Thursday, March 13, 2008

Brazil Spring Break 2008-Day 7

Blessings to all our friends and family!

There are a handful of days in everyone's life that make such a profound impact and are of such great import that they are forever inscribed on a person's heart as a beacon and a marker of lifelong change. The feelings and emotions experienced on such days are so deep, so personal, that to attempt to describe them in words is not only impossible, but seems to do them an injustice. Words out of one's mouth or written on the page can never capture the essence of a thought or an emotion. It is therefore with great difficulty that I post this blog entry of our last mission day in Brazil.

On this day, God granted a small respite from the stifling heat and humidity, as a strong overnight rain was followed by a partly cloudy sky, somewhat lower temperatures and a welcome breeze. Most of the team is fairly well acquainted by now with each village child within our assigned age group, so it is a thrill to see their shining faces peering through the gates prior to the session. Several team members have made a habit of going outside the gates before the start time to hug and kid around with the children waiting to enter. The villagers are so happy to see their favorite American take the time to come outside early with the express intent to shake their hand, give them a "high-five" and/or a heartfelt hug. The three station group rotation provides a crucial aspect of structure to each daily session, but the best times are experienced when we have an opportunity to hunch down, get on eye-level with each child one-on-one and communicate with and/or love on them. They seem to thrive on this very personal and exclusive attention, and walls fall away quickly. The bridges built this week between hearts will not soon be forgotten on either end of the connection, if ever.

Many of the children arrived today sporting their ballcaps received yesterday. It is apparent that the Texas Rangers are the adopted baseball team of the village, judging from the if only they could send us a pitcher....

The most amazing exchanges occurred throughout the day. Several mothers appeared at the gate asking for specific members of our group, and offered gifts out of intense gratitude for the love and fellowship they received at the Mother's Dinner. Brazilian children also brought gifts to the American kids out of thanks.

At the end of each session, the American team had a chance to thank the entire group of children for the spiritual gifts we have received through this opportunity to serve them. A representative of each age group also got to publicly thank the Americans for this special time.

The childrens' hugs seemed to be a little tighter, a little longer today, and when it was time for them to leave, tears fell abundantly. But the Holy Spirit stayed, in the hearts of the children and the Americans. There was little doubt that those extended hugs from the children were God-inspired, and God-given.

The Holy Spirit also stayed in the compound during break; nothing was able to prepare us for what we were about to experience. After the first session, the team placed all 17 pastors, interpretors and cooks in chairs forming a circle. Team members then knealt before each support staffer, and while Brent Hull delievered an extremely emotional reading from John, Chaper 13, the team washed the staffers' feet. The gesture had a profound effect on everyone present, and many sought a brief time of solitude to reflect on what they just witnessed.

The entire support staff was presented with gifts from our VFC team, and God's grace was felt by all. In particular,the kitchen staff was expecially moved by the generosity, but it would be difficult to repay them for the sacrifce they made for the success of the mission. Each day a group of 4 Brazilian women produced a truly excellent meal of local specialties for over 55 people, all from a kitchen no bigger than most American closets.

In addition to the usual gifts handed out at the end of each session, the village children also received a framed photograph of themselves and a photograph of our VFC team. At the end of the last session, hundreds of kids, teens and adults stayed outside the compound and frolicked with many of the team. Many gifts were handed out to babies, grandmothers, teens and unemployed loiterers, giving us one last chance to discuss the greatness of God with each of them.

The interpreters and support staff were invited back to our hotel for the night, and joined us at our nightly meeting. Two special members of the staff took the time to describe their life, their struggles, their faith, their hopes and their dreams. The stories left our team speechless. These brothers and sisters in Christ have endured unimaginable hardships, yet they radiate love for Jesus Christ and left each one of us with a message transmitted directly from God straight into our hearts. The effect on each member of this team cannot be described, so I won't even begin to shortchange it. I'll just say that due to the contribution of this unbelieveable group of staff, transformations have taken place this week in the hearts of our team and the relationships within our individual family units.

