Friday, July 8, 2011

The Power of Prayer

I am in awe of the miraculous ways The Lord provides for us and I wanted to share a testimony with you in hopes of encouraging your hearts and inspiring your belief in the power of prayer.

Marko and I really could not afford to go to Brazil. A year ago we had planned on traveling to Brazil as a family but made the hard decision not to go based on the economy and the cost of plane tickets. Originally I was asked to direct an ESL Program for the Brazilian Students that would be attending the i2Training. Due to the massive amount of homework that goes along with the training course, my English course had to be canceled. This was confirmation that the kids and I really didn't need to be there. We decided to postpone our family trip to Brazil, sending Marko alone to support Josh in the Ministry. We were disappointed, but felt peaceful about our decision. This year we felt something beyond ourselves propelling us towards Brazil, and yet money was tighter than ever.

We sold the last of our 401k in order to purchase plane tickets which had gone up significantly since our last trip out of the country. We knew things were going to be tight, but we also knew that we were supposed to go on this trip. We had a peace and an excitement about traveling back to Brazil. We knew there was a purpose in our being there which was confirmed over these past two weeks.

Upon returning home from Brazil on Wednesday, we were aware that our checking accounts were running low. When I went on my daily prayer walk yesterday morning, I prayed specifically that The Lord would multiply our money (a prayer I frequently make). I also prayed that I would be able to buy a few groceries in order to get us by until pay day. My tendency is to worry about finances despite the fact that the bible promises The Lord will take care of us more than the birds of the air, and despite the fact that we have seen financial miracles consistently over the past 18 years! I think I am finally really "getting it" and really "believing it to be true." I truly believe that the Lord WILL provide as He promises. I am just a really slow learner!

Matthew 6: 25 says: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?"

After my walk, I hopped into my car and headed for Safeway. As I was walking down the isles, very carefully selecting items that I needed the most, Marko walked in with a big smile on his face. He met his boss in the Safeway parking lot to commute to work and had seen me pull in. He said "Hi Beautiful-I have a surprise for you!" He then handed me an envelope filled with cash! Marko's boss and friend, Tony, had sold our Honda Pilot. The most incredible part of this story is that our car sold for almost the exact amount of money that we spent traveling to Brazil AND it sold at about the exact time we were landing at Seatac Airport!

The Honda could have sold while we were in Brazil and Tony would have emailed us telling us that he deposited money into our account. We would have been comforted knowing that the money was there (we might also have been tempted to spend money frivolously with that knowledge). I think it is no accident that the car sold the moment we arrived in the U.S. It allowed us the opportunity to really rely on the Lord while we were in Brazil and trust that He would take care of our every need while we were there, as well as, upon our return.

I share this story with you because for those of you who are Christians, I want you to recognize that if you are "Called" by God to go somewhere or do something and if you are obedient to that call, regardless of how impossible it may seem, you need to step out in faith and believe that He will provide for you. He ALWAYS comes through-even if it is in the final hour which it often is!

For those of you are not Christians, I share this with you in hopes of encouraging you to believe, not only in the power of prayer, but in God and in His son, Jesus whom died on the cross for our sins. My hope is that you would believe that there is so much more to our lives than simply living day to day for ourselves. We each have a purpose under heaven and there is nothing than can keep us from that purpose if our mind and heart are set on heavenly things and not earthly things.

Be encouraged and believe in the power of prayer!!!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

An Interesting Dichotomy

As we left CTMDT we received hugs from many of our Brazilian friends who walked us out to the car where Junior was loading our luggage. After a smooth but exhausting day of traveling, we arrived home from Brazil yesterday afternoon. It is always nice to walk out of Seatac Airport and breathe in the freshness of the Northwest. There are many things that we love about Brazil, but the staleness of the air is not one of them! Between the exhaust fumes and the mugginess, there is a lot to be desired in the with regards to clean air.

We came home to a beautiful summer day in Seattle. I was in bed by 8:00 our time enjoying the comfort of my own bed! Sleeping in bunk beds with aged mattresses makes for a rough go at attaining sleep. I woke up at my normal time of 5:30, rested and thankful for my cozy home. I went for my daily prayer walk in the early morning drizzle, reflective and a little emotional with mixed feelings in my heart.

We put our dream home up for sale a few weeks ago. We have only had one person look at it which is no surprise in this economy. No one looked at it when we were in Brazil, but today a Realtor had set up an appointment to show the house for the second time. This is what I was reflecting upon with mixed emotions. We love our home and so it is with some sadness that we have made the decision to sell.

