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.