Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Special Service and A Saint

Friday, October 12th, was for us one of those days where you throw yourself out of bed early, hit the floor running and don’t stop until late that night. There were even several times scattered throughout the day that we had to push ourselves to greater speeds to keep up with all the work that needed doing. All this busyness began earlier in the year, when Dad and David noticed that September, October and November each held an extended holiday weekend. It was then that the idea to have a special service and invite the ten or twelve churches in our area to it began. The men decided that September 7th, Independence Day weekend for Brazilians, would be the special day, and preparations began!

Living room where the Prudente
church meets
One of the first steps necessary to putting this plan into action was to find a building to rent for the day. The Prudente church rents a house and holds services in the living room. Holding a special service there with several visiting churches is simply unworkable, so David began looking for alternatives. Thankfully Presidente Prudente offers a nice variety of what they call “Salão de Festas”, these are buildings which are built for the sole purpose of being rented out for birthday parties, wedding receptions, etc… A salão de festa usually has one large rectangular room, at least two bathrooms, and a kitchen. Unfortunately, September 7th is such a big holiday that the vast majority of these places were already rented. After quite a bit of in depth searching, David did find a salão which would suit the purpose, and he quickly reserved it for the special service. Dad was traveling quite a bit at the time, so he began inviting churches verbally and Mom, Joy and I began getting together with the three ladies at church to plan a time of fellowship for after the service.

September 7th service
Our plans and preparations came to an abrupt halt in the last half of August, when David called the owner of the salão to confirm our reservation. She simply informed David that she had decided to rent the salão to someone else on September 7th. Now what? A few more phone calls confirmed that there were no more salãos available for Independence Day, and Dad had already invited the churches in Bataguassu, Jaciporã, Ourinhos, and Bauru! The men eventually came to the decision to go ahead and hold the special service on September 7th in our garage with the churches that had already been invited, and Lord willing on October 12th we would have another special service with all the churches on the original list. A little over thirty people from five different churches were present for the September 7th service, and the Lord blessed in many ways.

Immediately following the September 7th service, planning was resumed for the special service on October 12th. The men of the church found a very nice salão to rent, invited Pr. Waldir Ferro from São Paulo to preach and also put in a reservation for one hundred and fifteen chairs. The women finalized the plans for the refreshments following the service.

The Salão
The days leading up to October 12th were extra hot. A few folks worried that the four wall fans at the salão wouldn’t be enough to keep a large group of people cool, but the big day began with a good hard rain which cooled things off. Unfortunately the rain turned the section of dirt road in front of the salão into a soft sticky red mud, which soon caked multiple sets of shoes and car tires as our family and a few of the church folks gathered to clean up the salão and wipe off all the chairs.

Maria Aparecida
While the cleaning and setting up of the salão was going on, I had to make a run to the grocery store. Thankfully it was not quite 9 a.m. and the holiday shoppers still hadn’t turned out to clog all the aisles and make long lines at the checkouts. I was able to purchase what I needed and hopped in the car for the short trip back to the salão. A few blocks from the grocery store I became stuck in a very long line of traffic. The line stretched as far as I could see in both directions and contained cars of all sizes and even a few trucks. Each vehicle had a bunch of blue and white balloons taped to it’s roof, and the majority of the drivers were leaning on their horns as they moved up the road. As I crawled along in the middle of the line, I tried to think what the celebration was all about. An important birthday? The newspaper hadn’t mentioned anything about it. A political rally? No, elections are over for this year. Then I noticed the car in front of me had a bumper sticker in honor of Maria Aparecida, Brazil’s patron saint, and I remembered that this was a holiday dedicated to her.

Cathedral in Aparecida do Norte
Maria Aparecida translated means “Mary that Appeared”. The widely accepted story about Aparecida says that many years ago during a time of severe drought, some poor fishermen pulled up their nets one night and the statue of a lady rolled into the bottom of their boat. One of the fishermen took the lady to his humble home. He and his family soon discovered that if they prayed to the lady, she would answer and would even do miracles. The idol’s fame grew and she went from the fisherman’s home to a small chapel in the city. She supposedly continued to answer prayers and heal a number of diseases. A few years later she was made Brazil’s patron saint, and now the original idol is said to reside in the cathedral built for her in the city of Aparecida do Norte.

A special mass in the cathedral
Twenty some years ago our family traveled a few hours to visit this cathedral. The city of Aparecida do Norte is very poor and dirty, and tourists must be especially careful with their belongings due to the abundant pickpockets. The cathedral is very big with lots of arches and high ceilings, but the memories that are most vivid in my mind are of two large rooms.

