God’s Colors in His Creation

It’s been awesome to see God’s personality shine through his creation in Brazil. From the mouse-sized bugs…

maybe rat-sized

to the milky way galaxy lighting up the night sky.

Just as art displays the character of the artist, all of creation reveals a little more about God. It’s been an absolute honor to see more of God’s character on display in Brazil.

One of the first things that my mom wanted to show us as soon as we stepped out on Brazilian soil was this special bird called the Massa Barro

that builds a house out of mud. Let me tell you, if you gave me a mud pit and a shovel, I wouldn’t be able to build a house as functional as this. And this bird doesn’t even get a shovel. But God gave it the ingenuity to build a house with a conch shell doorway to protect the family inside.

These birds decided to start an apartment complex

But creative engineering isn’t all that the birds of Brazil reveal about God. They also show his sense of humor and love for socializing. Every morning in Taunay, I’d wake up to a crowd of cackling birds that sounded like all the most annoying laughs having a party. They’d scatter a bit in the day, but as soon as the sun started setting, they’d flock together again to laugh themselves to sleep right above my head. At some point, I’d just start laughing with them because of the sound they were making.

It seems that all birds in Brazil love parties and are rarely alone. If they’re not crowding a tree to chatter to each other in comical sounds, they’re pairing off with their mates. I’ve seen several blue Macaw parrots fly around–both in the city and in the country–but never alone. Where ever they go, they go with their mate. They’re absolutely stunning to look at and sound like rusty, metal wheels when they talk. Because God likes to pair beauty with strangeness.

Probably the most off-putting example of God’s personality were the howler monkeys that I was able to see in the Pantanal swamp. I’ve seen these guys on TV before and thought they sounded cool. But the TV doesn’t quite capture the atmosphere of their chorus. When I first spotted one in the treetops, he looked small and silent. I only knew he was a howler by the color of his coat. I looked for a short while and then walked on, unimpressed. It was about 10 minutes later that the howling started. I don’t know where it started. Within seconds, I was surrounded by a sound that made my hair stand on end. It took me a moment to associate the sound with a small fuzzy creature in the trees. Howls came from near and far. They overlapped each other and answered each other and when one got louder, they all got louder. My fight or flight reflex kicked in (for some reason). I wanted to run and seriously thought that they might eat me (as ludicrous as that would be). They SOUNDED like they wanted to eat me!

And then, just as the chorus of howling started to fade, a deeper guttural voice started in louder than the rest. Imagine an a cappella of grind-core singers with a lead solo part that shook your bones. That was it. My jaw dropped open and I looked at the people around me. I wanted to be sure that if we were supposed to run for the cars, I wouldn’t be left behind. And then it stopped. All at once, they went silent. Their forms disappeared from the trees and I never saw a trace of them again.

I wasn’t really sure what to make of it except that God loves all forms of music–even grind-core choirs that scare the hell out of me. I bet He applauded at the end of that.

But even this doesn’t compare to the raw power of God that I witnessed at Iguassu falls. The majesty and beauty that I saw there is far beyond my vocabulary. Everywhere I looked there was more of His splendor slipping off the rocks. And every part of it cried, “Power!” The rocks, the rapids, the concussion of air that ruptures out from the impact, the energy that moves it all! But suspended above all of that, in the most delicate fashion, were the rainbows.

I’m speechless.

Speaking of rainbows, have you ever seen the end of a rainbow?

This is what it looks like.

I’m blown away by the nature of God displayed in his creation. His art holds as wide a range as giant cockroaches and rainbows. He balances forms; gives meaning and symbolism to each; composes structures that inspire the world; incorporates the mastery of science; is the originator of all creativity–anyone’s art is a rip off of Him.

I just don’t know why he made mosquitoes.

Edibles…I think…

Coming into Brazil, I knew that the standard food would be beans, rice, beef and coffee. I was looking forward to the beef and coffee. Especially the coffee.

Mmm. Brazilian coffee.

What Brazilians call “coffee,” Americans would call espresso (with enough sugar to qualify it as candy). They drink it quite a bit throughout the day: Morning, lunch, afternoon, dinner… anytime, really.

