Saturday, June 18, 2011

Group Photos

Friday, June 17, 2011

Headed Home

We stayed up way too late after our dinner out last night, hanging out around the pool, not wanting to let go of the trip quite yet. This morning we're enjoying our last breakfast at this wonderful buffet. Brazilian coffee, fresh watermelon, papaya and other melons, made-to-order omelettes of egg or this tapioca powder stuff I can't remember the name of... "It's made from yucca" (pronounced yooooka), which is something we've heard a lot this week.

We joked at one point that we were not the mission team who would be wearing matching t-shirts through the airport. We're cooler than that. But now the kids are all wearing their matching souvenir, bright-yellow Brasil soccer jerseys. And Jeremy (part of the film crew, grew up in Recife as a missionary kid) taught them the Brasil team chant that fans sing in the stands at matches. So now not only will almost half our team have matching shirts, they'll probably tramp through the airport singing, "Le le leo, le leo, le leo, le leo BRASIL!!" So much for going incognito.  It's a perfect ending.


Thursday, June 16, 2011


When Van Payne was asked tonight how she would rate the trip on a scale of 1 to 10, she answered, "89!" It was that good.

She and Brian Young both commented on how they expected to come here to serve the kids, but it turned out to be the other way around. We are the ones leaving blessed. Of course we hope we left some blessings behind here as well, but we're a little overwhelmed by the gifts God showered on us this week.

At devotionals this morning, Josh Burgess shared one of his favorite "a-ha" moments from the trip. One of the translators was shocked to hear he was an attorney. He said, "You don't look like an attorney at all." Josh commented that he'd gotten his hair buzzed for the trip, and the translator said, "No, it's not that, it's your face. You smile all the time, and you're just laughing and playing with these kids. That's not like a lawyer. You look more like a pastor." Josh said it was one of the highest compliments he'd ever been paid, and he's determined to smile more in the future!

We knew it was going to be an emotional day when we spent much of our devotion time fighting back tears (and failing mostly). But we determined to "leave it all out there" and give it everything we had, no regrets.

The whole morning of VBS was filled with an awareness that it was our last day. It's the natural cycle of VBS everywhere:
Day 1: Yikes! Can I do this?!
Day 2: Ahh, I'm OK. I can do this.
Day 3: Do I have the energy to do this again? Was it this loud the first two days?
Day 4: It's over?! This is the last day I get to do this?

Instead of running an official Game time today, we all hung out in the gym during that time for what looked like an elementary yearbook signing party. Brazilian kids and American kids and adults rushed around sticking pens under each other's noses, autographing in every direction. Cameras flashing. Hugs. Kisses. Gift exchanges. Tears welling.

But the kids still needed lunch, so we were OK. Of course that came and went quickly and it was really time for goodbyes. Ugh. More cameras, hugs, kisses and tears flowing.

But there was still an eye clinic to run. Wipe the tears away and dig deep for a few more hours of service. God moved and lives were saved as the supply of glasses ran lower and lower. We saw 97 patients today. That's an exhausting load! We got to see a few people experience that wonderful moment of "Glory to God! I can see!" That's thrilling and we cheered with them. Many people went away with glasses that will improve their vision, and all went away with prayers. Some even went away with salvation, the best prescription of all.

One of the beautiful things about a mission trip is that it gives you opportunities to serve in different ways, and God uses that to show you the gifts He has given you. Some on this trip discovered a true gift for evangelism, others for mercy, and still others for administration and encouragement. Everyone in the Body benefits when believers find and use their gifting. It was a good week for discoveries.

For those of you wondering how our children fared on this mission trip -- they did fabulously well. As parents we got to see new sides of our own children as God opened their hearts in this new setting. They stepped up to the plate and got the job done when needed, and they played hard in between. The picky eaters even managed to expand their palates some (after a couple of days of hunger strikes...). They made friends quickly, conquered cross-cultural/cross-lingual communication, discovered that the USA is not the center of the universe and that God is praised in many languages. And they discovered that Brazilians are amazing at soccer! (If it were possible for Zach McDonald to get his fill of soccer, he would've gotten it on this trip. Alas, it is not possible.)

