January 21, 2015

Church Growth

Church growth is not just numbers. In fact, I would be so bold as to say it is not mostly numbers. Rather, it is the growth seen in the lives of those whom God has entrusted to the local church.

With this in mind, last Sunday we saw a step in church growth as Jadson gave his first devotional.

We have been watching this young man grow by leaps and bounds since his conversion two years ago. He recently took another big step by assuming the responsibility of deacon...

...effectively doubling the number of deacons in our congregation!

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Christmas Program, 2014

Another "catch-up" post before I send out a prayer letter. The following are pictures of our Christmas program, which, as always, has a missionary theme.

The children prepare for their special number.

The instrumentalists practice Christmas carols.

Jadson (our newest deacon) sets up the lighting.

Michael warms up the bass.

Pastor André welcomes the visitors.

Michael and Francivaldo shredding some Christmas tunes.

Crizelite shares her burden for the people of Bolivia.

Pastor Andrew and the deacons present Crizelite with an offering that the church has been collecting all year.

The Christmas banquet awaits!

Food and fellowship, two of the most important Baptist distinctives.

The pictures were taken using Instagram. Check out our account here.

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Espírito Santo

As I am preparing a prayer letter, I notice that I failed to blog about some significant events of the last few weeks.

Here is the first one: a trip I took to the city of Vitória, in the state of Espírito Santo. The trip was organized (and paid for) by school I help out here in São Luís.

While I am partial to São Luís, other parts of Brazil are extremely beautiful as well. What follows are a few pictures I took while I was there.

As you may have guessed from the style of the pictures, I am now the proud owner of an Instagram account.

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January 19, 2015

Further Adventures of Missionary Max: It's not me, it's you.

Chapter 6 of the second Missionary Max book. You can read the previous chapter here, and buy the first book here.

James M. Rockwell sat at his desk in the office of the Cabrito installation of the Sherman Pharmaceutical Group, Incorporated. In front of him were stacks of paperwork: inventory lists, local permits, employment records--all things that made his managerial heart sing. It was Monday morning, and it promised to be another very profitable week.

The word “profitable” could aptly describe these last six months on Cabrito—if one discounted the little hiccup involving his CEO’s wayward son, Max. Since then, things had been going swimmingly. And, truth be told, even that event, though quite stressful at the time, had netted him the services of Ilana, who had proven to be quite an efficient administrative assistant. She had originally been hired to be the liaison between SPGI and the native tribes, but after the events of six months earlier, the Yamani had proven illusive at best. There was also the added concern of Ilana’s father Ray for his daughter’s physcial safety. But the vivacious young woman--raised in the jungle and educated at Columbia University--had proven to be such an asset that he had made her his director of labor relations. Her winning personality and powers of persuasion had contributed to a very smooth launch of SPGI’s Cabrito operations.

James was a little mystified as to the reasons for her sudden request for time off, but saw no reason not to agree. He suspected it had something to do with Max, and smiled as he imagined the two of them relaxing on one of Cabrito’s beautiful beaches.

As he absentmindedly smoothed down an imaginary wisp of hair over his shiny head and prepared to make a serious dent in his in-box, there was a knock on the door. Without waiting for an answer, the door swung open and three soldiers walked in. James could tell by their uniforms that the one in the middle was in charge, and his two companions were the “muscle”. All three of them were heavily armed. The stomped stiffly to the middle of the office and stood facing him.

“Please, come in,” offered James, letting just a hint of sarcasm tinge his voice. Though taken by surprise, he had no intention of being intimidated by his new guests.

“Senhor James Rockwell, we are here, by order of the presidente, to escort you from the premises of the Companhia Farmaceutica do Povo.”

“The People’s Pharmaceutical Company? I’m sorry, I think you must have the wrong address. This is Sherman Pharmaceutical Group, Incorporated.” He indicated the company logo on the wall.