In fact, the coming together of this extraordinary group of Brazilian Christians making up our translator team is nothing short of amazing, and truly directed by God. This blog would not be complete without praising our Brazilian teammates:
First of all, praise goes to Cibelle, whose caring heart, warm personality and unquenchable enthusiasm for the Brazilian children blessed each of us in a truly powerful and personal way.
Praise goes to Carlos, who's quick wit, engaging smile and gratitude-filled heart has inspired us more than he will ever know.
Praise goes to Wilson, who has joined VFC for the fourth year in a row. Wilson is a perennial group favorite, and brings great enthusiasm and uncanny ability to connect with all ages of children as well as adults.
Praise goes to Waska, who brought the gift of music to the compound this week, with a very real love and amazing knowledge of popular Christian music.
Praise goes to Sue, who has dedicated her life to interpreting for American missionary groups in Brazil.
Praise goes to Emanuel, whose bright, friendly, easy-going personality made him a pleasure to share the week with;
Praise goes to Daniel, who has also joined VFC on multiple occasions, and brings an air of clam and peace about him that makes him highly sought after by kids and adults alike;
Praise goes to Regis, who has only mastered English three months ago but felt a calling to lend a hand wherever needed for God's work.
Praise goes to Yugo, Anthenor's son, who decided to spend the week with our group and help out wherever needed, and struck up some great friendships with the Brazilian as well as the American kids.
And of course, all our hearts and thanks go to the pastors and their families who have dedicated their lives to living in accordance with our Savior's commands. It is evident in each face we see that their labor and efforts are having a major impact on a generation of Brazilians. We offer our prayers, sincere thanks and gratitude to Leciu and his wife, Uma, Pastor Josue and his wife Ceca,
Pastor David and his wife Deborah and Pastor Anthenor and his wife Patricia. We pray that God will fulfill all your selfless plans to expand your ministries and impact an even great number of your beloved countrymen.

After a day in Recife tomorrow, where we will attend the formal dedication of the Kid's Place project funded by VFC donations and dinner at the home of Leciu and Uma, we will fly back to the United States on Saturday. I plan on delaying publishing the last post until we get home and I solicit the final comments and impressions of our teammates.

To those of you who supported and followed our mission activities this week, we extend our heartfelt thanks and prayers. This trip was successful only through the power of your prayers, and you delivered. We thank you, and the children of Abreu de Una, Brazil thank you.

May God be with each of you all the days of your life.

I would like to close with Scripture:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds;and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Matthew 7:7-8, Luke 11:9-10

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:43-45

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5:3-5

Please come back for our Postscipt in a week.
Obrigado, and Boa Noite!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Brazil Spring Break 2008-Day 6

Good evening, friends.

It is now 11:30 p.m. as I begin to write this post, and the team just got back and settled in from another long day serving the Lord and the truly special people in this remote part of Brazil. For the second night in a row, the team returned to our hotel after 10:30 p.m., faced only with the prospect of the impending ring of an early alarm tomorrow morning, or in some cases, the all too timely wake-up call from the resident rooster. But falling asleep just doesn't seem to be a problem, as our group has attained first-hand knowledge of the physical and mental toll a multi-day, multi-session mission trip in a very hot environment can exact.

Other than a few bumps, bruises, and bloodletting by our resident dispenser of pain Dr. John Conway, all of our missionaries are holding up unbelievably well. The children, in particular, have been an incredible blessing. In order to pull off our ambitious plans, we needed to rely not only on the kids' good behaviour, but their assistance as well. The kids have upheld their end of the bargain, to say the least. Each of them have voluntarily pitched in hands everywhere and anywhere needed, without being asked. The incredible success of this trip can be directly attributed in part to the contributions of this intelligent, fun, enthusiastic, and reliable group of young men and young women. There is no doubt that they are instinctively following their Father's call this week in their thoughts and actions, and I'm not referring to their father on the team! They have displayed huge hearts for the village children, and it is evident that each of them has grown this week, both spiritually and emotionally. We are all ever so humbled and grateful for the blessings raining down on us this week.