We couldn't have done any of this without our amazing translators and Kids Place staff. I'm sure they don't read this, but you need to know that anyway. They are simply amazing. I wish I could take them all to Kids Kamp at CCBC to be counselors and worship leaders alongside our volunteers there.

I have to sign off as we have an early call tomorrow for about 18 hours of travel. I will post tomorrow if I can access wifi anywhere along the way, but that is doubtful. I should apologize to you, because I'm aware of how this blog has barely skimmed the surface of our trip. The "material" for blogging -- the richness and depth of the stories flowing all around us -- has far exceeded the time necessary to blog it all. But I guess it's like I keep saying -- you really should come on this trip! Just do it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Wednesday, Recife

Stories overflow here, and it is difficult to choose what to tell. The truth is, it is impossible to share everything that happens here, all the things that touch our hearts, all the things we're learning, all the ways we're uplifted or convicted. You really ought to think about coming! It's something to be experienced.

But as you are not here right now, and may have loved ones on the trip that you'd like to track with and pray for, I'll try to at least cover some highlights.

It's been another unbelievably packed day, and we are getting to bed late after another wonderful evening together. We ate dinner with some of the Kids Place staff at Pastor Lescio's house. It was a fabulous meal prepared by his wife, and we enjoyed being in their home and getting to know them better.

But way back this morning (how can one day seem so full and yet so fast here?), we started our day with another devotional on the roof, led by the McDonald clan. Brent shared his testimony, followed by Kim, and then Kim "interviewed" each of their three boys -- Bryce, Zach and Luke -- about their testimonies. Brent, Kim and Bryce closed by reading individual blessings they'd written for each member of the team. It was an uplifting way to start the day.

VBS ran smoothly again today, and the highlight once again was the worship time. For those of you who have volunteered with or attended Kids Kamp, you have to imagine what all those great Kids Kamp songs sound like in Portugese! It's pretty fabulous. Especially when these adorable kids are dancing all around the gym, or hanging all over you. A few of us were tempted to skip craft time all together and just stick with worship the rest of the afternoon! I loved watching them and thinking about how songs stick with you your whole life, and how these children will grow up and leave Kids Place, but these songs will go with them their whole lives. That is bound to be a good thing to have these praise songs permenantly embedded in their hearts. Who knows what God could choose to do just with the truth of these songs in their hearts?

The eye clinic served another 90 patients today, bringing the total number of eyeglasses given out so far to 150. It's been an interesting experiment to run the eye clinic for the first time. I think most of the team would tell you that while it's nice to be able to give out these glasses, the real benefit has come through the opportunity to share the gospel with the patients while they wait, and to pray with them. The eye clinic revealed itself as a spiritual battleground this afternoon, and we were reminded in very dramatic fashion that our battle is not against flesh and blood. Fortunately the drama did not unfold before our children -- who would've been frightened -- but it was recorded by the film crew that is with us this week. I don't have all the details on this yet, which is why I'm being vague, but it may be one of those stories to ask "your" team member about when they return!

Because there were so many patients and so much drama (!), the eye clinic ran for four hours instead of the expected two hours. This meant that several families who were hoping to visit some families in Coque did not get to do that. We're hoping that will work out tomorrow, our last day.

We simply cannot believe tomorrow is our last day at Kids Place. The time has flown by in a blur of smiling faces, praise songs, crafts, soccer and eyeglasses! I wish I could accurately share it all with you... did I mention you should come on this trip??

Taking the favela home

I asked my son what he thought of the favelas after our first visit, and I was struck by his answer. He said, "I don't want to live in a house anymore! I want to live here!" Huh?

Where I saw happiness amid poverty, physical danger and potential disease, he saw happiness period. He saw kids running free with no apparent supervision, setting off fireworks and setting up impromptu soccer games. They lived in a maze of homes that were almost like secret passageways, but they knew the way. They were insiders. He noticed that everyone knew each other, and freely walked into each other's homes. He saw that they cared for one another.

