Sunday, October 26, 2008

Not Your Average Sunday

Today was one of the best days I have had in a long time. Everything about today was out of the ordinary, which is probably one of the reasons it was so fun.

For starters, our church had the weekly service during the morning rather than late afternoon. Usually the church meets for Bible class at 5 and then worship at 6, but every once in a while, when there is a special guest in town, the church will meet in the morning either to allow for the special guest time to travel back home or in order to have a big lunch together afterward.

This weekend Randy Short, a missionary from Recife, joined us to put on a mini-seminar about personal ministry. He focused on the example of the church in Ephesians, and also talked quite a bit about spiritual gifts, encouraging the church to explore our own spiritual gifts in order to serve the body better. The class was great and I pray that it will have a positive impact on our church. We had worship in the morning so that Randy and his wife, Kathy, could be with us before going home, then a big group of us went out to lunch at a restaurant. All twenty of us sat around one table, and I felt like I was in college again. (Except we didn't get the dirty looks my friends and I got in college when we went out in groups of twenty. I guess a group of twenty adults is different from a group of twenty college freshmen. Go figure.)

After lunch, Lacy, Cyndi, Greg and I went with one of Cyndi's readers to the state park here in Natal. They were as shocked as I was that I had never been there before today, and once I got there I understood why. It is now my FAVORITE place in Natal. Parque das Dunas, or Dunes Park, is a park built at the base of the giant sand dune that follows Natal's coastline. I was always curious to know how they made a park out of a dune, but today I saw that it is not unlike your average giant park in the States, except more awesome because it had live music and MONKEYS! Every Sunday, the city sponsors a free concert in the park, and every day there are monkeys. :) For the R$1 we each paid to get in, it was the cheapest but also the most FUN entertainment I have encountered in Natal. Sundays are family days, so today the park was crawling with parents and very cute kids riding bikes and playing in the dirt. I could have spent the whole day there, spending half of it sitting at the base of the cashew tree with the monkeys.

If any of you ever come to visit me (ahem, sister and brother-in-law, ahem parents again, ahem anyone who wants to!) I am definitely adding Parque das Dunas to the list of tourist attractions. For those of you who know me well or have seen all of my pictures, PDD has now replaced Ponta Negra as my favorite place in Natal. YEAH. I liked it THAT much. of the monkeys. :)Monkeys #1, #2, and #3: Lacy, Cyndi and I, in front of a very inconspicuous statue upon entering the park. :)

Real monkey #1 with a baby on her back. CUTEST THING EVER. She jumped around the whole tree (cashew tree, in case you were wondering) with that little monkey clinging to its mom for dear life.

Just another monkey. There were probably about seven climbing around the whole time, and a few even did a balancing act crossing the power lines to hang out at the top of a light post.

Andre the reader, Cyndi, Greg, and Lacy during the concert

The band, Diogo Guanabara e Macaxeira Jazz. They played really great music, all instrumental, no vocals, and even did a few Beatles covers with a jazzy twist. They have toured in Europe and Japan and are worth checking out if you can fine them online. In this picture we noticed that their frontman only plays tiny instruments. Beginning with the mandolin-type thing...

...and finishing with a tiny electric guitar. Compare it to the size of the normal guitar behind him and you'll see what I mean.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Day in the Life of a Brazilian: Elections

When I first arrived in Natal, Brazilian passport in hand, I knew that to become a legal person recognized and protected by the government I was going to have to get official documents. You know, ID, social security #, voter registration card...what? Come again? Voter registration card? No, you did not read that incorrectly. In fact, before I was even allowed to apply for all those other documents (including a certified copy of my birth certificate) I had to register as a voting citizen of Brazil. Voting here is allowed at the age of 16, and becomes mandatory at the age of 18. I even had to pay a fine (a whole dollar!) because I hadn't registered when I turned 18. Oops! I guess I was too busy living on a different continent to remember that.

Fast forward to the first Sunday in October, national election day. This year was just a local election year, so I had the great task ahead of me to decide for whom I would cast my vote for mayor and for whom I would cast my vote for city council. (To answer your question, if I had decided to just not vote I would have had to pay a fine, again, which didn't seem so bad. However, running around town to a bunch of different places to actually pay the fine would have been five times more complicated than just going to vote, so I went with the latter and decided to fulfill my civic duty as a Brazilian citizen.)

Now, if you think election season is a mess in the United States, think again! In the States your TV is flooded with campaign ads, your mailbox is flooded with campaign propoganda, and your front yards are littered with campaign posters of your choosing. You can choose to turn on the TV, choose to throw away all unsolicited mail, and choose whether or not to put up yard signs. In Brazil, you have no such choice. The preferred, and, apparently, most effective method for campaigning in Brazil is the campaign jingle. The campaign jingle is blasted from car speakers all over the city at all hours of the day for like two months ahead of election day. In fact, I came to choose my candidates based on whose campaign jingle did NOT wake me up early on a Saturday morning, or whose campaign jingle I did NOT have stuck in my head for a solid two months. Think BC Clark's anniversary sale song, and multiply it by like five thousand. Yeah. THAT.

