December 25, 2011

Musical Interlude: Jingle Bells, Brazilian Style(s)

Our musical interlude comes a little early this week, as I wanted to include this final Christmas number before Christmas.

In the US I was often asked "what is Brazilian music like?" There is no short answer to that question, as Brazilian music is highly varied, with each region of this vast country developing its own distinctive styles and rhythms over the 500+ years of its history. The video below (which was first brought to my attention by several friends on Facebook) gives a little glimpse of this fact, by mixing several styles from different regions and cities into one arrangement of "Bate o Sino"--which is "Jingle Bells" in Portuguese.

I must say, I LOVED this video. I am a fan of many of the Brazilian musical expressions, and this video did a great job of mixing them up and fusing them together. And, lest there be any doubt, there are several styles that were not included. To get them all, the video would have to be much longer.

Update: If you read the credits at the end, you will notice that several of these musicians hail from Juazeiro do Norte and Crato, where we called home during our first term.


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Merry Christmas To You from the Comings Family in Brazil!

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Thumbnail image for max.jpgA great last-minute gift for the e-book fan in your life! The Astonishing Adventures of Missionary Max, Part 1

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Meet Me in São Luís: Feliz Natal

This post is part of an ongoing series which seeks to introduce the readership of this blog to the many fascinating aspects of one of Brazil's best-kept secrets--the city of São Luís.

The city of São Luís has gone all out in their Christmas decorations. While I have been unable to photograph many of the more attractive areas, I did get the main attraction--a huge Christmas tree downtown.


The big tree, dwarfing the palm trees around it.


Right next to the tree, in front of the Maria Aragão church, is this larger-than-life nativity scene.


Mikey and Nay Nay tried their hand at shepherding two-dimensional sheep.


This could be a scene from the North Pole...were it not for the palm trees in the background.

São Luís is a beautiful city, and it looks really nice decked out for Christmas. The lights downtown (which I couldn't get due to my camera's lack of ability to take night pictures) are spectacular. We have thoroughly enjoyed being here during this Christmas season.


Thumbnail image for max.jpgA great last-minute Christmas gift for the e-book fan in your life! The Astonishing Adventures of Missionary Max, Part 1

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December 22, 2011

In Deep Weeds, or Another Camp Workday

On Tuesday a group of men from the Kergima congregation made the two-hour trek from São Luís to Morros for another work day at our camp. What follows are some pictures of our progress.

Note: at the end of this post is a somewhat urgent prayer request, so be sure to scroll all the way down.


Arrival at camp, ready and eager to get to work.


The missionary, hacking away at the brush.


Alex, one of our teens, throwing his back into it.

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Water break. No plastic water bottles were left at the local.


Lunch on the grill.


Pastor Francisco does double-duty as cook.


The finished product.


Francivaldo and Alex testing the waters.


Burning off the underbrush. This was on purpose.


So was this.

In all, we were very pleased with the amount of brush we were able to clear out. There is still much area to be cleared, however, and we are already planning a mega-workday in January, possibly involving the renting of two vans to transport all the workers.

Urgent Prayer Request

Pastor Francisco and I took a break from the deforestation process on Tuesday to visit the man who wants to sell us the adjacent lot. He had given us a price, and that money has been raised--thanks to the generosity of folks back in the US. Our intent in talking to him was to set up a date for the sale. However, we were dismayed when he started to balk at the original price he had given us (and repeated over and over), and began to offer us "alternate options" which all involved us giving him more money. We got the distinct impression that he was not dealing straight with us.

A couple of observations:

1. This is not uncommon here, especially when there is an American (me) in the process. Despite the economic crisis, many Brazilians have the impression that all Americans are "loaded". It gets old, but it is a fact of life.

2. We are not at all interested in playing this kind of game. He gave us a price, and we are going to hold him to that price, or we are not going to buy.

Our prayer request, then, is that this man (who claims to be a believer, and is actually a pastor in another denomination) will ultimately stick to his word and sell us all the property he said was available for the original price he quoted us. Also, pray for wisdom on our part as we navigate these perilous waters.