We passed lots of adults hanging out and playing games. One of my favorite sights was of small groups of men sitting close together with a table top balanced on their knees, holding a domino game. They literally needed each other to hold the table up. It was such a beautiful picture of community to me.

But while I saw all the adults hanging out as a sign of unemployment that contributes to their hardship, my son saw grown ups hanging out and having fun -- something he doesn't see all that often, quite honestly. In his world, grown ups are busy working, always have too many things to do, no time to play.

Of course, as a child he is not aware of the dangers that jump out at me as a mother. I see cholera or typhus in the trickling streams that run through the streets. I see late-night danger in the men playing dominoes outside of the 2-shelf bar. I see minor injuries turning into infections that lead to death for lack of medical attention. I see babies I hope desperately will survive their own childhoods here.

But I am convicted by my son's desire to live in a slum because of the freedom, happiness and relaxed pace he sees there. The favela is not something I thought I would want to take back with me. But I hope I can now, in a way. I hope I can make my home more like this beautiful slum for my children.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tuesday afternoon, Recife

After lunch, we launched the first ever "eye clinic" at Kids Place. Pastor Lescue had hired a bike with a speaker system to ride through Coque favela in the previous weeks announcing the eye clinic. Anyone who needed glasses could stop by Kids Place to pick up a number and an appointment time to return for an eye exam. (We use language like "clinic" and "exam" very loosely, mind you...)

More than sixty people came and were efficiently moved from station to station for various intake and exam portions, and then they were matched with a pair of glasses that (we hope) closely approximated the prescription they needed. Every patient heard the gospel presented and/or was prayed with at some point during their visit. Several people prayed to accept Christ, one woman through tears as she said that she had never heard this story of Jesus before. Praise God. He has been in the business of going through physical needs to get to our hearts for all of time.

Now that we've got the kinks in the system somewhat worked out, we hope to fit another 60-80 people with glasses at tomorrow's clinic! Please pray for open hearts and magically matched glasses and patients!

Henrique and Ellen (photo by David Fisher)
After the clinic, Baby Ellen drew her biggest fans back into Coque favela. How could you resist those big brown eyes?

One family on our team formed an unexpected friendship with Ellen's parents the day before when they couldn't resist holding this precious 9-month-old baby. Henrique and Rita have several children involved with Kids Place, and Rita attends the women's Bible study there when she can. (This is the family that offered their painting as a gift.)

We returned to their home this afternoon with a big pink bag of donated baby clothes for Ellen, and a promise to continue to pray for them when we return to the States. We shared Christ with them and about six children who crammed their way into the house to listen. Henrique and Rita know Christ, but they showed concern that the other children understand the story. Our translator, Daniel, did a fabulous job of following up with the children, asking them questions and drawing them into the discussion.

When we asked Henrique and Rita to write their family members' names down so we could pray for them by name in the future, they included names of their neighbors that they also want us to pray for. They also mentioned that they would like to have a Portugese Bible because Rita's ex-husband tore up the only one they had. We hope to send one home with their daughter after VBS this week.

On the walk back through Coque toward Kids Place, Henrique pointed out a home where the local "black magic" spiritist lives and works. Just across the "alley" (2 feet of mud, random bricks and trickling water), another CCBC family was visiting friends they'd made on their first mission trip to Recife last year. They'd helped repair this family' roof on that trip, and they were eager to renew the friendship and pray with them. I have to think that most Americans say they "might come back" some day, but it must be a surprise and joy for them to see people they've bonded with actually return.

We ate dinner at Kids Place again, enjoying a traditional Brazilian dish followed by American Duncan Hines cupcakes! A great combination. Cupcakes and Coke at dinner (and perhaps a little delirium) made at least one of the vans a lively place on the ride back, complete with top-speed Pig Portugese. You can only get this kind of a randomness on a mission trip, people. You really should come next time.

Back at the hotel, some swam and some ventured out to the Brazilian version of WalMart a few blocks away. They have ramped escalators that lock shopping carts in place, and security guards wheeling around on old-school, four-wheeled skates. Awesome. They also have cheap Havianas flip-flops (expensive in the States) and Brazilian coffee for souvenirs. Only at the checkout counter did we realize how heavily we'd been relying on translators this week, and we were lost. We exchanged blank looks and hopeful smiles with the cashier, and eventually exchanged money and shrugs, hoping it all came out alright. We love our translators even more than we did before.

