Monday, December 10, 2012

Where Have I Been?

Since the last time I blogged, I've...

...gone to a "youth retreat" in Fortaleza with 15 of our young people, ages ranging from 14 to 30. Yes, we all participated in the same retreat. No, it wasn't weird. I love that about Brazil!

Photo credit: Barbara Alves

...spent a week in São Paulo at the Continent Care Connection, a conference for missionary women working in South America. Adequate adjectives do not exist to describe this conference. It was my third time to participate (2008 and 2010) and, as always, it was life-changing. I am so blessed to have woken up to that view each morning, shared my life with these girls each day, and reconnected with Rachel McClure, a family friend who has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.  

...ridden a camel. Not much to say about that experience. It was a fun way to celebrate a birthday. :)

...celebrated Thanksgiving with dear friends by eating Mexican food and roasting marshmallows for s'mores over my kitchen stove.

...fallen more and more in love with the sweet personality of this little guy. He may look familiar...this isn't his first time on this blog!

...had the honor of being a bridesmaid for the first time in a Brazilian wedding. My dear friends, Robson and Maihana, got married after four and half long years of dating. Couldn't be happier for them!

...finished the book of Luke, started the book of Acts, and celebrated the end of a great semester with my Monday night English class!

Many other things have been going on, but these are the events I have photos of! It has been a busy but fulfilling semester. A week from today I'll be zipping up my suitcases to leave for my 6-week furlough. I can't wait to share, in person, about all God has done and continues to do in Natal. I am blessed.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

5 Years

5 years ago, this happened:

September 4, 2007 - Natal airport
5 years later, this:

FriendsCamp kitchen

and this:

Not my children, 5 years in Natal has not changed me that much

I think 5 years in Brazil looks pretty good on me, don't you? If I were to sum up the past half-decade in one word, it would be blessed. And growth. And joy. And Portuguese. And home.

Okay, five words. Clearly, 5 years has done nothing for my verbosity. Oh well.

Here's to many more years filled with all of those words and so many others! I couldn't imagine my life any other way. 

Thank you, Lord!

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Best Kind of Party

Tonight in my Monday night English class, we talked about the parable in Luke 14 in which a rich man plans a fabulous dinner party and invites many guests. One by one the guests begin to bow out with extremely lame excuses for why they can't attend. The man tells his servant to go out into the alleys and highways and bring anyone he can find, including the blind, crippled, and poor. Everyone is invited, as he wants his house to be full.

As we discussed the parable, who the man represents, who the guests represent, and so on, I asked what the party represented. One of my students thought for a minute, then decided to get right to the point: "The party is following Jesus!"

Yep. Couldn't have said it better myself.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


In two weeks I will be celebrating my five year anniversary here in Natal. Five years is a long time, especially when I think in terms of it being half as long as my parents lived in Brasilia as missionaries! I have now lived in Natal a year longer than I lived in Abilene, and a year shy of how long I lived in Edmond. It's safe to say this place is a part of me, and I'm as comfortable here as any of the other places I've called home.


Culture is a funny thing. Culture is one of those things that can make you love and hate a place with the exact same intensity at the exact same moment. Culture is learned, culture is taught. It's obvious, it's subtle. Cultural gaffes have surely gone down in the annals of Most Embarrassing Moments for millions of people. Cultural idiosyncrasies are what call travelers back over and over again to beloved places.

Before I left for Natal five years ago, my mom gave me a crash-course in several cultural tips. Looking back on her selection, it's funny to see what she chose to include. "The way you refuse something you are being offered is by just saying thank you, rather than no thank you," she told me. I learned this the hard way at a dinner party a few months later where I was desperate for something to drink. As the waiter brought over a tray of soft drinks, I said thank you and reached for a glass. Before I knew it he had turned around and walked away, taking my drink with him. "Oh," I remember thinking, "that's what she meant."

