire with the parents to share our personal testimony and the hope that our faith offers in our lives each day. While we have no real way of knowing exactly how much of our sharing really sank in to each of these individuals, we trust that God planted seeds in each of their hearts and that each hosting church fellowship will be following up with our dinner guests for further spiritual growth opportunities.

Upon their departure, each mother was treated to a beautiful silver and crystal bracelet describing the path to salvation. Linda's friend Kristin - who has never been to Brazil, though she has become a key part of this ministry - was kind enough to make 300 of these pieces of jewelry, as well as the 30 gorgeous hand-tooled sterling silver crosses that were given the night before at Teen Night. We are so grateful for the gifts she has provided for these underprivileged women, who may have never owned anything this nice in their lives. The bracelet mirrors the ones we made with the VBS kids from bandanas and plastic beads, so there is synergy in the message we are sharing among multiple ages groups of the favelas.

Finally, a final parting gift to each and every parent . . . what the Brazilians call a "basic bag" of food rations. Costing only $10 U.S. dollars - what we might spend on a simple lunch and a latte - rice, beans, oil and other essential non-perishables fill this 15-pound bag that will sustain an average Brazilian family for an entire month. From what I understand, this bag is actually authorized by the government to be sold by for-profit institutions, thereby adding an unnecessary layer of inflation to subsidized food programs and making the bags even more expensive to obtain. Because of the tremendous generosity of the VFC donors back home, 400 mothers were given basic bags to feed their families! Isn't God grand?

After we watched these women walk home carrying their heavy bags of food on their shoulders - many of them barefoot, like their little ones had been all week - we said our final goodbyes to the dozens of kiddos who were still surrounding our VBS locations. It was well past 10 p.m., and these unattended children were still waiting in the dark for one last hug and "Ciao!" from the Americans. Fifteen hours later, our volunteers returned to the hotel with stinky clothes, tired feet, dirty faces and grateful hearts.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

For God So Loved the World

Amerelo, Preto, Vermelho, Branco, Verde.
Amerelo, Preto, Vermelho, Branco, Verde.
Amerelo, Preto, Vermelho, Branco, Verde.

Today's VBS groups learned colors in Portuguese - not because we want to become the next Picasso, but instead to share the Gospel in a way that is memorable and enticing. Through the wordless book, flavored jellybeans (candy is always good bribery!) and beaded bracelets, today we worked hard to share about our hope in Christ with the Brazilian kiddos at least three times each.

"Desculpa" (I'm sorry), but the internet connection is very sloooooow again, so today's sharing may not have the same amount of pictures for a few days. Quickly, here's the highlights of our second Fort Worth team's adventures on Day 3:

Led by Julie Miller, this Fort Worth team likes to keep it all in the family. Many of these volunteers are mothers and daughters, fathers and sons and even a grandmother and her granddaughter. The Miller family sent two of their six kids along with mom Julie to help her oversee the planning and coordination of three different VBS lessons every day . . . and give her four extra arms and legs for fetching and running all day long!

Molly and her buddy Eryn were a huge help to Sheri and Julie Medley while they handed out the remainder of the backpacks (thanks again, Christ Chapel friends!) to the morning kiddos.

Colin (Sheri's son) and Hudson (another Miller child) added to the energy of father-son pairs Jared & Cruz and Brett & Cole with fun-filled games.

Tammy led three of our youngest gals, Courtney, Parker and Sarah, in a skit that reminded our kids about the meaning behind the five colors I mentioned above that we'd been hitting home all day (in case your Portuguese is a little rusty, we share the Gospel through the colors Yellow - Black - Red - White - Green). Best of all, this skit let every single kiddo eat five jellybeans - never a bad thing, no matter what country you're in!

Christy, Brett and Lauren are great at moving these children from place to place each session - no easy feat as their energy continues to grow (and ours sometimes wanes!) as the week goes on.

Julie Medley and her daughter Elizabeth worked hard to get tiny hands to twist bandanas into bracelets with the colored beads, and Sheri, Cole and Lauren share the history behind the blood of the Lamb of God during Story time.

Sheri also helped Cheryl get Teen Night ready for tonight. For the first time ever, 30 teenage gals were being pampered by our ladies with manicures, pedicures, a pizza dinner and beautiful handmade silver cross necklaces made by a friend of Linda's back home. Purity and forgiveness are not readily available to these young women, so our prayer is that these Brazilian teens will be encouraged and reminded that God is there for them always, even in the dark and corrupt corners of their lives.

Seu Amor, Teu Pecado, Seu Sangue, Tua Fe, Vida Nova.
Heaven, Sin, Jesus’ Death, Resurrection, New Life.

Today's Bible verse was John 3:16 - "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

As we learn more about these kids and love on them desperately each day, we are all painfully reminded that this life is harder for them than we can really understand. Our worst days at home may never be as much of a struggle as their best days here in Brazil. As we get ready to leave them tomorrow, may our sadness at their living situations be turned to our hope for their eternal life in Christ . . . where poverty is no longer, abuse is no further, and sadness is no more.

