Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Trip to Jaciporã

The church's building
March 18 was the third Sunday of the month and the day that Dad routinely visits the church in Jaciporã. Mom, Joy and I take turns accompanying Dad on his trips, and this Sunday it was my turn. Dad and I left Prudente at 5pm and quickly got on Raposo Tavares, a well maintained four lane highway. The next fifty minutes of traveling were a breeze broken only momentarily by the need to stop and pay $2.70 in toll. As we neared the city of Presidente Venceslau, Dad exited right onto a smaller two lane highway. There are sections of this highway where the asphalt has  been patched numerous times and other portions where the asphalt is definitely needing some repair work done. Considering everything, though, it is still a good highway. The scenery along both of these highways was mainly pastures and grazing cattle. This is fitting since this corner of São Paulo state raises a lot of beef cattle. It is likely that many of these cows will eventually end up in Presidente Prudente, where there are two slaughter houses and two leather processing plants.

Bro. Djalma and Dad  enjoy talking
Dad and I arrived in Jaciporã forty minutes before the evening service was to begin. Bro. Djalma, the leader of the church, met us on the main road and took us to his home. Sis. Eva, his wife, had some bread in the oven which made the house fragrant but also very hot. It didn’t take Dad and Bro. Djalma very long to decide that it would be much cooler to sit outside under a tree and talk.

Michelle and Alexandre

I ended up sitting on the small varanda outside of the kitchen door and playing Uno with Bro. Djalma’s son, Alexandre, and daughter, Michelle. Michelle is in her last two years of highschool, and she is studying hard in hopes of being accepted into medical school after she graduates. Alexandre is a little bit younger than Michelle. He is very tall and shy and at the moment he doesn’t see much need to study, 
but he is still plodding along in his schooling with his parents’ constant encouragement.

The snack being served in the kitchen

Michelle won several of the games of Uno, and I was just starting to explain to them the zero-seven variation when Sis. Eva called us to come in and have a snack. She served us fresh bread with butter and two types of juice – guava and graviola. We had only ten minutes to eat and then had to hurry over to the church building, which is a little less than two blocks away.

Looking at books
The service was scheduled to begin at 7:30, but starting time came and no one but Dad and I, Bro. Djalma, Alexandre and his cousin Luan had arrived. This didn't bother Bro. Djalma, though, in his custamarily calm way he was sure that his wife and daughter would be down as soon as they had finished getting ready. Bro. Jonas, he suggested, was probably showering after working on construction all day, and Bro. Roberto and his family were most likely being delayed by their milk cows. Bro. Djalma and the boys straightened the rows of chairs and then enjoyed looking at the books that Dad had brought. Michelle, her mom, and a visiting lady named Salete arrived about 7:40 and Dad suggested that Bro. Djalma go ahead and open the service with Scripture reading and some hymns. He agreed and led in the Scripture reading. Bro. Jonas arrived in time for the hymns, and that was a good thing because he leads the music while playing his guitar. Bro. Roberto, his wife, and two grown children eventually arrived in time for the preaching.
Singing hymns

The Lord gave Dad grace to preach a clear message about sin - the origin of sin, the nature of sin, the end of sin, and the Saviour. They must be harvesting some of the sugarcane fields around Jaciporã, because four times during the service a heavy sugarcane truck would go by on the road in front of the church building. As is his habit, Dad paused in his preaching until the rumbling of the truck had subsided and then resumed where he had left off.

We spent just a few minutes talking with the brethren after the service, before packing the car for the trip home. Our hour and a half drive home was uneventful and we arrived home at 10:30pm.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Book Ministry

Dad with Pr. Nildo and other brethren from São Paulo
Good books in general are scarce and expensive in Brazil. Books which are spiritually edifying and sound doctrinally are even harder to find. With this need in mind, eight years ago Dad began the Book Fund. His plan was simply to buy a box of books or Bibles whenever the general work account could afford it, and then, as the books/Bibles were sold, deposit the money back into the general account. This plan worked reasonably well for the next five years. Dad bought books and Bibles as he could afford to, and then as pastors and church workers came through our home or as Dad visited churches, he would sell the books at cost or in many cases simply give them away free.
Book Room

Slowly the Book Fund grew and we set aside a room near Dad’s office and named it the Book Room. Dad and the boys lined the walls of the room with metal shelves and we girls arranged books, Bibles, CDs of preaching, and hymnals on them.  A good number of Brazilian brethren browsed those shelves choosing out books that they believed would be edifying for themselves or their churches. 