So much of my cultural sensitivity today was not taught. No one made a list for me and said "learn this." I had to pay attention to the way those around me behaved in certain situations and try to remember to do the same the next time around. Some of what I've learned, I've learned begrudgingly. I don't always want to greet people coming in the door with a kiss on both cheeks or share my food just because someone walked in while I was eating. But the longer I'm here, the more I understand the implications of not following suit. You see, what to me might seem like low-consequence going through the motions, to others it's a matter of basic dignity and manners. A few times I've found out after the fact that someone felt slighted by me or thought I had something against them because I had not followed appropriate cultural protocol. My blunder was that I walked into a room full of people and didn't greet each person, one by one.

Learning culture is a process. Five years later, and here I am still feeling silly or stupid or deeply embarrassed  over cultural gaffes, large and small, old and recent. My friends claim me as one of their own, joking that I'm more Brazilian than they are. I love that kind of compliment, but know that I can't accept it, much less allow it to give me any kind of confidence. I might have learned to always offer a glass of water to anyone who walks through my door, but there's still a chance I will forget, as they leave, to walk them to the door and open it for them, thereby demolishing any kind of Brazilian cultural street cred I might have built up.

My five years here in Natal have taught me much. Perhaps the most important lesson learned in my cultural education has been that Brazilians are very forgiving. No matter how many times I mess up, they're willing to forgive, forget, and assume ignorance rather than impoliteness. And regardless of where I end up, that's the best cultural tip I could take.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

FriendsCamp #2

(Since no one who reads this blog would expect two posts in two consecutive days, be sure to read the one that was published yesterday down below to understand what this is a part 2 of!) 

One of my favorite pictures from FriendsCamp. Our happy kitchen helpers! Look at those smiles!

No kitchen nightmares here with these two in charge!
I really need to brag on my Christian family for how they stepped up in a way I've never seen before. (Or maybe I just appreciated it more since it directly benefited me, strange how that works!) They made camp so easy. Two of them took care of the kitchen all weekend, getting breakfast and dinner ready and organizing everything that went along with it. It was not at all an easy job, getting 65 of us fed in an orderly manner, and they did it so well that every time I said "thanks" they said "you don't need to say thanks." And that made me want to shout THANKS and hug and kiss them even more. Others totally got what their purpose and role was and jumped right into the small group discussions, Olympic team games, and late-night card games. We even had a no-bedtime rule to foster friendships as much as possible. I later found out that on the last night, the last campers tucked away in their hammocks at around 3:30 am. I couldn't have been more pleased!

LST team performing "When the Saints Go Marching In"
on their kazoox
As I mentioned before, on the last night we had a campfire with s'mores that followed the talent show. It was general consensus that this was one of the best, if not the best, camp talent shows any of us has ever seen. We had a hilarious skit about learning English, (that, if I'm not mistaken, was scripted and rehearsed less than an hour before showtime,) an awesome and slightly frightening kung-fu demonstration complete with authentic nunchucks, a modern one-man dance routine, a magic trick, a few impressive guitar solos and duets, a beautiful dance presentation, a granfather/grandson duet of "I Love You Lord," a kazoo ensemble, and a family performance of "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." I mean really, can you beat that? The best part of the talent show, however, was the audience. They were so encouraging and so supportive of every act, even when it took a couple tries for the magic trick to work out! I was blessed to watch how this random group of 65 that had come together 24 hours before blended into a group that cheered and clapped and whistled just as loud for the kung-fu as they did for the kazoos.

FriendsCamp blessed all of us who were there. We know we were covered in prayer by many who were there, but mostly by many who weren't. We saw God working in the conversations that were had during the small group discussion times, we saw God working in the distribution of the small groups, we saw Him in the room assignments and Olympic games. We saw Him in the questions that were asked by readers who had never shown any kind of interest in spiritual things, but who were touched by something they saw or heard and wanted to know more. He was present in the kitchen in the servant-hearts of Catherine and Thalita, and He was present at the campfire when the hunger ran out before the marshmallows did. :) He was present in the friendships that were built over silly things like Cheeto-tossing contests and the not-so-silly things like conversations about what we must sacrifice to follow Christ.

