Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas LST-style

Each month I send out a mass email to all of our LST readers, past and present, inviting them to our monthly English worship service. I sent one out this last Monday, inviting them to the service this coming Sunday, but completely forgot to include any Christmas well-wishes. I immediately did a reply-all and sent an additional Merry Christmas! message. To me it was an afterthought, more of a cultural thing (Brazilians are big on mass holiday greetings,) but I have been surprised and touched by the messages I have received back. I thought I would share some of them with you so that you can see what sweet things our readers had to say:

  • Hiiiiiiii Criss, VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! HAPPY 2009
  • MERRY CHRISTMAS Cris, You always remember your friends. God bless you...
  • Merry Christmas to Community [the name of our church]. You are in my heart. I am in Recife, despite the distance, but my heart is with you.
  • (I translated this one from Portuguese) I received an unanticipated gift for Christmas. The opportunity to participate in LST was very important to me. I thank you, because you coordinate this project here in Natal, I thank Community of Christ for the opportunity, I thank my friend who invited me to participate, and Cyndi for the wonderful classes, and God who has given me life and the opportunity to enjoy it. Merry Christmas to all of you!
  • I want you to know I wish all you from Comunidade de Cristo a very Merry Cristmas! You are all very important to me and you all made my 2008 happier than any other year. Hope to see you soon, when I am back! Enjoy the celebrations and Be with God!
Aren't those precious? Receiving those has made my week. Also something that made my week was when a reader and I were having a conversation about snow and winter in the US. He said that on movies he sees lots of ice dolls. I had no idea what he was talking about until he drew a picture of a snowman. :) I have now heard them referred to as ice dolls and boy snows. What else might come up??

Have a very merry Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Christmas Eve Eve Eve!

Fun fact: did you know that "Natal" means "Christmas"? I live in Christmas, Brazil, and the city takes that very seriously, leaving up wise men statues and giant Christmas trees all year round for your viewing pleasure.

I have blogger's block. I've sat down several times over the last week or so to type out a wildly compelling and profound post, filled with pictures and stories and a beautiful farewell paragraph for Greg and Cyndi, but all I end up with is verbosity and boring. Maybe it's the upper-80 degree weather and sun so intense that even with 50 SPF sunblock I'm getting a wicked tan. Yes, maybe that's why.

So...until the creative juices begin flowing again from these fingertips, I want to wish you a very feliz Natal and próspero ano novo! (Happy Christmas and prosperous new year!)

And for those of you who are keeping track, word on the street is that Christmas 2008 will now be spent at the beach rather than the pool. Yes, I am jealous of all of you who don't have to dream of a white Christmas because you actually will have one, but I guess my situation isn't so bad either. :)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

At the Copa, Copacabana...

When I say "Rio de Janeiro," what comes to your mind?

The famous Christ the Redeemer statue? The almost equally-as-famous Sugarloaf mountain? Copacabana beach? Favelas? Danger?
(Much to just about everyone's suprise, I felt very safe in Rio and did not see a single dangerous situation...other than the insane Carioca drivers, of course! But there is no photo documentation. Rio is a safe place. Don't believe the media. And don't go to favelas. I'm sure that helped.)

When Mark and Kelly bought their tickets to come visit, they scheduled a two day stop in Rio on their way back to the States. They invited me to come along with them and partake in the adventures any gigantic city is sure to provide, and perhaps act as their default Portuguese-speaker. Since we had planned their visit to coincide with Thanksgiving, a selfish move on my part (hey, my sister is a good cook, and I didn't know how much help I was going to have with the LST Thanksgiving feast!) this put the stay in Rio at the beginning of December. I took advantage of the expected s-l-o-w-n-e-s-s that December brings in Brazil and accepted their offer. Oh man…am I sure glad I did!

We got into Rio on Sunday evening and woke up slightly early Monday morning to get out and be as touristy as possible, as fast as possible. We stayed with good friends of our family, Carlos and Elaine Castilho, who are serving as missionaries in Rio, and were honored that Carlos took two days off in order to drive us around and accompany us to all the traditional Rio tourist attractions.

The Castilho family

First stop was the Christ statue. It gave us (Mark the Photographer in particular) quite a scare as we approached Corcovado, the mountain, as there was one, singular, lingering cloud covering everything but the base of the statue.

When we finally got up there, I was freezing because we were literally inside of a cloud. I thought Mark was going to cry. But the cloud did not keep the tourists away, no it did not. I heard more English spoken in public that day than Portuguese, and people were not shy to imitate the pose in front of the statue for photo ops, even if it was covered by a cloud. After we had a few juices and snacks the clouds finally cleared and we went up to take pictures…and OH MY GOODNESS. It was beautiful. We had a panoramic view of the city, and after spending the rest of the rainy, gloomy week in Rio, I realized how LUCKY we were to have been there on such a clear, beautiful day. (Yes Mom, I finally realized.)

Please look at all the people who imitated his pose for pictures. It was really weird.

Overlooking Copacabana beach

While Mark ran around taking pictures, we got creative with how to get ourselves in pictures with the full statue. This was my favorite. That's Carlos.

Another, single, lingering cloud over Sugarloaf.

After Corcovado we drove around for a while and took some fun, but perhaps disrespectful? pictures from a lookout point.

Holding his hand, thanks to Mark's photography brilliance.