For those who contributed, rest assured that we have not accessed any of the funds as of yet. We will only do so when we have a bill of sale in hand.


Thumbnail image for max.jpgFor a missionary adventure that does not involve real estate, readThe Astonishing Adventures of Missionary Max, Part 1

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December 19, 2011

Musical Interlude: Hoje é um Novo Dia

If you turn on the Brazilian TV channel Globo this month, chances are good you will see this little musical clip. In fact, so ubiquitous is it that I can't get it's lilting, sing-song melody out of my head.

In this feel-good, Christmas-y scene, the big-time stars of the various Globo programs are seen as common laborers around the home of a Brazilian family. The taxi driver is Luciano Huck (host of a variety show), the ice-cream vendor (I think) is Serginho Groisman (host of a late-night show), the guy hanging up the lights is Renato Aragão--better known as Didi (one of Brazil's foremost comedians), the cook is Ana Maria Braga (host of a morning show, along with a very annoying parrot puppet), the nurse holding the baby (!) is none other than Xuxa (the biggest Globo star of all time), the portly butler carrying the drinks is Faustão (host of a Sunday variety program), and the maid decorating the tree is Angêlica (host of an afternoon quiz show, and in a surprisingly long-lived marriage with the taxi driver).

Then the scene changes, and we see Roberto Carlos (possibly Brazil's most famous singer) crooning the song in front of the whole stable of Globo actors and actresses--most of whom have rolls in one of the many novelas.

So now you know.


Thumbnail image for max.jpgDon't forget to get your adventure fix with The Astonishing Adventures of Missionary Max, Part 1

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December 15, 2011

Book Review on SI: Worship and the Reality of God

The good folks at Sharper Iron have again published one of my book reviews. This will be my last book review with them for a while, as Missionary Max is taking up most of my writing time, but it has been a pleasure reading the books they have offered and taking in the feedback at the site. Hopefully, once the Missionary Max project is complete, I will be able to take up the SI reviews once again.


Thumbnail image for max.jpgDon't forget to get your adventure fix with The Astonishing Adventures of Missionary Max, Part 1

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December 12, 2011

Of Drug Dealers, Molls, and Local Churches

After close to six years on the mission field, I have come to the conclusion that I must have missed several important classes while in Bible College. For example, this Sunday afternoon I realized I must have missed Comforting a Mother Whose Son Was Just Killed By A Drug Dealer 101.

The following is a surprisingly (and depressingly) common scenario here: Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy finds out girl used to date drug dealer. Boy ignores pleas from family and friends to dump girl. Boy gets call from girl to meet at a certain place. Boy shows up to find drug dealer waiting for him. Police find body of boy sprawled on the ground, full of holes. You would not believe the number of times I have read that story in the newspaper or seen it on television.

On Sunday afternoon I found my self talking to the mother of "boy". She lives just a few yards from our congregation, and is the neighbor to one of our families. She recently started attending one of the "health and wealth" churches--and your son getting shot is not one of the things that is supposed to happen after you start attending there.

On the previous Saturday her son (in his early thirties) dropped by to help paint the interior of her house. By the next Saturday he was dead.

I missed the class on what you say in a situation like that. I have heard all kinds of cliches and slogans, but all of them seemed to fall flat as Pastor Francisco and I sat in her living room and watched her dissolve into tears while telling us the story. So we sat there and listened. Pastor Francisco read some passages from the Psalms, and then asked me to pray.

What do you pray for? I took a deep breath--made my own silent prayer for wisdom--and began.

After acknowledging God's sovereignty, the first request out of my lips was justice. It was very obvious that this was what this grieving mother wanted, and I have read the Psalms enough to know that it's okay to ask a just God to work justice.

Then I asked for God's special comfort on this dear woman, and for His Name to be glorified in the midst of the tragedy.

After prayer, we asked if her family had any needs. She is not a member of our church, but she claims to be a child of Christ, and she is our neighbor. There were three ladies from our church with us, and all of them pledged their support to this family. I was very proud of our little congregation at this moment. This is the church being the church.

