Tag Archives: Natal

Different and Delightful

Life is different in Natal, Brazil. We must adjust to several actions we are not accustomed to in the United States. Here are some examples.

Security is a very high priority everywhere. The church building is behind a security wall that has barbed wire or sharp ends of metal lining the top of the wall with a padlocked gate. Two padlocks are on the barred exterior door to the building, and another door must be unlocked to get into the building. In addition, a security system must be activated when anyone leaves and turned off when they return. This is typical of all middle class homes and businesses.

Now I am much more aware of locking things and being more cautious when walking on city streets. When I return to the States, I know I will be more sensitive about locking my doors and being more consistent with security systems. I am committed to being more aware of people around me on the city streets. I’m delighted about that continual reminder here.

No left turns are allowed at intersections of the city streets in Natal, and many intersections do not have stop signs. Drivers just assume the other person will stop (or not).

I have not driven a car in 15 days; we depend on others to transport us or we find a cab. When I am home, I typically drive everywhere we go. This change gives me an opportunity to see the sights along the way and to give attention to the architecture and unusual arrangements of home and businesses. This is enjoyable and rarely available to me in the States.

Church services are in Portuguese, both songs and speaking. It is delightful to hear the voices of Brazilians sing these songs and to guess at the meanings and pronunciations of the words on the screen at the front of the auditorium. I listen more to how words sound when sung in Portuguese and am much more aware of the melody of the songs.

I feel out of place at times in malls and on the streets because I do not know the language and look different from most around me. I find that a smile and a nod of the head always seems to guarantee a smile and a nod in return from the people I pass. I will be better about having the pleasant look when I return to Kentucky.

Although many things are different here, I am delighted to learn about the language, the culture, and the people. Brazilians are hospitable, helpful, and encouraging. We are making many new friends and our temporary church family is a pleasure to worship and work with.

When a Tree is Not Just a Tree

A few weeks ago in a sermon at Central I told about a small tree that we saw growing in a large pothole in Natal, Brazil. I made the point that the infrastructure in Brazil is very different from that of the United States. Basically, I was saying that potholes go so long without repair that trees start to sprout.

I found out how wrong I was! When I was talking to prospective readers at our information meeting Tuesday night, one of the readers asked me what I thought of Natal. I retold the tree story.

One of the people said, “Oh, that is not why the little tree was there. When a pothole gets that huge, someone will put a tree [or, as we observed, an umbrella] in the hole so people won’t hit the pothole. The hole is so deep and dangerous that you can ruin your car if you hit it directly.” He said further, “That is not uncommon at all in our country.”

This conversation reminded me of how we view things differently in cultures not our own. Other customs that are different in Natal include the rudeness of eating any food with your fingers. In a restaurant yesterday I chose a chicken leg to eat, as did Lanita. Then she realized and reminded me that it is very rude to eat any food with my fingers. You use a fork or, in the case of sandwich or hamburger, a napkin to put the food into your mouth.

The Apostle Paul dealt with different customs in writing to the church at Rome in Romans 14:1-15. He was concerned that we should respect each other in our different customs about eating and special days.

We should respect other nationalities’ customs and traditions as long as they don’t contradict God’s Word. We can even apply this, I think, to other regions of the country where we live. Be willing to eat foods of a region that might not specifically appeal to you. I learned this lesson in adjusting to Lanita’s Southern cooking and especially in eating in the homes of her relatives when we first started dating. I’m still working on eating cooked turnip greens, however.

So I am trying hard here in Natal to avoid insulting any of my readers or hosts in my actions and deeds.  As Paul said, “…I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (I Corinthians 9:22.)

Remember, a tree is not always just a tree. It may be another country’s orange barrels.

Think Ahead

Our Let’s Start Talking (LST) mission project this summer is unusual in that we know the people we will be working with. We worked with the same brothers and sisters two summers ago. In our previous LST projects, we were working with a congregation for the first time. Because I know many of the key people involved in making this mission work a success, I have been praying for them by name for some time.

Knowing I will have some of the same readers I had in 2012, I have a list of names I remember and lift up in prayer. I look ahead to the month of July when we will do most of our work; I pray about the social events that help everyone get acquainted with the local church members. I pray about the worship services which we hope some of our readers will visit.

I think of the preparation missionary Cris Carpenter has done and is doing to help make our work as smooth and trouble-free as possible.

This was certainly an approach Paul used in some of his letters. After he had worked with a congregation and was anticipating visiting again, he would begin or end the letter by remembering them fondly and affirming his prayers for them. For example, he wrote to the church at Philippi: “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians1:3-4.) He lets them know he is looking forward to seeing them again soon, but in the meantime he hopes to send his special follow worker, Timothy, to them (Philippians 2:19-24). He tells them he is sending Epaphroditus back to them because he longs to see his friends after his serious illness (Philippians 2:25-27).

I think about the community of Christians we are leaving in Cheviot and all the things happening in ministry there in July and August. There will be Vacation Bible School, church camps, weekly volleyball, Life Groups, the Bread of Life Cafe, and the men’s retreat, among other ministries. Often our prayers are for what is happening today or this week, but we can also think to the weeks and months ahead.

Get a head start in prayer time by considering the ministries you will be involved with the rest of the summer. The LST projects motivate me to plan ahead to ways I can serve the Lord that my day-to-day activities often push aside.

Why should these ministries be of such great concern to us? Why should our thoughts be on people we want to obey the gospel of Jesus Christ? As Paul writes in the same Philippian letter, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20.)