The Candle Room

One room is empty except for wide cement shelves running all around it and down the middle. On these shelves Catholics burn candles, and it is said that as long as their candle is burning there are prayers going up for them and their needs.

Ceiling covered with pictures

The second room is called the Miracle Room. This room is full of pictures and objects that have been left as a way of expressing thankfulness for a request granted or a miracle of some sort. Many of the pictures that have collected over the years have been glued to the ceiling of the room.

Wax Replicas

A variety of braces and wax replicas of body parts are also left in the Miracle Room to represent cures that have taken place.  A selection of these braces and replicas have been hung on the walls or strung on wires near the ceiling.

Ramp leading up to the cathedral
Every year, especially around October 12th, people make pilgrimages to Aparecida do Norte and the cathedral. Some simply drive or ride the bus there, but a few have made a promise to walk there in order to obtain special grace or an answer to their prayers. Just a few days before Daniel traveled in for the special service here in Prudente, he was walking to work along a road that he doesn’t usually take and he noticed that there were a good number of other people walking the same route. A few minutes later he noticed that a bus would pull up beside these people at regular intervals and offer them water or a piece of fruit. Daniel ended up falling into step with a man, and he asked him where he was going. The man replied that he was walking to Aparecida’s cathedral.

The salão beginning to fill up
Now let’s get back to the special service that took place in Prudente. The setting up of the salão was all finished around 10:30 a.m., and we all headed home for lunch and a shower before returning to the salão at 2:30 p.m. The service was actually scheduled to begin at 4 p.m., but a couple of the churches had informed us that they would be arriving early. They did arrive early! It was about 1:30 that the first phone call came saying, “We are in town, where is the salão?”, and many more similar calls followed. The salão was situated on a main road, but for some reason everyone’s GPS systems took them across town. Daniel and David stayed busy giving people verbal directions.

Seventy-two people from eleven different churches came in the end, and the Lord blessed in each aspect of the service. Many Brazilians enjoy singing out and some of them love to sing parts so one of the special joys of getting multiple churches together is the singing of hymns. This time was no exception. It was a real joy to sing one hymn after another with the seventy-two different voices, and when the song leader called out number sixty, “Coroai”, I decided to try and capture the first verse on my camera. The quality of the resulting video isn’t very good, but I’ll go ahead and post it here anyway.

The October 12th service officially begins!
Pr. Waldir Ferro stepped up to the pulpit, after the song service, and began to preach a very edifying message about faithfulness. The first part of the message dealt with man’s inbred unfaithfulness and God’s unwavering faithfulness to Himself, His attributes and His Word. This first part took almost an hour to preach, and after a short break with a hymn, Pr. Waldir preached for another hour and a bit about how we can grow in our faithfulness to the Lord.

"Preaching too much = No Brownies"

Pr. Waldir pastored the church in Sud Menucci for a good number of years and now he is pastoring Bethel Baptist Church in São Paulo. Both churches really appreciate his ministry but they do lovingly tease him about his very thorough and long messages. Earlier this year, Pr. Waldir and his family were visiting in Sud Menucci at the same time that Dad and Joy were there. Pr. Waldir loves brownies and he kept hinting that it would sure be nice to have some before he left. Well, several of the young ladies got together and promised to make brownies, but if he wanted some of them he couldn’t preach too long. That evening as usual he preached over an hour. The young ladies eventually gave him as many brownies as he could eat, but first they snapped a picture of him holding a poster which says, “Preaching too much = No Brownies”. :)

Esfihas are triangles of dough that are stuffed
and then baked
The special service here in Prudente was drawing to a close around 7:30 or 8:00 p.m., and we three Gardner ladies with the three ladies from the Prudente church hurried to serve the snack before the visiting churches began their trips back home. For all of you who are wondering, we served simple ham and cheese sandwiches, esfihas filled with chicken and beef, and for dessert there were homemade cakes. Sisters Jocelene and Isabel made orange cakes, our family provide coconut cakes, and Sis. Lucilene made corn cake. 

Daniel and David - Two very tired, but happy boys

Most of the brethren were heading to the highway and home by 9:30 p.m. The folks from Prudente stayed a little later to clean up the salão so that the keys could be returned to the owner yet that night.

Note: During our visit to Aparecida’s cathedral, we did take pictures. However, I can’t find them anywhere, so the pictures in this post related to Maria Aparecida and the cathedral were taken by others. Here are the sources for anyone who is interested:

The cathedral picture –
Inside the cathedral -
The picture of the idol –
The candle room picture –
Picture of the miracle room –
Pictures glued to the ceiling -

The picture of the esfihas is from: