Monday, August 29, 2005


Part of what we're doing right now is creating contacts. We try to befriend everyone we come into contact with. We don't do it in an overwhelming do-you-have-a-close-personal-relationship-with-Jesus kind of way, we just try to show interest in them and in their lives and try to give them glimpses of our life. (There will be a time for Serious Evangelism; right now we're just trying to figure out how to say, "Do you have a close, personal relationship with Jesus?") Anyway, sometimes it's hard. And sometimes by the end of the day, we're tired. Many nights we get into a taxi to head home and we're just in auto-pilot. We're tired and, if we talk, it's to each other. Some nights we recognize our taxi drivers and other nights we don't. If we remember them, we try to step up the conversation a little. But many nights, because I'm sitting behind the driver and don't really get to see his face, unless he has a big Virgin Mary sticker on the dashboard, I don't remember if I've ridden with him or not. But they remember us.

So tonight I didn't think it was a familiar driver. He didn't know where we live, there were no large foil stickers, he had no distinguishing physical characteristics. It was a long day--we'd been out shopping and we'd had a team meeting--so I mostly just zoned out on the way home. When we pulled up in front of our apartment, Russ pulled out a R$10 bill to pay him. The driver offered back double the amount of change. At first, I thought he was just offering us two different ways to take our change. But when we asked him, he responded, "The last time I drove you, I didn't have change for you. You let it go, so here's your change now."

My mind flashed back to that night several weeks ago. He was short on change and offered us a R$5 instead of the R$2 he owed us. That was just silly to us, to take extra back, extra that meant a whole lot more to him than it did to us (R$2 is less than $1 US). It was really no big deal at the time.

But tonight it drove an important message home. We are remembered. Our actions are significant, whether we are trying or not. So when we're not trying, when we're in auto-pilot and just doing whatever comes naturally, what are we saying to people? Are we truly being ambassadors for Christ? For Russ and I, our actions bear a lot of weight because we're "those crazy gringos", but it applies to everyone. If people know you're a Christian, you are always a Christian. When you are not making a conscious effort to communicate Christ, you are still communicating something. The only question is- what?

I'm not saying that tonight was some watershed evangelistic experience with the taxi driver. We may never see him again. But it was a vivid reminder for me that I am always working and that people notice what we do. My prayer is that we always act in a way that represents the beauty of our message.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


Originally uploaded by russandval.
I said I was going to continue telling you about our trip to the beach but there's just not much to tell. We went to the beach. It was fun.

I'm pretty unenthusiatic right now- I've caught a nasty headcold. Alicia has one, too, and there's reports of a few sore throats among the team. Oh, the dangers of team missions! I did go to the pharmacy to find medicine for it. What they gave me isn't as good as my trusty Dayquil/Nyquil combo but seems to be getting the job done.

On our way home for supper this afternoon, we stopped in our corner market. We were just going to pick up some potatoes, which are kept along with the other vegetables outside the main part of the store (you have to carry your vegetables the wrong direction through the checkout stand to get to fruit, bread and anything else you might need). Anyway, we wandered into the main part of the store. There is a glass case in the middle that usually has a variety of sweets in it. Russ glanced in the case, which, usually, is full of cakes with prunes and other unidentifiable fillings. But today he discovered...doughnuts!!!

You have to understand, doughnuts are a rare find here. Dunkin' Donuts once opened a shop here in the city but it quickly closed, apparently due to lack of interest. (Sidenote- one day when we were out shopping, I noticed the old Dunkin' Donuts sign and insisted we had to go check it out just on the off chance that it wasn't an old sign at all. It was an old sign.) But whether you eat them American style (for breakfast) or Canadian style (for dessert), doughnuts have been a big part of our lives. Until now, of course.

So imagine our shock and delight upon finding a tray of doughnuts in a small corner store in the middle of Salvador. We immediately bought some then raced home to eat dinner so we could eat them for dessert. (I know, we could have just eaten them outright, but I'm sick and I just figured I needed something a little better on my stomach before that!)

As we bought the doughnuts we briefly acknowledged that these might not taste like North American doughnuts. They might be horrible. They might be like the packaged brownies we bought or like the fake cheddar cheese. But we quickly pushed those thoughts to the backs of our minds and took the chance.

The verdict? Definitely doughnuts. As Russ said, "They tasted like a very fresh Wal-Mart doughnut." I prefer Tim Horton's to Wal-Mart, but I'll take what I can get! That's not to say there wasn't a Brazilian spin on them- they had been sliced open and filled with chocolate (the one with chocolate sprinkles) and doce de leite. But actually, the modification was quite good!

