Saturday, May 24, 2014

Oi again from Brazil,

I am sorry for the delay since the last time that I was able to make a post, but we have been really busy and it has been hard to find the time at night to be able to sit down and write out a complete update. 

Since I last posted, we have been able to spend a lot more time on the UFG campus. It has been both extremely taxing and also really rewarding. Between spending time out in the "winter" sun (with temperatures of approximately 86 degrees during the day) and attempting to improve my Portuguese, I have been finding myself wiped out by the time 9 o' clock or so rolls around each night. It is really cool, though, because the campus works in a much different way than we initially would have expected. Most of the time, there are about an average of 40 students within each major for each class or grade level. This is pretty insane considering that for some of the majors, which they refer to as courses, have up to 5000 students that apply for them. This mostly applies to the "top three" most difficult and technical courses, which according to them are medicine, engineering, (and then the third one always seems to be the major of the specific student that we are talking sometimes dentistry, sometimes pharmacy, sometimes physical sciences, etc.). Then, sometimes only about 50% of the people graduate from the hardest courses, so it definitely works quite a bit differently than our university system in the United States. Also, after high school, there process for applying to a university is to take an exam for the course that they wish to study in. If they pass, then the federal government pays for their entire schooling. If they do not, then they can try again or study to take the exam for a different course. It typically takes someone about two years to study for the exam, so it is not uncommon for many of the freshman students to be 19, 20, or 21 years old. For those who changed majors in college, this means that you would have had to study for an entirely different exam to see if you could change even if you were already in the university.Most of the classes for each course hang out with one another, so it has made it very easy for us to get to know large groups of people once we are able to stumble upon one or two students from a specific course and class. For the most part, we have been able to very heavily connect with students from the following courses: agronomy, odontology (dentistry), and biology. We are still trying to meet many people, though, so we are not trying to limit our time to the students that we have already met.

We had our first "group discussion" night this week on Wednesday night. The Brazilian staff members were hopeful that about 40 students would show up given that we were offering free dinner and we had about 25 students show up to a barbeque that we had the first weekend that we were here. Well, either Brazilians aren't that wild about free food or maybe spaghetti specifically or Wednesdays are a busy night because we had 8 students show up. (This meant that our team had the privilege of having leftover spaghetti for the next two nights given that we had made enough for an Italian family reunion.) To be honest, this is still an encouragement to me because the fact that we had interest in an event that we advertised as having conversation pertaining to life's deeper questions is something that I would have expected to scare many students away. Everyone who came, though, was very interested in expressing their opinion on what our purpose is in life and contemplating what specifically drove each one of them. One student that showed up is named Artur. (We all call him Arthur). He speaks English extremely well, and he has been spending a lot of time with us. I was able to speak with him a little bit last night after he took us to his favorite Acai place downtown, and he was very open about his family and personal life. He said that he was not very religious when asked, so please be praying that the Lord would be working in Him according to His will. 

P.S. Acia is a very popular sweet treat here. It is pronounced Ah-sigh-ee, not uh-chi like we say in the United States. It is a dark purple color and is often eaten with granola and many other fruits. It is delicious and it is what Michael Blanchard can be seen eating and smearing on his face in the video below. 

Speaking of the video below, it is something that I threw together for us to send to Belo Horizante to invite any students in the ministry there to join us for an investigative retreat coming up in two weeks. This retreat will most likely be the first time that we will be able to connect a lot of the dots from the conversations we will be having at our group discussion dinners. Pray that the students who are able to com from both Belo and also from here in Goiania will be open and receptive of considering and exploring Jesus Christ and God.

Lastly for this update, here are some pictures of the house that I am staying in for this summer/winter (depending on how you want to look at it). Thank you again to all of my supporters that made paying the rent and spending time with the students on campus daily possible. 

This is a picture of my bedroom. My roommate is Hunter Treglown. If you are thinking that it looks small, then I will tell you that the space of the picture is about exactly what it looks like. 

Here is the other guys' room. Michael was in here doing some blogging when I took the picture. He is staying with Wellinton (a Brazilian Campus Outreach staff member) and Josh Crouse. There room is slightly bigger than mine, but they have three people in there, so I am thinking that Hunter and I actually end up having more space than they do.

This is our front patio area. It is enclosed by a complete gate system that only allows people to come in when we open it. We typically have a hammock or two hanging in here, and at night we park the two cars that we are renting in the spaces to the right and left of this area. 

