Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Amigas Especiais

I want to introduce you to two of my very special friends. I spend all day every day at the church building, and these two friends are often the ones who make my time there so much fun and so special. Today I had a particularly fun day with each of them, and decided it was time you got to know them, too. Did I mention that one of them is 10, and the other is 42? :)

This is Isabel. She, her sister, her brother, and her mom are some of the most faithful members of our church. They are there every Sunday, Wednesday, and special occasion without fail. Isabel's mom works full time as a house cleaner, which leaves her home alone with her siblings every day with little to do. They live just around the corner from the church building, so most days the kids come and spend the afternoon with us. They always find something to do, whether play games on the computer, water the plants for Marisa, run errands for any one of us, or do their homework. They feel at home at the church building and count us as a part of their family. Isabel is only 10 years old, but she is one of my most special friends here. I always take her with me to buy fruit, because I believe she has special papaya-choosing abilities. She has a fun sense of humor and knows to never, ever take me seriously- except when I tell her I love her. She knows I mean that. :) Isabel is probably one of the most responsible people at church. Yes, I said people. Definitely more responsible than most of the young people my age, and maybe even more responsible than some of the adults! We all know that if we ask Isabel to do something it will get done quickly and efficiently and without a single problem, and that she will do it with a cheerful, servant heart.

This is Marta. Marta is one of the missionaries who works with our church. You hear me mention Roberto and Marisa more often, but probably only because I lived with them and they take care of lots of things for me around Natal. However, I love Marta and her husband Osmildo just as much! They are such special people in my life in Natal, and in recent months I have gotten especially close to Marta. She is very motivated to learn English, and despite studying for almost a year she has recently gotten extra-motivated and has asked me to study with her any time we are both free. Today two of my readers in the afternoon canceled, so I spent a good two hours with her, practicing verbs and forming sentences. She learned how to say "I am blessed," "I like to pray," "Really? Wow!" "Already?" and several others. :) She is such a joy to work with, and told me later that she loved our time together because she doesn't get tired and she has fun. I would say the same! Marta has received me with open arms a couple different times when I was having whatever cultural/emotional crisis of the week, always giving wise, honest advice filled with godly encouragement.

I like showing you pictures, so here are a few of my advanced group class. We met for breakfast this morning at my apartment. It was really fun, and I look forward to doing that again! Sergio took better pictures, but here's what I have so far:Rodrigo and Junior listening to Toni answer the question "Once a person knows the Truth, what keeps them from making a decision/delays the decision to follow Christ?" (We read the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch from Acts 8 today...would you like to explain what 'eunuch' means? Neither would I...)

The crew (l-r Rodrigo, Junior, Sergio, and Toni) eating breakfast

Monday, April 21, 2008

Plumbing in Brazil...hooray

A few days ago we had a small plumbing emergency here at apartment 805. Toni, an American woman from Palm Springs who is staying with me for a few months while she helps out the church in Natal, was taking a shower and realized the water wasn't draining and had flooded her bathroom. So, she got out, went to my shower, and resumed. But then, all the water that didn't drain from her shower came up a separate drain in my bathroom and flooded mine as well. Uh oh.

So I called my go-to guy, Roberto, who then called his go-to guy, Joao, to have him come over within in the next few days to see what the problem was. Roberto promised it would be a hair clog, but I thought "what does he know?" and just agreed that we'd be careful about not taking too many showers close together, etc, until Joao could come.

Joao, the friendliest handy-man in the world, showed up this morning to start working on our little problem. After about 10 minutes of going back and forth between both bathrooms, he called "Cris! Can you bring me a plastic sack?!" with a bit of desperation. Afraid but a bit excited for what I was about to see, I ran in. There, in his hands, was a solid block of hair, the size of a small rabbit. I am not exaggerating. You know those little cottontails that run across the lawn when they think no one is looking? That was the size of what he pulled out of my drain. He held it with both hands, like a loaf of bread. The thing had to have been 3 or 4 pounds. Toni, feeling bad, said "I've only been here for one month!" and he said "No, no, this has been collecting for years. (Please note I have only lived here for 6 months of those 'years'. That was mostly NOT my hair.) You'll be good to go for about 3 more years before this has to be done again."

I promptly responded that I was happy he got paid to do that job, because I would not.