P.S. - Tomorrow night is the Mother's Dinner, where we will serve nearly 500 mothers of the children we've met at each of our three sites. Please pray for energy, patience and a servant's heart during this special time of fellowship. For many of these women, this could be the nicest event they will attend all year. Friday will be our first opportunity to work together as a team of 60 when we go to a nearby fishing village to conduct one massive VBS - where we could see more than 500 kids at one time! With these large activities (and the internet issues that keep popping up), it could be a couple of days until the next entry, so thanks for understanding!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Michigan Team Shares about Sin Solutions, Praise Dancing and Boo Boo Bunnies

Today's update is from VBS III - excuse me, Darril. I meant to say "VBS A"! (You can tell our former pastor's sense of humor hasn't been frozen away since his family moved from Texas!)

For those of you who didn't know Darril, he and Marie and his children moved to Michigan from Fort Worth a little over a year ago. They have a long love and big passion for the people of Brazil. The Holden's try to rotate which child joins them in Brazil each time, and this year Claire drew the lucky straw.

While we in Fort Worth really miss the Holden family being a part of our fellowship, most of us (except for Brandon - he's still bitter) are happy to share them with our new Michigan friends. Marie said that she loves most everything about her new home, except for the winters - guess all that snow is a little hard to get used to.

Like we mentioned yesterday, all three teams work really hard to share the same message each day, so if you don't see your loved one mentioned here, you can still picture how they probably spent most of their day.

The Michigan team is hosting VBS at Immanuel Baptist Church for kids that are being bussed in from a nearby favela. They are fortunate enough to have Lecio - our primary missionary host - be with them every day for their VBS. Lecio is amazing with the Brazilian children. He commands great respect from them, while also really gets them to engage with the Americans quickly. Lecio is also the person who has secured several dozen volunteer interpreters that join each site every day to help us try and move our communications a little beyond "Oi" (Hello) and "Obrigado" (Thank You).

Today, Erin and Steve shared more about the fall of man through a skit about Adam and Eve - complete with a hand-painted tree held up by Sarah and a rubbery snake managed by Claire. Does anyone else think it's funny they made the preacher's kiddo represent Satan? Maybe it's a weird Michigan-type of initiation? :>

One of this teams favorite times of each VBS is the praise and worship. They also have a talented band that really makes them get off their feet and start dancing around like their pants are on fire! So the team has decided to turn the tables on the kids . . . and now there are about 300 Brazilian children who can sing "Deep and Wide" (with the motions) and do the "Hokey Pokey" - all in English. Guess it's monkey see - monkey do . . . even in Brazil!

Megan, Kristin and Chris helped show the way Jesus absolves us of our sins through a really cool skit involving photofinishing solution. If we didn't know how it was done ourselves, we would think they had learned a trick or two from David Copperfield! The older kids were especially enthralled with how the cross sponge was able to transform colored liquid back clear again.

Each VBS divides their sessions into three groups, and this team has all of their volunteers involved in many different leadership roles. Not only does Sam help Jessica with photography, she also leads the Green team of kids from station to station. Alyssa and Andrea manage the Yellow kids, while Kristin and Sarah take charge of the Red group. They say they can see the rafters raise from the roof of the sanctuary when the kiddos start chanting their team colors to see who can be the loudest!

While Darril and Marie keep the day running like clockwork, Larry and Rob play lots of games to run off some of that pent up energy. They are a huge help, so that when the kids get to crafts, there's a chance they might stand still long enough to make a "Boo Boo Bunny". It takes a village to make a proper BBB, so Ruth, Diane, Darcy, and Debbie all threw in their pipe cleaners to help the kids turn washrags into rabbits. Caitlynn and Claire do double duty by helping with dancing and crafts - again, why do you think they are so hard on the PK? :> Apparently these kids became quite creative with their stickers - I heard the BBB eyes ended up everywhere!

Today's verse that was taught to the VBS kids was Romans 6:23 - "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

It's obvious by the smiles on the faces of this team tonight that they are not only giving a gift by sharing their time, love and the hope they have in Christ, but they are also receiving huge blessings back from the Brazilians. Their kids love to connect the many family members this team has, and are fascinated when they meet an American with their same name. Laughs and hugs abound in this group!

The Michigan gang is so grateful for the support and prayers from all their friends and family back home, and can't wait to share more with you about their life-changing experiences here in Recife!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Refletir Cristo

Reflecting Christ. As Christians, that's our goal. Too bad it's not as simple as the mirrors glued to brightly-colored shapes of foam we worked on today in crafts, huh?

Today was the day we've been waiting for - we finally got to meet the kids of the Brazilian favelas! Tonight you'll hear about some of the experiences one of our teams from Fort Worth had through our partnership with Igreja Evangelica Batista Vida (Evangelical Baptist Church of Life), led by Pastor Antonio. If the internet holds up okay, you'll hear about the Michigan team in the next day or so, and the second Fort Worth team toward the end of the week.