Once I got into the country I learned that cheese is also a staple. Brazilians will eat cheese at every meal (and desert) and will eat it with bread or in bread or with jam and fruit.

Cheese with fig and two kinds of fig jam for lunch’s dessert.

I knew that there would be foods in Brazil that I would classify between strange and gross, but I wasn’t sure what those foods would be. It didn’t take long to find them.

I’ll give you a hint on what this is: it comes from a cow and yes, those are vertebra.

On the way to Foz do Iguaçu (Iguassu Falls), we stopped at a road side churrasco restaurant. I had never heard of a place like this before. Uncle Larry said that if you can find on in America, it’s somewhere close to $50 dollars for a meal. We paid $8.50 (American) for this one.

“Would you like some more of our best cut of meat, sir?”

For those of you who are like me and have never heard of this before, in a churrasco, you pay a set price to eat all you want. The side dishes are set out buffet style. The meat, which is cooked on spits is brought to you by a number of waiters that go from table to table with every cut of meat you can imagine (and some you never would have thought of).

Cooking the meat in a churrasco kitchen.

I was asking our Brazilian family about the kind of meat they were bringing out and before I knew it, I was being peer pressured into eating a chicken’s heart.

Yes, a chicken heart.

I ate it.

It didn’t taste bad–kind of smokey. But It’s a heart. Knowing that kept it from being enjoyable. I can swear I felt the heart chambers collapse between my teeth.

I also got to try rabbit (wrapped in cheese that was delicious), pheasant, filet mignon, and wild boar. All for about as much money as it costs to buy a McDonald’s burger around here. I like that exotic is cheaper than American fast food. It keeps things interesting.

Even Japanese food from the mall comes with quail eggs.

There are a few things that I don’t plan on having again. Chicken’s hearts, pig’s feet (seriously, it was just bone and something like a toe), and fried pig’s skin are on that list. But I’m happy to try new things at least once. I certainly don’t miss McDonalds.

Centennial Celebration Continues

This is the school my grandfather helped establish and run in Taunay. In honor of his work, the Indians named it after him: Escola Evengelica Lourenço Buckman.

Uncle Larry and my mom standing at the school entrance.

After 50+ years, it’s still standing less then a block away from where my mom’s house used to be.

Mom and Dad standing where Mom’s old house used to be.

Her house might be gone, but the school is still taking in students from a variety of Indian tribes. Some of them only speak their tribal language. EELB teaches them to read and write Portuguese and gives them a full college prep education.

Evidence of Grandpa and Grandma Buckman’s lives in Taunay goes further than the name of the school or a filled-in well. Inside the school library are shelves of books bound in protective covers and labeled with my grandmother’s handwriting. The books are from the 1950’s, but the students are still reading them (gently). The older generation Terenas still talk about their days as students of my grandpa. They all agree that he was a tough teacher, but he taught them well.
On Saturday, Uncle Larry and Mom stood in front of several hundred people to receive a plaque in honor of Grandpa and Grandma Buckman. “In our culture,” the speaker explained, “When children are given food, they have one plate to share between them. The oldest child will divide the food evenly for them all to eat… Thank you for dividing your plate with us.”

Many plaques were presented to different missionaries and organizations for their work with the Terena people. Each one read, “Thank you for dividing your plate with us.”

Then it was time for the dancing. The Xavante students performed their tribal dances first. In the one pictured below, they danced in a circle. As they went, they’d let out high pitched cries. Then, one of them would break out of the circle and race to grab someone from the audience to join.

This Xavante boy grabbed a Terena girl to join the dancing.

Next, came the Kaiapo tribe. Unfortunately I missed this one.

To finish off the event, the Terena women and men danced. The Terena have a strong history of war and their dancing reflected that.

Terena women danced to a drum and flute. This is a dance they would do when the men came back successful from war.

The men’s dance was a story of war.

Men and young boys acted out fights in their dance. Their bamboo sticks would clash to drum beats.

At the end of the dance, the men lift one of the dancers up using their bamboo sticks as a platform.

