The Blessings of Involving the Local Community in Mission
by Debby McKeon
During several of our early return trips to Brazil we brought handmade rugs to distribute to families and churches. Here is that story:
I enjoyed my time as a member of the local Curves fitness center in Ambridge, PA,, owned by Whitney Gresham. The camaraderie, health benefits, and community involvement was very appealing. Twice a year food drives have been held to bring donations to local food donation centers.
Some years ago, a knitting class was held at Curves to teach how to make knitted yarn squares for a patchwork afghan blanket. The blankets were raffled off to raise funds for Relay for Life, a cancer fundraising event.
Then after a devastating hurricane in Haiti, a class was held at curves to learn how to make “plarn” which is yarn made from plastic grocery bags, and then crocheted into large mats. The mats were shipped to Haiti and used as sleeping mats for children orphaned by the hurricane.
Handmade small bedside plarn mats continue being made today as an ongoing project for American service men and women serving overseas. Recipients of these foot mats have written to express their gratitude for having a mat to scruff the sand off their feet before getting into their bunk.
Debby with kids on handmade story time mat
This Ambridge, PA community outreach benefitted our ministry in Brazil as well. Some of the large mats were not the specified size needed for sleeping mats, but were perfect for use in Brazil. These large colorful plarn rugs were stuffed into our suitcases and brought to Brazil. The plarn rugs were distributed to various churches and used as floor coverings in classrooms for children’s story time during Christian Education classes, and in individual homes in neighborhoods where churches had outreach ministries. Many of these homes had a combination of dirt and rough concrete floors.
This was a Compassion Ministry neighborhood in Cabedelo, Paraiba, Brazil. A Ministry founded by Bishop Marcio Meira and his wife Pastor Linda.
Then Pastor, now Diocesan Bishop, Marcio Meira and his wife, now a Pastor, Linda receiving Plarn Rugs for the families of their Compassion Ministry in Cabedelo, Paraiba, Brazil.
Currently, I now have plans here in Brazil to involve the wider local community in the teaching of how to make plarn from plastic grocery bags for a variety of items, from story mats to women’s purses. I will write more about this in future newsletters as this aspect of our mission in Brazil unfolds.
Developing Curriculum for the Spiritual Growth of Children, by Debby McKeon
I had been involved in Christian education for children for a number of years. While I was attending seminary classes I was introduced to the writings of Sofia Cavalletti and her belief of building on the capacity for faith already present in each child. The foundation of Christian education has already been initiated by God, and the teacher then provides the environment to build on faith that already exists. I believed I was to bring this curriculum to Brazil. But how was this to be accomplished? Here is that story:
Like building blocks laying the foundation for the next level, each step led to the next. First I attended a seminary level Christian Education course which led to a 3 day Christian Education seminar on a Story telling method using simple manipulatives. In 2008, I was then invited to present an overview of this curriculum during a Christian Education Seminar for the Diocese of Recife, Brazil.
Those in attendance were eager to use the story telling method in their parishes, but it was not available in Portuguese. While preparing for that first overview presentation in Brazil the husband of our host family suggested I use Google Translate first and then have it reviewed by someone who spoke both Portuguese and English well. We knew just the person; a SAMS-UK missionary in Joao Pessoa had the skill and the time to help me.
The next step began in the USA, translating the actual curriculum. With the help of two dedicated woman who knew English and Portuguese and many Saturdays, myself, Ivy Lacerda, and Debora Wortham, worked out a plan and set to work. We would prepare a 6 to 8 story curriculum that I would present in a Saturday workshop in Brazil. First the Advent/Christmas stories were presented, then the Lent/Easter stories, then Old Testament desert stories and New Testament stories, then Liturgical Action stories. It was a 2 ½ year project.
