God (and life) is a surprise

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This trip has been full of unexpected surprises. The Ontario snowstorm delayed our departure. Not to be outdone by Canadian weather, Brazil gave us a going home gift. Our flight from Belem to Brazilia was delayed be over two hours which meant we missed our Atlanta flight.

The reason for all this was one of the most horrific rain events (for a Canadian at least) we’ve ever experienced. The storm caused all kinds of delays.  The result of all this is that I’m writing this blog from a Brazilia hotel room. The plan (unless God and life has more surprises in store) is to fly out tonight (Sunday) and end up home Monday afternoon.  Hope we make it this time. Blessings.  Bob

Homeward Bound

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It is early Saturday morning and we are preparing to make the long trek home to the great white north.

Yesterday morning, we had an opportunity to relax from our rather hectic schedule.  In the afternoon over coffee, we engaged in a conversation with Saulo and Ruth about our hopes, dreams and expectations for our companion relationship.  Saulo spoke of the acute isolation that the people of this diocese feel so far from the rest of the Anglican Communion.  Remember that the Diocese of Amazonia comprises 38% of the land mass of Brazil, one of the world’s largest countries. Even the other dioceses in Brazil are a very long way off.

We spoke of how important it is to enter into relationship one with another and how we need to get to know each other including our strengths and our weaknesses.  Northern Brazil is a very different place from Southern Ontario yet in Christ, we are one.  It seems to us that this burgeoning partnership is Spirit-driven.

The next phase it to welcome Bishop Saulo, Ruth and Mary to our Diocesan home in late May and I know we welcome them in the same loving way as they have welcomed us.

We will be doing one last thing before we leave for the airport. They have a leadership training course at Cathedral and they have asked us to meet with them.  Coincidentally, Huron is having one of its lay leaders days today at the Church of the Ascension.  Leadership training is also one of our mission priorities.  So different and yet so similar!

As we prepare to leave this wonderful land with her loving people, we will take Amazonia back with us..in our hearts.  Our lives have been transformed by our experience here.  I pray that God will bless both our communities as we journey together in Christ.  Please pray for us as we began the journey home (Belem/Brazilia/Atlanta/Toronto/London).   bob

FROM SOUP TO NUTS.

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On Thursday, we had the morning off which meant a second cup of coffee.  Ruth offered to take us to an old Belem prison that has been re-purposed as an Art and Crafts showpiece.  We wandered about the place for quite a while and saw the beautiful work of local artisans.

This area is a major mineral producer so there were many shops highlighting local semi-precious stones.  Some of the shops were located in the old prisoner cells.  If only those walls could talk!

In the afternoon, we headed off to find two of the poorest and most dangerous areas of town (suffering high crimes rates and drug abuse).  The first visit was to the commmunity of St. Joseph’s (Pratinha) where the children outnumber the adults.  I don’t think I ever saw such poverty before but the people in this parish were full of joy.  The children smiled, laughed, and danced for us.  We told them we were from the land of ice and snow and they told us that they were honoured with our presence.

On the way to the other ministry site, we went down a particular street that our guides indicated had the most drug dealers anywhere in town but yet was one of the safest streets for crime.  We asked why that might be and they told us that the drug dealers self-policed the street.  They don’t want the police there so they made sure that all was calm and all was bright!

At the second parish (St. John the Baptist -Terre Firme), Rev Marcos Barros shared with us that the ministry to the neigbourhood children included a guitar programme as well as a lending library.  After the ever-present food and drink, we headed to the Cathedral for tea with the equivalent of our Diocesan ACW. Our time there included a conversation about their social and outreach ministry and then presentations and gifts.  It has been a good but long day.

Fish Like you’ve never had before!

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It is 7:36am Friday morning here in Belem.  The weather is exactly the same as it has been all week; hot, hazy, and humid.  It will rain heavily later on and then clear up (does this every day). Folks  who have afternoon meetings here don’t go by the time as much as : “We’ll see you after the rain”.

Let me back up and share with you our adventure on Wednesday.  The plan was to travel to the island community of Bujaru to visit trade unionists who are partnering with the anglican church to help local farmers.

We left early in the morning  to reach the ferry that would take us over to the island.  Did I mention that the traffic here is unbelievably congested, chaotic and horrific?  Of course I did!