Bro. Roberto from Jaciporã and Dad
Shortly before August 2009, we began to wonder if the Book Fund could stand on its own. Would it work if we deposited all the proceeds from the sale of literature into an account and then reinvest that amount into more books and Bibles? The Lord directed and gave grace over the next few months to open a savings account here in Brazil for the Book Fund’s use and also to make the adjustments necessary in our way of doing things to give the new plan a trial run. Now three years later, the Book Fund is self-supporting and continues to grow.  The amount of books and Bibles that we are able to purchase has increased significantly, and the number of people who come to us looking Bibles and literature has also multiplied. 
A year ago we calculated that in one six month period, the Book Fund sold an average of $1,523.00 worth of materials every month, with an average monthly investment of $382.00 in books from other publishers and $214.00 in Bibles, along with footing the bill to mail the books and Bibles to those who purchase them.

Dad with two pastors in front of the bookcase
We have been making a special effort this last year to increase the number of different titles that the Book Room has in stock. Joy carefully searches websites and book catalogues to find books that look promising or are authored by trustworthy men and women. She orders a copy of the books, and Dad and the rest of the family help her read them. The books that prove to be unsound doctrinally are scratched, but those books that are faithful to the Bible and edifying make their way to the Book Room, except that the Book Room was recently substituted by a wooden bookcase along one wall of Dad’s office. Having the books and Bibles displayed right in his office has proven to be more practical for Dad to show them to visitors.

Book table at Ourinhos
Dad is frequently invited to preach at other like minded churches, and we have begun the habit of packing up all the books and Bibles and taking them to the different churches in order to set up a book table. Last year, Dad made ten trips to visit churches and each time we set up a book table or, when there was no available table, spread the books out on a tablecloth. The pastors and brethren really appreciate this, since the majority of local “Christian” bookstores carry mainly Pentecostal literature, NIV Bibles, 7-day programs to improve oneself, and other shallow doctrinal items.

Book display in Sud Menucci
Last September, we took a giant step and set up a simple storefront online in an attempt to make our books more visible and available to the Portuguese-speaking world. Although this endeavor took a great deal more effort than was previously imagined, the storefront has been a real blessing to many. The sale of our literature has increased quite a bit, and these funds have been put right back into the purchase of more books and Bibles. We were even contacted by a man in India who desired to purchase just about every title that we offered so that both he and his Catholic mother could profit from the teaching. Figuring up the international shipping and reconciling the different currencies took some time, but in the end, we were able to send him what he had requested. 
Bro. Djalma checking out the books

We continue to send out a monthly e-mail newsletter to our online subscribers, offering e-books and sermons that can be downloaded for free. These sermons are recorded in mp3 format as they are preached here at the church in Prudente. We recently began including in these newsletters a short biography on the great authors of the past, and links to their articles and books. After every newsletter goes out, we always receive thank-you notes from our readers:

"You have blessed me with edifying studies which are a light in the midst of darkness. Thank you." (Silva S.)
"May the Lord give me wisdom and discernment in reading these books and may they help me grow and learn to depend more on Him...your work is a wonderful blessing." (Lucio C.)
"It is always very worthwhile to receive your studies. The dedication of your life to the Word has certainly edified others and may the Lord bless you with much more!" (Pr. Neran)
Pr. Israel with his wife and two sons
In 2011 the Book Fund received several generous love offerings. After converting the money into local currency, we were able to meet the following needs:

Pr. Diminigos lives in Australia, but travels also to minister to the Portuguese-speaking people in Eastern Timor. A few years back, we had helped him out with several copies of The Trail of Blood; and now we were able to send him another box of books for his own personal use and that of his family.

Pr. Josias pastors a Baptist church in the northern state of Pernambuco. We have had contact with him for quite some time, and he wrote in last year that his church was seeking to put together a small library – could we help him with books? Thanks to these special offerings, we were able to collect several books for both the library and Pr. Josias’ own use.

