Thursday, February 28, 2008

Pray for the Cunninghams

Paul and Keri Cunningham and their four children arrived in Brazil on the 25th of this month. They will be living in Porto Alegre and serving as the volunteer coordinators for Southern Brazil after they finish their 6 months of language study in Campinas.

Please pray for them now - they are having a hard time of it. Immediately after arriving, one of their twin baby boys got sick. He is running an extremely high fever and has sores on the top of his mouth that make it painful for him to eat or drink. They have been in the country for just two days, and they have already been to the hospital with him two times. Because he is in pain, he's not sleeping, and when the baby doesn't sleep, nobody sleeps!

On top of that, they are dealing with all of the "normal" culture shock things - not understanding anything anyone says, a feeling of being locked in behind burglar bars, new food, culture, etc.

Please pray for the Cunninghams - ask for God to heal Pierce and help everyone rest. Ask Him to watch over and protect them and to give them His peace. And thank God that he has brought them here!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Star Party

Here is a report from Don and Karen Winget, who are astronomers on sabatical in Porto Alegre and helping Team Gaúcho with evangelistic "star parties."

"Our friends, a missionary family, Marla and Larry Green, hosted an Eclipse Party at their house. We are helping the Green’s host monthly Star Parties at their home to gear-up for the United Nation’s International Year of Astronomy in 2009. We have found that observing the natural revelation of God in the night sky is fertile ground for discussions about God, Creation, Christ, why we are here, what is wrong and what is right with us, etc. Star Party events have brought believers and seekers to the missionary’s home where they have developed relationships with the seekers and non-believers and solidified allegiances in Christ with the believers.

The day of February 20 was cloudy and very humid but by evening the clouds vanished and the full Moon was blindingly bright in the telescope. As an added treat, the bright star Regulus was occulted by the Moon (the Moon passed in front of Regulus) and at 8:34pm the blue/white-hot star popped back in to view on the other side of the Moon! Very impressive, especially since the brightness of the full Moon obscures most stars. That is why you can see more stars at night when the Moon is not visible or is much less than full.

Now for the eclipse. First contact of the Moon in the Earth’s penumbra shadow was at 9:36pm and at 10:43 the very dramatic darkening of the Moon began. It was easy to see that the Earth is a sphere as the Moon moved into the Earth’s curved shadow. By 12:01am the Moon was completely in the Earth’s shadow and for 50 minutes the Moon glowed dark red before it began to move out of the shadow and return to bright white by 3:16am.

Why was the eclipsed Moon red? It is best explained like this: Imagine yourself standing on the Moon. Face the Earth at eclipse time. The Earth is now between you and the Sun and the light from the Sun’s disk is now covered by the Earth. The Sun’s blue light is scattered in all directions by Earth’s atmosphere (That is why the sky looks blue to us on Earth during the day) and the Sun’s red light is refracted and bent around in the Earth’s thin atmosphere. As you are standing on the Moon, the Earth looks like it is ringed in a red fire. It is that red light that is now shining on the Moon. If you looked down at your feet, the surface of the Moon would look red, instead of white, and that is what the rest of us on Earth see…a red Moon.
Knowing what you know now, see if you can you answer these two questions? If you were standing on the Moon on February 20th, what kind of eclipse did you experience: solar or lunar? And, during a normal day on the Moon, is your sky blue?

Let me know.

Now back to the eclipse in Porto Alegre. Trent, a non-believer and not a seeker, yet, remarked that it is hard to believe that we actually went to the Moon. Belief in something that happened long ago, to someone else, and in a different place is often difficult to believe or even remember. Did we really go to the Moon? How do we know if we did not go there ourselves? Trent knows we went to the Moon but in 100 or 1000 years from now how could someone believe him and who would care anyway?

There are people today, just less than 40 years after the fact, who believe that the manned Apollo missions to the Moon were faked in Hollywood. Isn't it amazing, the human capacity to doubt?

I remember sitting on our couch watching television with my mom and brother while my dad, who was a journalist, showed films of each of the Apollo Mission liftoffs. Until a few years ago, I still had copies of those events on brown, brittle 35mm films in my refrigerator.

I remember the first crackling words spoken by Buzz Aldrin from the Moon, "Contact Light." He was reporting to Houston the illumination of the signal-light on the control panel indicating that the Lunar Lander had touched the surface of the Moon.
Years later, I met Buzz Aldrin in Washington D.C., shook his hand, spoke to him, and placed in his hand a picture, similar to the ones attached to this email, of a total lunar eclipse I had taken from our back yard in Weir, Texas. The eclipse that year happened to be on Buzz's birthday.

I remember watching the grainy, jumpy images of our astronauts walking, driving, golfing, and taking surface and core samples of the Moon. I have seen and touched these samples, and you can too, at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

I have been in the Mission Control Building in Houston and spent the night on the floor of the space museum surrounded by physical evidence of our space explorations and lunar landings. I have been inside a shuttle and touched an Apollo capsule. Today, everyone enjoys Velcro invented for the Apollo program to hold stuff down in the zero gravity of space. It is on your camera bag or tennis shoes.

All of this eye-witness evidence, all this physical evidence, all the writings, all the reports, all the films, all the memories…and some people still don't believe. Wow! The human capacity to doubt is overwhelming.

Here is where this story gets personal. 8 years ago, I was considering the purpose in life and when I die, and my children die, would we would go to heaven or just rot in the ground somewhere on this tiny blue planet. Don and I explored many religious beliefs and our bias at that time was based on doubt; the same kind of doubt people have now about whether we went to the Moon or not.