Trying to fill Talis's shaving cream-covered head with Cheetos.
If you were one of the ones praying for us, thank you. You were as important to FriendsCamp as everyone who was there. Now if you could start praying about FriendsCamp 2013, I'd appreciate it. We have big shoes to fill. :)

How do you know it's been a good weekend? When this is where you find the 5 year old at 10PM.

Monday, August 13, 2012

FriendsCamp #1

It's hard to believe that this was only our second time to host a FriendsCamp. It has become such an important part of our church's LST ministry, I wonder what we ever did before it? Have a whole lot less fun, that's what!

Hanging out early the first morning, excited for what the day will bring!

Our first year was a great experiment that went exceptionally well considering many hurdles that might have scared off the faint of heart from ever trying again. Knowing about those hurdles this time around really helped us plan a weekend that we figured we could pull off without a hitch, but, in all likelihood, wouldn't. That's where God comes in.

FriendsCamp house

A boy and his tent
Hurdle #1 was the location. God blessed us with an absolutely gorgeous place last year that was a two-bedroom, three bathroom house to sleep 50 people. We did it, but the people who slept outside got wet and the bathrooms got dirty. Very dirty. Last year in my last-minute scramble to find a place I came across a house that seemed too good to be true. Turned out it was, since it was already rented for our dates. But you better believe I started making plans for FriendsCamp 2012 and early in the year I was able to reserve it. The house was absolutely perfect. It sheltered all of our 65 participants all weekend, and most of them got to sleep in actual beds! Provided by the house itself! We spread out between two floors, and among eight bedrooms and nine bathrooms (that also got very, very dirty.) Talk about the lap of luxury! Many chose to sleep outside in tents and hammocks, and they were able to do so and enjoy themselves because...

View from my bedroom Saturday morning

Hurdle #2: it did not rain! A single drop! Ok, maybe a few teasing drops right as we were getting the bonfire going for s'mores, the climax of FriendsCamp, but as if to say "just kidding guys, I'm not gonna do that again!" the rain let up and our campers had the most delightful s'mores experience they could have asked for. All weekend I was rather obsessively praying that it wouldn't rain, to the point that I started feeling like a doofus because the whole weekend looked like this. Thanks God!

The fact that it didn't rain allowed us to overcome Hurdle #3: the schedule. Due to the weather conditions and our space the first year about half of the planned activities were cancelled. Granted, the campers had such a delightful time they had no clue and couldn't have cared less if they did know, but with all the planning and buying and transporting that the team does, I really wanted them to be able to do all of the fun/hilarious/crazy/new/encouraging activities they had planned. Like this one:  

Dolphin Racing

Some activities on the schedule were cancelled, but it was because our campers had too much fun doing all of the other ones that they took too long and we ran out of time. :) Not a bad problem, if you ask me!    

Cutting hot dogs for dinner, not in their
job description but look at those smiles!
Another great blessings from the weekend was the exceptional team that God put together. We blended the team that had already been in Natal for six weeks with others who came in just for camp, many of whom did not previously know each other! Just like last year, this group blew me away. I learned so much from them about flexibility, (I don't actually know if they thought the location was as awesome as I did, it wasn't your typical American camp setting, but they sure played along if they didn't!) about servanthood, about parenting, about ministry, and about friendship, not to mention their stellar organizational and planning skills! Talk about hitting the ground running and not stopping until they boarded the plane to go home. I really just got to hang out at FriendsCamp and enjoy it, they worked the whole time and were still happy and fun the whole time. Yes, I get it. Lesson learned for the second year in a row about not complaining, ever.

And because FriendsCamp was too great to squeeze into one long post (or one post that you would actually read,) check back tomorrow for more. It includes a part about nunchucks, not kidding.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Peeking out of the black hole called June-July

Officially, LST 2012 is over. The Luke books have been closed, the FriendsCamp campers have gone home, the last team is buying their final souvenirs.