Regardless of their history of war (they warred with the Xavante just two generations ago), the Terena today are very peaceful. It’s wonderful to see them going to school and celebrating their culture side by side with other tribes (like the Xavante).

The Centennial Celebration drew to a close the next day with a multicultural communion. I was sad to say goodbye to everyone. After a week, I felt like Taunay was my home. Delair and Indiria gave me their phone numbers saying, “As soon as you know Portuguese, call us.” I hope to do more than that. God willing, I will see them again before leaving Brazil.

The Opening of the Terena Centennial Celebration

When I was in high school, I struggled with the emotional unrest that comes with being a displaced missionary kid—identity crisis, sense of loss, denial, grief, depression…

More than anything, I wanted people to ask me about Papua New Guinea. I wanted to tell them my stories. To get their attention, I wore jewelry from PNG. I carried around trinkets from PNG—anything that would remind me of home and prompt others to ask me about home. It didn’t work much. Nobody was all that interested. They might ask me one or two questions, but they didn’t want to hear stories that they couldn’t relate to. I was too shy to tell most of them anyway.

One of the things I started doing at school was humming the Papua New Guinean national anthem. It gave me a quiet sense of identity in my head and I never wanted to forget the song.

One afternoon, I came home from school feeling especially homesick and ignored. I sat down near the kitchen to talk to Mom while she prepared dinner, when it suddenly hit me that she was a missionary kid as well—except all grown up. All of this homesickness and pain was something she had gone through. And she had survived!

I knew about her growing up in Brazil. She had told us stories about having a pet anteater and the snakes that lived in her attic and ate mice. She used to tell us about riding horses around the area because the weren’t roads solid enough for cars. And how she found a baby that became her informally adopted sister, Marilda.

But Mom never told me about missing her home. I never heard her talk about the kind of longing and displacement that I felt. That must mean that it goes away eventually. I wondered how long it would take before I didn’t feel homesick for PNG anymore.

With all this going through my head, I asked her, “Mom, do you still remember the Brazilian national anthem?”

She gave me a surprised look. Then said, “Sure!” She cleared her throat and began singing in Portuguese.

I had no idea what she was singing, but it was beautiful to hear. And she was so proud to be singing it. She smiled at me through her strange words and bobbed her head to keep tempo.

But somewhere in the middle she choked off. She thought for a bit and tried to continue singing, but she had forgotten the words. Tears welled up in her eyes as she tried desperately to remember the song. She backed up, started again and stopped in roughly the same place. Finally, she gave up. Disappointed in herself and crying, she said, “I don’t remember the rest.”

I got up from my chair and gave her a hug. “Do you still get dreams about Brazil?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

Last Friday, after a week of seeing her childhood home, friends, and caretakers, my mom stood up with several hundred Terena indians, Brazilian nationals, and Foreign visitors to sing the Brazilian national anthem at the opening of the Terena Centennial Celebration. She still couldn’t remember all the words, but that was ok. The audience sang loudly. Lined up down the isle were Terena boys dressed in traditional ceremonial garb made of emu feathers.

Terena boys walking down the isle. The night temperature was too cold for such little covering.

Holding the flag were Terena girls, dressed in hand-woven skirts that the Terena students made themselves and adorned with colorful feathers.

Terena girls getting ready to hold the flag up for the Brazilian national anthem.

It was a beautiful display of my mother’s heart land. And it was just the beginning of a 3 day celebration to honor the missionaries that have worked with the Terena indians over the last 100 years.

The Hunt for the Anteater

There are a few animals of Brazil that I have been dying to see. First and foremost is the giant anteater. My mom used to tell us stories of having one as a pet. When we got into Taunay, everyone told us that you can see them everywhere. “Just be careful if one comes near you. Stand still. They’re mostly blind, but they can rip you up bad with those claws,” my mom said. We didn’t see any. “They come out at night,” the villagers said, “around 7 or 9pm, maybe.” Jordan and I kept a vigil for them. We didn’t see any.

“They used to be everywhere,” explained Delair, “But the Xavante boys that come here for school like to hunt them. They’re not supposed to, but they don’t understand laws, so they hunt them all the time. That’s why you don’t see them as much anymore. They used to go out as a group at night, hunt one down and cook it right there. It was their favorite thing.