We love it and yet it has become a burden both financially and emotionally. It is so big that we feel like all we do is work. I guess we have come to a place in our lives where we just want to be free. I have spoken of simplicity in the past few months. We desire to simplify our lives. How many Americans live a simple life? I honestly can't think of but a couple of people. Marko and I want to be free financially and emotionally to go where we are called to go and to do what we are called to do. At this point, we feel a calling to Brazil. We have no desire to live there full time, however, we do believe that we are to be there part time and for a season. It does not make sense to maintain our large American home based upon this upcoming season of our lives.

We are also experiencing a dichotomy of sorts between our two worlds. To spend time in Brazil is to spend time with people who are very simple in their way of life. They typically have very small homes and older, commuter cars. Their focus is not on materialism, but is on relationships. They seem to have no need to "Keep Up with the Joneses," but instead seem truly content with the simplicity of their lives. I truly respect the Brazilians for having their priorities straight in this regard.

Coming home to our American way of living has become somewhat of a disappointment to us. Are we thankful to live in a country where the American Dream is attainable and desirable? The answer of course is "Yes". The American Dream, as we discussed in our Women's Growth Group at Church, is not a bad thing. Why shouldn't we dream of a better life for ourselves and our children? This in itself is not inherently bad. The err I believe is in the need to "trump" your neighbor: Is in the need to have more money, in order to buy more things, in order to impress others. Most Americans in their pursuit of "things" have landed themselves in a pile of debt for which they have to work their tails off to get out of! Is this a dream that should be admired? Is it a dream that other countries should imitate? I think not. Instead, I think that we should imitate other countries, like Brazil. In Brazil, most people still work hard to save their money and pay cash for their homes. Sadly, I think this is changing as more loans are made available, but there are still many who believe in buying only what they can afford. Please don't think that it is my opinion that all loans are bad. I realized that small loans can help people in poverty start businesses and have homes of their own. This is a good thing. I just disagree with taking out huge loans that can never be paid back and that place unnecessary burdens on families.

I realize that it is not possible for most Americans to pay cash for their homes based upon our current cost of living, but maybe our standard of living is the problem. If we lower our standard of living, perhaps we could actually experience a little more simplicity in our lives. Of course I recognize that many Americans probably don't want to lower their standard of living and that is their choice. I say none of this with a judgmental heart, just a heart that has experienced a lot of change over the past couple of years. A heart that wants everyone to be free of the stress that financial burden brings.

Humbly, and gratefully, the only debt that our family has is our home. Unfortunately, in this economy, the home loan that we have has become a burden. Marko and I want to be free from this burden so that we can pursue God's Calling on our lives, bless others, and be free of the stress that accompanies a mortgage. For these reasons, we have decided to sell our dream home, and because of this decision, I am now experiencing a mixture of emotions.

The people that looked at our house today seemed very interested and the person who looked at it a couple of weeks ago called back with some questions. I have a feeling our house will sell a lot faster than we have planned on. On the one hand, I am feeling a little sad and the thought of packing and moving is a bit overwhelming: not to mention we have no idea where we will go!! On the other hand, I will be very thankful if our house sells in this market, and I will look forward to what the Lord has in store for us!! I know this: He loves us and He wants only good for us.

Jeremiah 29:11 says: "I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

A Joyful Reunion

Before our 4th of July Celebration, our friend, Claudia, treated us to dinner at her pizza restaurant, Danihlo's Pizza. They make the best pizza in the world and it was our third time eating Jantar (dinner) at Danihlo's in a week!

After our 4th of July Celebration, our old neighbors, Meniho and Gislaine stopped by for a visit. They brought along Pastor Joanzihnio and our other friends, Gislane and Magano. These are friends that we spent a lot of time with in 2009 but whom no longer live in the community. In fact, Gislaine, who is a dentist, is living in the Amazons with an Indian Tribe. She lives a very simple life and is loving it. To get to her house you have to take a 22 hour boat ride up the Amazon River from Northern Brazil. There are smaller, faster boats, but this is the more popular way to make the trip. Our family has been invited to spend some time with this tribe and we hope to do so in the future. Gislaine lives in simple hut with a stone floor and shops once a month for food. She has tried Alligator and turtle which she says taste pretty good. She was not too thrilled with the idea of eating monkey which is another popular food in the Amazon.

Twenty Six Year Old Gislaine loves Gabriella and treated her like a sister. Gislaine is a rare person whose energy equals my crazy daughter's. She and her brother, Maniho, lived next door to us in 2009 and Gislaine would steal Gabriella from me almost every day so that they could wear each other out with their endless energy. Both Gabriella and Gislaine also shared the nickname "G" which further united them as sisters. Gislaine was such a blessing to me. Unfortunately, at almost 43 years old, I do not have a third of the energy that my daughter has. She constantly wears me out with her hyperactive, strong willed personality, and I need frequent breaks from her. Big "G" gave me those breaks while we were living in Brazil and I was so grateful!!

