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!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

November in a Nutshell

Well November flew past like it was only about a week long. Where have I been since the Costume party at the end of October?

Well, first I spent a fantastic week at a women's conference in Sao Paulo. The Continent Connections Conference was hosted by a team of facilitators put together by Continent of Great Cities and included an all expenses paid, week-long stay at a beachside resort. Fifty missionary women attended and the conference included classes on prayer, worship, ministry, and lots of small group discussion. It was an uplifting week as well as a very insightful time for me to reflect on my ministry here in Natal. I came back feeling refreshed and part of a community (hence the name Continent Connections) of incredible women throughout South America. I also had the chance to meet up with many people who had known and worked alongside my parents during their time in Brasilia, and even two women who worked with my mom when she was a two-year apprentice just out of college! It was a wonderful week and if I'm still around I look forward to the next conference in 2010!

The hotel where we stayed for the conference

All of the single gals holding up our framed Bible verses. The CCC team gave us gifts at every single session, and this gift was really special. They had printed out and framed our favorite Bible verses!

Rachel McClure, a dear family friend who worked on my parents' team in Brasilia. Thanks for leading singing at the conference, Rachel!

Around the same time of the conference I was dealing with some pretty scary health problems. The story is pretty detailed, but it had to do with a series of headaches that led up to a migraine that caused me to lose the ability to speak coherently. That only lasted for a few hours, but then I had a strong reaction to the migraine medicine. For about three days my pulse was racing and I was really low on energy. I didn't find out that the two were related until I went to see a cardiologist (the best doctor I have ever seen, by the way) and she told me that it was all part of a really weird big picture. I have been feeling much better this last week, finally like I'm back to normal, and I'm happy to have some answers or be heading in the direction of some answers. I will be going to see a neurologist next week to see what the deal is with the headaches and migraines. I have always taken my health for granted and this has all taught me how blessed I really am. God has been faithful and led the way to doctors who know what they are talking about and people who are willing to take care of me. It reminds me, once again, of how God takes care of me even in the details I don't think about. He is so good!

So...that brings us to this past week. Last Friday my sister and Mark arrived to spend a week with me in Natal! They took advantage of Thanksgiving and took some vacation time to come and see what the buzz is all about in this beautiful city! I have had so much fun taking them around to my favorite places, introducing them to my church family and readers, stuffing our faces with delicious Brazilian cuisine, and just hanging out and catching up on life. Kelly has been having a blast filling up on all her favorite treats from when we were kids, and making sure Mark fills up on them, too. (The poor guy was already tired of pao de queijo after their layover in the Sao Paulo airport.) It was wonderful to have family here on Thanksgiving, and we had a really fun celebration on Thursday with the other Americans and some of our Brazilian friends. The time has flown quickly but we are already planning their next visit to hit up all the spots we didn't get to this time around! Mark has also had a lot of fun taking pictures to put in my newsletters, since apparently I'm a bit lazy to take the ones he is interested in. And I have gladly allowed him to do so. :)

English Worship Service on Sunday. Mark taught a great lesson and we had a big turnout!

Natal is famous for beautiful beaches and beautiful sand dunes.

At Parque das Dunas having a picnic. The monkeys apparently had the day off, which made Kelly really happy.

You may remember from this time last year that we had a big Thanksgiving feast for our readers. It went so well we decided to do it again, and it was a huge success! However, that is an entirely separate blog post, so please check back soon to find out more about what Brazilians think about dressing and to see pictures!

I hope all of you have a great week. Happy Carnatal! (You get points if you remember what that is.)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Costume Party

For nothing more than a lack of desire to blog, I encourage you to go here, here, or here to read about what happens when you throw a costume party and tell Brazilians to get creative, and here to see my photo documentation of it all.

In other news, if you ever need to see an ophthalmologist in Brazil and you wear contact lenses, make sure to take out your lenses 24 hours before your appointment. Otherwise, you will go, get embarrassed when the receptionist loudly proclaims to the waiting room that you did not, in fact, follow this protocol, and then have to go back the next day after 24 hours of not wearing your contacts. Not that I'm speaking from experience of anything...

Happy November!

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.)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Just some unrelated stories....

