Summer officially begins next Friday, but it got an early start this week. I can easily calculate miles into kilometers and pounds into kilograms, but the switch from Fahrenheit to Celsius is more elusive. I just have to feel what 35 degrees feels like. Let me tell you: It’s pretty hot.
The forecast calls for hotter temperatures and more rains than usual this summer in southern Brazil. As I write this the heavens have opened with thunder, lightning, and showers that any Midwesterner would find familiar, maybe even comforting.
We’ve spent four full weeks in Brazil. In just 28 days we’ve already missed American Thanksgiving, celebrated a family member’s birthday, and fought through weird feelings about how it doesn’t “seem” like Christmas. Marci’s grandma also died yesterday; the only grandparent she ever knew. And we’re a hemisphere away.
While we were packing in Missouri Marci kept asking me, “are we in chaos yet?” I’d always reply, “we can’t be as long as we’re still in America.” That ended up being somewhat true. I think by the end of our time in America we entered chaos, especially at the Orlando airport, where it took us two hours to check in 30 bags. By the time we actually got on the plane and took off I don’t think I realized that looking out at the numerous ponds of Florida would be my last glimpse of my homeland for four years.
We have had enough time to exchange longings for home with celebrations of our new lives here. We have a church family! We have partner missionaries who are not only neighbors, but good friends! We have air conditioning! We have a car! Churches are still sending students to the seminary to reach their people with the gospel! And we have ways to connect to people back home!
One connection is a digital picture frame I gave Marci for her birthday. It now sits in our living room, and each minute a new picture loads. It’s been bittersweet to watch as the years roll back to when Marci and I were newlyweds, our kids were little, and my grandparents and Dad were still alive. Each minute there’s a new memory and in sixty seconds more a fresh heartache.
At first, I wanted to unplug the frame. Perhaps it was too soon. One evening I wanted to throw it out the window, as it seemed to be mocking me with such a different life. A settled life. The enemy whispered that we’d made a terrible mistake. What were we even doing here?
But then I kept on teaching my class at the seminary each evening, being used by God to unlock the Scriptures to people so eager to learn it. On Sundays, we receive so much love from our new church family; they even insisted that Olivia have a birthday party.
After some days, the frame started to give me hope. I’d see Kansas City pictures and think of my hometown. I could drive anywhere there without a map. I could immediately think of my favorite foods, sights, and my friends. Here I am in a similar city in Brazil and already logging new favorites and becoming familiar with new roads and neighbors.
I’d then see Michigan pictures pop up on the frame and think of moving to an apartment sight-unseen, and then for four years God blessed us with a church, with friends, with neighbors, and with a new life. By the time I graduated none of us wanted to leave the land and people we’d come to love.
And then I’ll see South Dakota pictures appear on the frame. We were such strangers in a strange land when moving there, and yet God took our hearts and made us Dakotans. I even started to love and miss the winters there. Such quiet. Such stillness. Such beauty. And the people are so dear to my heart, that I sometimes wonder what it would be like to still be a pastor there. But here God is calling us to help form new pastors.
God took this picture frame of memories and told me that we’ve been here before. We’ve followed his call to a new land with new people, and each time we’ve fallen madly in love. Sure, Brazil is not America. It never will be. But God’s people are here too. And they are full of love, joy, hope, and ambition to see the church spread here. And they’ve asked us to help, although right now we’re not of much help until we learn more of the language, but we’re working on that every day.
Today, I must accept the unsettledness within our apartment, until we make it more of a home, and I must continue to face the chaos outside the apartment, whether the rain is falling or not. We’ve got a new culture to learn and enjoy, a new language to speak, and many new relationships to build. But we have a Savior who is with us every step of the way.
While some things aren’t so Christmassy right now, there is nothing closer to Christmas than the feeling of entering a new world and feeling so helpless. God chose to speak to us through Christ who entered our culture to do what we do, think what we think, and feel what we feel—even the weight of our sins. But because of what God has done in Christ we may be helpless, but we are never hopeless.
And so, I’ll keep up my picture frame, and one day I’ll see on it the new memories we’re making in Brazil. God may make us Brazilians too as we were once Michiganders and Dakotans. But first there is much work to be done, but we don’t have to do it through our strength or do it alone. It’s all by his grace!