Learning From Our Latino Friends

Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers
Proverbs 17:6 ESV

Four years ago, we retired and moved to Florida. Oh, the weather is grand, and I tolerate the heat and humidity, recalling that I will never have to dig my car out of three feet of snow again! We live in a nice quiet neighborhood, go to a nice church and life is easier. But I miss the Brazilian church where we attended and served on staff for 16 years. With Grandparent’s Day just around the corner, I am missing more and more, how our Brazilian brothers and sisters related to older people. Now, of course our Anglo church is respectful of older folks, and schedules lots of senior stuff, like luncheons and trips, but I miss being invited to birthday parties for 1 year-old’s and being asked to pray a blessing before we sang – Parabens pra voce! (Happy birthday). I miss heading out with everyone else for ice cream on hot summer nights after church and having young people hanging around with us at the church picnics.

Today’s verse lays out the model that God has in mind for us. It says that older people’s greatest glory is not going on a cruise with a bunch of other old folks but being included and honored among the people who are their children and grandchildren. One custom I loved was called “Bencoes” (Blessings) This meant that when a family visit was over, the young ones would run to their uncles, aunts or grandparents and ask for blessings before they left for home. They were remembering that we older people are carrying a blessing to give. So, let’s ask ourselves, “How can I give away a blessing to the younger people around me?” or if you are that younger person, “Who can I honor by asking their blessings on my life today?”

Everything Ends With Pizza!

All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. Acts 1:14 ESV

Most of us speed by this verse like a neighbor we wave to as we start on a road trip. But this overlooked detail gives us a snap shot of the longest prayer vigil in history. These folks spent ten unhurried days together praying. During that time they became more than just a crowd, they became a family. In my last post I shared about lessons that I learned while my wife and I were part of a Brazilian church for over sixteen years. I do not pretend to be the greatest expert in the world on Brazilian culture, but these are from our own personal experiences. One of the most important differences was in how my brothers and sisters viewed time. They would say in Portuguese “tudo acaba com pizza” (everything ends with pizza!) which very loosely translated means “Don’t worry be happy!” You see, most of us Americans are far more stressed out about time than we realize. This impacts many areas of our life, not the least of which is how we pray. We like a jump start with “Our Father who art in heaven” then step on the gas as if we were in the final lap of the Indianapolis 500, racing to the finish line “Amen.” as efficiently as possible.

We used to joke about “Brazilian time” because church never started at the scheduled hour. A 6 PM worship service (Our main service) sometimes began at 6:25, with people still arriving 20 minutes later! But being perpetually late, came a blessing when it came to prayer and praise. Just as things worked slowly to begin, things also worked slowly so that they found time for all kinds of things we often miss in the American church. There was time to pray for every need. There was was time for a person to weep, while others gathered around to dry their tears. My favorite Prayer vigil service came on New Year’s Eve. That usually began at 10PM and went till mid-night. There were blocks of prayer time, interspersed with worship and testimony, with each segment being devoted to a special subject like families, missions or financial needs.

Everyone, from the oldest member of the congregation to the youngest baby came. When the children were tired, they slept, or if they fussed a bit someone usually came to hold them and give mom and dad a break. Then, at mid-night we would have communion and move down to the fellowship hall, where there was food, music and even funny prizes for the winners of games. We tarried together, lots of time passed allowing God to work in ways that an efficient, purpose driven schedule never gave time for. Those precious, vigílias de oração (Prayer vigils) not only left me with wonderful memories, they changed me forever. Yes I am still a go-getter typical American guy, but I have come to appreciate the lessons God taught me when I learned to slow down, wait for others and become a true part of His big family. Oh yes, there were also plenty of problems in our church, but God works all things together for good to those who love Him: or as they say in Portuguese: tudo acaba com pizza!

My wife and I with our Brazilian friends

An Inheritance of Prayer

To an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. 1 Peter 1:4 ESV

Recently Dave from Dave’s Daily Dose wrote on the subject of solemn assembly. For those not aquatinted with solemn assembly, it is a meeting something like a prayer vigil involving an entire church. I remarked that I remembered prayer vigils -vigílias de oraçãoes- at our Brazilian church where we served on staff for about 14 years. When Dave challenged me to write about it, in spite of my fear of diving into the deep end of the subject, I had to accept his double dog dare!

But to explain the unique experience of a vigília will take at least two posts. Today, I will just offer a little glimpse of what the Brazilian church in America is like. Like a fish being unaware of water because he is in, none of us really understands our own cultural inheritance and the Brazilian community is no exception. So f there are any Brazilians out there in my reading audience, I apologize if I am over simplifying, but if I were to start with a single word, it would be saudade – roughly translated homesick. Though saudade may fade after many years here in America, it is never truly absent and it touches every part of life. It effects who you work with, what food you cook, who you tell your secrets to and most of all how you pray. Saudade includes a deep longing for things that are far beyond our control and forces us into a desperate dependence on God.

But when we as Americans think of prayer we think of our devotional time, our prayer closet and time alone with Jesus. But Brazilians almost never do anything alone. If somebody has a baby, not only the entire family, but also half the neighborhood shows up at the maternity room to visit! Communion at church often included all of us crowded around the front to receive it together. Birthday parties for a one year old featured more than half the church showing up of every age and of course lots of food!

This is me with the youth after church

When the church was healthy, that same togetherness happened when we went to prayer. In fact, that unhurried time at the altar with people all around each asking for God’s help, was the single greatest attraction of us when we began attending. That intensity of community prayer was and is a special part of the inheritance that God has given the Brazilian church and the single greatest reason we remained through thick and thin for so long.

Tomorrow, I promise I’ll dive straight into what it is like being a part of my favorite -vigília de oração of the year – New Years Eve, so stay tuned and have a blessed week!