Many of our supporters have been so kind in praising us for the fact that our team families are sacrificing our Spring Break to serve the children of Brazil. After experiencing the last 5 days of this opportunity, our team can definitively state that absolutely no sacrifice has taken place. This trip is nothing but a blessing that we wil forever be thankful for. Giving of oneself for a worthwhile cause brings about feelings and emotions of utter joy and contentment. There is absolutely no place that we would rather be.

But it is hot. Dehadration is a major concern, as our team is outdoors non-stop from 8:30 a.m. to at least 5:00-5:30 p.m. everyday (and much, much longer the last two days as a result of the nightly activities). Bottled water and sunsreen are in high demand, but God has protected us from any weather related difficulties, allowing us to complete the work He has sent us to do.

Today, 10 year old Megan Meadows delivered the morning prayer and asked God to help each of us transfer our new knowledge of God's truths gained this week back to Fort Worth when we return home. Her father, Jay Meadows, delivered the morning devotional and pointed out that true success in life, true wealth and riches, lie only in following Christ. Nothing else matters, and it has occurred to many of us this week that in many ways our Brazilian friends have discovered the right path to eternal riches and rewards. They do not allow their busy schedules to dictate the love they extend to their family, their friends, and God. They seem to be better stewards of the time God has given all of us to do what is truly important in life. Jay reminded us that when we get back to Fort Worth, each of us must do some sould searching and look at the way we conduct our everyday lives, to make sure we are following the right path to eternal rewards.

Much work had to be done today before the sessions, during the breaks, and prior to the Mother's Dinner. During such times, it seems every room of the compound was filled with frentetic action as teams of volunteers made no excuses, but dived in to fulfill God's plan for the week. The Snack Bag Sorority mentioned yesterday got busy stuffing the wildly popular daily goody bag. Others were busy setting up and breaking down tables and chairs for the many activities, and preparing for the just as wildly popular ballcap giveaway. Toni Meadows, Kathy Paukune, Elaine Murphy and Maura Rattikin gathered and wrapped gifts for all of our wonderful pastors, interpreters and support staff. Hilary Rattikin and Kamryn Conway learned their parts in today's skit in no time, and the Paukune family got set to participate in the daily bible story presentation.

Today's two sessions were especially important, because in each one Pastor Leciu asked if any of the children would like to receive Christ into their lives. A handful of children in the morning session broke down their cultural barriers and stepped up to receive the Free Gift of Eternity. In the afternoon, it was dozens who pledged their life to Christ. Praise Be to God! It was a very emotional time for our team to sit in the seats with the children, and watch them make the bold personal decision to stand up, get out of the chair, and change the direction of their life forever. 13 year old Austin Meadows has a special gift in communicating friendship and trust with the Brazilian kids, and it was a pleasure to watch him successfully encourage some boys his own age to be bold and accept Jesus. Bravo, Austin!!!

Wonderful stories continued to pour out today. Cameron Newberry received a blessing this morning when a young girl she had befriended this week brought Cameron a pair of earrings. This young girl, who has nothing, sacrificed something obviously of great value to her to extend a sign of love for her newfound friend. Cameron, congratulations on making such a wonderful impact on a little girl with a huge heart.

At lunch today, Pastor Josue and his wonderful wife Cesa shared their faith journey and their reasons for providing a ministry to this tiny fishing village. We were told that there are two chruches in town, but neither bother with the spiritual training of children. As a result, the local children have no knowledge of what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus, and consequently do not seek spritual guidance as they grow older. Even in this little town, drugs, prostitution and despair have crept in, and until Pastor Josue came to town, the village had no hope for a better future. Pastor Josue hopes to build a church and community center that teaches the children and their families alike that joy, happiness, riches and eternal life are readily available to each of them, regardless of their circumstances, regardless of who they are, and regardless of what they have done in the past. VFC would love an opportunity to support Pastor Josue's vision, and VFC would welcome any interest in the project.