Last week I was in a small fender-bender (or the Brazilian equivalent...) with one of my friends. Fortunately no one was hurt other than the car, and I got to spend a good, quality, four hour period sitting on the sidewalk with my friends as we waited for the highly efficient police force to arrive and write the report. When they did, one of the officers in particular was a really nice guy who tried to lighten the mood by joking around with us as he took our statements about what had happened. When he figured out I was American he got really excited and started speaking English, so, naturally, per LST/missionary protocol, I invited him to come study with me, never actually dreaming that he would ever do it. Imagine my surprise when a few days later he called my cell phone and said "Hi, I'm the police man who was after your friend, I'm calling about the English classes," and I laughed at him because I thought it was Roberto playing a joke on me. :) I'm really excited, though, because of all the taxi drivers, waiters, salespeople, etc I've blindly invited to participate in LST, Felix the Cop might acutally be the first one to ever have followed through. Paul encourages us in Colossians to make the most of every opportunity, does he not? Even your routine fender bender can be an opportunity for evangelism. Who knew?

Tonight we had the third and final night of a three-week-long competition among the young people at church. The competition has involved Bible trivia, sports, skits, jokes, impersonations, silly tasks, music, etc. When Roberto and Osmildo were first planning the competition, I playfully whined that they needed to include a category for English so that Lacy and I could fully participate. Then they actually did. So tonight was my shining moment, I had the chance to go up there in front of everyone, in the final event of the competition, and answer computer-generated questions about English. Questions so easy that the non-English speakers were getting some of them right. English so not hard that the Brazilian guy who competed in the English category for the other team scored 50,000 points by getting like 10 questions in a row right. So there I am, headphones on, heart pounding because I can hear my team cheering for me, and feeling a bit like I'm in the hotseat facing Regis on Millionaire. So then it comes, the 5000-point question. And I totally got it wrong. Yes, that's right. I got the fifth question wrong and won my team a measely 500 points. It was not one of my prouder moments...

Monday, September 15, 2008

More Good News

Remember Francisco? This guy? I told you about him about a month ago. He walked in to the church building off the street one day when he saw the sign for Let's Start Talking. He began to study with my dad, then he began a Bible study in Portuguese with one of the missionaries, then he was baptized. He has had a rough life and although it's getting better, there's still a long road ahead.

However, part of that "getting better" is what I'm here to tell you about today. The day after Francisco's baptism, he went to tell his friend, Geraldo. Geraldo has been a friend to Francisco when no one else would, often times taking him into his home to give him a roof to sleep under and food to eat. He has let Francisco work with him, selling peanuts on the street, to make a decent living. Francisco couldn't contain his joy following his own baptism and wanted to share it with the one person that had always been there for him. Geraldo began studying the Bible with John and was baptized last night! His whole family was there, including his wife and five or six kids (I haven't been able to get an accurate count...they're pretty active and look very similar.) He is excited about his new life and we pray that as he continues to grow he follows Francisco's example and shares the Gospel with those around him!

John baptizing Geraldo

Up out of the water

Francisco serving communion to Geraldo after his baptism. :)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Out of Touch

Something pretty funny happened last night. I try to stay connected with the news via internet. I have been following the presidential election very closely since the middle of 2007 when the first debates began. For the last week or so my roommate Lacy and I have been reading all kinds of stories about John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his VP running mate. I have followed the media's reaction, bloggers' reactions, etc, and felt I had a pretty good sense of what was going on, but didn't have a good feel for what so many people love or hate about her. Last night I finally had a minute to sit down and download Palin's speech at the RNC on YouTube. When I started the video and the announcer introduced her to come out to the podium, I yelped and Lacy ran out of the kitchen. "What??" we both said. For the last two weeks Lacy and I had been calling her Sarah "Paah-lin" rather than "Pay-lin." I started laughing at how out of touch I felt. I had done my best to stay caught up and with it, and all this time didn't even know the most basic detail, how to say her name!

This past weekend about 15 of us from the church participated in a retreat for young people put on by the churches of Christ in Fortaleza, the capital city of our neighboring state to the north. The theme was "Facing Giants" and the classes and talks were centered around the story of David and Goliath. The retreat was EXCELLENT, and I came away from it with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment to the Word. It was wonderful to get away and relax for a couple of days but to spend that time with my closest friends. Highlights included: learning new Portuguese worship songs, a Bible Bowl-type competition complete with pie-in-the-face penalties for the losers, a spider on my bed frame the size of a softball (not exaggerating,) cold showers, 6 am wake-up calls, and a quick trip to Pizza Hut. This was my second opportunity to travel to another city and participate in a retreat for young people planned by young people, and once again I was blown away by the organization and quality of the program. I hope, dream, and pray for the day that our church in Natal will be big enough and have the resources to plan our own retreat and invite our friends from neighboring states. It was a fantastic weekend and I look forward to the next retreat we get invited to! And now, pictures.