Our visit was short but meaningful. It was so great to reunite with these friends. It was the perfect way to spend our last night in Brazil.

Celebrating The 4th of July with Non-Americans

It was mid morning on the 4th of July before I realized that it was an American Holiday. Stating the obvious, it is not a holiday that Brazilians celebrate so it was nearly forgotten by our family. I am thankful that Josh had the foresight to give it the honor that it was due. He announced during class that morning that it was a National Holiday for America and that all of the Brazilians were welcome to join us for a nighttime celebration.

About fifty Brazilians showed up around 9:00 P.M. to hear the history of the 4th of July. Josh explained about our countries freedom and how we came to celebrate this important holiday. Marko, Jussara, and Abdu, (a former shiite Muslim) then told the crowd what the 4th of July meant to them. A couple of Brazilians then spoke and shared how thankful they were for America and for our presence in their lives. The Brazilians then surrounded us and prayed for us as individuals and as a country. All in all it was a very moving evening for both Americans and Brazilians alike.

Josh, of course, even played The Star Spangled Banner and posted a picture of the American Flag on his laptop as a display! The evening ended with a small fireworks show that had the Brazilians cheering and gazing in awe. There were Brazilians leaning out the upper story windows as well-hanging onto every word that was shared. I was nearly moved to tears as I stood back and watched this joining of cultures to celebrate the freedom of one.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Mixed Emotions

It is hard to believe our time in Brazil is coming to an end. We fly out tomorrow night. Truthfully I am not ready to go home. This morning we went to class and I found myself tearful during worship. It just wasn't enough time, and yet I feel that we have accomplished what we set out to do, so I can only be thankful. We will be back-of that I am certain.

I need to share a story with you. On Sunday nights there is a church service for the community that meets at CTMDT. This is the church that Tamaris and her family attend. Typically it is Maria, Tamaris, and Taislania, that go to church. If I remember correctly, the father, Antonio, and the son, Mattheis, usually stay home. Last night I was surprised to see the whole family show up for church. They were decked out in their new clothes and were all smiles! Taislania and Mattheis, who are very shy were happy and VERY talkative for the first time! The joy on their faces was indescribable! The children must have came up to hug me no less than ten times during the course of the evening. My heart was touched and I realized suddenly just how much they were impacted by our giving. And by "Our giving" I don't mean our family, I mean you, our friends and family back home. I wish that you could be here to see their faces and to receive their hugs.

It truly is amazing how a couple of nice outfits can affect a person's whole countenance. Though many material items do not bring true happiness, having our basic needs met can certainly make a person feel more confident and less ashamed. What I saw last night was a family that was transformed by the giving of others. We gave so little and yet it affected this family in ways that I cannot begin to comprehend.

I went to bed last night with my mind racing. I was struck intensely with the realization that as Americans, we can do so much to help this community and to help the world, and we can do it with so little. I know with all of my heart that our family has a future with this small community halfway across the world. Whether it's teaching English, having lunch in the Morro's, or building much needed houses, we will continue to be vessels for the Lord in this place. Tomorrow we will say another tearful goodbye to our friends in Brazil, but it won't be our last goodbye.

At Stanwood Foursquare Church, we have been talking about how we are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this hurting world. It is an honor to be the hands and the feet of Jesus in this community.

I wish I had pictures of Tamaris's family in their new clothes but since I don't, I will leave you with some random pictures.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Almoco do Morro

We were blessed with an amazing lunch with our friends today. I was blown away at how hard they worked to provide a special meal for us. This was their way of thanking us for all that we (you all) have done for them. We were so honored to dine in their home. We ate lunch at the table that we gave them a year and a half ago when we left Brazil for the United States. They set the table with their best linens and insisted that we sit at the table while they sat on the well worn couch.

The food was beautiful and so delicious. They made enough food for five families and kept insisting that we eat more. As a result we are skipping dinner tonight! We left there with our tummies full and our hearts content.

We did not have a translator this time but we managed to converse rather well. I love practicing my Portuguese and cannot wait until the day that I am fluent! I fear this will be a long time off but I am determined to learn this language!

The kids kicked the futebol and Noah and Matteius played with Noah's homemade bow. Marko and I talked with Maria and Antonio the best that we could. It was a very pleasant afternoon and I am so thankful for the opportunity to spend time enjoying the company of Tamaris and her family. I am also grateful that our children got to experience a very different life than our own. It is humbling to realize how much we have in the United States and how little we really, truly need. The contrast is so vast that it overwhelms me.