This particular VBS (led by Brandon & Cindy) is happening just outside of one of the favelas at a facility that is similar to what we in the States might use as a recreation center. Of the three locations, this VBS is the furthest from our hotel, and has the most "rustic charm" of them all - a.k.a. bars on the windows, no air conditioning, a dirt field, and one new potty that we are all praying works all week! But, it does have a beautiful swimming pool - crazy, huh?

At each VBS site, there are two sessions - morning and afternoon. This morning session brought 85 children, but word must have spread throughout the neighborhood over the lunch break, because nearly double that (over 140 kids) showed up in the afternoon! Though we have three different sites conducting two VBS sessions each day, all three teams are doing our best to provide the same purposeful activities and message each day.

The Brazilian kiddos are very polite and listen well. They are so eager to receive praise and approval from all of us, and treat us like honored guests - though they do think we are silly as we try and dance and sing to their music!

After some rousing praise songs with a band that could give Brian & Jennifer Kieta a run for their money (sorry guys - we still love you!), Kevin, Hunter and Travis told the story of creation through a beautiful mural painted by a volunteer back in Fort Worth. While Jim & Madison began the huge task of taking every single child's picture for other projects later this week, our skit team joined Brandon and Cory for some crazy field games to burn off energy. And when the afternoon brought us rain, rain and more rain, our games guys went with the flow (literally!) and adjusted their activity to something the kids probably enjoyed even more - water relay races!

Toni was a master at keeping all three ages groups moving between stations, and stalling with impromptu entertainment if one group ran long. Shelley and Megan performed a short skit about the fall of man while helping every child learn Ephesians 2:10 in Portuguese - "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

Finally, Tara, Linda, Cindy C., Cindy B. Amy, Alma, Elektra (now knows as the the Craft Queen - check out that apron full of supplies!) and Julie H. helped each child decorate a mirror that encourages them to "Reflect Christ" every time they look at it. For some children, this honestly could have been one of the only times they have ever looked at themselves in a mirror.

Before each child left, they were given snacks, lunch and a backpack. We are so grateful for all of the contributions of backpacks and money to purchase more! These children were SO excited to have something of their own - in fact, we feel pretty sure we had a few repeat attendees. But hey, if another decorated mirror and a backpack helps these children know and love Christ, then who are we to judge?

In our morning devotion, Jared and Cruz challenged us to plug our own names in for the word "love" throughout 1 Corinithians 13:1-7. No matter our past sins, these kids knew nothing about us other than what we first showed them today. It's humbling to know that you can lay everything aside to start over with new friends. It's even more humbling to see that your new friends have so little wealth, yet are rich beyond measure with their smiles, their hugs and their enthusaism for a few crazy Americans carrying craft supplies and some backpacks to give away.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Kid's Place is a Reality!

Thanks be to God! On Friday, VFC closed the deal on purchasing a permanent building for Kid's Place ministry in Recife. Kid's Place is a yellow building on the right in the background. There will be lots more to share about how this acquisition will expand the VFC ministry after this trip, but in the meantime, check out our whole group who went into the favelas to tour the location and see the new site this afternoon.

PS for Postings - Thank you so much for all your messages of encouragement and support. If you'd like to post a note to one of our team members, that's great! Simply click on "Post a Comment" underneath a recent entry and write away. You don't have to sign in or log in for this type of posting. Plus, it will help us keep the "official" pictures and stories from the trip near the top of our blog, so lots of our friends and family can share in this journey. Thanks!

Sacrifice, Priorities & Focus

Prayer time - skit practice - and some of us still need a few more hours of sleep!
Hail, hail - the gang's all here! It's time to start Operation VBS. We've got skits to learn, crafts to plan and games to get ready for. In less than 24 hours, everyone needs to knows how and what to do . . . and some of us feel like Chicken Little running around saying "The sky is falling, the sky is falling!"
Yet when gathered together for the very first time, a morning devotion led by Darrell (dubbed by Brandon as "The God Guy"), puts things in perspective. Leading us from the Gospel of Luke, Darell challenges all of us to think of three questions while we are here:
- What does God want you to give up?
- What does God want you to change?
- What needs attention in your life?
Sacrifice, priorities and focus. There's about 60 of us here, and we're confidant that God brought each one of us here for a reason. We believe that God will bless the Brazilian children and their mothers through purposeful crafts, skits, games and fellowship, and we can't wait to see how!
But by reflecting on these questions throughout the week, perhaps we'll learn that God is going on mission in our lives every single day? Perhaps this week's mission trip isn't exclusively to help our fellow man? Could it be that each one of us also needs renewal, rebirth and reassessment?
We've been taught this trip is "not about me" . . . but in a strange way, maybe it is.