So in the actual voting process the candidates are all assigned a 5-digit number that is associated with their name. When you go to vote on the electronic voting machine, you must punch in the candidate's number, his picture shows up, and you confirm. So, imagine what the campaign jingles are all made up of: numbers! I don't know who candidate 40.888 was, his name, his party, his platform, NOTHING, but I sure did have his jingle memorized and I sure did know that there was no chance on earth that he was going to get my vote. However, I did like 15.444's campaign jingle, it was catchy, tasteful, and didn't ever wake me up on a Saturday, so I had all intentions of voting for him for a spot on city council. (However, I found out later, I misunderstood his jingle and punched in the wrong number, 20.444, therefore I voted null and no one got my vote. But he still won. As did 40.888...) You may find my method of choosing candidates slightly lame and politically ignorant, but I had no business voting in this election as I have not paid attention to city politics and the Brazilians promise that anyone who actually wins is corrupt anyway.

So voting day arrived and I went to my indicated voting location (a public school) and punched in my numbers (albeit incorrect) and got my little confirmation ticket (the size of a raffle ticket) that apparently I must guard with my life because it is what validates me as a law-abiding citizen in the Brazilian government. According to my friends, if I ever want to be in the running for a government job or take a college entrance exam I must first prove that I have voted in recent elections by showing my raffle ticket to the powers that be.

We forgot to document the momentous occasion, as it was rather uneventful, but I will leave you with a photo I took from my balcony a couple days before election day. I have no idea which candidate this was for, but it is an illustration of the campaign parades that take place all over the city leading up to the elections.

So, on November 4th when you go to your local voting establishment and fill in the bubble or push the button or punch the card (make sure your chad goes all the way through) next to the candidate's name and not a number, take a minute to enjoy the moment, that it's not a likely problem that you will confuse the names John McCain or Barack Obama with other candidates, and that you don't have a single jingle running through your head, trying to influence your vote.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Another reader story...

Yesterday in one of my sessions my reader was telling me about how he views the world: sin is relative, he is who decides what is sin and what is not, and as long as he is helping people and being a "good person" he is right with God. He prefers not to read the Bible because he knows that he'll fnd things in there that he doesn't like. He talked for a long time about this, his life philosophy, and I just listened. After it was all over, he asked if I thought he was wrong. This is the conversation that ensued:

Reader: Cris, do you think I'm wrong?
Me: Look, Reader, I can't judge if you are right or wrong. That's God's job and God's job only. But from what I understand from His word and from the way I try to live my life to please God, yes, I think you are wrong.
Reader: Me too.

I was dumbfounded. This is a reader whom I never, ever, EVER would have expected to make an admission like that. Praise God that His holy words are penetrating my reader's heart, and pray to God that it won't stop here. These conversations are never easy, and the process is a long one. But I have faith that what God has started He will finish. And I can't wait to be along for the ride!

Thursday, October 2, 2008


It's been a while since I have told you any reader stories, so I thought it was about time I let you back in on my day to day conversations and friendships. We're lucky, because this week was a particularly great week in terms of my studies. Every once in a while I (well, really, we) have one of those "yes!" weeks, where so many readers have an aha moment. Even when it's not an aha moment, sometimes they say some really great stuff that's worth sharing.

Since August I have been studying twice a week with a reader who we will call Marcos. Marcos began the LST program because one of my other readers invited him. This other reader, who we will call Carlos, is a reader I have told you about before. I read with him in 2006 when I first came to Natal, and at that point I was 100% sure that Carlos would never, ever, EVER, have an interest in the Biblical content. Well let's all be thankful that Cris is really good at being wrong, because last month Carlos began a Portuguese Bible study with one of the missionaries! Our studies are going so well, and they are only reinforced by his studies with John. But wait...I started out this story about Marcos. So Marcos has believed in and even followed God for a long time but credits his LST Bible studies with completely revolutionizing his faith. He now talks about his life in two segments, before he knew Jesus and after he knew Jesus. He says that reading the Bible in English has turned everything upside down and he understands Jesus in a way that was never clear to him before. He has begun praying more, evangelizing more, and reading the Word more, all in search of his role in God's kingdom. Marcos is an absolute joy to read with. In each session, I read the text first so that he can listen to my pronunciation. After I am done, he always compliments my reading and says "Very good, Cris." Thank you, Marcos. It's always nice to be recognized for something that comes so naturally. :) Earlier this week I asked Marcos to tell me the definition of the word "remember." He looked at me like I must be joking and matter-of-factly said "It means to member again!" When I asked him to tell me what "to member" means, because I sure didn't know, he got a little confused and we went over what the word remember actually means.

This morning I had a fantastic session with one of my new readers, Cinthia. Cinthia comes from a very strong Baptist family, and so her knowledge of the stories we read together provides for some really interesting conversations that go quite a bit deeper than with most other readers. This morning as we read the story of the temptation of Jesus in the desert (not dessert, which is a mistake I hear often!) I asked Cinthia what we learn from Jesus in that particular story, expecting the seed-thought answer "Jesus was as human as we are." But Cinthia will not conform to pre-determined seed thoughts, no she will not. She replied "Jesus was trying to show us that the spirit is stronger than the body. The devil could only tempt Jesus's body, but Jesus knows that his spirit is bigger." And that, my dear readers, is the best explanation I have heard to date on fighting against temptation.

Go here to see pictures of our fun get-together last weekend for a few select readers and church members. It was a fun, relaxing day, and was very meaningful for the readers who participated. Please continue to pray for the readers and for our studies with them. Some of them are approaching critical points in their studies where they will have to ask some tough questions. Pray that the Lord will use us to guide them to Biblical truths and that their eyes will be opened!

Next entry: my first Brazilian election. (It's obligatory.)