Upon arriving in Brazil for each three week mission trip the next step of preparation was the fabrication of story materials using local resources. A “Kit” was made for each workshop participant to use in their individual parish. During the workshop each participant learned the stories and how to present the materials with voice and action skills to engage the child’s imagination. Sometimes Ron would comment “I just come along to carry the luggage, Debby is the rock star”.
The Challenges: Each story needed to be rewritten to translate for a different culture, void of any Northern Hemisphere references. Time is not measured by seasons in Brazil, idioms do not translate well, and the many ways people approach daily life vary by culture and sometimes neighborhoods. There were no “Big Box” craft stores, so shopping for materials was a time consuming adventure and labor of love.
The Blessings: I learned that reading ability did not determine who could be a good story teller. The workshop participants with lower reading skills had excellent memory skills, and told the stories well from memory, not needing to glance at the printed story. Upon presenting the stories in their church, one seminar participant said, “I was delightfully amazed how the story I told with simply made manipulatives held captive the hearts and the imaginations of the children for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
I have been here in Recife for 2.5 weeks already and I’m LOVING it! I am grateful that Brazilians are so warm–everyone I’ve met is extremely welcoming which has made settling in easier.
Every day I go to Casa da Esperança, the day care center where I’m working. I love Casa and am so impressed with the organization as a whole. Every day, up to 60 kids come for the whole day–7:30 am-4:30 pm and are bathed, fed 5 meals, and then do different educational activities. When they’re at Casa, the kids are safe from getting dragged into the drug industry and it enables their parents to work consistently. The children are absolutely precious. It’s been special to begin developing relationships with them. I’m mostly with the 2 year olds, and when I arrive they say, “Tia Mada! Tia Mada!!” and I get many hugs and kisses.
I’ve been able to help out with English translation in the office at Casa–they want to develop English versions of a number of media documents and I’ve been able to help by editing Google Translations. Besides Casa, I’ve also had the opportunity to lead a worship song in Portuguese/English with a Brazilian girl on Sunday–it was at the small Anglican church that meets on the day center grounds to reach the surrounding community. The picture to the right is with members of the Casa da Esperança team after working a bazaar to raise money for the day care center!
Please pray for…
1: continued improvement in my facility with Portuguese–I can get around fine, I just want to keep improving
2: blessing for Casa in their current work, and provision for the improvements and expansions of their programs toward which they’re working
3: my precious host parents Xandau and Andrezza–that they would be blessed for the incredible generosity with which they are caring for me!
4: that each child that enters the day care center daily would be surrounded by the presence of Jesus and his love for them.
Thank you for your prayers, and the support that makes my time here possible! God is so good. Living and working here is an immensely beautiful gift.
P.S. Follow me on Instagram for more photos of what I’m doing! @madeleineruch
Five weeks from now, I will fly out of Chicago O’Hare Airport and enter into the two month missions adventure the Lord has laid out for me! I am so eager—to be surrounded by Portuguese again, interact with the precious Brazilian children at House of Hope, meet my host family, worship at Church of the Holy Spirit, return to a place I already love and anticipate growing to love even more.
I got to spend time with a leader from Church of the Holy Spirit over Holy Week and Easter, and memories of how much I love Brazil and Brazilians flooded over me instantly. I can’t wait to be immersed in the culture once more, and take advantage of opportunities to minister the love of Jesus to a people so open to friendship and relational connection.
It has been established that I’ll be living with one of the Directors of House of Hope—the incredible day care center in Recife that I visited two years ago. It also looks like I’ll be getting involved with worship leading at the church, and will join a small group to be immersed in the church community. I’ll be going to House of Hope daily and doing whatever they need: caring for children, helping with administration, offering whatever support I can for the crucial work they’re doing.
Please pray for…
…the presence of the Holy Spirit as I navigate the last 3 weeks of school before summer. I need the Lord’s presence so much as I try to balance RA responsibilities, class finals, time with friends, and preparation for Brazil
…the final details and planning of my trip
…the power of the Lord to direct me in my prayers and passion for Recife and the community I’ll be entering into and working with