After having breakfast by the river’s edge, we took to the ferry to Bujuru.  Once on the island, we were taken to the trade union’s office where the leadership shared their story.  It is a familiar story.  The farmers are powerless and susceptible to oppression from those who have power and influence (companies, corrupt government officials etc).

The trade union originally partnered with the Roman Catholic Church (the Liberation Theology Movement) but after Pontiff John-Paul’s systematic closing of the open doors of Vatican Two; these poor farmers here were left bereft.

The Roman Catholic Church is very powerful with their ongoing support critical.  The leadership perceived the natural synchronicity (? no spell check here) between the mission of the Church (Matthew 25:31ff) and the purpose of the trade union movement on Gurpa.  Hence the partnership with the diocese.

The gospel for anglicans in this part of the world is driven by the social gospel.  The faith must be lived on the streets and in the homes.  They have nothing but they have everything and as a result these wonderful folks have many things to teach us about faithful living!

We left the trade union office and travelled to where the farmers were growing the trees.  I had the challenge of driving our vehicle in this chaotic corner of God’s vineyard (ask Stephanie how I did).  We were warmly received by the folks at the farm and they showed us how they grew their crops and then spoke of their challenges.

We  then returned to Garupa for a fish lunch (best fish ever!). After lunch, we took the ferry back to the mainland and travelled to Santa Izabel back in the city.  We toured the tiny church there and then ate again! (this time East Indian).

We were quite tired by this time but the father of the household (James) insisted on showing us his property before we departed.  It was a beautiful piece of land with a crystal clear spring-fed pond where parishoner often picnic and swim.  It was there that we saw our first monkeys in the wild.

Departing for home, we got caught in what else; the worst traffic jam ever!

Chaotic but somehow it works.

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It is now Thursday evening and I must apologize for the tardiness of my blog.  Truth be known, these wonderful people are working us pretty hard with 12 hour days.

Let’s go back to Tuesday.  Our morning included a tour of the city of Belem. The city is very old and has a colourful history. It is also quite large (about 2 million souls). The culture is deeply rooted in the original peoples of the Amazon basin as well as Portuguese colonialism and the slave trade.

Obviously the city/country is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic with evangelistic four square type churches making inroads.  The Anglican presence here is very small but punches way beyond its weight.

Traditional religions are also part of the scene.  Our tour began at the old docks area of Belem.  We refreshed ourselves at the coconut stand; nothing quite like fresh coconut milk.  Across the street is the Metropolitan Cathedral, which was built in 1771.  We then toured the old Fort right along the water’s edge.  This Fort was intended to protect the area from the French and Spanish.  I was surprised how small it was, but yet sturdy.

After the Fort tour, we migrated over to the most incredible outdoor market (Ver-o-peso) we’ve ever experienced: chock-a-block full of everything imaginable including typical food, medicinal herbs, items for witchcraft, infusions, amulets, bath and fortune-telling. (never saw much of this at the Waterloo or Covent Garden Markets!)

After lunch and a tour at the beautiful Anglican Cathedral, we motored on to the faith community of the Annunciation of our Lord (Icoaraci).  We were warmly welcomed with music, hugs, stories, food, gifts and prayer.

Then we travelled off  to Holy Trinity (Conjunto Maguary)  for a visit and dinner. Christians here are just like home; prayer and praise makes us all hungry.  Brazilian food is really great!

One last thought before I sign off.  It is impossible to describe to Canadians what the traffic in Belem is like.  We have never experienced anything like it.  Traffic laws and signs here are simply suggestions.  Nobody pays attention to anything.  Belem’s traffic (especially the unbelievably aggressive kami-kazi bus drivers) make Montreal drivers look like Exeter on a Sunday afternoon!  And yet it somehow works!   Peace. Bob

Garupa, the River and the people

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Monday morning began with an hour and half plane ride over the Amazon Rain Forest to the rivertown of Garupa.  The ride itself was quite stunning.  We had incredible views of both the river system itself and the magnificent rainforest (with swatches of clear-cutting).

The rain forest is everything one can imagine it to be.  For me, it was sacramental moment tinged with a sense of the holy.  Surely God’s creation is glorious! As one flies over the Amazon delta, one understands how important the river is to the people here Dotted all over the forest are homes of folks who depend on the river for food and transportation.

