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Jess and Mark Simpson link letter no.10 Christmas 2016

Dear friends,

Early November we had a fantastic warm-up launch event for the beginnings of the Magé centre construction, showcasing the… loos! On the day we had running water, a functioning toilet, an entrance gate and an enclosed space. And despite it pouring down with rain, more than 50 folk were able to celebrate the occasion – we had an encouraging turnout of about 20 visitors from Rio and outer Magé plus 30 locals including kids.

Canal Children’s Club inauguration
Canal Children’s Club inauguration

The drama was about the Parable of the Sower, and we did a tree-naming activity where kids wrote on labels the names (that they had pre-prepared) of all the trees on the plot of land. We also did some seed-planting in pots for them to take home and to plant on the site itself.

We talked about how we are trying to model an alternative approach to the way local authorities approach development, which is to clear land and trees, concrete it over, build on it and then maybe plant a few symbolic and unproductive plants. Whilst we did have to clear some of the trees in order to build on the land, these were mostly re-planted elsewhere in the neighbourhood. The fence structure we’ve employed is much more in harmony with the setting, giving security but not a closed environment and using secondary eucalyptus trees.

We will also be planting alongside the development of the main centre structure. Additionally, Luiz has built the black waste disposal with an inbuilt filtering system so that the effluence – which goes into the canal – is filtered. Please get in touch if you would like to make a donation towards the next phase of the building project there, a meeting room, or if you know any potential intrepid volunteers who could join us in 2017.

As to our getaway to Costa Rica and Panama, we had a fun andreviving time. We participated in the International Baptist Convention annual meeting which gathered pastors from around Latin America and Europe who are involved in building English-speaking church communities. And as most of them were from the southern United States, they were very friendly and encouraging, without irony, and committed to Jesus and his Word.

Many of the challenges we face at Christ Church Rio – expats coming and going, not owning our church building, developing deep and peaceful cross-cultural relationships, leaving comfort zones to serve the poor, being a blessing to our host cities etc., – are not unique to Christ Church and are being worked out in cities around the world. We were hugely encouraged by one young Brazilian pastor who is based in Frankfurt running an English-speaking church. His church took a big step in buying simultaneous interpretation equipment (originally for German) and soon found the biggest demand was for translation into Farsi due to the high number of refugees that have been passing through their doors!

Christ Church Rio: closing in on its bicentenary
Christ Church Rio: closing in on its bicentenary

Travelling from capital city to cloud forest to capital city to the Caribbean beach and back again, our senses were electrified by hummingbirds, howler monkeys and, unexpectedly as out of season, the resplendent quetzal bird. Whilst our binocular skills are improving, the locals’ ability to spot poisonous little yellow snakes eludes us. As does a sight of a sloth… perhaps we need to slow down a bit.

We have lost count of the number of Venezuelans who were trying to carve out new lives for themselves in both countries, having been forced to leave their native land for lack of hope and viability for the future. Panama City has a lot of wealth pumping through its arteries with its canal, an artificial 48-mile waterway that connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean, and which has become Panamanian-owned since the year 2000. As we watched one enormous ship travel through one of the locks, we wondered how much cocaine might have been stashed away in its containers. It – and the war against it – continues to kill countless thousands of Latin Americans every year. The broadcaster and journalist Andrew Marr recently asked Colombia’s Nobel Peace Prize winning president Juan Manuel Santos what his message was to London’s cocaine users. He replied: “Each line of cocaine they snort means the lives that are lost, the forests that are destroyed, the rivers that are polluted.”

So we welcome the appointment of António Guterres as the UN’s new secretary general, given his work to undercut the profits that feeds the gang violence associated with drugs trade, through decriminalisation and prioritising human rights. We don’t feel ready to endorse decriminalisation, but we are angered when drugs seem to offer the quickest pathway to wealth for kids across Rio, for the young lads by the Canal in Magé. Lads such as Thainah’s brother who was shot dead last time we wrote, a few hundred yards from our plot. And we have been saddened (if not surprised) at the stalling of the police pacification process after the implosion of Rio’s state finances which led to the security minister’s resignation. Last week’s Try Rugby session ended in us running for shelter when gunfire broke out locally and put an abrupt end to proceedings. However, most of the kids were unfazed, and it’s the most bewildering thing that so many children in Rio grow up with the clack clack clack of gunfire as a normal background soundtrack. Trying to stop the guns is like trying to swat an ever elusive Aedes aegypti mosquito!

The Try Rugby chap I’ve been accompanying, Adrian, is heading back to the UK this month and so with the extended summer interval and our due date in March, we won’t be back there for a while sadly. In the meantime, we are being entertained by Mark’s parents who arrived the day we returned from holidays, and are with us through to Christmas. They have come in like porridge to a winter’s day, with resourcefulness, experience and that extra something to push us forward.

Together we are looking towards revving up for the Christmas period, with a few different events and activities to get stuck into: an Alpha Brasil gathering in Rio, hosted by Christ Church; a refugee food fair; hosting another organised-educational visit to the vicarage garden, this time with kids from the local community project that Alex and Jane Cacouris have been supporting; beer and carols at Rio’s “Lord Jim” pub, and various different Christingle, carol and nativity services at Christ Church.

As an aside note, we’re trying to build greater understanding of the hospital and birthing system here. With a C-section rate of 85 per cent nationwide (rather than the advised 14 per cent given by the World Health Organization or WHO) within the private system, we’ve been somewhat bewildered by the seeming lack of options available to us. We either opt for private healthcare and have a c-section, go for a stash of “cash-in-hand” natural doctors who’ll guarantee a natural birth or go public and encounter the risks that might bring of under-resourced infrastructure and staffing. Since the second option is not viable for us, we are pursuing both the first and the third simultaneously, and having multiple conversations with informed others – it certainly feels like it’s all part of the learning and discerning and acculturation process. Many local friends here ask us cautiously, anticipating the worst, “will you be having your baby in the UK”? When we say “no, all being well we’ll have a Brazilian baby” (born in Brazil to British parents?), they are elated.

Thank you for all your support, generosity and prayers over the last year, and we wish you all a happy Christmas and joyful New Year!

With love

Jess and Mark