I felt a bit uneasy. I looked through every drawer, underneath the cabinets, behind the stove but I couldn’t find it. How had I lost my favorite paring knife? But it wasn’t anywhere. Had it gotten thrown out with a bunch of peelings by accident? This wasn’t just any normal kitchen tool. This had been a wedding gift. And not just any wedding gift. It had come from a precious woman who has long since gone to heaven. It would not be overstating the case to say that I think of her every time I use that knife. I still remember how the packaging said it was specially handcrafted knife to never need sharpening. And it never did. As I have chopped thousands of onions and peeled even more potatoes I have recalled her sweet history with my family. It was a gift full of meaning and connection.
Gifts are like that. Especially gifts given from the heart. I almost missed that as I read through Numbers chapter 7. In fact, I think I yawned a couple times. I mean how important can 89 verses be that speak about gifts from 12 unheard-of chiefs, that included unfamiliar weights and a bunch of farm animals? Well, it must have been very important to God. In Numbers 7 we can read one of God’s carefully kept gift records. It may not be like mine which I stored away after my wedding 27 years ago, but it was kind of the same. Each name and what they gave was faithfully recorded in great detail. I have an inkling this tells us something really significant about God. He loves our gifts. He loves when our gifts are given towards His work. These gifts were meant for the running of the Tabernacle. It had already been built, now these gifts were about making sure the needs of the priests and Levites were met and the work could go on.
As I let that thought settle in I start to perk up. I am the receiver of those kinds of gifts. Sitting in the middle of the Amazon jungle, doing God’s work, is only made possible by the gifts of His people. I know that somewhere in heaven there must be God’s Gift Record. A place where He notes each and every offering given for His work. And many of you who are reading this are in that lovely ledger! Thank you for your gifts that allow us to be going about His work here in Brazil.
P.S. I never did find that beloved paring knife but I am still on the look out for it. It still may be in some crevice or dark place, waiting for me to find it.
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I truly love the rich green pervasiveness of the rain forest that I see every single day. Abundant foliage and grassy expanses infuse my soul with a sense of well-being, life and vitality. So it seems slightly unappreciative to admit that I often miss the changing colors of the leaves in North America. Maybe that is why I am totally enamored with the Brazilian golden rain tree which protrudes from the landscape this time of year. This tree conspicuously flaunts its dazzling golden wonder as if to defy my secret longings.
The golden rain tree blooms in August and continues to sport its glorious color until late September. When I look up and see these radiant blossoms all day, every day, it somehow fills that hankering for autumn. The only disconnect is the heat index of 100 degrees. But on the rare days when it clouds over and dips down to the upper 70’s my joy is almost complete. Oh, for some apple cider on days like that…oops there I go again.
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Coming back to Brazil after 7 months in the U.S. has caused me (Grace) to ponder on where I am after 23 years in Brazil. Am I more aware of cultural cues? How am I communicating? Am I allowing God to fulfill His purposes for my life? And most pressingly, how would I do in Itapiranga, a river town on the Amazon river, where I was about to go and teach?
Not long after I arrived in Itapiranga I found myself one morning, alone, studying at the rough long wooden dining table in the pastor’s home. I sat by one of the few open windows enjoying the natural light but also hoping to catch a breeze. I was rewarded by a rain shower. For a while the heat relented but water began dripping throughout the house through tiny holes in the roof. The drops began to splatter lightly onto the cement floor nearby but I sat contented in the rainy coolness, dry and listening to the neighbor’s parrot joyfully squawking. He too liked the rain. I felt a load on my shoulders as I got ready for my class later that evening. Again I wonder if I am practicing the principles of teaching that I came to teach? Are they learning? Will they apply it to their own teaching months after I am long gone? And, now that it is raining, will they even make it to class. Rain and clay roads make it hard for walking.
The hardest thing about a trip like this is that I lose my cherished independence. I become completely dependent on the people I came to help. I feel helpless doing even the most ordinary things. How do I wash clothes? Is it appropriate for me to jog in shorts? Where do I buy a snack? How do I eat small fish with tiny bones? Eating fish, I have discovered, is an art. I was asked which kind of fish I enjoy eating. Curimatã? Surubim? Aruana? Lambeia? Salumba? Tambaqui? Piraracu? Pacu? Matrixã? They all sounded quite exotic. I did discover on the last day that my favorite is Curimatã grilled on an open fire.
Curimatã on an open fire.
I had breakfast one morning with Valqueria, one of my students. I had been given the directions to her home and I had memorized them easily. Go down two streets and turn right at the Catholic Church then turn left at the cashew tree. I knew what a cashew tree looked like so that was not hard. In fact, as I walked to her house I mentally named all the trees I passed. I could recognize the mango tree, banana tree, cupuaço tree and several different kinds of palms, like the buriti, the tucumã. and the coconut. Knowing your trees is important because there are no street names.
The Cashew Tree
I learned so much on this trip. My new friends patiently taught me while I came to teach them. But mostly I learned that the folks I had come to serve were as eager to serve me as well.
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Tom and I are both heading off this next week to two different parts of Brazil to teach classes for our Wesleyan Bible College’s extension program for 10 days. I will travel by bus 500 miles north to Boa Vista near the border of Venezuela to teach the Pentateuch to about 10-15 ministerial students. Tom will fly to Fortaleza, on the northeast coast of Brazil, and teach Christian Leadership to about 10-15 there. The classes of course continue here in Manaus (Apologetics and Discipleship). Another teacher will be going to another interior village by boat to teach another 10 students. Equipping the saints is a wonderful calling.