Getting to bed too late once again, but figuring we can sleep at home, we close out another day. Please pray we'll all (especially the kids) have the energy needed to finish strong and "leave it all here" on these remaining days. And please pray God would lead each of us to a specific child we can build a relationship with and continue to pray for from home. 

Thanks! Boa noite! (Goodnight! And trust me, the pronunciation is nothing like the spelling...)

Tuesday morning, Recife

Tuesday morning devotions in our own "upper room" on the rooftop of Hotel Aconchego found us feeling much less apprehensive than the day before, but not quite old pros. Casey Howell shared her testimony and a passage of Scripture God had showed her for our team. She encouraged us to resist the urge to focus on our task list during VBS, watching the clock to make sure we're on schedule or trying to make sure the kids got the craft just right. Instead we should be building relationships and connecting on a heart level. A good reminder for charge-ahead Americans like us!

Cindy Boehme threw everyone for a loop with the announcement that all the women would be needed for a women's Bible study being hosted at Kids Place that morning. She said we would start the morning VBS schedule as normal, then all the women would switch to the women's Bible study at 9:45 a.m. Some of our women would give their personal testimonies at the Bible study, and the dads would be left to lead "Craft Time" alone with their VBS groups. I'm not sure which gender was more terrified at this announcement. (Brian Dodds pointed out that "Dodge Ball" was not an acceptable craft substitute.)

As God would have it, on our unexpected "Dad Day" at VBS, many more children showed up than the day before. One explanation we heard was that some of the kids had been with their fathers over the weekend and hadn't gotten back home in time for VBS on Monday morning. (They don't go to school until the afternoon.) Whatever the case, we were happy to be labeling more bags and pulling out more craft supplies to cover the increase. We snapped a few rubber bands on our wrists and got on with it, hopefully to the glory of God.

When all was said and done, crafts were made and women were blessed (CCBC women most of all!), and then we shared lunch with the women from the Bible study. We were able to send them home with gift bags and food, which was a blessing thanks to donors like you. Obrigado! (Thank you!)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Monday Afternoon at Kids Place

After lunch we hosted some of the kids who are too old for Kids Place (over 11), but who were in Kids Place programs before. They made their own decorated mugs and played sports -- "futbol" for the boys, and a fiercly competitive version of dodgeball for the girls. Good times.

Then we walked over to the Coque Favela a few blocks away to visit a few of the families who have had children at Kids Place since the beginning of the ministry.  We were told it is an honorable thing for them to have Americans visit them in their homes, so we we were told we were going as a gift, to honor them for their commitment to Christ and their faithfulness to Kids Place. It is probably the most humbling thing any of us have been told.
In American culture, of course, the host gives the gift -- of hospitality -- and it is received by the guest. If anything, we would've expected to feel like an imposition, shoving our large American group into their tiny living space. But we were welcomed in as if we truly were blessings to them, and they proudly shared their homes with us. On the wall of one home, we saw pictures of former VFC mission trip teams. The owner of the home, "John," told us that a women's group from CCBC came into their home and prayed that God would bless them with the ability to expand their space, since he and his wife live there with six children (in a space smaller than many bedrooms in the States). He praised God that they had been able to replace the tin roof with brick-and-mortar of sorts so that they can eventually build a second floor onto their home. It was a privilege to pray with them and continue the CCBC spirit of missions in their home! 
In another home, one group member admired the paintings on the wall, and was told they had been given to them as gifts. We played with their 9-month-old baby, talked about what their children learn at Kids Place, and prayed with them before leaving. As we walked away, they asked us to return. They wanted to give one of their paintings to the team member who had complimented them. Their generosity and happiness in the midst of extreme poverty is overwhelming. We hope to visit them again before the week is out to bring them baby clothes that were donated by you, our friends and family in Fort Worth.
The sights and sounds (VERY loud firecrackers, probably set off because they liked to see us jump!) were almost too much to take in. On the one hand, you were meeting the happiest, most gracious hosts, and passing the friendliest people on the streets. On the other hand, you were seeing extreme poverty, and trying to reconcile the children you know from Kids Place with the homes they live in. We'll all be processing that experience for a long time, I'm sure.
As we left to walk back to Kids Place near dusk, our little group had doubled in number and several members were walking hand in hand with new friends who had joined us along the way. It's easy to see how this place steals the heart of so many CCBC family members year after year!