“Was,” replied the soldier curtly. “As of today, it is being repossessed by the people of Cabrito.” He pulled a piece of paper from his breast pocket, unfolded it, and began to read:

Whereas SPGI has been guilty of gross exploitation of the Cabritan people...(James reflected on how the salary he paid was half-again as much as the national average)...and whereas SPGI has hired people known to be enemies of the people...(that could only mean Ilana, James realized)...it has been decreed that the assets of SPGI on the island of Cabrito be returned to the people from whom they were taken, and that all foreign SPGI personnel (which, James knew, consisted of exactly one person--himself) remove themselves from Cabritan territory at the earliest opportunity. Signed, the honorable Osvaldo Ferraz, president of Cabrito, protector of the surrounding islands, etc. etc. etc.

Though boiling inside, James put on his broadest smile. He leaned back in his chair and spread his arms expansively. “Meus caros amigos, this is all some big misunderstanding. I’ll call the casa branca right now and clear this all up.” He reached for the phone, but before he could pick up, one of the soldiers swept it from the desk. It clattered to the floor and broke open. James looked down at the phone, then up at the three soldiers.

“Well...” he said slowly, “It would appear you just broke the people’s phone.”

There was not even the hint of a smile from the soldiers. The leader spoke.

“Senhor Rockwell, we are not here to argue with you. You will leave the premises of your own volition, or we were remove you by force. Also, we have a warrant for the arrest of one Ilana Sand.”

“Oh what bad luck!” exclaimed James with all the feigned sincerity he could muster. “She took a personal day today. If I hear from her, I’ll tell her you stopped by.”

Again, no reaction. James realized that there would be no talking these men out of their mission.

“And so, gentlemen, I bid you good day,” he said finally, standing up and grabbing his briefcase. He was not about to let it or its contents be commandeered by “the people”. With nothing else to do, he bowed slightly to the soldiers and left the office, whistling as he went.

Outside the building, workers were busy putting up a huge banner which read “Cabritan businesses, owned by the Cabritan people!” There were reporters on hand, but thankfully they were too busy taking pictures of the sign to pay attention to him. Several soldiers were stationed nearby, and there was a podium being set up.

So old Ferraz is going to hold a press conference about how he expelled the evil gringo. Too bad I didn’t tape the speech he gave at our welcoming banquet. Then, as an afterthought… I wonder what his cut of this whole operation is.

Shaking his head, James got into his car and drove quietly away. When he found a secluded spot near a public park he pulled over, opened his briefcase, and reached for his satellite-phone. This problem would be resolved simply. He would talk to Regina, Regina would talk to George Santana, and everything would be back to normal--probably by tomorrow.

James dialed the number, waited for the secretary in New York to pick up, then identified himself and asked for the CEO. The ensuing conversation lasted less than five minutes, and when James Rockwell closed the phone his face was pale, his hands were shaking, and all semblance of nonchalance had disappeared.

* * *

It was around 9 am when the two canoes reached Emerald Island. The waves had been high, but nothing the skilled Yamani warriors couldn’t handle. Finding a place to put to shore, however, proved to be a difficulty. The rock cliffs emerged abruptly from the ocean and continued straight up for several hundred feet. Max knew he would have no trouble scaling the walls, and he would most likely be joined by the three Yamani warriors and Ilana. He also knew that Mary Sue wouldn’t make it more than three feet. Then there was the question of what to do with the canoes.

After a few minutes of searching they found a sandy alcove surrounded by high cliffs. Dragging the canoes onto the little beach, they took stock of the situation. Lighting a fire was out of the question as there was no dry wood to be found anywhere. Their position was secure at that point--it was already high tide, so there was no danger of their little refuge disappearing beneath the waves--but there was still no way for them to get up to the jungle.
Max, Ilana and the warriors held a short conference and it was decided that Max would take one of the canoes and explore the coast, looking for a way up the rocks. The others would wait for his return. Max was reluctant to leave, but, under the circumstances, he saw no other option. Convincing himself that the three warriors would be able to provide sufficient protection for the two women, he set out.

Predictably, Mary Sue was not happy with the arrangement, but by this time Max was immune to her protests.

