Providência: 115 Years of Struggle (Video)


The film “Providência: 115 Years of Struggle” was prepared by filmmaker Haimy Assefa in honor of Morro da Providência’s 115th birthday coming up in October 2012. Providência was Brazil’s first favela. This film is one of several recent interventions on the hill aimed to call attention to the historic importance of Providência, given Rio de Janeiro’s newly received status as a World Heritage Site. The film calls attention to current eviction threats faced by the community. The short film features local photographer Mauricio Hora and life-long Providencia resident Diego de Deus.

My Experience With a Blackberry in Brazil

Before heading off to Brazil last month I bought a used AT&T Blackberry Bold and unlocked it to take with me. The idea was simply that I’d pop a pre-paid chip in it once I was there, activate it and be good to go. Although I was successful, it wasn’t as simple as it sounds.

My two-week stay in Brazil coincided with a government ban on sales/activations of chips on the TIM, Oi and Claro networks in a number of states. Unfortunately for me, TIM was the carrier I intended to use, as a majority of family members there are on this network and calling them would be free. Not being able to activate a TIM chip, I opted for Vivo.

Actually, I tried on CTBC, but the young lady at the store seemed confused that I didn’t have a Brazilian social security card (CPF), and even more confused that the United States doesn’t have the exact same document!

After buying the Vivo chip at a lottery house (these chips from all carriers can be bought in stores, lottery houses and even newsstands), I placed it in the Blackberry and was guided through a setup process. At the end I was told to call a certain number to complete activation. Calling the number, I was asked to provide my CPF to activate. Again, without this Brazilian social security card cell lines cannot be activated.

My mother-in-law was kind enough to loan me her CPF, so I got the line up and running. Calling and texting were fine, but Internet wasn’t active. Neither the browser nor any of the apps would work. Calling the carriers I was offered a R$9.99 (about US$5.00) unlimited data plan. I jumped on that asked to have it added. Sadly, after finding that Internet still wasn’t working and making a few more calls to Vivo, I was finally informed that Blackberry devices require a special data plan on Vivo.

R$29.99 (+/- US$15.00) later my data was working…but only on my social network applications (Facebook & Twitter). The reason for this was that on Vivo pre-paid plans, a Blackberry can have an email & BBM package, a “social network” package or both, but not browser access. Browsers, I was told, can only be set up to work on post-paid plans. So I opted for social networks only.

During the two weeks I was in Brazil my service was fine, within the limits set forth by the carrier. It was a bit unnerving to see the cell signal go away completely when I was traveling between cities, but this reflects both the isolation of the rural areas and the gap in the reach of technology in Brazil.

When the trip came to an end I passed the Blackberry along to a sister-in-law. She put her TIM chip in the device and the browser (but none of the apps) worked perfectly. On TIM pre-paid lines Internet is only 50 centavos a day (around 25 cents), even if the device in a Blackberry. In the week since I arrived back in the States I’ve seen her post fairly frequently to Facebook, meaning that had I been able to buy a TIM chip I could have saved a bit of money on my data plan and still updated Facebook via the browser.

It was an interesting experience, and I’ll have more to say soon about the state of mobile technology in Brazil in a later post.

Baptisms in Uberlândia

The Sunday following my arrival in Brazil last month there were a couple of baptisms. There seems to be a baptism or two every week in Uberlândia these days, and the Churches of Christ there appear to be doing okay on retention. Below are the two baptisms I witnessed.

“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4 NIV).

World Convention 2012 – A Gathering in Goiânia

When I first heard that the World Convention of Christian Churches, Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ would be held this year in Brazil, I was thrilled. As part of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement and former missionary to Brazil, this came as great news. Over time, though, I began to doubt that I would make it. Fortunately, it all worked out. My family took a vacation to visit relatives in Brazil in July, and I went with a group of men from the Churches of Christ in Uberlândia to World Convention.

To begin, the positives: Friends! I saw old friends I imagined I’d never see again this side of the resurrection. People from every phase of my connection with the churches in Brazil were there, from Campinas to Belém and all points in between. I also made new aquaintances, particularly with Newell Williams, Doug Foster and William Baker, three scholars for whom I translated on different days.

While the fellowship was fantastic, there were some rough spots with this convention.

First, the evening worship sessions were way too long. I’m not saying this as a stodgy old grandpa (heck, I’m in my mid-30s), nor as a North American (the Brazilians with me also complained). We were expecting to be out of the evening sessions by 9pm, but every night the speaker didn’t take the pulpit until around that time. Because we were staying with relatives of someone in our group and did not want to inconvenience them, and also because we were exhausted after a day at the convention, we never hear any of the evening preachers for more than 15 minutes.

