Saturday, October 5, 2013

Birthday in Brazil 2013 - A Day Like No Other

The Bible says that if you give to the poor, you are giving to God, and He will repay you. It’s what I’ve made my life’s mission to do, and on this day I was repaid a million times over. I celebrated my 32nd birthday in Brazil, at Project BR329. It is an incredible place, where the presence of God is tangible, and their faith is magnificent. It was a day of deep, pure and glorious joy, and we were drenched in God’s love, mercy and grace, which was expressed through generosity and selfless hospitality.

Last year I came to Brazil, to visit my (at the time) ten Compassion sponsored kids in the city of Fortaleza. One of the Compassion Projects I visited was BR-329, New Life Project. I actually wondered how it would go, because I had only been sponsoring the kids there for three months or so, and we hadn’t yet exchanged letters.

It was an incredible day. Their faith and generosity was astounding, and the atmosphere of the place was drenched in the presence of God. I had never felt anything like it, and to add to that, they had an amazing 15-piece band of talented teenagers waiting to play for me and I was able to get on the drums and play with them.

I knew I had to come back.

So when I planned to come back and celebrate my birthday in Brazil again, I knew BR-329 was the place to do it.

It was the second last day of the trip. I had been to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and spent five days already in Brazil, so I was running purely on “God-energy”. Of course I had my expectations of how the day was going to be, but the actual day blew those expectations out of the water.

On a beautiful stinking hot day, I was joined by Pamella, Ana Alice and Alice from BR-110; Christian, Jessica and Ana Cristina from BR-458 and Larissa from BR-329. Also making an appearance was Monalisa and Alynne, the two girls from BR-329 who graduated at the end of last year, and Jasmiel, who I visited on behalf of a fellow sponsor at the end of last week.

The teenage band was there ready to rock, with an extra drum kit just for me. We belted out some tunes, and I did pretty well considering I haven’t played all year.

After this it was time to go upstairs with my kids and their Project workers and attempt to have a bit of a conversation. Conversation for me is hard at the best of times, but when you have ten shy kids who speak another language, the degree of difficulty goes up a couple of notches. This was hard work and a challenge, but I dug deep to find my teacher-open-ended-questioning skills, and we managed to get them talking. We were able to talk a lot about our time together last year, and what they had been doing since then.

I just spent some time soaking up the fact that we were all in the same room together. Talking didn’t matter. Compassion sponsorship is about relationship, and I was there with them.

BR-329 is a massive urban Project, close to Fortaleza, that serves over 1000 children and teens. They host a successful government program that aims to help teens and young adults find their first job. The churches aligned with Compassion realise that partnering with other organisations
is a good strategy for building relationships, rather than remaining insular and isolated.

So anyway, the number of children attending the Project is greater than the space they have, so last year they were undertaking a building expansion project, completely on their faith and trust in God to provide for them. I was amazed to see the progress made during this year. While it is not complete, they still use some of the rooms, simply out of necessity.

We visited some of the classrooms in action (I could not believe they still had normal classes happening even with all the noise and excitement going on outside!). Some of the children, who I did not know and had only just met, gave me little handwritten gifts. Pure love. One girl prayed for me, and asked if she could lay her hand on my head while she did so. *sniff*

We enjoyed a lunch filled with traditional Brazilian yumminess, including a food that I had been intrigued by last time I was here: fried banana, wrapped in ham and cheese. I normally don’t have an adventurous palate, but the verdict was: Delish!

After lunch it was playtime: footy, jumping castle, trampoline, fairy floss. It was challenge spreading myself around to see everyone, but I was able to have good conversations with some of the parents and Project workers. I was so pleased to see the way my kids interacted with each other, united by the blessing of sponsorship.

My youngest sponsored child is Larissa, who just turned 5. She was only 4 when I visited last year, and wouldn’t have a bar of me. Not even a teddy bear could win me any points. I was relieved and thankful to see the difference that one year made. She was still shy, but was a lot more responsive to me this time.

After a while of free play, some of the kids performed a dance, including Larissa up the front, always a couple of steps behind the others, but very cute.
J Gifts were given, songs were sung, English was very bravely attempted to be spoken.

Then it was time for another surprise, all the kids went “secretly” upstairs while I waited to be summoned. The time came, I opened the door, and they exploded with….well I’m not exactly sure what was said, just lots of joyous noise and jumping up and down. There were balloons, party hats, crazy glasses with guitars on them, and a very musical cake (my third in four days, and there would be another one at BR-458 the next day).

It was time for my speech. I’m no shrinking violet when it comes to talking in front of people, so I started with this story:
I planned the trip back in June. I was so excited about coming back to Brazil that sometimes I would be walking down the street, I would think of Brazil and just start smiling to myself, maybe even let out a little chuckle. The people who would be walking or driving the other way would look at me thinking “What’s up with that guy? What a weirdo, smiling to himself.”  

I thanked everyone for coming and celebrating God’s goodness with me on this day, in particular my two graduates Monalisa and Alynne, who chose to come back even though they may have had other things to do. It meant a lot.  

I told them that I had shared the story of my previous visit to BR-329 with many people, and kids had been sponsored because of it. I encouraged them to keep going, keep trusting in God to provide their needs, and that they inspired me.

I told the kids that as much as I love them (and it’s pretty clear I do), God loves them SO much more. He has given me but a tiny glimpse of His love for them. He created them, He knows them, and He has a plan for their lives, as hard as it is to see sometimes.

As we ate cake and drank very-grapey-grape-juice, I sat back, looked around at the room full of people that God had used me to impact in some way, and who had definitely impacted me, and I said “Thanks.” When you’re blessed like I am, it pretty much covers it, and there’s not much else you can say.

This day truly was an ultimate gift of God – His grace, mercy and love poured out on all of us, and it will be hard to beat.


  1. What a special project!!! And all your kids are so cute! I love how your graduated girls came back to see you. It's so encouraging to hear how many kids this project serves. These project workers are such an inspiration to me. We have a girl in Colombia, Valeria, and her project reminds me of this....another project nearby Valeria's closed this year and her project transferred all the kids to their project! Valeria's project more than doubled in the process and they don't have enough space...but they're in faith that God will provide! It's so encouraging to see how God is using these faithful workers!

  2. What a great day! Looks like it was a birthday to remember! You are having a wonderful trip based on all the posts, and it's so great to see all the kids and projects. God has blessed you greatly! :-)