As you look at these photos, please reflect on how much you have and give thanks to God for His provision in your lives. Please also pray for Tamaris and her family as they are also praying for you.

Brazilian Pho Pas

It is normal to commit social "Pho Pas" when spending time in different cultures. Today I am going to share a couple of ours with you!

Brazils biggest "futebol" rival is Argentina. Two years ago our friends, Josh and Maisel, thought it would be hilarious to buy Marko an Argentina Futebol shirt. Now the funny thing is that Maisel is Brazilian. I am not sure Maisel realized that Marko would actually "WEAR" the shirt in public. This is not big deal in the U.S. of course but is a major deal in Brazil!

After Marko wore his Argentinian Shirt to class the other day and then into town for lunch, some of the Brazilian students went out and bought him a Brazilian Futebol shirt! Apparently they were afraid he was going to get beat up walking around town!!!

I had to take pictures in each jersey of course! I have also included some random pictures of our Brazilian friends. The darling little girl with Marko is our friend, Eliane's daughter, Sara. We just love this little girl and Gabriella keeps begging me to bring her home with us. I seriously would if I could-she's so cute you just want to squeeze her!!

We are heading out in about an hour to have lunch at Tamaris's house with her family. I learned something new and very important last night. When referring to the slums in Santa Luzia, they are called "Morro's". This is important because favelas have a negative connotation and are associated with drugs. The Morro's of Santa Luzia house many evangelical Christians and are mostly "clean" in regards to drugs. I am so thankful to my friend, Claudia, for educating me in the difference between slums. I had never heard this before, and would hate to insult our friends by committing a "Pho Pas" which I am sure I have already done!!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Two Way Blessing

Last night was the highlight of our time in Brazil for me, and is the main purpose for our being here. As I shared in an earlier blog, our church (more specifically the Women's Bible Study) raised some money and donated some items to our friends who live in the slums of Brazil. Tamiris, the fifteen year old daughter whom we are close to, came to CTMDT to walk us to her house. This was a big deal as she would not take me to see her home in 2009 because she was embarrassed. I could tell that she was nervous last night, but I just tried to make her as comfortable as possible.

We brought along one of my English Students, Issabella, to help translate. Tamaris and her family live in a cement house that is about 300 sq. feet. There are five family members and they all sleep in one room. Originally, I did not think they had a bathroom in their house. I was happy to see that they did have a small bathroom though it only had a curtain separating it from the rest of the house. They obtain their water from a wealthy neighbor on the hill. Apparently this is how most of the neighborhood gets their water. Fortunately, the city will be coming into the favelas in the near future to bring water and to build a paved road. This is great news on some fronts, but presents a challenge on others. The first challenge is that the proposed road will be built in the middle of our friend's only bedroom. Secondly, having water brought to the neighborhood will cost the individual families money that they don't have.

First we gave them some USA shirts that we brought from home. They immediately put them on and posed for some photos. They proudly wore the United States symbol and will most likely wear them often. We have found that every Brazilian we have given a U.S. shirt, hat, or bag to has worn it proudly. At least there are still countries around the world that love Americans!

We presented three bags of clothes and shoes to the family. They were overwhelmed. The mom, Maria, told us that they have gone many years without clothes. She also told me that she only had one pair of pants prior to last night when we were able to give her several pairs of pants that were donated from the U.S.

They were silent as they sorted through the many pairs of brand new shoes that our good friends, the Thayers donated. We asked them to share the shoes with their friends as there were too many for one family.

After visiting for a while, we asked them what their greatest needs were as we still have some cash that was designated for their family. They said that they felt ashamed to share their needs as we had already given them so much. We sat in silence for a few minutes and then I told them that our church was very honored to bless them. They finally shared that they needed to build a new bedroom (or two) since their one bedroom was going to be demolished. Their dream was to have two bedrooms so their teenage daughters could have some privacy.

I nearly cried when Maria was speaking and sharing her heart. She told us that this was her biggest dream. Can you imagine having your biggest dream be for your daughters to have their own room?! I was overwhelmed with gratefulness that the Lord allowed us the privilege of knowing this humble family, and that through the generosity of our church back home, we were able to bless them. Today they are going to find out how much it will cost to add a bedroom to to their humble home and we are hopeful that we will be able to purchase the materials necessary to build the room prior to our departure back to the U.S. on Tuesday. Our time here has been short but very productive and our hearts are full of love and gratefulness for our Brazilian community.

Thank you so much for being a vessel of the Lord and for caring about those halfway across the world. This was definitely a two way blessing. Through your generosity we were able to bless this family with material needs, but I think that this humble family blessed us even more!