So yes, this is a Val-getting-very-excited-about-nothing post, but I'm on decongestants! What do you expect?

In other news, today we paid our deposit to attend the missionary conference in January. We'll share more about it as it gets closer, but I'm already looking forward to it!

Monday, August 22, 2005

Fun Day

Originally uploaded by russandval.
We're so glad to have more visitors, Mary Virginia's mom, Cindy and MV's cousin, Ashley. They arrived last night bearing Splenda, hand sanitizer and pancake and muffin mix, among other things.

This morning we all went on a day tour, heading out north of town. We did a similar tour with the Parkers right after we got to town but it was fun to go again with the whole gang. It was also great because there were enough of us that we filled the mini-bus and received group rates.

The day started out quite rainy so we didn't get to make the same first stop as we did on our other tour. Instead we went to Arembepe, an old hippie village. Apparently hundreds of people used to live there. Now there's just a few dozen, but there's several huts around- a school, a restaurant, a couple of hotels and some houses. The hippies do crafts and have a big open hut in the middle where they sell them to anyone who wanders in. I can't say I'll be checking out the hotels any time soon, it was all a little rustic for me. But it's an excellent place to visit!

Our next stop was Praia do Forte, where Projeto Tamar is located. It's a huge sea turtle preservation effort. Projeto Tamar is a great place, with touch tanks (not for the turtles though, just starfish and snails and such) and lots and lots of, well, turtles. It's located in the town of Praia do Forte, which is the neatest little (very commercial) village. There's a lot of great shopping (we had to drag Cindy out kicking and screaming) and a wonderful ice cream place. Since we'd already been there, Russ and I skipped the shopping (I can't believe I'm saying those words!) and had some ice cream. The ice cream store is by quilo, so you load your bowl up with whatever of the fifty or so flavors you would like and then have it weighed. I had mango, graviola, coconut and papaya ice creams- all were delicious.

From there we went to the beach; I'll blog about that tomorrow. The picture above was taken at Praia do Forte. You can see many more of our pictures on Flickr.

Sunday, August 14, 2005


Shower Head
Originally uploaded by russandval.
Have I mentioned yet that I miss having a bathtub? In light of yesterday's depressing yet necessary ramble, I bring you something much less serious:

This morning I woke up with the makings of a monster headache. My headaches usually come from tension in my neck muscles. I make a point to use a special pillow and try to keep my neck in good shape. But this morning it kept building and building. I wanted more than anything to relax in a nice hot bath.

But, unfortunately, this is what we have. Showers. We don't have hot water in our building, instead the showerhead electrically heats the water. The cord running into the wall provides the juice. The water will get nice and hot, but something is lacking. I wish that we had a place to sit down and soak. I used to love taking long baths, sometimes reading, other times just zoning out for close to an hour.

It's funny to me that you can find bath salts and bubble bath in most stores but very few people actually have tubs. What do people do with them?!?

One of these days, when I'm really tired and stressed out, I'm going to go get a hotel room for a night and sit in the bathtub for hours. My fingers and toes will be completely pruney when I am done, but it will have been well worth it. And if we stay with you when we are on furlough, you'd better have the bathtub ready- I will be using it!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Prayers Needed

It's the end of of the week. One more week has flown by. Today marks the five-month anniversary of our arrival on the field. Our inaugural service gets closer and closer and the workload and number of meetings get bigger and bigger. One part of me wishes we could open our doors tomorrow, the other part is completely terrified of all that will mean (and realizes that we don't even have doors to open!)

We're all starting to feel the effects of culture shock. Let me rephrase that: we are all overwhelmed by culture shock. I think. See, that's part of the problem. Culture shock isn't like chicken pox or some physical disease with set and clearly defined symptoms. It doesn't limit itself to one area of your life. Instead, we're all feeling it in different ways. Some people get moody, others tired. Some feel depressed, others just feel cranky. Some need to be around people, others need to be alone. At times, we don't even think we're experiencing culture shock. Instead, we blame it on our moods, our teammates, whether we got enough sleep the night before. I'm not writing as someone detatched from the situation- I have found myself in tears several times this week for what would at any other time be nothing. So, I ask you, our friends and family (and kind strangers) to keep us in your prayers.

Pray that we successfully manouver through this time. Pray that Satan doesn't use our feelings to drive wedges between us. Pray that we don't kill each other, or at the very least, don't wound each other verbally. Pray that the couples on the team find ways to help each other cope. Finally, pray that this time will make us hungrier for God and more desparate for Him, and that we will turn to Him to meet our needs.