This is the main hallway area that you walk into through the door you saw in the above picture of the front patio. Ruthie's toys are strewn about. She is the one year old little girl of Jeremy and Jordan Moore, who are leading the trip.

This is the dish washing area. It contains two big fridges, and we often have meetings in here in the morning.

This is the back hangout area. We have about 6 or 7 lines that we hang our clothes on to dry after we have them washed. Kickin' it old school baby. This area is open to the outside. Many a student has thought to try and get on the roof in our short stay here so far, and none have prevailed given that the materials are not as strong as one might hope.There are also many tables here that we eat at.

This is the right side of the same area that was pictured above. For bigger parties and eventually for world cup games, there is a wall area that we hang a bed sheet on and use to project games. The two girls' rooms are in the back of this room, and each of them has its own bathroom. Hopefully this gives you an idea of our living space!

Thank you for all the prayers. I hope that everyone's summer's have gotten off to a great start. Have a fun and safe Memorial Day weekend.

In Christ,

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Bom dia (pronounced like gia) from Goiânia,

The team and I have been "going hard in the paint" since we have gotten here, and it has been both exhausting and rewarding. (I use that phrase because one of the girls that is living with us full time to help us as a translator and also because she is on staff with Campus Outreach in Belo Horizante was on the phone late the other night outside of my room so I told her that she was going hard in the paint on the phone. It was funny trying to explain what this meant to her. Anyways...) It has been exhausting attempting to learn and "master" the Portuguese language. We have been told since even before we left that Brazilians feel honored just by time spent with them, so it is great to know that we have a lot of freedom in learning their language and in messing up. It is a lot of fun, but it also has resulted in some pretty funny/highly inappropriate mistakes. For instance, I though that I had learned a slang word for muscles, yet it apparently was the word for a very unfortunate male body part; it was outright hilarious for the Brazilian staff girls when I told another member of my team, Hunter, that this was very large for him. This is only one of the many instances in my life that have given me insight into the fact that God has a sense of humor, but also that I must pay closer attention to what it is that I am learning.

One thing that really caught me off guard was the fact that our mission here is going to take a great deal of patience. I think that in preparing for a decently long mission trip such as this, I tend to get very excited about sharing the gospel and am anxious to get to talk with people in Brazil about Jesus as quickly as possible. However, we learned in getting here that this is very off-putting to the Brazilian people because organized religion is often times very corrupt here and will even attempt to steal all of their money from them and then just leave them out to dry. This is at least the experience of many of the students in the region that we are currently living. With all of that said, it is our goal to make relationships and genuinely pursue friendships with people and let them know that we care about them as a person and not necessarily just as a "convert". This is important in America as well, but it is definitely tough to think about the fact that we may not be able to talk about Jesus Christ with many or all of the students until the very end of the trip. Please pray for my patience and also for God's plan in Brazil to be first over my own.

Despite the fact that I must remain patient in learning to love the Brazilians themselves and be humble in learning a lot from the Brazilian culture and how I can learn from it, it has been amazing to see how relational the Brazilians are and how open they are to conversation with the team and me. We were only able to go on the university campus for two days last week, yet we had a party yesterday (Saturday, May 17), and there were about 15-20 students that came. This was absolutely awesome and was truly an encouragement to me. I don't know that I would have the adventurous spirit or friendliness to do this if the roles were reversed, so I was humbled by the Brazilian students' willingness to spend time with us. There was one student in particular that I got to spend a lot of time with during the party. His name is Junior (because his Brazilian name is quite difficult to pronounce for us and he has the same name as his father). His mom and dad got divorced at an early age, and then his step dad divorced his mom just recently. He has definitely had to deal with a lot of hardships within his family. Also, he admitted that this was the first "party" that he had attended while he was at university and he has been there for two years. He said that he is introverted and that is why he has never gone to any parties, but he said that he decided to come to this one because he felt like our entire team was very friendly when he met us on campus. Please be praying for him and that his heart will grow to desire at least investigating the person of Jesus (even if that does not happen while I am here).

The Wifi in our house has not been working, so I am writing this blog post at church right now. I may not be able to post until next Sunday. If this is the case, then I will attempt to update you on the team dynamics and also on more about the culture in Goiânia. Here are two pictures: one of the house from the outside and one of the street that we live on.

