E-pistle March 13

One Life at a Time

I'm down to twelve more hours in Brazil; the last of seven amazing days.  Becky (who arrived home yesterday) and I have stories and remembrances on which to reflect for months to come. Our reflections will help us discover the ways God works in our lives and in the life of the world he loves so much.

You may remember that the reason for our trip was to celebrate the graduation of our friend Nilcéia.  We did that and much more.  Last Saturday evening we were dinner guests at Nilcéia's mother's hourse.  The house itself is new to Maria and a great improvement over the place in the favela she used to call home, but still it is simple, even primitive, by any standard to which we might be accustomed.  Maria is in her sixties and still works as a seamstress.   Twenty years ago, just five years after the end of the brutal military dictatorship she had known all her adult life, she and her husband moved to the city from the interior.  Like so many of their generation, they thought they would find jobs and security and a bright future in the city.  Instead, they exchanged rural poverty for urban poverty.  Nine years ago, Maria's husband was killed when he was working on the roof of a house in the favela and he touched an exposed power line. 

Not all of Maria's six children have made as wise life decisions as Nilcéia. The stresses of life show on Maria's face. 

But as we sat at Maria's kitchen table and enjoyed rich fellowship and good food, we could see a deep and joyful pride reflected on her face, as well.  Maria finished two years of school before she left formal education for good in order to work on the small family farm.  Reading is still an arduous chore.  On the farm she helped her mother in the kitchen, gathered wood for the fire and drew water from a well for cooking and the family laundry.  The move to the city disrupted all the familiar patterns of life and that may be one of the reasons that there has been so much chaos in the lives of most of her children. 

But last weekend was not a time of stress or trying to tame the chaos of life.  It was a time of celebration.  Nilcéia, her middle daughter, was graduating from college.  Nilcéia says that when she began her college career five years ago, her mother, none of her family, really understood why.  It seemed such an odd thing to being doing. Completely unexpected of a young woman from the favela. It still seems like an odd thing, but now, also, a very good thing.

It is work of God. This much is certain; it is a work of God.  Nilcéia knows it.  Maria knows it.  Becky and I are witnesses to it.  It is a reminder that the gospel changes the world one life at a time. 

I will spend the rest of today with my friend Pastor Robson with whom we have worked all these years. One of our topics of conversation will be missional partnerships.  Robson and I have made many, many mistakes, have seen amazing successes, tragic failures, and learned much.  I hope to bring some of what we conclude back to our mission committee as LPC continues to seek God's vision for how we can best take this world-changing, one-life-at-a-time gospel into the world of Bucks County, Philadelphia, our own country and the places like Guatemala, Zimbabwe and Brazil; to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth. 

All those we have talked to, from the young surgeon and his wife in a beautiful high rise apartment to the simple people of the favela, know about what they call "o crises," the meltdown of the world economy.  Its effects have already been felt here in Brazil. But for people who grew up during the dictatorship and who have lived through hyper-inflation and oppressive injustice — and who know the gospel of Christ — there is a kind of perspective I find helpful.  When they say "Deus é fiel," (God is faithful) they say it with a deep confidence.  The people at this far end of the earth help me understand the power of the gospel.