After the two sessions, the team was mentally and physically drained by the intensity of the activities, the emotion and the heat. But one of the week's highlights was set to begin in a few short hours, so the team rushed back to the hotel for a shower and quick bite to eat. After returning to the compound, we completed the setup for this evening's Mother's Dinner. A wonderul showing of 100 lovely guests arrived at the compound at 7:30 p.m. Each American family served three tables of four mothers each, and shared stories with the mothers of our families and the wonderful events of the week. The mothers were so appreciative, and could not get over the fact that we came all this way to show love to their children, to provide their entire family with hope, and feed them as well!

After dinner, Lindsey Rattikin premiered the wonderul slide show she put together of the week's activities, set to Christian music. The faces of the beautiful, smiling children lept off the screen to an adoring audience. It is probable that none of the mothers ever have or ever will again see images of their children in such a fashion. The show was a huge success, and touched the hearts of all in the audience. The team really enjoyed having a chance to sit back and look at what God has accomplished this week.

Pastor Anthenor gave a moving sermon to the mothers about the love of Christ for each of them, and the opportunity to secure eternal salvaton through Him. Several mothers took the opportunity to give their life to Christ, a moving experience for all.

At the end of the evening, the mothers filed out with smiles on their faces, tears in their eyes and a bag containing a month's worth of food, much to their delight and surprise.

Tomorrow is our last day to be with the children, and we plan to make the most of it. We ask again for your prayers that our team can make a life-changing difference in the lives of each one of these special children of God.

Obrigado, and Boa Noite!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Brazil Spring Break 2008-Day 5

Good evening to all our online teammates!

We would first like to thank all of you who have posted such wonderful comments to our blog. I cannot tell you how much it means to us that you are taking the time out of your day to read our posts and respond with your greetings, your prayers and your support. I'll tell you, something is happening down here in Brazil, and those of you supporting and praying for us from home are as responsible for this movement as those of us on the ground here in Brazil. Believe me, whatever you guys are doing at home, keep doing it!

We knew going in that today was going to be an ambitious day, with two sessions of Vacation Bible School, a Teen Night for the village boys and a separate Teen Night for the village girls. And just to make sure we got the most bang for our buck, God delivered another typical coastal Brazilian summer day, with high heat and high humidity. Obviously, the stage has been set for His greatness to shine through!

One thing your prayers produced today was bigger crowds! We were thrilled to see that not only did the children from yesterday show up again, but a number of new children as well! We ministered to around 125-150 children in each of our two sessions today, and they were even more fired-up today than yesterday!

In addition to our three station rotation described in yesterday's blog, the highlight of today was a dental hygiene segment planned and orchestrated by teammates Dr. Ron and Cynthia Lee. Ron demonstrated proper brushing technique for all 250 children, with a sense of humor and "bedside manner" that we would all love to have in a Dentist. After the demonstration, the children were assisted in brushing their teeth by their Family Hosts, and returned for a fluoride treatment by Dr. Lee and his merry band of volunteers. Yes, Ron was somehow able to draft some on-the-spot dental hygeinists in the form of Cynthia Lee, Nancy Conway, Kathy Paukune, Cameron Newberry, Isabelle Newberry, Marylin Newberry and Dr. John Conway to administer the fluoride treatments. Each enlisted technician resembled a miner, sporting a light strapped to their head as they administered the treatment. All in all, the Brazilian children did a great job of brushing their teeth, and most (but certainly not all!) went with the flow and accepted the fluoride treatment with a big smile. While examining their teeth, Dr. Lee noticed much need for future dental treatment, especially in the 5-9 year old age group. Along with other medical professionals, he is looking into the possiblilty of future trips to Brazil, where they can deliver complete and definitive dental treatment to the villagers (such as extractions, root canals and other vitally important procedures). It is our team's hope that we have made at least a small difference in the children's understanding of dental health. Many thanks go to Ron and Cynthia Lee for their efforts in bringing this effort to fruition.