In some ways, this LST season has been the hardest I've faced in the 5 years I've been working as the coordinator here in Natal. In other ways, it's been the easiest. Never have I felt so much like we were under attack from the enemy, and never have I understood so well why he would feel the need to attack. As I worked with a team that is so LST-experienced that they didn't quite know what to do with a very hands-on missionary, and being a hands-on missionary that doesn't quite know what do with a team that is so LST-experienced, I was able to enjoy and savor every moment of their project, watching them invest many years of experience into the lives of the readers we have all so quickly come to love.

And FriendsCamp. Oh, FriendsCamp. I'm still decompressing from what I'm contemplating calling the best weekend of the year. All I can say about it right now is that I began to cry this morning at the moment it hit me that FriendsCamp was over already. I wasn't ready to admit that all of the planning, worrying, praying, stressing that was poured into this weekend had simultaneously succeeded and ended in one quick and wonderful 36-hour period. I wasn't ready to say goodbye to my new friends and family and accept that we had to leave our middle-of-nowhere tropical haven for the concrete and commotion of the city. I'm speechless and humbled over how graciously and mercifully God answered every single one of my very selfish prayers, and went ahead and answered others that I was too selfish to pray but know others were remembering on our behalf. 

When I really blog about FriendsCamp, I'm going to tell you about the amazing house where it was held, the amazing team that put it all together, my amazing Christian brothers and sisters who went above and beyond the call of duty to fill their role at camp, the amazing talent show, the amazing campfire and s'mores, and the cocky turkey that lived on the property and gobble-gobble-attacked us a surprising number of times.  

However, for those of you who remember what FriendsCamp last year was like , what you need to know is this: it did not rain once at FriendsCamp 2012.


Friday, June 8, 2012

Dona Francisca's baptism video

Trust want to watch this. Pay special attention to the post-baptism beaming!

Chiquinha's Baptism from Cris Carpenter on Vimeo.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Dona Francisca!

Several years ago when Roberto and Marisa Signoretti arrived as missionaries in Natal, Marisa immediately looked for special ways in which she might serve the church. Over the years she has led a variety of different ministries. When I first visited Natal in 2006, I remember vividly her Monday afternoon literacy class. A certified Portuguese teacher, each week Marisa gathered about five or six little old ladies from the neighborhood (in their fifties, sixties, and seventies,) around the table in our reception area and taught them how to read and write. They would arrive promptly at 2pm and leave promptly at 3pm, spending an hour sounding out words and tracing their letters on worksheets not unlike what you and I used in elementary school.

After I moved to Natal, I enjoyed seeing these women each Monday afternoon, eager to learn and come to "school"(as they called it!) I will never forget the day one of them excitedly came in wanting to tell Marisa some big news. She had gone to a doctor's appointment that day and, for the first time in her life, had signed her own name on the forms. Her joy was overwhelming and contagious.

For a variety of reasons, after several years Marisa's literacy class came to an end. Attendance had dropped significantly and Marisa began to focus more on evangelistic Bible studies and our English program. But she remained friends with the ladies from her class and visited them regularly in their homes, just across the street from our church building.

A year or two after the literacy class ended, one of the ladies from the class, Dona Francisca, began to show up at our worship service on Sundays. She'd show up every once in a while, but sometime last year we began to see her every Sunday. Then she began to come to Bible class beforehand and stay for worship. She always brought her Bible and let us help her find the passages being read. Then we found out she was coming back early from her family's ranch every weekend in order to be able to come to church!

Dona Francisca taking communion for the first
time after her baptism

Last week Dona Francisca decided she wanted to be baptized. She told Marisa that she would like to be in heaven with us. On Wednesday, our missionaries sat down with Dona Francisca and her daughter to talk about her decision and help her understand the meaning of her baptism. She was excited and ready for Sunday!

What a joy it was to watch Dona Francisca put on Christ in baptism this morning! She is only the second person over the age of 60 to join our church family, and we are excited to welcome her as one of our own!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

1000 Words - Birthday

For all of these people to show up on a Monday night, the first day of a 100% bus strike, to celebrate your birthday...

that's love.

Even though 27 feels pretty old, it can't be too bad with these people by my side. 

