25 years ago today, our family arrived in São Paulo, Brazil to begin our missionary adventure. Our three girls (Karis age 7, Rachel 5, and Valerie 2) were recovering from chicken pox, caught two weeks before from their brother Danny (age 8–turning 9 in July). Despite warm weather flying out from Miami, I had made the girls wear long pants and long sleeve shirts, afraid that Brazilian immigration officials would not welcome us into their country covered with spots! I’ll never forget the fascination of our first glimpse of São Paulo from the air–the city seemed to go on forever (it still does!).
For the first month, while we searched for own place to live, we stayed in the small apartment of a single missionary who was out of town. Bored one day, while I thought they were napping, the kids decorated our yet-unmet-colleague’s bedroom walls with crayons.
Exactly one month later we moved into an apartment of our own, around the corner from our mission’s office. This seemed like a good idea until school started in August, when we discovered what it was like for the kids to take a bus to their school, Pan American Christian Academy (PACA). They left home at 6:45 am and didn’t get back until 4:30. It was too long a day, in my opinion, for children that young. There was just time for homework, supper, baths, and bed–no time to play, to explore their brand new city environment, to just be family. I started looking for a home close to their school.
Those were days of out-of-control inflation in Brazil, and for the first time in our married lives, Dave and I had trouble making our ends meet financially. Appalled by the cost of renting, and expecting to live in São Paulo the rest of our lives, I wanted to buy a home. Our realtor simply did not believe that Americans could have the limited amount of money we had to work with, and showed me homes way beyond our price range. When I complained, he showed me tiny houses and apartments that made me claustrophobic just to walk through. I didn’t want an apartment; I wanted a house, on a street with neighbors. In our apartment building, despite many efforts to make friends we hardly saw anyone. Everyone worked, the children off at day cares or schools, and disappeared behind closed doors as soon as they got home.
Finally I told the realtor, “Don’t call me again until you’ve found a house we can afford, with space for our family and for hospitality, within a mile of PACA.” He told me such a house did not exist, and for several months that was the end of our house search–but not the end of our praying. Rachel could not handle the stops and starts and bumps and turns and fumes of the daily bus ride–she threw up on the bus every day, not a great introduction to the intimidating new world of kindergarten. When Karis had health or ileostomy issues at school, I was too far away to help. Older boys on the bus teased Danny for not speaking Portuguese and threw his things–even his shoes–out the window. The kids didn’t have enough margin for living, just for surviving. “Lord, help us! Please give us a house near PACA!”
One day it happened. Our realtor called me, saying “I found your house. But it’s not a house–it’s a palace!” Indeed, though simple, this house was spacious, and was selling for exactly the amount of money we could spend. It was a ten-minute walk from PACA. We moved in one year after arriving in Brazil, on June 19, 1991 (exactly 24 years ago today). Our new home was on a street just one block long, going down a hill from a very busy avenue toward the represa (one of the city’s reservoirs). From Danny’s upstairs window the represa looked like a lake, with a green area around it–a welcome reprieve from buildings and concrete.
In front of our house (on the left), our girls with PopPop Kornfield and some neighbors in 1999. You can see a bit of the represa in the middle distance. Our kids grew up playing in the street, running in and out of neighbors’ homes, and having long conversations on our front steps. In the violent city of São Paulo, such freedom was a true gift.
Many people tried to dissuade us from living in a house, for fear of robberies. And in fact, almost every one of our neighbors’ homes were broken into during our time there. One would expect that we “rich Americans” would be an obvious target. I believe that God’s angels protected us: through all of the years that we lived in that house, only once was it broken into–and that happened the first Sunday after we moved in. When we came home from church, we found our house swarming with neighbors! The back roof had caught fire from a falling hot air balloon (traditionally launched as part of “Festas Juninas” celebrations during the month of June). Neighbors saw it and called the fire department, but were able to break in and quench the fire before the fire truck got there. We bought ice cream for everyone and became instant friends with our new neighborhood!
From inside looking out at the water rushing down the street, a common sight during the hot rainy season, October-March.
God gave Karis the gift of mostly good health for our first two years in Brazil, the years of adjustment to a new (mega)city and culture and language and school and neighborhood and friends and churches. When Karis started getting seriously sick again at age 9-10, she already had a strong support system around her.
A neighborhood Christmas party in our living room, an annual tradition.
“We did it!” Val and I with friends in our dining room.
On Karis’ 15th birthday, teens filled our house with music and laughter, even spilling up the stairs.
Karis hadn’t been well enough to grow in height for some time, but her 15 years were full of wonderful experiences and friendships, deeply enriched by living in Brazil.
For all of your bounty and blessings, Lord, we thank you.