It is casa (caza) sweet casa for now. Thank you for spending your time reading this and for all of the prayers and support. Once again, God's kingdom doesn't grow without the entire body's involvement, so thank you.

In Christ,

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Oi, bom dia from Brazil! (Hello, good morning!)

After leaving at 10:10 pm two nights ago (Tuesday, May 13), the team and I safely and sleepily arrived in Goiânia yesterday (Wednesday, May 14) at about 3:20 pm local time. Most of the students on the team are more than likely suffering from a self-induced "free movie marathon" sleepiness more so than from a lack of time to sleep. We are an hour ahead of the time in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., so communications seem like they are going to be a lot more reasonable than one might have imagined for being over 4,500 miles away from home.

First of all, I would like to take the time to thank absolutely all of my partners and supporters for this trip. It honestly would not have been possible without every last one of you for me to be here in Goiânia right now, and also it would not be possible for me to have the sense of excitement and peace that I have going into this trip. I can promise you that all of your prayerful and financial contributions are held in high regard by me, and I will be giving thanks to God for them as the "summer" continues on down here and I explore a new culture, make relationships with local neighbors and students, and get to experience things that I otherwise never would have gotten to experience. (I put summer in quotations because it is technically autumn down here and by the time that we leave it will be winter. However, it will most likely never rain while we are here and it will also probably not drop below a high of 80 degrees). So (while it doesn't do the gratitude that I feel for everything complete justice), thank you! Or in Portuguese, Obrigado!

As for an update as to what my experiences have been since I have embarked on my trek to Goiânia, here is a quick summation of all that I can remember. Upon getting on the plane, I found that I was sitting next to a Brazilian from São Paulo named Caio (Kai-Oh). He was on the flight back home from Canada, where he had spent the last five and a half months learning English. I jokingly told him that he missed a lot of land in between Brazil and Canada that could have provided him with plenty of opportunity to learn English, but he said that Canada was beautiful and that he hopes to visit America when his English is better. Anyways, he began to tell me that a large amount of Brazilians that have finished high school and that are pursuing higher education or better jobs will take 3-6 months somewhere to learn English. This is because they are beginning to offer higher salaries and "better" positions than if you did not know any English. This was interesting to me because I had been told before coming that the Brazilian workforce did not cater to the language of outside business, but I suppose that the tourism expected from both the World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics may be having an impact on that mentality. Anyways, it was my first opportunity to discuss why I was coming to Brazil. As a quick note, Goiânia is not the sexiest of places when it comes to "ritzy" accommodations or a flashy lifestyle or for beaches or parties that sometimes are associated with the larger cities of Brazil, so it is an easy way to lead into why the team and I have come here specifically. I told Caio that we were here as a cultural exchange at the Universidade Federal de Goiás (UFG), but that we were also partnering with Igreja Luz (or the Church of Light) and here to talk about the Bible with people. He laughed at this because only ten minutes earlier he had been describing the women and beer of Brazil, so he thought that it was funny now to know my reason for travel. I told him that I am thankful that he talked with me about whatever he had because as Christians it is not about us saying "no" to everything, but rather saying yes in a way that glorifies God. I am thankful for this conversation and this meeting with Caio. 

We had a layover in São Paulo and then flew on to Goiânia. When we arrived in Goiânia, there were many people from the church there to pick us up and take us to our residence for the summer. However, the first two members from my team that walked through the doors, Kelsey and Hunter, did not understand that they were asking them if they were with Campus Outreach, so they continued walking. The people from the church were very confused since they were with our group and we were among a very small group of white people on the flight. It eventually was sorted out and they had a guitar player and sang a song welcoming us. It was quite the entrance, and we got an immediate taste for the relational culture that Brazil is known to possess. The pastor from the church drove Hunter and me from the airport, and there were two funny things about this. One, we were extremely thankful that everyone just called him "Pastor" because his name was extremely long and will be the ultimate litmus test for if we pick up Portuguese or not this summer. Secondly, he taught us that stop signs were only suggestions and that driving crazy in Goiânia was the only way to survive. Good to know given that I am supposed to be one of the drivers for our team this summer...

I will try to update with some pictures soon of the house that will do it better justice than my descriptions would! Until then, thank you for the prayers and enjoy whatever it is that God has for you at this time!

In Christ,