*And yes, that is my daddy-o on the far left of the picture. My parents arrived yesterday in Natal with their LST team to begin their project. I couldn't have asked for a better birthday gift!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

1000 Words - Fridays

A few weeks ago I told you about what I do on Mondays. Mondays are for my basic English students. We chat (very slowly) together in English and read the Gospel of Luke. They explain Jesus's parables to me and I tell them whether or not I agree. And a lot of times we eat chocolate, which, ironically, is always brought by the dentist.

(let's play a quick game of "guess the Gringo")
Mondays are one of my favorite days of the week, but Fridays are quickly catching up. You probably love Fridays because of what they represent. Friday is my day off, so I know all about what a good Friday means. However, my Fridays have taken on a new look recently, besides sleeping in and watching my favorite real-estate reality shows. This picture was taken at my apartment a couple Friday nights ago, around 9pm.

This is a group of single young women from our church. You've probably seen several of them in pictures on this blog before. Two of them are the daughters of my teammates, one is my roommate, and two are recent converts. Since I got back to Natal in February, we have been meeting monthly on Friday nights to study the Bible together.

Since the first study I made it very clear that all were invited, but the only ones who were welcome were those who really wanted to be there. Falling on a Friday night meant that often the girls would have other obligations and commitments, and I wanted them to not feel in the least bit guilty if they ever needed to miss our study. I wanted it to be something they looked forward to and enjoyed, rather than something where attendance would be taken.

What has resulted is turning out to be one of the biggest blessings of 2012. The girls were thrilled to spend their Friday nights once a month studying the Bible, and asked why we weren't meeting more often! We've met three times, and Catherine prepared the lesson at the last study. My dream was not only for us to study the Bible more, but for them to have the chance to prepare and teach those studies.

I don't know anyone who doesn't appreciate  Friday. But with these girls, we have a whole new reason to love a good Friday night.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

1000 Words - Tiago Filho

I can count on exactly one finger (or maybe 10 teeny tiny ones) a good reason for me to wake up voluntarily at 5:50 am on my day off.

Meet the newest addition to our family in Natal. The last time a baby was this loved, kissed, squeezed, and drooled over...well, it was the last time someone in our church had a baby. :) 

I had the privilege of hanging out at the hospital with Tiago and his mom, Kelly, the morning after he was born. We had a blast, braving the new world of baths, blood tests, diapers, and staying awake through meals together. He and Kelly are doing great and are being very well cared for by his namesake, his dad, Tiago. 

I have fallen in love all over again with the beauty of the body of Christ. Kelly's roommate at the hospital must have thought we were nuts, because we just kept showing up! I love watching how we all care so deeply for one another and are ready to serve at a moment's notice, whether that be through giving rides or washing dirty clothes or preparing lunch.

This guy had no idea how many people are absolutely crazy about him. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

1000 Words - Jailza

This one really doesn't need an explanation.

Please pray for Jailza, a woman who has believed in Jesus for many, many years but just last week decided to proclaim her faith through baptism!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Growing up in the church, I remember exactly one time that I participated in a fast. It was the summer before my junior year of high school and we were going through several months of preparation before a youth group mission trip to Mexico. We had several Bible verses to memorize, service project hours to complete, and even some essays to write. The preparation culminated in a (non-mandatory, I'm pretty sure) 30-hour fast. My friends and I faced it much as teenagers would, more of a survival of the fittest competition rather than an opportunity for spiritual growth. I made it through the 30 hours, praying often and consuming only water and juice, and celebrated with my friends at Wednesday night church by engorging ourselves on several 6-ft subs brought in by the youth ministry interns.

Fasting, to me, always seemed like one of those disciplines that was often talked about but rarely practiced. And those who practiced it individually were only the spiritual giants, maybe of the John-the-Baptist, eating locusts variety. Or, as was in my case, people fasted in community for a specific reason, more as an experience than anything else. (Note: I am merely sharing my personal impressions. It's quite possible that many people I knew fasted regularly and I just didn't know about it.) When I moved to Natal in 2007 I was intrigued to find a body of believers that included individual fasting in their regular spiritual diet.