People were eager to have their photos made

Brian and Lauren Young holding a baby while they miss their little Braden at home!

Casey, Hevila and baby in Coque favela

1st Morning of VBS

As I sit in my room here at Hotel Aconchego listening to the sounds of our team in the pool below, I can hardly believe it was just this morning that we started VBS at Kids Place. It doesn't seem possible that we could have crammed so many experiences into one day. "Brief" is not my forte, but I will try to find a balance between giving you too much information, and giving you news of your team's service here in Recife. Please feel free to leave comments telling me what sort of things you'd like to see/read on this blog and I will do my best to comply.

We started the day on the rooftop patio of the hotel, joining for devotionals and worship after a fantastic breakfast buffet. (The kids were thrilled to find that cake is part of a breakfast buffet in Brazil!)

After worship, Brian Young started the devotional by sharing his personal testimony of how a true understanding of grace has been changing his life the last few years. He said that Lauren, his 8-year-old daughter who is along on the trip, has always inspired him by how easily and eagerly she shares the gospel with other children.

Van Payne shared a little about her journey to Brazil – via her home in the Carolinas and then a move to Texas. She passed out little gift bags to each family with symbolic items inside, each one a reminder of how to be a true servant of Christ this week. For instance, one item was a rubber band for each member of the family to wear on their wrists if they liked, to remind us to be flexible as we serve. Some of us laughed later that a quick snap of the rubber band on the wrist might be just the thing to snap us out of our American rigidity!

After devotionals, we headed to Kids Place for a full morning of VBS. The children on our team who had not been here before said it was overwhelming to walk into the gym to wild cheers of welcome from the VBS kids. One said, “I think this is even louder than Kids Kamp at church, and there are only 80 kids here!” (For those of you who haven’t been to Kids Kamp, that’s LOUD.)

During the course of the morning, we taught a lesson, played a game, had a time of worship, served a snack and made a craft, all in 30-minute increments. The children are precious and simply could not be a happier, more enthusiastic, fully engaged bunch.
Classroom at Kids Place

Games in the gym at Kids Place

Because of the incredible teaching they receive here at Kids Place on a regular basis, many of the children know Christ and are familiar with worship songs and Bible stories. That is in contrast to just a few years ago when Kids Place first started. Cindy Boehme, who has been leading short-term mission trips with her husband, Brandon, for almost a decade, said that when they first came to this area, most of the children had not heard of Jesus. It’s humbling to see the change and know that it has happened through this tightly-run mission that operates on a budget of only $5000 per month.

Igor, Rafaela, Grace and Francielly

At the end of VBS, we served the children a lunch of rice, beans, meat and potatoes before saying goodbye for the day. Hugs and kisses all around as they went to the gate, promising to return tomorrow. One little girl, Francielly, asked (through a translator) if she could take one of our girls home with her to her house. Maybe we’ll be able to visit her home this week and grant that wish! We’re making friends quickly, and I can already tell it will be hard to leave on Friday.
A company donated lots of lightweight backpacks for the children. We are loading their crafts and workbooks into these bags each day, and at the end of the week, we will also slip in a new pair of flip flops and a couple of outfits of clothes for them to take home. The children were so excited to see the bags, and although it was difficult for them to leave them behind today (some tried to sneak them out!), they were looking forward to seeing what their “surprise” would be at the end of the week.

Details of the afternoon's activities in the next post...!

Quick picture upload

Here are as many photos as I can load at breakfast! If you double-click on a photo you can see a larger version.
Team meeting in Terminal D of the Miami Airport, devotional led by the Dodds family.