“Then one night they brought home some of the meat. The Terena boys hate it when they bring it back because it smells so bad. The next day, a police officer came to our school. He said, ‘Your Xavante boys killed my pet anteater.’ Everyone knew his pet anteater. It was huge because he fed it so well. And it wouldn’t hurt anyone. It just plodded around his yard. The Xavantes killed it right in his yard. The police officer said, ‘They will go to jail for this.’

“I told him, ‘why don’t you speak to the Xavante boys. I’ve told them that they can’t hunt, but they don’t listen to me because they don’t understand our laws and I’m a woman. But you’re a man. Maybe you can explain it better to them.’ So I brought the boys into the school office to talk with the officer.

“He asked them, ‘Are you being fed well here at the school?’ They all said, ‘Yes!’ He asked, ‘Do you like the food here?’ They said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Then why did you kill my anteater? You can’t hunt like that here. It’s against the law. I’m letting you go now because I understand you’re from a different culture, but next time, you will go to jail for this.’

“The Xavante boys don’t hunt them anymore, but that is why you’re not seeing the anteater like before,” said Delair.

I have no picture for you. Because I have yet to see one.

Seeing God Colors in Other People

This is Rosangela.


She cooks for us every day: breakfast, lunch, mid-afternoon coffee and bread, dinner, and desert.

Lunch’s dessert.

She is a fantastic cook.

Rosangela rarely went far from this stove.

Rosangela came from Rio de Janeiro. 20 years ago, she thought she’d be a missionary in Africa, but could not go. So she came to Taunay to work with the Indians instead. She was told that there were Indians everywhere out here. She was told that they’d meet her at the train station. She thought they’d be painted and feathered. They were not. She thought she was lost and sat down to cry at the train station. But Adier’s family found her.

Adier is on the far left.

Now they call her their adopted daughter. For the past 20 years she has lived with them and served in the local bible school across the road. She is such a blessing everyone around her. I am thankful to God for Rosangela. Her hospitality and love was never ending. We were in her kitchen from 8am until 9pm and she always had something for us and always wanted to talk… or communicate somehow since we only knew pieces of each other’s language.

Finding Neighbors

Remember this picture of my mom and her two Terena Indian friends?

This is them the night we arrived in Taunay. It was the first time they’d seen each other in over 40 years!

From left to right it’s Adair, Delair, my mom, and Indiria. They live across the street from each other in Taunay. These three sisters have been taking care of us all week. We eat most of our meals at Adair’s house. Delair has given us warm clothes and presents. Indiria practiced her English with us while serving us afternoon pre-dinner. On Tuesday Delair took us to visit the surrounding villages.

Taunay is a tiny town in the state of Mato Grosso Do Sul featuring a train station that is slowly falling out of use (I’m told it had a lot more use when the trains had steam engines). It sits right on the boarder of “Indian Land”–the government sanctioned Indian reservation. The Brazilian government will not let any non-Indians on the land unless they are escorted by an Indian. There are many Indians on the reservation that knew my mom and her family, but we would not be allowed to visit them without someone like Delair to go with us.

We spent a large chunk of Tuesday driving through the villages and talking with the people… or rather, listening to Mom talk to the people in Portuguese. Most of the villages close by are of the Terena tribe. There’s something close to 35,000 people in the tribe. But further away are other tribes like the Xavante.

I love these people. I’m running out of ways to explain how sweet they are. Whenever my mom told them that I was going to be staying in Anapolis for a while, they’d shake their head and say, “Why doesn’t she stay here and learn our language?” One of the local pastors told me, “As long as you are in Anapolis, you are our neighbor. So come visit us and learn our language.”

When we stopped to see the very first church for the Terena tribe (est. 1926), Delair read a bible verse to me in her language. It went like this:

“Ina Koe Jesus: Una Xene yono pou xoko Ituko oviti. Xuanum 14:6” (John 14:6).

She helped me practice saying it. Now I can say something in their language (sort of).

Sitting down to talk with the pastor who called me his neighbor.

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