Our daily assembly line was once agin at work, but sans Nancy. It seems our large contingent of young women have taken over the duties of stuffing snack bags on their own accord, freeing Nancy up not for a break, but for yet another assembly line. The snack bag sorority consists of Kamryn Conway, Elle Conway, Gigi Hull, Harriett Hull (hey Harriett, why did you and Caroline R. switch nametags today? You blond haired, blue-eyed girls look too much the same anyway, without confusing us old-timers and family members!), Margaret Lee, Grace Paukune, Caroline Rattikin and Hilary Rattikin. Once again, the bags were stuffed and stored in an amazing display of American work ethic. Meanwhile, Nancy drafted the "more mature" princesses on our team to prepare supplies for this evening's Teen Night. Hair brushes, nail polish and all other forms of female paraphernalia was spread across a long table for organization into individual packets for our guests.

The two VBS sessions today were incredibly rewarding. After some initial apprehension yesterday, a sense of peace and familiarity set in today. The kids were as excited and boisterous as ever, but today some walls were breached, some connections cemented, and some God-given love began to take over. William Rattikin felt an urge to give a local child one of his favorite toys, a miniature (palm-sized) skateboard. Initially, the local boy did not understand that it was a gift; but once he understood, he carried it with him all day, to the morning session, to the afternoon session, and again to the Teen Night session this evening. God's spirit revealed itself to seven year old William today. Elaine Murphy tells of a wonderful blessing she experienced today. During lulls in the action, Elaine loves to show the children pictures of her family and her dog. One particular older girl was enamored with the pictures during the morning session. Much later, in the middle of the afternoon session, Elaine was called to the gate of the compound. It seems that the young girl from the morning session had returned to the compound, bringing with her a number of her "elderly friends" (grandmother aged) to view the pictures. The friends were so moved by the pictures that they were each called to embrace Elaine tightly. They were touched, Elaine was touched, and so goes the Spirit of God in this world. Another example? Perhaps the tiniest little 5 year old girl in the village arrived yesterday afternoon, but did not stay long as her fear of the unknown caused her to leave after a short time. Did she show up today? Of course she did, and after some loving from Mary Sharpe as only Mary can do, the beautiful little girl (her name is Victoria, isn't that bonito?) was an excited young lady for the rest of the day. She doled out hugs to all comers, she LOVED to give high fives, all the while requesting to be held in the arms of an American missionary. Young Victoria is what this trip is all about!

Because the dental segment took some time to administer, our team had a number of opportunities to pull small groups of children aside and discuss the life and message of Jesus through the use of an Evangecube. An Evangecube is somewhat like a Rubik's Cube, and is a highly effective method of breaking down language barriers by describing the Good News of Jesus Christ through pictures. The children seemed enamored with the device, and loved to work their own way through the story.

The day ended with a skit put on by Mary Sharpe and the entire Newberry family, depicting the fall of man resulting from the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Once again, the team found energy we didn't know we had. All of us admit that we have been acting in ways that are WAY out of our usual comfort zone, but this week, it all seems natural. There IS an energy that is dictating our every move, and your prayers, and God's supreme majesty, are orchestrating a special event in the lives of hundreds of people (our team included) here in Brazil.

Luckily, Brandon saw fit to ask the vans to arrive at 4:30 p.m. today, thereby negating any possibility that the local teens could inflict any more damage to the 40+ers on the soccer field. The Men of our team are all hobbling around, repeating the phrase "No Mas, No Mas, No Mas" for some reason. I imagine that after a day's rest, we may make one last effort to relive our glory days, while at the same time being showed up by our own offspring. All is as it shold be here on the Northeast coast of Brazil!

Of course, someone has to seek medical attention on every trip, and this trip it was our beloved Pastor Anthenor, who was showing off his God-inspired karate skills and ended up in teammate Dr. John Conway's room getting a ligament (or something, I don't know a ligament from a leg) sewed up. Hey, brother Anthenor, we've got you covered on this trip; feel free to utilize Ron Lee as well :)!