We then had lunch along Copacabana beach in order to make it to Sugarloaf by sunset. Carlos had done this before and said it was the best way to see Sugarloaf. So we took his word for it and were not disappointed. The sunset was incredible and we had another incredible view of the city. The cable car ride was NOT my favorite, and I will now show you a picture to prove that. (Sorry Kelly.)

All in all it was an amazing, unforgettable day, and I am so happy I was able to share it with Mark and Kelly.

Mark and Kelly left on Tuesday night, but I stayed through the week in order to spend more time with the Castilhos, see how missionary life in Rio differs from missionary life in Natal (quite a bit, actually), and visit another friend in a nearby city. Oh yeah, and to get my money's worth for making a trip I had previously attempted to plan four different times in the last four years.

Life is back to normal now in Natal. We've had an eventful last couple of weeks, which I will also be blogging about soon, but I'm guessing it will slow down a bit next week with Christmas. I'm excited to spend my second Christmas in Natal, and even more excited for the possibility that it might involve a pool. Natal is so absolutely, unbearably hot. All I want for Christmas is a pool.

Until next time...happy shopping!

(Note: About half of the pictures above were taken by my brother-in-law, Mark. The ones that are good are his, the ones that are not are mine. Thanks Mark!)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What are you thankful for?

Thanksgiving 2008 came as close to perfect as it possibly could, just short of actually spending it with my extended family, eating my aunt Glenda's homemade apple pies and aunt Nell's strawberry pretzel Jell-o salad and Sister Schubert's rolls. (Sister Schubert is not a member of the family…unfortunately.) When it was my turn to answer the above question, my answer was simple, and probably obvious: I'm thankful that my entire family was able to visit me in Natal this year. It was especially meaningful to actually have Mark and Kelly here with me on Thanksgiving day, sharing in our celebration and being thankful for the beach. :)

We celebrated Thanksgiving on the actual day with the other Americans living in Natal plus some of our special Brazilian friends. We had all the fixins, including a tropical turkey, rolls, dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, pies galore, and Fanta and Coke to drink, of course! We spent the day at John and Samantha's, and ended the afternoon by playing a fun (and new to me) word/card game. It really felt just like Thanksgiving in the States, complete with sleepiness and thankfulness.

The "What are you thankful for?" circle at John and Samantha's house

The following Saturday we had our second annual Thanksgiving celebration for the LST readers. You may remember that last year it was called a Thanksgiving Party and had a lot of Brazilian elements. Well, this year, thanks to Cyndi the Thanksgiving Genius, we had a 100% American Thanksgiving feast. We included some of the fun elements from last year, including the Thanksgiving tree (an absolutely fantastic Thanksgiving tradition, if you ask me) and added some more high-tech ones, thanks to Lacy's powerpoint presentation on the history of Thanksgiving.

Visitors and church members working on their leaves

We closed out the opening activities by getting in a big circle and singing "For All that You've Done I will Thank You" and "Give Thanks," then the food was served and everyone DUG IN. I am quick to admit that traditional Thanksgiving food is a little weird, particularly since I didn't begin to appreciate it until about 8 years ago, but the Brazilians were very receptive to the break from their usual rice and beans and embraced our weird food with a smile and a line for seconds. One reader came up to me and said "Cris, American food is AWESOME!" I said "Why thank you, Lucas, I'm glad you liked it. But you know that this isn't what we eat every day, right?" "What?!" He was so disappointed. :)

The dessert table! YUM!

We had a great turnout with our readers and some other special guests, with about fifty participants total. We even had food leftover, including pumpkin pie, much to Sergio's unrestrained excitement. (I'm pretty sure he took a whole pie home…we're just spreading the Thanksgiving cheer around, one pie at a time.)

Kelly, Sergio, and I in front of the Thanksgiving tree

Thanksgiving is the American tradition I am most PROUD to share with my Brazilian friends, because the purpose of the holiday is so meaningful. The Brazilians were very receptive to the idea of taking a special day out of the year to give thanks, and did a great job of expressing themselves on the leaves we hung on the Thanksgiving tree. Some of the things they wrote were:
-All of the bad things that didn't happened (Hey, come to think of it, I'm thankful for that, too!)
-God (Written and illustrated by the youngest Thanksgiving Feast guest, Andy Jewell, age 4.)
-My divorce (We placed no rules on the Thanksgiving tree leaves…clearly.)
-My master's degree (If I was at the point some of these readers are in their graduate degrees I would be thanking God, too! Several of them have had to revise their master's dissertations seven or eight times and then go through the defense process…wow.)

Lacy chatting with a group of readers

The whole group!

Thanksgiving week culminated with the greatest celebration of all: the following Sunday we celebrated two more baptisms and two more additions into our church family! Talis, an LST reader, and Jefferson, one of Talis's friends, gave their lives to the Lord on the same day. Talis started the LST program with my dad in June and continues to study with Lacy, and Jefferson's first contact with the church was at our LST Costume Party at the end of October. Both are fantastic guys who will have a great impact on God's kingdom. Welcome to the family, guys!

Well, Mom, thanks for making it all the way to the end of this post. As I write, I am on a trans-continental flight back to Natal from Rio de Janeiro…another entirely-too-long post within itself. I predict it will be even more photo-ful than this one! Thanks for reading, and happy December!