I have no idea if this lady, or any of her friends and family who were present, will ever darken the door of our church. But that isn't the point. The point is that the disciples of Christ who congregate at the Kerigma congregation acted like lights in a very dark community.

And those to whom I minister ministered to me.

Every ministry presents challenges, and there is no way to be prepared for all of them. As I walked away from the house, I had a whole new appreciation for the truth that God's "power is made perfect in weakness", and that he has chosen "the foolish things to confound the wise." Thankfully, my own feelings of inadequacy are not the final determining factor in the working of His will.


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Musical Interlude: Off Kilter Plays "What Child is This"

From now to the end of the month the Musical Interludes here will have a Christmas theme. First up, via Dan Phillips comes this video of the Celtic group "Off Kilter" (get it?) playing Greensleeves/What Child is This.

I saw these guys play once while at Epcot, and they are really good. Perhaps it is the Scottish blood in me, but I love seeing the variety of things that can be done with bagpipes.


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Want a virtual stocking-stuffer? Try The Astonishing Adventures of Missionary Max, Part 1

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December 9, 2011

São Luís in the News: World's Largest Cargo Ship Could Sink

Some of you may have heard the report of one of the largest cargo ships in the world in danger of sinking off the coast of Brazil. In reality, this is an unfolding story, and it is happening just a few short kilometers from where we live, in the Baía de São Marcos (St. Mark's Bay). If you haven't seen this in the news, you can read about it here.

The following video (in Portuguese) shows images of the large boat, loaded with iron ore, floating in the bay.

There are some shots of some sites around town that are familiar to us, and, if you freeze the video at 1:32, you can see the skyline of São Luís in the background.

Below is a satelite map of São Luís. It shows St. Mark's Bay, on the bottom left, and towards the top right, the neighborhood where we live.

saomarcos.jpg

This is really a tense situation. According to reports, at one point the back of the ship was one meter away from hitting the bottom of the ocean...and if that happens, the ship could break in two, releasing it's cargo into the water.


Thumbnail image for max.jpgDon't forget to get your adventure fix with The Astonishing Adventures of Missionary Max, Part 1

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December 8, 2011

Max Moment: The Assault

The Max Moment is a weekly series designed to give the reader more insight into the Missionary Max adventures.


The following is a an excerpt from The Astonishing Adventures of Missionary Max, Part 1 (currently available as an e-book for Kindle and Nook):

Closer… closer… Cascavel, “rattlesnake,” fingered the switchblade in his hand as he watched the americano climb the hill. He was a man who enjoyed his work. The money was okay, but the part he loved was that moment when surprise turned to fear, and then fear to absolute terror and panic. Closer… He licked his lips in anticipation. NOW! Cascavel jumped out in front of the American. “Passa a grana, ou eu furo você!” Then, showing off for his newest victim, “Give me money!”

As with many situations in the book, this section had its origin in real life experiences. In the case of the mugging scene, the seed of the story was planted on my first full day in Brazil.

It was late November, 1989. Brazil was a far different country from the exploding economic powerhouse that it is today. The economy was on the skids, the government was in chaos, and the divide between the American and Brazilian way of life was enormous.

Enter me, a skinny seventeen-year-old who had seldom set foot outside of the northeastern US. Suddenly, I found myself in the city of Fortaleza, northeastern Brazil. I was temporarily hosted at the Fortaleza Academy--until recently a school for MKs (missionary kids) run by Baptist Mid-Missions. The students there were amazingly friendly, eager to tell me all about their country and to hear the latest news from the US.

Among the kids I met that day were two brothers, Dan and Jeff. Their parents were missionaries in another city, and they studied at the Fortaleza Academy, living in the dorm. For a kid whose idea of being away from home was a week at summer camp, the notion of two kids my age being virtually independent was compelling.

Old FA
Fortaleza Academy, on the afternoon of the day in question

Late in the afternoon Dan approached me. He had an easy, confident manner that made it impossible not to like him. "Hey Andrew, how would you like to go see the open air market tonight?"