I am happy to announce that Joao is now my go-to guy, and he will be getting my business from here on out.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


The other night as I came home I noticed a baby albino lizard lurking in the corner. I thought he'd be just fine as I opened my front door, but he surprised me and literally jumped horizontally right toward my feet. I screamed (hope the neighbors didn't hear it) and he scurried right into my apartment like he'd been waiting for the moment all night. I won't go into detail about what the next few minutes entailed, but I will tell you that that about 2 hours later I was still sitting on my couch with my feet up, trying to watch Law & Order but actually just surveilling the entrance to the kitchen where I knew he was hiding. Did I mention the line of bleach that I made on the floor, dividing his side of the apartment from my side? Someone told me they hate bleach.

This is something crazy people do.

So, I know a lot of you have been waiting for a long time for me to give you a reader intro/update. The truth is, I have sat down several times to write one and I just can't ever seem to quite articulate what it is that really goes on in our sessions together. They are such special people, such wonderful friends, that I feel like the measly words on this blog won't even come near to doing them any justice. So I usually just give up.

With that being said, prepare yourself that what you are about to read may very well be boring. It very well may be unimpressive. And I can assure you that the reason is that the written word does not capture or convey the work the Spirit does in my time with these readers. Yes, some days are boring days. Some days they are too preoccupied with the test tomorrow, or the Dengue fever they just got over, or with their most recent family crisis. Some days I'm the culprit, the one who wasn't well-prepared, the one who didn't ask in-depth questions, the one who was also preoccupied with something else going on in my crazy life.

But, usually, those things don't matter. Usually, within the 45 minutes allotted for our reading sessions, we open the book and the lesson was "just what I needed to hear today," or "I had never seen that before!" or "God can do anything!" Even with their often limited vocabulary, I see the stories and ideas going into their minds and hearts and getting worked over, planting seeds that I pray will one day come to fruition.

So, with that preface, please allow me to introduce you to two of my very special readers, with names that have been changed, of course!: Leandro and Paulo.

Leandro has been studying with me since I arrived in September, and during these 7 months we have become great friends! Our sessions are filled with laughter and teasing, but then our conversations get so intense that I often lose track of time and accidentally keep him into my next session! Like many Brazilians, Leandro grew up in a Catholic home. As we read through the book of Acts together and now the Good News study, he is seeing and understanding the Gospel message in a way that has never been clear to him before. Just last week he said "Well, now that you explain it like that, I completely understand!" He has also mentioned recently that he is changing in the way he lives his life, and he is willing to give credit to the fact that maybe it's because he has been spending more time learning about, thinking about, and searching for God. Please be praying for Leandro, that he will open his heart just a little bit more to what he already knows the Spirit is doing. Please also pray for me, that God will give me boldness and the right words to help Leandro arrive at the answers he is looking for!

Paulo was my reader in 2006, and during those four weeks we became good friends. We always had great discussions about the Bible, and he was never shy to be honest with me about where he stood with his faith. When he found out I was back in Natal, he was so excited to see me that he came to church the next day, something he had never done in the 3 years he had studied with LST! Paulo had a bad experience with a church several years ago (a story way too common in Brazil) and has since been far from the Lord, with difficulty in knowing how to get back. Paulo believes in God, believes in Jesus, but has made a choice to not follow them. He makes no secret of the fact that he fears that one day he will go to hell, but also that he doesn't want to follow Jesus just because he's scared of what will happen if he doesn't. He is very sincere, and a very DEEP thinker. Recently he has been blowing me away with his insights into the lessons, one of which was so profound for me that I went home speechless that night! A few weeks ago I gave him an Easy-to-Read English New Testament, and when he came back the next week I asked if he had read any of it. He said "Yeah, a little." I asked what, exactly, and he said "Well, I read Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Luke and John, and a little bit of Revelation." I'd say that's "a little"! I am so excited to watch what God is doing in Paulo's life, especially since when I first met him he was so deep in despair that I wondered if he would ever be able to find his way out. Please pray for Paulo, as well, that he would be able to see clearly what it means to make a choice to follow God, and that he would begin to consider to make that choice again.

So...I promised it might be boring, but I didn't promise it wouldn't be long. :) I hope you enjoyed reading about my friends, and got to see just a little deeper into what it is exactly that I do here. Leandro and Paulo are just two of thirty, and if you ask for it I could tell you about a lot more! Please being praying for us, as we weekly delve into scripture and try to figure out what in the world it is saying to us. I know you've been there...