(left to right) Newell Williams, Doug Foster, Adam Gonnerman
(left to right) Adam Gonnerman, William Baker

Second, the organization of this convention left something to be wanted, particularly with regard to interpreters. It seems that organizers left translation up to volunteers, and made appeals the first two days for anyone willing to interpret to show up at a certain location after the first morning worship session. In Newell Willliams and Doug Foster’s first session on a global history of the Stone-Campbell Movement the interpreter was completely lost. Although he was fluent in English and Portuguese, he was unfamiliar with the subject matter and his vocabulary was lacking. After that session I spoke with him and the speakers and arranged to take his place the next day. That was fun! This happened again the last day of the convention when I went to attend William Baker’s talk on the Book of James and was drafted to translate because no one showed up to do it.

Third, there was only one small corner near the registration booth where wifi was available. This was an international convention and they had made a point of promoting a twitter hash tag (#wccc12), but there was virtually no Internet available.

The first two negatives are really the only two that I think count, and the first can be explained by the fact that the local hosts for this gathering were from the Pentecostal branch of Churches of Christ in Brazil, those associated with the Concílio Ministerial das Igrejas de Cristo no Brasil. These churches took their beginning from the work of Disciples of Christ and independent Christian Church missionaries decades ago, embracing Pentecostalism over the years. They are distinct from the a cappella Churches of Christ, International Churches of Christ and traditional, instrumental Churches of Christ in Brazil. From past experience I can say that their worship style tends to be long and loud in comparison with the other branches of the movement found in Brazil. The other two points above explain themselves, I think.

(left to right) Wanderson de Jesus, Marcelo Lima, Nilson Ferreira

Despite how it may seem, I actually had a fantastic time at World Convention and am very glad I was there. The fellowship alone made the entire experience worthwhile, and in the end, isn’t fellowship really the point of this convention?

Book Review: The Battle of Verril

The Battle of Verril is Joseph Lallo’s final installment in the “Book of Deacon” trilogy. I picked up the first book in Kindle format for free several months ago and have enjoyed the series. Joseph’s writing style definitely changes over the course of these books, with the first title reading almost like stream-of-consciousness and the final book reflecting a more structured approach.

The only criticism that I would direct at The Battle of Verril is that the author seems to take his characters through way too many tight spots. There are several instances where all seems lost and “then a miracle happens.” It gets wearisome. By the third book I just want to see the characters smashing heads and wiping the floor with the enemies of good.

If you haven’t read any of these books yet, try out the first volume “The Book of Deacon,” for free today.

See also:
The Book of Deacon
The Great Convergence

8 Years, 9 Months, 6 Days

Uberlândia, Brazil
It was as though I had someone else’s memories in my head. At least, that’s how it felt my first weekend back in Uberlândia after 8 years, 9 months and 6 days away from Brazil.
When I arrived in São Paulo everything seemed familiar, and I took comfort in that. I had no problems with language or working out how to get myself from one airport to the other to continue my journey. When I arrived in Uberândia, though, things seemed a bit strange.
It wasn’t so much that Uberlândia had changed (it has, but not enough to explain the feeling of disorientation), but rather that I had changed. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it, but after being in the city for a few days, including a couple of trips downtown, I realized that I view life now from a different perspective than I did almost 9 years ago. This “new” angle makes everything look a bit different for me, and that’s a good thing.
By the time I left Brazil in late 2003 I was narrow-minded and bitter. A number of factors contributed to get me into that condition, and none of it is anything I care to discuss any longer. Suffice it to say, I was in a bad place. It took a terrible ministry experience in New Mexico and scraping bottom financially in New Jersey to break me, and then C.S. Lewis and N.T. Wright to pick me up and set me on a brighter course.
In so many ways the man who got off the plane in Uberlândia on July 21, 2012 is not the same as the one who left on October 14, 2003. It’s difficult to define the change in terms of labels. I joked with a brother-in-law in Brazil about being theologically progressive, but I’m not sure that’s an apt description. Politically moderate? How can someone be passionately in the middle of the road?
What I saw in Brazil during my visit this year was a country working to overcome chronic, historical dysfunction and corruption and doing quite well at it. This is a land of people with hopes and dreams, a place with a positive vibe and a will to move forward. Over the next several days I hope to share some of what I experienced there, and elaborate on plans going forward.