Our church in Natal engages in two to five church-wide fasts per year. Usually they are included in a week-long prayer and fasting campaign, where we are given prayer partners and asked to pray together for a specific subject all week long, and then choose something from which to fast. Food is never emphasized, as it's become pretty obvious that many of us have idols whose absence hurts much more when removed than food. :) Some choose chocolate, some the internet, others video games, some choose meat (a daily staple in a Brazilian diet,) others, soft drinks, while others, full food fasts.

In addition to these church-wide fasts, however, it's not at all uncommon to hear our members mention their fasting on random occasions, never in a "look at me, I'm fasting" kind of way, but in a "really, stop offering me chocolate cake, believe me, I want it, but I'm fasting" kind of way. They always have a purpose for their fast, though we don't always know why. Most recently I've known of sisters and brothers fasting before the big college-entrance exam, fasting until a member who had left came back, fasting for the conversion of their parents, fasting to gain full confidence in God over a troubling situation.

Maybe it's nothing special to you, but I sure think it is. I'm so encouraged to be surrounded by people who take their relationship with God so seriously that they are willing to make these kinds of sacrifices for a greater purpose on a regular basis! And, it might be interesting to note, the specific fasts I mentioned above were all young people like myself, in their twenties, people who are learning very early on in their faith the importance of fasting as a spiritual discipline.

This past Sunday was the last day of one of our week-long prayer and fasting campaigns. The theme this time was "be," praying to grow in our being as God's servants. And...what's the best way to end a church-wide fast? With a church-wide breakfast, of course! So before worship we all came together to break our fast and celebrate the ways in which we had seen God grow us in our being throughout the week. After everyone had eaten and everything had been cleaned up, we shared together in communion to mark the end of our experience.

I feel pretty blessed to be a part of this family.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

We have to love our people

Even though I'm younger than all but one of them, I think my Monday night basic conversation students are positively adorable. There's something about beginner English-learners that makes everything they say charming, and, often, hilarious.

I shared in this post last week that our "English class" is actually a Bible study. This past Monday we read the story of the Good Samaritan. At the end of class, after we had done the necessary translating to make sure everyone understood, I asked for them to tell me, in English, what the point of the story was. I wrote their answers verbatim on the board and couldn't bring myself to erase them at the end of class. Nor could I bring myself to erase them the next day, or the day after that. So, knowing that they'd eventually be erased, I snapped some pictures so that you could see what our class is really about.

What does the story of the Good Samaritan mean to you?

We have to love our people-- that we know and that we don't know, too. 
We have to love God with all our heart and soul. 

We must share our life/things with the people who need it. 

How about you? If you had to sum up the story of the Good Samaritan in one sentence, what's the lesson it has taught you?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

1000 Words - And their Number Grew

Sunday was a good day. 

Fred is yet another example of God's perfect timing. He first came in contact with our church in 2008, and three years later decided to come back to learn more about the Bible. 

He's been studying the Bible since late 2011 with two of our members, Edvan and Talis, and decided to give his life to Christ in baptism this past Sunday!

We praise God for Fred!

"Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved." Acts 2:47

Monday, March 12, 2012

1000 Words - Mondays

I'm excited to announce a new feature on this blog called "1000 Words." You may have noticed that my last post a week ago had this title, as well as this one you are now reading. I decided to wait until I'd posted at least twice to tell you about it for the sake of self preservation and avoidance of failure.

In an effort to blog more frequently, I have decided that at the beginning of each week I will post a picture and tell you about it. This will make things easier on me in terms of thinking of content (what to blog about) and frequency (making sure I don't go too long between posts.) This will also, hopefully, allow me to cover a wide array of topics related to life in Natal, as each post will be about a picture. If I know myself, and I'm pretty sure I do, there's a good chance that from here on out all of my posts will be part of the "1000 Words" series, but I also imagine it will be a great way for me to share what's going on in my life in Natal.