Our group from Natal

Marta (missionary), Carol, Andressa, and Lacy, hanging out on Saturday

Kelly, Sarah, Fernanda, and me hanging out during the Bible Bowl competition

Everyone in the van (Sprinter, really. Shout out to MRCC) doing a quick tour of Fortaleza with a special stop at Pizza Hut before heading to the retreat

Thursday, September 4, 2008

One Year

One year ago today you probably woke up a bit groggy, not wanting to get up for school or work. The holiday was just too relaxing, too short. You were excited for the short week ahead, but wished that it could be even shorter.

One year ago today I woke up groggy. I wondered where I was, and then my eyes immediately filled with tears when I realized that I was on an airplane, somewhere over South America, destined for a place that I thought I knew but really didn't know at all. I wished that the plane would make a U-turn and just dump me back in Miami. I cried and cried when I realized that I wouldn't be having any family dinners any time soon where Kelly and I laugh at things our mom said, and that I was going to have to make friends all over again, and that I was going to have to figure out how to speak Portuguese, and that when I got off the plane I couldn't just turn on my cell phone and text "I made it." For the next year...or two...(or 3 months, I thought, in my state of despair) I was going to have to build a new life, all by myself. What had I gotten myself into?When I finally got to Natal after 30 hours of travel (it may be beautiful but it is NOT easy to get to!) I stepped off the plane and looked for the nearest bathroom-- I thought I was going to throw up. I couldn't stop smiling but I couldn't contain my nervousness. Were these people going to like me now that they were stuck with me? Was I going to like them now that I was stuck with them? Would I be able to communicate? Would I be good at my job? Would I have enough readers? I got my bags and stepped out the doors. I saw the missionaries and we took this awkward picture:

The last year has done everything and more to completely dash all of those scared, nervous, anxious expectations. I have learned more, grown more, served more, been served more, shared more, loved more, been loved more, been humbled more, made bizarre mistakes more, lived simply more, laughed more, experienced true JOY more, than in the previous 22 years of my life. The last 12 months, the last 366 days (leap year, remember?) have exceeded my expectations in every possible way. I could never have imagined that day that in just one quick year I would be an entirely different person, a person who cries at the mere thought of ever having to leave this place. God has blessed me beyond all measure with this experience, and it is my prayer that as He continues to bless me here, He continues to use me to bless others in His work. Words don't do the past year justice, but all of you know that I sure will try. :) Thank you for your prayers, encouragement, support, contributions, blog comments, Facebook messages, photo comments, and stories from home. The year has been wonderful, but it hasn't been a breeze. Without you and your prayers I literally would not have made it. I'd like to leave you with a few photos of the past year, highlights from each month. Thanks, again, for your support, and please continue to keep me and the work in Natal in your prayers! More next time on my plans for the Natal. :)

SEPTEMBER 2007Reunited with friends!

Becoming a part of the Signoretti family at Roberto's birthday lunch

OCTOBER 2007My apartment!

The original advanced English group class...RIP.

NOVEMBER 2007Youth retreat in Joao Pessoa, also my first time to speak only Portuguese for three straight days...

Thanksgiving feast for readers

DECEMBER 2007Sarah's baptism!

Christmas at the beach

Fernanda and Caio passed the Vestibular, the Federal University entrance exam, and celebrated by shaving half an eyebrow (girls) and his head (boys)

Family vacation with the Signorettis

Apparently I didn't take a single picture in February. I guess I was recovering from the previous 5 months...

MARCH 2008
ENOCA conference in Sao Paulo

Meeting up with childhood friends from Brasilia

APRIL 2008
My first Brasilian wedding! (One of my readers', NOT my own!)

Advanced group class meeting for breakfast at my apartment

MAY 2008
Dune buggy ride with the Jewells and Toni

Duck Duck Goose at the LST Birthday Party

Celebrating my birthday LST style!

JUNE 2008
My parents and Jacob's LST team with the missionaries!

LST Baseball party, teaching the Brasilians the wave!

JULY 2008
Great turnout at one of the English worship services

Family dinner the night before my American family went home. :(

Francisco's baptism!!!!!!!!!!

Westover LST team in front of the church building with the missionaries