E-pistle July 30

Why We Don’t Give Up
These are the final few hours of my week in Brazil and after a great lunchtime churasco (the Brazilian way a grilling meat that is unmatched anywhere else), people are resting and enjoying the mid-winter day.  Puffy clouds in the sky, temperature in the 70’s and noisy parrots flying from palm tree to palm tree.  I could get used to this.
I spent yesterday and today in Nova Lima, just over the hill and about 15 miles from Favela da Ventosa. It might as well be a different planet. The beauty and peace of this place is such a sharp contrast to the noise and traffic and oppressive poverty of the favela.  This place is an amazing place, a gift from God to my Brazilian friend Pastor Robson and his family. That is a story for another day. As are his dreams of a Brazilian-American partnership with churches in Haiti!
The story of this week is God’s faithfulness. You may remember that the occasion of my visit here was the graduation of a young friend of ours. Emerson’s story is amazing.  Once a child of the streets, literally, he is, as of Wednesday night, a college graduate. Simply and with no conditions, Emerson understands his accomplishment to be a sign of God’s faithfulness. The journey was difficult, the battle hard, the discouragement at times almost overwhelming, but the perseverance and the success all of God.  We don't give up because God is faithful.
As it turned out – but not by chance in God’s economy – the week was also Vacation Bible School (EBF, Escola Biblia de Ferias) week at Igreja Presbiteriana no Jardim America (IPJA). For seven straight summers EBF had been a part of my life, Becky’s life, and the lives of many in our former church. For now the partnership between our former church and Igreja Presbiteriana lies dormant, but the work begun in that partnership continues.
EBF at IPJA has the fingerprints of a missional partnership all over it, and many of those fingerprints are Becky’s.  The schedule, the movement of kids from class to class and especially the craft time were and are of Becky’s design.  She was a good teacher because even though no Americans have been involved for three summers now, the program thrives. By Wednesday afternoon, the final day of the program over 350 children, ages 3 to 11, from the favela and the community jammed the every small corner of the IPJA church building.
350 children are a lot of kids no matter what space you put them in. There are seats for 100 in the sanctuary of IPJA and all the children and their 50-some leaders filled the place for opening and closing worship of the high energy variety.  This year’s theme was Noah’s Ark (Arca de Noé) and the memory verse was from 1 Samuel 15:22, “to obey is better than sacrifice,” that is, obedience to God’s word is better than empty religious ritual.  Noah obeyed when God told him to build the ark.
But what most encouraged me was not the numbers of kids, impressive, or the message, important, but the faithful work of our Brazilian friends, especially those 13-18 year olds who spent this week of winter vacation at the church giving a gift they had once received to a new generation of children.  Many of those ajudantes, helpers, had been in our first or second grade classes, among the fourth or fifth graders eight or nine or ten years ago, as EBF began to take shape. For them the stories and crafts and songs of those long ago EBF weeks made a difference as did the faithful witness of the people of Igreja Presbiteriana. What a wonderful joy to work this week alongside Rodrigo and Monica, Elian and Leonardo, Gustavo and Kelly, and so many others.
I first came to Brazil ten years ago knowing not a word of Portuguese or the difference between pão de queijo and feijoada. After a week of no English, it’s been good to have these last two days with English-speaking friends. How many times this week did tears fill my eyes at the sight and sound of the things God has done in those ten years. And as I would send my reflections and stories on to Becky, how often her tears would join mine.  Not at all tears of sadness, but tears of joy and thanksgiving for all that God has done. We don't give up because God is faithful. Thanks be to God.
How has God been at work in your life in the past ten years? What good and marvelous things has he done in, through and for you?