SIDNEY — “I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” ….These words spoken by the Apostle Paul in the Book of Acts will forever kindle special memories for 30 members of a local church and their pastor.
The true meaning of Thanksgiving Day was emphasized by the things they experienced on a recent mission trip to Brazil. While endeavoring to help others understand the essence of Thanksgiving Day, members of the congregation received an unexpected blessing and lesson in realizing their need to be more thankful for the comforts of home and the quality of life they enjoy here in the U.S.
From Nov. 16-26, Pastor John Butts of Sidney Baptist Church 1322 E. Court St., Sidney, and 30 members of the church traveled to the Iguassa Falls area in the state of Parana’, Brazil. They went there to minister to those living in the slums outside the city of Foz Do Iguacu. The Iguassu River forms the boundary between Brazil and Argentina and its 275 individual waterfalls have awed tourists and locals alike for centuries. While the area is known as one of world’s greatest sight-seeing destinations there is another side of the locale that few are aware of except for the locals and poor who live there.
A city of nearly 300,000 Foz Do Iguacu is multicultural and those visiting will find about 80 nationalities represented; most are from Italy, Portugal, Lebanon, China and Paraguay. “Languages spoken there vary from Chinese to German and everything in between,” said Pastor John, “Communicating can be a challenge but we had an excellent staff of volunteer translators ready and willing to help us out and the pastor of the Jornada (Journey) Church we worked with saw that all our needs were met, they are wonderful people and we prospered from getting to work with them.”
For many years the city’s poorest residents lived in a shanty-town at the edge of the city near the river adjacent to the great falls. Upon the announcement several years ago that the summer Olympics would be held in that area, local promoters and politicians moved to make the area more attractive to tourism and those coming to see the Olympic games by demolishing the shanty-town which they considered an eyesore and a detriment to potential financial gains.
To appease the poor, well-meaning government officials cleared a large area well away from the city in the nearby forest and jungle and airlifted a great number of prefabricated “homes” measuring about 20 foot square to provide shelter for those displaced by the changes, the structures have walls and a roof but no floors and were simply placed on the dirt once the jungle was cleared away.
Many of the needs of the poor were ignored or overlooked with no construction of any infrastructure to support the new “community” as promised which resulted in a situation worse than the one they came from; with no paved streets, no running water and no electricity they found themselves fighting to stay alive without the opportunities that existed while living on the edge of the city.
However, the refugees were rather resourceful in providing for their needs, any and all water and electricity was obtained by cutting away the insulation on power lines and attaching a distribution wire or tapping into water supply lines near the city limits; water was then carried to where it was most needed. Most of their food supply comes from scavenging at the local dumps and landfills outside the city.
“The people there are humble and very thankful for what they have and taught us a lesson or two about contentment, it’s all a matter of perspective and one’s outlook on life,” Butts said.
Butts, a Piqua Ohio native, has been in the ministry for 36 years and was a missionary for more than 20 of those years and learned about the plight of the people in Brazil from working in the mission field. He organized the recent visit to help those living in the slums.
“Besides preaching the gospel our goal was to share the hope found in knowing Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, we set an example by providing food and other essential items like clothing, and school supplies for the children living there; kids are very prudent with provisions like pencils and paper and anything left over is passed down to siblings or others who are younger and in need … nothing is wasted!” said Butts.
The group also endeavored to provide a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for at least 300 people.
“We took over 700 pounds of non-perishable food and bought fresh chicken as no turkeys were available in that part of the country, we ended up feeding over 500 and had food left over which was all taken home by those attending or sent to others who could not come to the meal,” said Butts.
He said the people were not used to eating good food especially in the quantity offered so it did not take a lot to satisfy their hunger.
“Most had no idea what sweet potatoes, stuffing or pumpkin pie was, but they enjoyed everything that was prepared and were very grateful for the opportunity to share in the festivities, food and fellowship; survival there is on a day to day basis with one never knowing what tomorrow will bring. One member of our church congregation that traveled there with us noted that she’d better never hear anyone complaining about how they have it when she got back home or she would immediately explain how things could be much, much worse!”
Butts indicated there are plans to make several more trips to Brazil in the next three years.
“My personal goal is to help others realize they too can make a life in Christ a reality, I strive to do this not only in words but in my actions, if we can bring a little hope and joy into the lives of those in peril it makes it all worthwhile, I enjoy seeing it all come to fruition,” he said.
Anyone wanting more information on how they can help out is urged to contact Butts at Sidney Baptist Church by calling 937-492-7719 or stopping by for a visit where more detailed information is available on future projects and visits to Brazil.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.