Pr. Natalino with his wife and two of his children
Pr. Israel in the nearby city of Ourinhos, pastors a Baptist church as well, but is limited in his ability to purchase good books. With some extra money in hand, we offered Pr. Israel his choice of any five books, and he gladly accepted.

Pr. Natalino, living and pastoring just a few minutes’ drive from Ourinhos, is in a very similar financial position, so we presented the same offer to him. He gladly accepted, but requested that we please choose the books for him. John Dagg’s Manual of Theology and A. W. Pink’s The Sovereignty of God are generally the first books that pastors acquire, but Pr. Natalino had neither one of these, so we quickly made sure that both of these books were included in his gift box.

Rehabilitation Center
After books were sent to these four pastors, there was still some money left from these love offerings, so we looked into replacing some of the titles in the lending library. Dad ministers in a Drug Rehabilitation Center, and the men there have a desire to read, but hardly any literature. So we set up a small lending library in 2010 in an attempt to meet this need. About every two months, one group of patients leave and another group comes in, and the out-going group often does not return the books they had been reading. Therefore, although we had about seventy titles listed in our library, only a little more than half of the books were still in the library. With money from the love offerings, we were able to replace a good many of the missing books, and the most recent group now has a larger selection of reading materials.

Pr. Anizio and family

Dad also maintains contact with several of the inmates in two of the state prisons, as these have sought him out and requested sound literature. Thanks to these love offerings, we had the wherewithal to send these men quite a stack of literature. What remained of the love offering has since been used to: send a 16-volume commentary set to a sound, Baptist seminary up north; supply the new preaching point in Mirante with Bibles and hymnals; purchase more books for distribution; give several thousand tracts to Pr. Anízio to use in the various preaching points that he maintains along the northeastern coast of Brazil; and donate literature to three more men who were in need of doctrinal books.

Joy with some boxes that are headed to the post office.
It takes approximately ten hours of work a week to keep all the different aspects of the Book Fund in good order, and Joy has been gladly doing this work for the last several years. For at least an hour every morning, Joy answers emails related to the Book Fund. She answers questions people have about the books that we print and also the books we know from other publishers. As people put in orders for books and Bibles through the online store, Joy processes the orders and packs things into envelopes or boxes according to the need. Every now and then Joy has an especially fun time figuring up the postage for a package. The postage rates to the twenty-seven different Brazilian states vary greatly and we are currently learning that there is one northern state that must be the “black hole” of Brazil’s postal system. The postage to this state is higher, and more often than in any other part of Brazil the envelopes and boxes sent to this state are lost or returned to us as “undeliverable” and we have to mail them again. For the past four years, Joy has been weighing each box of books before we send it off to the mail, and when she totaled the numbers this past December, she was quite surprised to discover that we have now sent out over 2,800 pounds of literature. 

Thank you very much for your praying for this ministry. As with any other means of serving the Lord, serving the Lord through the distribution of good literature isn’t easy. We come to the place again and again of realizing that it is only by God’s grace that the Book Fund is what it is and it will only be by His grace that it continues.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Why "Mermaid Tales"?

As missionary kids, my siblings and I have often been called mermaids. Thanks to our parents we are Americans in citizenship, education, and customs even though most of us were born in Brazil. However, when we return to the USA, we do stand out as odd. Again and again situations arise where we are forced to realize that we aren't completely American. Yet, we aren't completely at home in Brazil either,  even though most of our lives have been spent here. I do like the country, but I'm not Brazilian. I am constantly reminded of that fact by those moments were I want to say something in Portuguese, but I don't know the right word for it. Brazilians also don't mistake us for Brazilians. Almost every day we have a Brazilian say "You aren't from around here are you?" "No", we answer, "we're Americans", but we really ought to say "we are mermaids - half American, half Brazilian, and doing our best to swim in whatever country we happen to be in at the moment." The older I grow the more I appreciate being a mermaid. We learn a few lessons, have some adventures, and commit some comical blunders that the average person will never know. I hope on this blog to share a few of our "Mermaid Tales".