Of course I thought that would be great, so at the appointed time we met at the gate of the Academy compound. The gate was locked for the night, but Dan was not deterred by this technicality. "We'll go over the wall", he said, as if this were a common occurrence. So over the wall we went.

As soon as we were on the sidewalk below, Dan turned to me. "Oh, by the way, we might get mugged. It happens all the time here. Hold on tightly to your things."

And by "things" he meant the camera around my neck, the high-top sneakers (a luxury item in Brazil at that time), and the wallet full of cash in my back pocket. Indeed, when you added my skinny frame and wire-rimmed glasses that made me look like I had come straight from the set of Revenge of the Nerds, I was a walking target for muggers.

Cajuina
A picture of me later that evening, drinking Cajuina (a soft drink made out of the Cashew fruit) for the very first time. Note skinny frame and Revenge of the Nerds glasses.

We began to stroll briskly down the avenue (Desembargador Moreira, for those familiar with Fortaleza) towards the market. As we passed by a park to our right, a wirey man in a white t-shirt and cut-off jeans approached us quickly. As he drew near, he suddenly drew a breath and turned away.

"That guy was going to mug you," said Dan--way too causally, I thought. "He stopped when he saw me."

We continued our walk. Dan was casual as always, while I was a bundle of nerves. A few minutes later Dan glanced back. "Don't look now," he said, "but the mugger is following us, and he brought friends."

Despite Dan's injunction, I looked. Sure enough, our white-shirted friend was back, and in his wake were three other men.

"What would you think about getting a taxi?" asked Dan, as if nothing out of the ordinary was going on.

"Yes please!"

Dan raised his hand and almost immediately a VW Beetle pulled up. We piled in, Dan said something in Portuguese that I'm sure meant "step on it", and we pulled away from the curb, leaving behind us four disappointed bandidos.

Years later Dan would help me as I was planning to buy my first car here in Brazil. He is now a successful businessman in the US. His brother Jeff is one of our missionary colleagues here in Brazil, doing an outstanding job in the city of João Pessoa.

Over the years I have wondered what would have happened if it had just been Dan there, without the presence of the skinny American kid to cramp his style. This imagination led directly to the scene quoted above.

To find out how Missionary Max deals with his assailant, read the first part of the Missionary Max series.

Also, don't forget to join the Missionary Max fan page on Facebook, for updates on the series.


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December 7, 2011

Meet Me in São Luís: A Feira do Livro

This post is part of an ongoing series which seeks to introduce the readership of this blog to the many fascinating aspects of one of Brazil's best-kept secrets--the city of São Luís.

A book fair within walking distance of the beach.

Heaven must be something like this.

Soon after we arrived I in São Luís people began telling me about the book fair. As a card-carrying bibliophile, I eagerly awaited its arrival, set on spending at least a whole day there.

Unfortunately, our schedule began to fill up so that, when the book fair arrived, I was only able to spend part of one evening perusing shelf after glorious shelf of books. Still, it was an amazing experience.

Yet, in a gripping display of self control and financial responsibility, I bought only one book.


Me at the entrance to the book fair. Though there were scads of real books, these are fake.


Books, glorious books!


Nathanael and the Book...Weasel?


Me with my date to the Book Fair


Looking for a good book, with no time to go to a book fair? Why not check out The Amazing Adventures of Missionary Max, Part One?

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December 5, 2011

Brazilian Musical Interlude: er...Amy Winehouse?

While it was evident that she had a spectacular voice, I was never a fan of the late Amy Winehouse's performance, either on or off the stage.

Now, however, via Deep Brazil, comes this recently released track of Amy singing Girl from Ipanema, and I have to confess...I like it. Whatever you think of it, one thing is certain: you are not likely to hear this version in an elevator anytime soon.

Besides the chronic anglo mis-pronunciation of "Ipanema" I think she brings a fresh styling to the song while remaining faithful to it's overall "tropical-ness".

Perfect for the adrenaline junkie on your Christmas list; the Astonishing Adventures of Missionary Max.

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