This photo was taken at our English class Thanksgiving celebration in November.  But I'm not going to blog about our Thanksgiving feast. Instead, I'm going to tell you about the very special people pictured with me in this photo. Almost all of them are students in my Monday night basic conversation class. I began this class as an opportunity for people whose English is not advanced enough to participate in Let's Start Talking to practice their English in a more relaxed setting with a teacher who speaks Portuguese. :) I have been teaching classes like this since I arrived in Natal four years ago, but never have I had such a dedicated group of students. Each week they are excited to learn and practice what they have been studying. They ask great questions and help each other understand. 

And the best part? We use Let's Start Talking's gospel of Luke workbook as the text for our lessons, which means each Monday night we are basically having a bilingual Bible study. A Bible study with a dentist, two hair dressers, a security guard, a candy vendor, and others. A Bible study in which we read the lesson in English, and answer the questions from the workbook in English, but talk about the meaning in Portuguese. They know that, while I care that they learn and practice their English, I don't care about that as much as I care that they learn and internalize what the lessons are about. So they study, they look up words in the dictionary before coming to class, they help their classmates understand. We spend half the class talking about the meaning of the story, and we don't leave until everyone's questions have been answered. 

And so tonight, when we discussed the lesson of the transfiguration in Luke 9, and their faces went from confused to "aha!" I asked them to remember our last lesson from last semester, in which Peter confesses that Jesus is "the Christ from God." And I asked what was significant about the fact that right after that story, we were reading a story where God speaks to Peter and says "This is my son whom I have chosen. Obey him." And they casually look at me and say "God was confirming what Peter confessed."

And it's really not an English class. We're having a Bible study.

Monday, March 5, 2012

1000 Words

Each Sunday during our worship service, usually between communion and the offering, we have a time of guided prayer. Whoever is preaching that day will spend a few minutes praying with the congregation about something very specific. Sometimes it's a person in our church family who is struggling financially or with their health. Sometimes it's for the victims of a recent natural disaster. Sometimes it's for ourselves, for our spiritual growth as a body.

Yesterday during the prayer time, Osmildo got up and quoted 1 Timothy 4:12, "Don't let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity," then proceeded to invite any of our young people who live in a home with parents and familes who aren't Christians to come up to the front to be prayed for. 

I could have told you that most of our members are young people, and that most of them come from non-Christian homes, but I was not prepared to see it displayed before me. The visual of just how many of our brothers and sisters go home daily, often alone, to a home where their lifestyle and beliefs are not encouraged, supported, or understood was overwhelming. As we prayed for them, I couldn't help but get emotional over how amazing God is to have brought so many people to Him despite the most basic of challenges. 

 Notice all the empty chairs. That's because, yes, more than half of our 66-member congregation comes from non-Christian homes. Please join us in prayer for these members of our family who wake up daily in their biggest mission field.

Monday, February 27, 2012


Raise your hand if you had all five days of Mardi Gras off of work. Oh...just me? Raise your hand if you spent all five days of Mardi Gras at a gorgeous beach with your brothers and sisters from church. Oh, just me again? This is awkward.

I've blogged once or twice about the Carnaval holiday here in Brazil, a nation-wide celebration of the same things that are celebrated at Mardi Gras. The bad thing is that it exists, the good thing is that since it exists, we as a church use it as an opportunity to get away and take advantage of the time together!

A couple of years ago, we decided that rather than hold a retreat over every major holiday, we would plan and prepare for one big retreat each year and make it great. Well, that worked really well, except for the fact that everyone still wants to hang out on the other holidays, even if there isn't a planned retreat. What that has led to is these little mini-retreats, where we go somewhere, we do something, but it's not a big production. It's laid back and fun, and provides a nice contrast to the going-going-going, jam-packed schedule of our big retreat.

Since our big retreat will be over Easter weekend, this year, over Carnaval, we were blessed to have a mini-retreat at a beach house about 15 minutes outside of town. The son of one of our church members belongs to an association (I think he's kind of like an assistant district attorney?) of lawyers who has a beach house that is up for grabs. He knew we liked to have retreats, so he reserved it for us at no cost! The house had six bedrooms and seven bathrooms, and was one block away from one of the best beaches in Natal. Given that we are used to having retreats at an equally-beautiful, yet only three-bathroomed house, this was quite the treat!