As he pushed the canoe out into the waves once more, the drizzle stopped and the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. Max paddled along the cliffs for some time. After about an hour of searching he had found a few other alcoves like the ones where his companions were docked, but nothing more interesting than that.

Somewhat discouraged, Max considered turning back. His arms were tired from paddling, and as he came upon another alcove he decided to stop and rest. Pulling the canoe up to the shore, he got out and stretched out on the sand, eyes closed, letting the sun warm him through.

A few minutes later he opened his eyes, and then sat up in astonishment at what he saw. The alcove was not much different from the one where his companions were waiting--high rock cliffs surrounding a sandy beachhead--but Max now saw something that set this particular alcove apart: someone a long time ago had carved a stairway into the face of the cliff. It began at the sand to Max’s right, and curved up over his head, winding back and forth, following the contours of the rock. Max squinted his eyes to see where it ended.

Is that what I think it is?

He stood up and walked over where the staircase met the sand. After examining it for safety, he began to climb, moving gingerly from step to slippery step. It had obviously been carved into the granite wall decades, maybe centuries ago, and there were places where it was quite worn away. Was this a Yamani construction? Part of some long-forgotten European settlement? A pirate cave?

Max continued to climb. At one point his foot slipped on the slick stone and for a moment he thought he would plummet to the sand below. Regaining his balance, he continued on.

Max estimated that he was roughly three hundred feet above the ground when he reached the end of the staircase. And just as he had suspected, he found himself at the entrance to a cave.

Producing a flashlight from the knapsack, Max clicked it on and stepped into the dark entrance. His eyes were met by a scene of decades-old chaos. Max counted six skeletons stretched out on the ground, still covered by tattered grey rags--clearly the remains of military uniforms. Multiple arrows protruded from now-vacant chest cavities. To his right, another skeleton slumped over a wooden table. It’s bony right hand still gripped a rusted 9mm Lugar. Besides the arrows protruding from its empty shirt, there was an ugly dent in its skull.

It wasn’t hard for Max to figure out what had happened here. The soldiers had taken refuge in the cave, and felt themselves secure from attack from the outside. Judging from the position of the bodies and accompanying arrows, however, it was clear that the attack had come from the dark recesses of the cave behind them.

Poor guys probably never knew what hit them, Max mused. He turned his attention to the remains slumped over the table. Because of his position, this one had probably seen what was happening, and had time to get out his weapon. Perhaps he had gotten off a shot or two, and maybe even scored a hit. That would explain why, after filling him with arrows, the attackers had thought it necessary to bash his head in.

Max shined his light once again over the bodies. On the right sleeve of each one was a band containing the unmistakable broken cross of the Third Reich.

“Nazis. What were you doing here?”

Turning his attention from the skeletal remains, he began to examine the other contents of the cave. A few empty crates were strewed about, obviously broken into and emptied by the attackers. Inching farther back into the darkness, he almost tripped over a very large, oblong box made of wood. Letting his light shine over its contours, Max found it to be similar in shape to a coffin. But if it were indeed a coffin, it had been made to carry an enormous cadaver--roughly half-again the size of any normal man, Max surmised. The wooden cover was leaning to one side of the box, and whatever had once occupied the space occupied it no longer.

Max’s mind was filled with questions about the odd container, and what it had once held. However, there was work to be done, so he pushed them out of his mind and returned to the opening of the cave.

* * *

The SPGI building in New York was one of those beautiful old skyscrapers, built back when architects envisioned such buildings as works of art and not the random collection of geometric shapes that characterizes modern high-rises. Of course it had not always been called the SPGI building, but for the past twenty years it had served as the center of operations for the Sherman family’s ever-expanding enterprises.

From the outside, the top floor of the building actually resembled a cathedral, with high, pointed windows through which sunlight streamed in to the center. Inside, the entire floor served as an enormous conference room. A gigantic, oblong mahogany table sat in the middle. It was here that Regina Sherman, under normal circumstances, held court for the board of SPGI.

These were not normal circumstances.