Gym at Kids Place

Unpacking all those donations we  brought in those enormous duffle bags

Sunday, June 12, 2011

We Made It!

I had a lengthy blog post planned for you with lots of fun pictures, but Blogger unceremoniously dumped all those pictures as soon as I got them loaded. Since sheer exhaustion is causing my eyes to cross as I type this, I'll have to leave you with a brief overview of our last 48 hours. Hopefully if I keep it brief enough, I"ll be able to publish this before I lose it again...!

DFW: For some reason, check in and security took two hours, with no apparent explanation. Good thing Brandon insisted we get there so early! Even with the crazy lines and snafus, we made it through to our flight with time to spare.

Miami: Our flight was delayed in Miami, but we had no more connections to make that would be impacted, so we were fine with it. We got lunch, met for a team meeting and devotional in our own "private" corner of Terminal D, then as the delay dragged on we added an ice cream run...

The flight was uneventful, but unfortunately also fairly sleepless. Some did better than others, but fortunately adrenaline, excitement and caffeine kept everyone going despite the lack of sleep. We had the smoothest trip through Recife airport that a VFC team has ever had, according to Brandon. No lost bags, no customs checks, and no issues with the rented vans! Praise God!

We went straight to Kids' Place and started working. We had a "reverse packing party" as we unloaded and sorted all the donated items we'd packed on Thursday back at CCBC. The kids sorted children's clothes and sharpened dozens of pencils, and the adults sorted everything else on the tables in the lunch room. Once those tables were cleared it was time for an amazing lunch of chicken, rice and mashed potatoes. We got to know our translators as we ate, and enjoyed learning more about Brazil through them.

After lunch we started work on our classrooms, preparing for VBS to start tomorrow. We raced the clock and left with everything mostly ready. There's always more to do than there is time to do it in!

Just before we left Kids Place, we met some of the children who will be attending tomorrow. They were hanging around the gate, watching the preparations. Our kids were thrilled to meet them and try out their Portugese, and the Dodd children, who were here last year, eagerly renewed friendships with the kids they recognized.

But we had to get to the hotel to get checked in, so off we went in the vans again. Davis Dodd and Thomas Burgess entertained themselves with a game they call "Oi!" They shout "Oi-Phone!" everytime they see a public payphone on the street as we drive by, because "Oi!" ("Hi!") is printed on the side of them. And because they think it's funny that it sounds so much like "iPhone." (Did I mention we didn't get much sleep??) You would not believe how many Oi-phones there are in Recife. Almost every block has it's own. And they drive really fast here. So basically the whole ride sounded like "Oi-Phone! Oi-Phone! Oi-Phone!" When you're that tired, anything's funny...

Quick check in and showers at the hotel, then off for a church service on the beach with our team of translators. Brian Dodds spoke about Peter's "love" for Jesus, and how the best we have to offer as humans can never equal His "agape" love for us. But we can, through His power, share His agape love with others, and that is why we are here.

Rain showers threatened to ruin the fun, but entrepreneurial chair/umbrella renters saved the day (if not our budget) and covered us quickly. Josh Burgess led us in communion as we huddled under beach umbrellas trying to stay dry.

We walked from there (the rain stopped, thankfully) to a restaurant for a pizza dinner. I personally saw Lauren Young fall asleep in her chair at least three times, but she still insisted she wanted to swim back at the hotel before bedtime. Several children -- and adults -- were caught staring into space by the time the meal ended. Time to get some sleep.

Our schedule for tomorrow morning got bumped up by 30 minutes, as VBS will start earlier than we'd first expected. Please pray we can all get great sleep tonight, then be up and running on time tomorrow morning with fresh energy for serving these sweet kids.

We'll make our first visit into the favelas tomorrow afternoon. Please pray that God will orchestrate that visit and sovereignly choose which families we see, and that He will bless those conversations for His glory.

We won't be back to the hotel until after dinner, so it will be another late post. Sorry there isn't an internet connection at Kids Place I can use to post more frequently. Hopefully the pictures will work out tomorrow.

Thank you for your prayers! God is good!