While checking out the claims of Christ and Christianity we found eye-witness accounts of Christ in many writings including the Bible. We were in Turkey several times and walked where the apostle Paul walked and we wandered among the ruins of early Churches. People had gathered in these Churches who had actually met Christ, maybe even touched him. I watched people who believed and loved Christ; it was moving.

Considering the technology of 2000 years ago, I had the same evidence of Christ as I have of the truth that we went to the Moon. Suddenly, my human capacity to doubt underwhelmed me and I could believe that Christ existed. No more doubt on that. The next thing I had to resolve: was Christ really who he said he was?

About the pictures

The SettingSun picture is included to remind you of the Sun’s light refracting through Earth’s atmosphere. The CurvedEarthShadow demonstrates the round shadow of the Earth on the Moon. RedWhiteBlueMoon demonstrates the Sun’s light as reflected on the Moon during the partial eclipse. The two TotalEclipse pictures demonstrate the refracted light from the Sun through Earth’s atmosphere. The point of light on the left is bright star Regulus and the object on the right is Saturn."

Thursday, February 14, 2008

It's Just The Way It Is

When people think about how missionaries spend their time, they think about us tromping along jungle trails, witnessing to native chiefs, and holding worship services in quaint thatch huts surrounded by tiki torches, just like in a Hawaiian luau.

While I have actually had the chance to do all of those things (not here in Porto Alegre, mind you, but up North, and never with tiki torches), unfortunately, the reality is often far different. Porto Alegre, is a big, modern city with big, modern problems and big, not so modern bureaurcacy, which is (or should be) linked into the bureaurcacy in the land of the thatch huts. What am I talking about? The Department of Transportation (DT).

My driver's license was issued in Maranhão, where we used to live. Weeks ago, I started the renewal process. I first went to the DT during business hours to find that they were closed. I went back another day, and was handed a list of documents that I needed to get. I gathered the documents, and went back to the DT. There, I was told that they couldn't find me in the system, so they would have to search for me and call me back. They called (which was a pleasant surprise), and told me they still couldn't find me and they would keep looking after Carnaval (5 days later). They called after Carnaval and told me that I needed to get notarized copies of some documents to mail off. I went down to the notary, spent part of the afternoon there, finally got my copies made, and went back to the DT. They stapled my stuff together and told me they would mail it off to the immensely inefficient and unworkable bureauacracy that is the DT in Maranhão (you don't even want to get me started on that) and that they would get back to me.

Meanwhile, my license has expired. Sigh.

If they ever do find me, I'll still need to do a medical exam, a psychological test, and some other stuff - not to mention a few more trips down to the DT.

So, do your missionaries spend all of their time doing exotic ministry? Unfortunately, to do our ministries, we need to spend a lot of time doing things like wearing out the sidewalk on the way to the DT.

So, when you pray for your missionaries, don't just pray for our ministries, pray for the other stuff as well!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Just in Case there Was Any Doubt, Part 2

As you can see from the above picture of people packed out on the main interstate highway coming into Porto Alegre, the procession for Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes (the version of Mary who is the Catholic patron saint for the city of Porto Alegre) attracted 100 THOUSAND PEOPLE who gathered around the fire truck to watch and worship the statue of Mary. The procession went down to the river, where dozens of boats accompanied the statue on its way to go meet up with the African goddess Iemanjá for the traditional reunion of their ceremonies.

Here is my translation of part of a newspaper article about the procession "Before the end, while the boats passed through the Pool of Pleasures, came the most traditional and emotional moment of the festival of Our Lady of the Navegators in Pelotas, which is in its 77th year. The boats stopped and were recieved by umbandistas (Afro-Brazilian Spiritists) who carried the image (statue) of Iemanjá, providing an ecuminical encounter watched from the shore by hundreds of people, despite the rain."

The procession is the largest religious gathering in the state and is put on by the hierarchy of the Catholic church. That it closes out by meeting up with Iemanjá shows not only the unofficial link between the two supposedly separate religions, but an official one as well. The fact that the hierarchy of both religions sponsor a joint event cements the official mixing of pagan Afro-Brazilian witchcraft with the twisted version of Christianity presented by the Brazilian Roman Catholic church.

On another note, Carnaval is today. For days, the newspapers and TV have been full of pictures of all but nude women dancing in the carnaval presentations with thousands of other dancers and millions of spectators. The damage done to people's lives through alcohol, drugs, violence, prostitution during the few days is incalculable. Please pray for Brazil, and for Rio Grande do Sul, and ask God to open the eyes or our nation and our state and to do away with the moral scourge that is Carnaval.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Just in Case there Was Any Doubt

Just in case there was any doubt in any of our minds of the link between official Roman Catholicism in Brazil and African Spritism, the ceremonies taking place in Rio Grande do Sul this week should put those to rest. Here is my translation of an article in today's newspaper.

"Last night, thousands of people gathered along the coastline to celebrate Iemanjá, the Afro-Brazilian goddess of the sea and of beauty. There were fireworks, traditional foods, and witchraft ceremonies in honor of the goddess. There is a two meter tall statue of the goddess at the entrance of Cassino, the city where the celebration begins.

Meanwhile, in the city of Pelotas this morning, there was a mass celebrated at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church. After the mass, a large group of the faithful began a processional with the statue of "Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes," (Our Lady of the Navegators = Mary). The statue of Mary traveled to the coastline on a firetruck, (an honor usually reserved for dignitaries buring buried or championship soccer teams). The statue of Mary will then travel by boat to meet up with the statue of Iemanjá (who is the parallel to Mary in Afro-Brazilian Spiritism) at the "Pool of Pleasures". The union of the Catholic and Umbanda (Spiritist) festivals is traditional in Pelotas."

In short,Catholicism and Spiritism are inextricably linked here in RS.