While on this particular Monday the SPGI board was gathered together as always, and while Regina Sherman occupied her usual place at the head of the table, she was not hearing reports of the expansion of SPGI interests around the globe. Instead, she was watching her life’s work--and that of her late husband--crumble around her.

At the midway point of the vast conference table sat a wizened old man. His pockmarked face framed a cruel mouth which seemed to be turned up in a perpetual sneer. His eyes were black, bottomless pits.

Indeed, if eyes reflect the soul, looking into George Santana’s eyes would give the impression that, in his case, there was no soul to be reflected.

Regina Sherman had just returned to the room after her phone conversation with James Rockwell, and now she glared at the old man. Her stare was as icy as ever, but the disturbing talk she had just had with James had left her reeling inside.

“So you see, Ms. Sherman,” Santana continued with a voice that sounded like a weed-whacker in a gravel pit, “Santana Holdings, Ltd has been in quiet negotiations with SPGI stockholders and board members for quite some time.”

Regina’s stare turned to the other men and women around the table--many of whom had been personally groomed and prepared for their positions by her and her husband. One by one they looked away as her gaze bore down on them.

Traitors! She wondered just how much of his personal fortune Santana had spent to buy off each one.

“While we are grateful for your years of dedication to the company, a change is leadership is now in its best interests.” The grating voice with its slight Portuguese accent came to a stop. There was a deathly pause that grew exponentially more uncomfortable as it continued.

“Out!” Regina’s voice echoed throughout the hall, and everybody jumped. Even the gloating George Santana flinched. “All of you, out!” And despite the fact that she had just been effectively fired, everyone at the table scurried to vacate the conference room. Soon George Santana and Regina Sherman were alone.

Regina approached George, shaking with rage. “Perhaps you forget the little financial irregularities my husband discovered in his dealings with Santana Holdings. If you persist in this madness, I will go to the papers first thing tomorrow morning.” The threat had worked before, but today it seemed empty, even as she made it.

George Santana’s face took on an expression of something nearing pity. “I’m afraid it’s too late for that, my dear. When you read the paper tomorrow the headline will be about dreadful abuses carried out by SPGI employees against the helpless natives of a tiny island called Cabrito. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. In fact, unless I miss my guess, the urgent phone call you took just now was from one Mr. Rockwell, informing you of the government takeover of your facilities there, in response to said abuses. Am I right?”

Regina’s stony silence was all the answer he got--and it was all he needed.

“I’ve been working on this little project for some time now. That unfortunate incident between our respective offspring convinced me that the time had come to remove you--and whatever knowledge you may have of our financial dealings--from the picture. If you want my advice, find a nice little retirement community in Boca where you can enjoy your golden years, and pray that your stupid son lives long enough to give you grandchildren. Now...” he rose to his full height--which still put him a good foot and a half shorter than the woman in front of him, “...you have fifteen minutes to get out of my building before I call security and have you thrown out.”

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January 17, 2015

Fine Arts in Maranhão

Time was, when the city of São Luís was known as the "Athens of Brazil" due to its contributions to arts and letters. Whatever may have happened between then and now, I am heartened to see an uptick in what I would consider to be the fine arts--especially music. In this post I want to give you a window into a couple events I was able to attend recently.

The first was the São José do Ribamar Jazz and Blues Festival. I went with one of the young people from our mother church, a musician, and we both were impressed with the quality of musicianship.

First up was a group called "Trítono", who played, among other things, this innovative arrangement of the Brazilian classic "Tico Tico no Fubá".

Of course I was interested in hearing some good saxophone music, and I was not disappointed. In fact, I thought I knew a thing or two about the sax, but Brazilian saxophonist Danilson Martins got up and proved me wrong.

Then last night I had the chance to go see the São Luís Wind Orchestra perform. It was outstanding. The next four videos comprise one composition written especially for last night's event, and featuring trumpet and trombone solos.

First Movement

Second Movement

Third Movement

Fourth Movement

This last movement was written to capture the feel of the traditional folk music of Maranhão.

One of the blessings of living in a capital city is being able to take in artistic events like this. It is gratifying to see the arts growing in my adopted city.

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