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Just your ordinary Tuesday

Today I experienced two tragedies, and when I say tragedies please take that with a sense of humor and a grain of salt. I know that the following stories are not, in fact, tragedies, so before you judge please realize this is another one of my playful storytellings and that my sense of good and bad is not warped. There are actually a few tragedies that have occurred in the lives of my friends and peers lately, and so I have by no means lost my sense of reality. That being said, here we go.

Tragedy #1: I came home for lunch today, a mere hour and a half after I had left my apartment in the morning, and immediately took a freezing cold shower. That's how hot it was. Someone told me that starting in March I would begin to notice a difference in the weather. I have noticed a difference, and that difference is that it rains a lot. The rain always cools things down...but I think the Devil must send the rain because it sure is deceiving. It makes you think things are finally starting to cool off, but once it's gone BAM! It's hotter and humid-er than it was in January. In the 7 months (yep, 7!) I have lived here, I have never, ever felt the need to shower at lunch. Today it was not a choice, it was a necessity. How tragic.

Tragedy #2: During this said lunch I bought a rotisserie chicken from the nice man who makes them on the street. (Yes, it's clean.) It is so good and so wonderfully seasoned and so reasonably priced and so HOT that I have begun to buy one about once a week. I came home and made some delicious side dishes for myself and sat down to eat. As I went back for seconds and pulled another piece out of the sack, I suddenly got all sicked out that I was eating a dead animal, and an animal whose life had been sacrificed for my dining pleasure at that. WHAT? In my almost 23 years of existence never once have I been affected by the plight of chickens being killed on my behalf. Don't you worry, I still ate it, but I really hope I'm not involuntarily turning vegetarian, because I believe the vegetarian life is no life at all. This, my friends, is tragic.

In addition to my recent tragedies, things have been absolutely nuts around here as of late. This is my totally valid excuse for not blogging in a while. My next post, which may come later tonight, will be titled "American Invasion," because that's how it has felt around here lately, and I can't say I've actually enjoyed it all that much. Perhaps instead of turning vegetarian I am just turning into a bona fide Brasileira (I am showering multiple times a day...).

I also have plans to give you a detailed work update, because last week was possibly the single best week, work and reading session-wise, that I have had in the 7 months I have been here. Although I tell you more about excessive showering and turning vegetarian, in between all those stories I am spending 8+ hours a day at the church, engaging in my English conversation work and church activities, and God is blessing it abudantly.Thank you for checking in with me, and thank you for your prayers, comments, and encouragement. Trust me, you are making a bigger difference in Natal than you could ever imagine! Check back in the next few days for all the other news I have to share!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Alphabetical Haircuts

Today I got my first haircut in 7 months, meaning I got my First Brazilian Haircut. It was a very cheap and untraumatizing experience, though I was introduced to an interesting concept: Alphabetical Haircuts. For about a week I had been preparing my head and my mind for what would soon be underway, learning Portuguese haircutting lingo as to be able to describe exactly what I wanted and completely stifle all creativity flowing from the artist's scissortips: little off the bottom, more layers, SIMPLE, easy to take care of, bangs. I learned the word for layers, and I learned to say "Not in a V" because apparently all Brazilian women want their (generally long) hair to be cut into a point, like a V. Here is the conversation that ensued when discussing the shape I would like my hair to take:

Me: "...and I don't want it in a V..."
Her: "No V??!!"
Me: "No, just straight across at the bottom, please."
Her: "Straight across?" uncomfortable silence "Are you sure?"
Me: "Yes. Yes I am sure." (I've been getting the same haircut since 8th grade, with only a slight change in the addition of bangs a few years ago. YES I am sure.)
She begins flipping through a hair magazine, searching for the right picture to confirm my incredibly boring request. Stops at a "V" to make sure, again, that I don't want it. I don't. She gets to a picture of a pretty blonde with pretty curls and points to it with a hopeful gleam in her eye...
Her: "Do you like this? This one is nice. This one is cut in a "U". Do you like the U? I think it's very pretty. Can I cut it in a U?"
Me: "Yes. Fine. Cut it in a U."

Just please don't cut it in a G, or a C, or a P, or a Y, or an X, or any other letter that's asymmetrical or should never be used to describe a haircut.

After all was said and done, I actually was quite satisfied with my U. Hey, maybe now I'll even start throwing that into my list of requirements. "No V, but I'm quite fond of the U..."

Ohhhhhh Brazil....