Tonight we have three students graduating! It is an odd time for Brazil which usually ends the academic year in December but this class is a very unique class. These are the first students to have written a thesis and defended it. What a major accomplishment. This will also make their degree from our Bible college equivalent to a university degree here.
Currently we are in the middle of publishing the most recent adult/youth Sunday school material. These 26 lessons on the Wisdom and Prophetic books are written by our own Brazilian leaders here. This was an ambitious project to produce our Sunday School curriculum when began in 2013 but it continues to fill a great need among our people. We have a circulation of over 800.
We will be traveling to the US in June for 6 months of reconnecting with churches and supporters. We are excited to catch up with each and everyone of you!
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There is no way to brace yourself for the word cancer. On that August afternoon when the dermatologist told Tom that he was referring him immediately to an oncologist we were shaken to the core. What we had thought he could remove in the office now looked like another situation entirely.
In a few days we saw one of the most experienced cancer surgeons in Manaus, Dr. Jesus Pinheiro. At the age of 70 he is an extraordinary man to meet and consult with. Tom was quickly scheduled for surgery to remove the melanoma from his scalp. All the tests showed that it was malignant and was already producing proteins, which could mean that it had already spread. Only a biopsy would reveal what we wanted and didn’t want to know.
As I searched for strength I instinctively turned, as so many before me, to the book of Job and the Psalms. I happened to be teaching these books at our Bible college and the timing could not have been more divinely orchestrated. What I taught had deep personal implications for me and my family. God in His infinite grace gave us books like these that put a voice to our troubled thoughts, words to our darkest fears, and expression to our faintest hopes.
I also began to journal all of the truths I encountered about God. My list grew daily.
God is my Father.
God is my Shepherd.
God is here.
God is near.
God is my Strength.
He brings me out into a spacious place…
I had to ponder that one. Could God want to use all of this pain, this dread, this helplessness to lead me to some new place? Does all of this upheaval somehow create more room for Him?
It is now more than 2 months after the surgery. Tom’s scalp has almost completely healed. Considering how wide and deeply the surgeon’s knife went, it has been a long and amazing process to watch skin knit itself together before my very eyes.
The biopsy confirmed that no cancer had spread from the place of origin and for that we have been so grateful. We were surprised further when the doctor quit urging us to do any skin grafting. He said it was healing so well that none would be needed.
Having come through this crisis we sense that God still has something important for us to do here in Brazil. We praise Him for extending our days of ministry and our life together. But most of all we praise Him for filling us with more of Himself and for that you always need a lot more room.
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I went to church the other night not entirely ready for worship. After all the U.S. soccer team was playing Portugal in the World Cup just a few miles away. It was hard not to wonder how things were going. Was my team winning…or losing? I tried to shake myself mentally. All the elements of worship, as I entered in to the sanctuary, helped my focus shift to another reality. The choruses, Scripture reading, and prayer drew my heart in. Rather unexpectedly Pastor Miranda called all those who had recently been baptized to come up and share their testimonies.
I could not keep myself from smiling to see these radiant, joyful people testify to the change Christ had made in their lives. But there was more. Then Pastor Miranda called up front all the new members. There were 10! As I saw them each make their way up front I was so grateful that I had not missed such a stunning triumph for Christ and His Kingdom. There were new babes in Christ along side newly committed believers. Now this is the kind of victory I can get excited about.
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While teaching an intensive class in Fortaleza last month I was asked by a dear friend to pay a visit to a friend of hers. I was so involved with class preparation that this seemed like an inconvenient interruption. But like the persistent widow my friend kept asking me. So I went. On the way I realized that my friend probably wanted me to have some words of comfort for her friend, Rosa. You see, I found out that Rosa had inoperable, terminal cancer and her days were few. This had finally opened my eyes to the needs of both my friend and Rosa. So late Wednesday afternoon we got on a bus and headed to Rosa’s house. “So Lord, what would you have me say to this precious saint of yours?” Like a flash Psalm 16 came to my mind. As I pored over in Portuguese I felt a peace and certainly about God’s direction.
When I saw Rosa she showed the ravages of the disease in her body but not in her spirit. Peace radiated from her like a welcoming warm soft light. I learned that she was going to have a procedure done in two days, but just routine, to clear out her lungs. She showed no signs of anxiety; only trust and faith. As I read the Psalm aloud I inwardly wondered about the references to death. But God reassured me that this was His word to her.
I was asked to pray, which is always a challenge in Portuguese. The more formal speech, like using thee and thou, always trips me up. But it was amazing. The presence of Jesus was so real that I prayed like I rarely have prayed; slowly, clearly, and beyond my ability.
I left feeling encouraged as only can happen when you are in the presence of someone who loves Jesus passionately. I was reassured that Jesus had Rosa’s life in His hands.
You can imagine my surprise when I heard that Rosa had gone to be with Jesus the next Monday. As I looked over Psalm 16 again I rejoiced that He had not abandoned her to the grave. And now, yes, now, she is experiencing eternal pleasures at His right hand. This is our resurrection hope and reality.
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