Tonight, as advertised, a number of teammates worked very hard to put on a meaningful Teen Night for the village teenagers, and by all accounts, their efforts were rewarded. All female teammates in 7th grade or above set out this evening to serve the village's young women. Cibelle, who has been reaching out and connecting with the local children all week, led a simply sensational discussion with around 30 village girls about the fact that they are each beautiful, special and unique in the eyes of God, and to respect God's perfect design for their lives. Lindsey Rattikin, Hilary Rattikin, Caroline Rattikin and Kamryn Conway performed a dance set to words and music, relating to the fact that each girl is a beautiful princess. The village teen girls then sat in a circle and read a story from the Bible where Jesus washed the feet of his followers. Our temmates then proceeded to wash the feet of the village girls, gave foot and hand massages, and manicures. Each girl left with a gift bag and a chance to pick out some special jewelry for themselves. The young women of the village simply loved and appreciated the evening, and our team owes a heartfelt thanks to wonderful Cibelle, who has a gift for reaching out and touching the Brazilian youth of all ages. Thank you, thank you, Cibelle!!!!

Not to be outdone, approximately 50 teen guys met and discussed what it means to be a man in today's world. Brandon Boehme, Jay Meadows, Mark Paukune and Pat Murphy shared their thoughts and experiences with the young men, and it seemed evident that those young men went home this evening with a renewed understanding of their role within a family. Apparently, the young men were exposed to a part of Americana tonight that they have never experienced before: the grand old game of horseshoes. The boys could have played horseshoes all night if poosible, and it seems that a new hosreshoe pit will need to be set up next to the beloved, and flooded, soccer field.

One really cool ("legau" in Portuguese; the Brazilian boys LOVE this word!) event on the horizon: 16 year old Lindsey Rattikin is putting together what promises to be one incredible slide show on her MacBook for tomorrow night's Mother's Dinner, with an encore performance for the children. Lindsey has been busy collecting digital photographs from teammates each day, and has constructed a pictorial montage set to the best in contemporary Chrisitan music. This particular group of teammates has proven to be some exceptional photographers, and I hope each of you will have an opportunity to view our "Spring Break Mission Video". We have had several requests to post photographs on this blog, but due to some rather slow connection speeds and the wealth of quality photos, we have decided that it may be best to put up a website upon our return with a combined set of images from this week for your viewing, and downloading, pleasure.

Tomoorow is another big day, with two VBS sessions and the long-anticipated Mother's Dinner.
Thank you again for all your prayers and support, and we pledge to keep doing our thing if you keep dong yours!

Obrigado, and Boa Noite!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Brazil Spring Break 2008-Day 4

Hello friends and family!

Greetings once again from Northeast Brazil! Those of you who have participated in mission trips before will be able to identify with, and probably predict, what this post will say. The first full day of a mission: After all the planning, all the praying, all the excitement, all the concerns, all the butterflies, what will happen? Will we connect? Will we be able to communicate? Will the day go smoothly? Will the children be disappointed, or scared, or worst of all, indifferent to our efforts? Well, our God is an awesome God, and with Him all things will work for His glory. Today was a day that reflected his glory, his power, his love. Today was, in a word, spectacular.

After a morning devotional, our team boarded vans at 8:30 a.m. for the short trip to the fishing village. The village is remote, to put it mildly. From the highway, we turned off onto a small dirt road and travelled several miles to the village. Along the way, the scenery could not have been more beautiful. We rolled through a forest of coconut and mango trees, with wild birds of paradise flowers blooming in every direction. The village itself is made up of small bare whitewashed single story structures lining the narrow dirt roads, and is situated next to a series of mangrove swamps leading out to the ocean several miles away. Pastor Josue's mission home consists of a small walled-in compound, with individual rooms (un air-conditioned sleeping quarters for traveling missionaries)lining the interior dirt courtyard. At one end of the courtyard is an open-air covered activity space, where meals are served and programs are presented. Across the road from Pastor Josue's compound sits the ever-popular soccer field, a dirt field with wood tree limbs fashioned into goal posts. The soccer field seems to be the community meeting place every afternoon, where the locals play soccer or socialize along the side. However, no soccer game can last much later than 5:30 pm, as at that time the mangorve swamps begin to flood the entire field as a result of the nearby ocean's high tide.