While you're talking to God about us, please mention our financial situations. When we came on our survey trip last year, the exchange rate was about R$3.00 to US$1.00. All of our budgets were set using those figures. When we arrived five months ago, the exchange rate was R$2.75. The drop was difficult, but not too drastic. In the months since our arrival, the exchange rate has dropped to and hovered around $2.35 (and sometimes lower). The past two weeks have shown huge swings, with the value of the Real dropping and rising R$0.10 several times. It's made things like taking out money and paying bills very unpredictable. Budgets are becoming insufficient- they have dropped by a couple thousand Reais a month!

I thank the Lord that Russell and I are doing okay. Our finances aren't as good as we would like, but we feel abundantly blessed. (Though if the exchange rate continues to drop it will affect us greatly!) My concern is for others on our team. Money concerns are being brought up more and more as prayer requests. Families are finding it hard as more and more expenses keep popping up as budgets get tighter and tighter. I know that God is taking care of them, but sometimes I wish I had a better answer- one that would help them pay their bills on time!

I'm being quite candid right now, and I apologize if it bothers anyone. I am not bringing up the fact that people on the team are struggling financially to embarrass them. I am asking for your prayers. We need every member of this team. God brought us here to do an amazing task. I don't want us to be defeated before we get started. Please pray that the exchange rate will go back up and stabilize. Pray that new money is found so our teammates can relax and focus on the task at hand.

I'm so thankful that we serve a mighty God who is able and willing to supply our needs! Thank you for going to Him on our behalf.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Daily Life

Originally uploaded by russandval.
At first glance, it may seem that Russell is enjoying some kind of naughty tropical drink. On further examination, you will realize there is not tiny umbrella sticking out of the coconut. He's drinking an agua de coco (coconut water). You can buy one on almost every street corner. One morning we saw the delivery truck with thousands of green coconuts in the back. It was amazing.

The best agua de coco is bem gelado, or well chilled. The vendor will then hack the top off with a machete or, if you're at a nicer stand, use a little hand drill. After that, just drop in a straw and you've got yourself a great drink.

Most people on our team aren't yet into the taste but Russ and I love them. It's especially handy if you've been sick. Agua de coco is one of the world's best sources of electrolytes. It's got more potassium than a banana and also does a great job of keeping your digestive system working properly. We keep bottles of it in the freezer just in case, but the best way to have it is on the street. The other advantage to buying it on the street is the cost- Russ paid 70 centavos, or about $0.30 for the one he's drinking.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


Russ Painting
Originally uploaded by russandval.
Friday afternoon we headed out to Itinga, a town just on the edge of Salvador, where the oldest Church of Christ in town is located. Their building was not looking its best so we pooled our money to give it a little makeover. The women of the church chose beige as the new color. A respectable color choice (not bold enough for me, but it would be quite daring for my mother!) Most paint here comes white and you have to tint it yourself, so much time was spent discussing what beige is, exactly. We agreed on a color and then did the second coat much, much darker.

It was tricky to paint. The front of the auditorium is against a hill, so the wall is usually wet. You don't have to work at Home Depot to recognize that it might not be the best wall to paint. After four coats or so it looked decent.

Sunday morning, the Sasses, Keith and us went back to worship with the Itinga church. They were so grateful for the help. The front wall was soggy again so the paint looked splotchy, but looking at the before pictures, I know it's an improvement.

Visiting churches here puts so much in perspective. So many North American churches spend so much money making their buildings perfect but cut other budgets (like missions!). Some churches here can't even pay their ministers and their buildings are falling down around them, but they are sharing the good news with everyone they know and are using their money for evangelism. What we do with our money reflects our priorities! I know God is pleased by these little congregations that are working so hard for Him!

Monday, August 01, 2005


The Gang
Originally uploaded by russandval.
Friday morning we had a party at school. We'd been planning on having a party anyway because it was Jaci's birthday, but then we found out that Erika was moving to Mexico so it just snowballed.

We used it as a chance to have zucchini cake (a team favorite and my specialty). There were also Brazilian snacks, some of which we enjoyed.

Birthdays are a big deal here. The birthday song lasts for over a minute at times, with multiple verses and choruses, not to mention chanting and clapping. We're still working on learning all the words. The Parker kids love it- Brock sings it several times a day! We like birthdays, too, but really, we just enjoy a chance to miss class and eat!