We arrived at Garupa (about 30,000) which is a fishing community located on the banks of the mighty Amazon.  We were taken to the site of the Anglican Church yet-to-be built….only a bare frame!

After meeting with a local family, we boarded a boat that took us upriver (another hour) to a most interesting community in the midst of the forest.  The people of this very isolated village are descendants of african slaves (Brazil had a very robust slave trade).  Years ago the community retreated into the forest to build a life.

We enjoyed a warm welcome from everybody and especially the village children who were delighted with Stephanie’s gift of maple sugar candies from Canada!  We toured the village with the children in tow.  Steph and I noticed how well behaved the children were ( no whining at all!).  They seemed quite taken with the visitors from far away.

The people of this village were warm, hospitable and delighted to see is.  Ruth mentioned that the community integrity is very strong and that seemed apparent to us.  The church has partnered with the village leadership to address the many problems that threaten the community’s life (education, isolation, poverty).

As we left after a far-too-short visit, I asked Ruth about what might live in the narrow channel that took us back out to the main river.  She indicated fish, snakes, and electric eels would all call channels such as the one we were on home.  I quickly lifted my hand out of the water!

A note from Stephanie

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Bishop Bob, Kathie and I have been very busy since arriving in this inviting and hospitable land. Yesterday we attended the Synod of the Diocese of the Amazon. The clerics and people of the diocese were joined by the new Primate of the Igregia Episcopal, Anglican do Brasil, Archbishop Francisco de Assis da Silva.

Not quite done with the gremlins that have made this journey interesting, Kathie’s and my taxi cab had an encounter with a cyclist. Can not tell you for sure whose fault it was, it is hard to determine those kind of things here. The good news is that the cyclist, though thrown to the asphalt was fine, got up and rode away on the bicycle once it was extracted from under the cab and a small amount of cash changed hands.

We arrived at a break in the proceedings and were fed by the wonderful people of the Parish Church of St. Lucas (Luke). In the afternoon +Bob addressed the Synod telling the people about our diocese and the similarities between the Diocese of Amazonia and the Diocese of Huron. Both dioceses sit on 1/5th or 20% of the world’s fresh water supply.

He went on to talk of our hopes and aspirations for this new relationship. After Synod we went out for dinner with the Saulos, their son Thomas, Archbishop Francisco and several parishioners from St. Lucas.

We went to a wonderful restaurant in one of the original warehouses along the docks. The warehouse has been transformed into several restaurants on the ground floor and shops on the mezzanine.

This morning saw us back at St. Lucas for the Synod service. Bishop Bob gave the homily and both bishops signed the covenants for the new Companion Diocese Relationship. The archbishop was again in attendance as were clerics and parishioners from around the diocese. +Bob presented the archbishop with a City of London baseball hat and t-shirt, ‘making him an honorary member of the Diocese of Huron’. Bishop Saulo had been presented with this t-shirt and cap yesterday.

 

Pectoral Cross

Bishop Bob, Kathie and I gave Bishop Saulo and Ruth gifts from our diocese. A beach glass Pectoral cross for the bishop and a beach glass broach for Ruth. BroachBoth had been lovingly moulded and set in sterling silver by Jason Simpson of J B Simpson Jewellers of Richmond Street (opposite St Paul’s Cathedral).

After the service we came back to the hotel to rest before going back to the wharf for a late afternoon cruise on the Amazon with the Saulos. We were joined by Mary, a parishioner of St. Lucas, Mary, who is my counterpart, will be accompanying the Saulos when they come to Huron this May for our Synod. Following our cruise we once again returned to the warehouse complex and ate at a different restaurant, topping off our meal, that included a lovely Chilean red wine, with ice cream from the ice cream shop located in the warehouse.

Back home to bed as Bishop Bob and I have an early morning flight to Grupa. This will take us up the Amazon to visit several parish communities in the Diocese of Amazonia. Kathie is going to stay in Belem and have lunch with Mary.

This is an amazing experience, the people of the diocese are so warm and welcoming. They are a diverse group of dedicated Anglicans joined by their love of the Lord. Truly the Holy Spirit is alive and can be found amongst these wonderful people.