OK, so now you have a mental image of our surroundings. Upon arrival, the group got busy preparing for the first of two daily programs. We felt relieved that under Nancy Conway's leadership by example, a group had stuffed 250 bags of snacks assembly line style for today's two sessions. The team split into three groups, each of which were responsible for a particular age group throughout the day. The youngest children (5 years old to around 7) were led by the Lee and Rattikin families; the middle children (8-10 or so) were led by the Conways, Hulls and Paukunes, and the oldest kids (11-13) were led by the Newberry and Meadows families.

Ready or not, here they come! At 9:00 am, the doors to the compound swung open and in filed around 100 children for the morning session. Each age group met their host families, and a good natured rivalry soon developed, with each group chanting their team name at the top of their lungs. Order was restored shortly thereafter, as Father Josue, Leciu and Pastor David gathered the entire group for singing and prayer. The children belted out their local Christian songs, and had a great time with allthe hand and body movements accompanying each song. The songs were a blast! The kids' spirit filled the compound, and the American missionaries really got into the thick of things, joing the kids in singing, dancing and praying.

After the group assembly, the children split into their individual "teams" (Red for the youngsters, Green for the middle group, and Yellow for the oldest kids). The three groups moved between three activity stations as the morning progressed. The first station consisted of a skit put on by Mary Sharpe, our wonderful Brazilian friend and translator Cibelle, and Georgia Rae (Gigi) Hull and Elle Conway. Gigi and Elle put on a wonderful presentation related to the message that while there is no imitation of the real God, we are made in the likeness of Him and put on this Earth to further His kingdom and bring Him glory. Cibelle and Mary translated the skit in Portuguese, and the children really showed their understanding of the message. Mary and Cibelle continued by reminding the children that the only thing God asks us to do is love Him with all our heart.

The second station consisted of crafts, where the children constructed mirrored ornaments with the theme of "Reflect Jesus". Toni Meadows and Elaine Murphy did a wonderful job in keeping the craft tables furnished and organized, lending a helping hand and hug wherever needed. The children also posed for some individual portrait photographs taken by Brent Hull and Kathy Paukune, which will be presented to their mothers at the Mothers Dinner later in the week.

The last station consisted of Recreation, manned by the athletic examples of our fearless leader Brandon Boehme and Pat Murphy. The kids and adults had a great time, lining up for tag-team races carrying inflatable rings and dribbling soccer balls.

At the end of the session, the children reconvened in the activity area for more music and prayer. At the end of the morning, each child was presented with their craft, a snack bag and various small gifts. They left the compound with smiles on their faces and promises to return.

Our team took a well deserved breather for a few hours before the afternoon session. Once again, we were treated to some magnificent local dishes, and a very hungry crew was not shy in going back for multiple helpings! After savoring the success of the morning, our biggest question was, where will we find the energy to do it all again this afternoon? The weather was extremely hot and humid with little breeze, but we hardly noticed as we relished in the smiles and hugs from the children. But at break, the heat began to make itself known. However, not to let the enthusiam wane, Nancy Conway again organized an assembly line for tomorrow's 250 snack bags, this time manned by many of the younger children. They whipped the job out in no time, and we were ready to go.

If any of us questioned whether we could drum up the same enthusiam for the afternoon session, we quickly recieved our answer as the gates swung open for an entirely new set of children. This group had already heard of the fun had by the morning crew, and bolted in full of enthusiasm and expectation. They sang, they smiled, they lifted up everyone on our team. More team chanting broke out, conga lines veered through the courtyard, and team songs, team dances and team handshakes were abundant.