Forty-two people spent Sunday through Tuesday at the house and several others came and spent the days with us. We had devotionals in the mornings and evenings, and the rest of the time was left open for us to do whatever we wanted. Some spent their time playing soccer, others at the beach, some playing foosball, others not napping because of the foosball, some playing card games or dominoes, many engaged in heated debates whose topics ranged from parenting to tithing to skin care, and all ate many a popsicle sold by a man on a bike.

I was even thrilled to finally introduce my Brazilian family to my favorite card game of all time, Pit. I grew up playing with my aunts and cousins (once they finally let the kids join in, we were always led to believe it's a hard game to understand *ahem*) and it was just as magical as I had always hoped!

It was a great reminder that time spent together studying God's Word and fellowshipping is never wasted, and provides an excellent alternative to what the world is offering. This was the first chance many of our newest members had to participate in an event like this, and it was given an overwhelming thumbs-up! The mini Carnaval retreat laid the groundwork for our Easter retreat to be a huge success, and we are excited about how God will use that event to grow us as well!

So if you ever see footage of Carnaval in Brazil, with the flashy parades and samba dancers, remember that not all of us are shimmying down the block in body paint and tassels. Some of us are taking advantage of a holiday that was created to dishonor God in every way to do just the opposite: growing stronger in our relationship with Him in order to encourage others to do the same!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

God is Good

It's easy to talk about God's goodness when things are going great. Sometimes people (read: I) can be critical of people exclaiming "God is good!" over something that seems trivial, like a beautiful, sunny day or travel plans working out when in actuality the truth is that God is good on a sunny day and God is still good on a dark, stormy day. But what those cynics (read: I) miss when criticizing is the importance of simply recognizing that God is good. Giving God credit for good things, even if he might not actually have opened up that parking spot for me, can't be bad way to keep my ego in check, a way of remembering that there is something, someone, bigger than me, more in control than I am, who, yes, made the day sunny and, yes, gave me five senses to enjoy it. (Who doesn't enjoy an ice-cold fudgesicle on a sunny day, thus covering the fifth sense.)

So that's enough shallow theology to last this blog the rest of the year, but what's my point? My point is this: I just got back from the most wonderful trip to the United States visiting my family, friends, and supporting churches, and the best way I can think of to sum it all up is with one, simple phrase: God is good.

When I moved to Natal in 2007, I had no idea when I would be able to go back to the States for a visit. I'm cheap and tickets aren't. So imagine my surprise when, in the last 4.5 years only one of my five trips to the States has been planned long ahead of time. Some trips were a gift, some were to fundraise, one was an official, planned furlough, and this last one was a dream come true.

As I've reflected on the trip in the days since I got home, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Grateful that I got to go, grateful that the tickets weren't very expensive, grateful for who I got to see, grateful for the conversations I was blessed to be a part of, grateful for the time I got to spend with my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandpa, and, of course, grateful for priceless moments with my immediate family. And most of all, grateful that I got to share all of that with a very important person who loved every minute just as much as I did.

Disclaimer: This is the first and will be the only mention of any such person on this blog. But as my logic goes, if you read this you either met him or saw the pictures of him, so this should not come as a shock to anyone who knows me personally! 

Our memories and camera memory cards are full of puzzles, chips & salsa,  miles and miles and miles of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, and New England highways, hugs, rounds of Mexican Train & Pit, cream cheese, cheddar cheese, museums, Braum's ice cream, clay pigeons, hours of shared meals with friends, and bookstores.

I am grateful that God allowed for all of the pieces to fall into place to make this trip happen, and grateful for the love and support we received both here in Natal and in the US that made the trip so enjoyable.

God is good!

Disclaimer pt. 2: If you are a little nauseated by the mushiness of this post, very uncharacteristic of the usual writing on Living and Loving, just chalk it up to today being February 14 and rest assured that the next entry should have all the forwardness and self-deprecation you've grown accustomed to around here! Happy Valentine's Day!