The day ended at, you guessed it, the soccer field, as the local teens were waiting for the Americans and the translators from Recife. Another spirited game broke out, with key performances delivered by Markham Paukune, Oliver Newberry, Jackson Hull, Austin Meadows, Megan Meadows and Margaret Lee. Intimidation was the name of the game for the 40+ers as Brent Hull, Huck Newberry, Jay Meadows, John Conway and Jeff Rattikin dared the Brazilians to burn them (the Brazilians were, how should I put it...successful at that...often...). Mark Paukune and Pat Murphy teamed up with Matthew Lee, Mack Newberry and William Rattikin to teach another group of locals the American brand of football. The locals caught on quite well!

So there you have it; a full day's worth of activity in honor of our God. And God was indeed present with us; he appeared in every heartfelt hug, in every smile and in every laugh. It was a day that gripped the hearts and minds of all of us on the team. It was a day that will change the future course of the lives of all of us fortunate enough to be called to give our hearts to the children of Brazil.

Obrigado, and Boa Noite!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Brazil Spring Break 2008-Day 3

Oi, friends!
What a special day we shared today! Our team is settled in, rested and ready to serve. Today was supposed to be a day of planning and set-up, but God had other ideas. Apparently He was ready for the villagers to get to know us, and us to get to know the villagers. The connections were rapid and rewarding; and we got an unexpected taste of what this life-changing experience is all about. But more on that later.

Early risers this morning were treated to our first lesson of the day; the beauty of simplicity. As a few of us sipped our coffee on the beach around 6:30 a.m., we watched a local fisherman load an old flat skiff, no more than a foot deep, with bamboo fishing poles, a rock and twigs tied together as an anchor, and a long stick to propel himself through the water. The fisherman stood on the skiff and poled himself toward the reef, getting an early start on his daily mission to provide for his family. There is no doubt that this experienced gentlemen hauled in more fish this morning than most any American fisherman, who would typically be aided with the latest in fishing equipment, GPS systems, fish sonars and expensive modern boats. If the goal is to catch fish and provide for your family in a way pleasing to God, this Brazilian native fulfilled his purpose; a man in touch with what's important, living out the true meaning of success.

After breakfast and our morning prayer and devotional, the team had an opportunity to commune with another fascinating member of God's living family. We boarded boats with Pator Anthenor and his family for a short trip to a living coral reef, which was exposed for a short time during the daily low tide. The exposed system revealed the living organism that makes up the reef, looking more like an octopus under the hard dead surface than anything else. The reef also sheltered a fascinating array of sea urchins, fish and plant life. Our group was amazed at all the diversity God can cram into one small area; where life depends on life. Truly amazing.

After the reef visit, our group boarded vans for our first trip to the fishing village of Abreau de Una. As the entourage entered the village, children began pouring out of their homes to greet us. We arrived at the mission home of Pastor Josue, and met up again with our interpreters. Pastor Josue has built a wondrful home base for visitng missionaries, and we will utilize his home and hospitatlity this week for all our activities in the village. We were treated to a maginigicent lunch of local specialties. The village children peered through the gates of the compound as we ate. At that point, there was no holding us back. The children of our team flooded the gates and struck up conversation and laughter with the local childrten. It was no use fighting it; the team opened the gates and the children began their interaction. While a group of team members formed an impromptu assembly line and stuffed 250 bags of assorted snacks for tomorrow's guests, others joined the local villagers with a spirited game of soccer. There was no doubt that the Brazilians are fond of, and skilled at, their national pastime. The Americans and translators put on a valiant effort, but the villagers put on a show. Amazing footwork, and amazing teamwork. All in all, this unplanned interaction really broke the ice and set the stage for the beginning of a truly special bond. As advertised, the villagers were thrilled to interact with us. Their broad smiles and engaging personalities melted our hearts.

We returned to home base this evening for dinner and an early bedtime. The team cannot wait to arrive back at the village in the morning to experience what God has in store for us.

On the eve of our first Vacation Bible School, we would like to close with some verses from the Word of God:

I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I, Send Me!” Isaiah 6:8.

For the Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." Jeremiah 29:11

May God's blessings be upon each of you in the days to come.

Obrigado, and Boa Noite!