Brazil, Day 25: Sweetbitter Ministry11 min read

Ahhhh! What a great day this was! It easily ranks up there as one of the most exciting days of the year for me. We had our first of three orchestra concerts last night, and the other two were today. Our first concert was this morning at Batista do Novo Juazeiro, the largest regular Baptist church in Juazeiro and perhaps the largest one here in the valley. It is the home of Pastor Renato, the aforementioned director of the Semana de Musica Sacra.

We were told that the bus was leaving at 7:30 to transport us from the seminary to Juazeiro, so Stephen and I woke up shortly after 7am, got dressed, and went up the hill to breakfast where we ate leftover French rolls, papaya, pineapple, and hot milk while everyone else left and walked down to the seminary entrance. Sometime after 7:30 we left the dining hall and walked down to the entrance.

Guitarists at ChurchThere wasn’t enough room on the bus for everyone to go together in one trip, so I rode in Neto’s car with Neto, Joy, Beth and Mrs. Swedberg and we got there shortly after the bus dropped off its first load. Uncle Jim had driven me by this church a couple weeks ago to see it, but this was my first time actually going inside it.

It is a good-sized building that can can hold a few hundred people, and it is also air-conditioned, unlike most of the church buildings here. We went through a process I was familiar with as a member of the FBBC orchestra for the last four years: We cleared out the front of the sanctuary and set up chairs, stands, and got out our instruments. Of course, I also went around and took pictures of people warming up.

The service was scheduled to start at 9am, and we started promptly at 9:30. Just like last night’s concert at the seminary, the room was PACKED, and the TV crew was there again to film the entire concert for the evangelical channel on TV. I played in the string quartet and took pictures during the rest of the first half, loving it just as much as the evening before.

Ready for the ConcertSince many of the songs were written by Pastor Renato for the Brazilian churches, the church was obviously familiar with the music. During one of the songs as the choir sang and the orchestra played, Pastor Renato turned around and had the whole church rise and join in with the music. Oh, the worship in the air was so great!

After the last song in the first half, the one about worshiping God the Creator, the pastor welcomed all the visitors to the church and asked them to stand up so he could personally greet them and give them some information about the church with a book of the Gospel of John. I thought to myself, “I hope everyone in the orchestra/choir doesn’t stand up!” But fortunately, they didn’t, and the pastor greeted the six people in the congregation who were visitors.

Unfortunately, three people from the choir stood up, and the pastor greeted them. Then it was obvious that they weren’t the only ones in our group who were visiting, so they had everyone else who was visiting for the first time stand up, and they all received a Gospel of John. Wow, that took SO long. I almost motioned to myself as a visitor too so that I could have a Gospel of John in Portuguese, but I decided to not prolong the ordeal.

Ladies SingingSo we had our intermission, I got my violin back out, and I gave my camera to Jennifer. We took our places and played in our best concert of the weekend. It was great to serve the Lord together in music with dozens of Brazilians in one of their churches. Yes, Elijah is a classical piece, but it has a great message, and it was pure joy to play. Oh so fun!

After the concert we packed up and I took pictures of lots of people out in the courtyard area. I returned to the seminary in Neto’s car and we went to lunch, enjoying a meal of rice, pasta, ground beef, and vegetables. I don’t think we had beans though, so that was kinda weird.

At 2:00 we had a recital/solo competition for anyone who was interested. I got to the chapel around 2:30 and they were just starting so I didn’t miss any of it. I gave my camera to Jennifer because she did a really good job taking pictures in the morning and was having a lot of fun with my camera. So she took all the pictures during the recital and got some great pictures.

Little Girl Playing RecorderThe recital was for everyone and was judged based on difficulty of music for the person’s talent level, their musicality, their mastery of the music, etc. The winner won free admission to the next Semana de Musica (about a $100 value) and the second and third place winners got a discount off the next one. It was so cute because the winner was a little girl who played the recorder. She played a song from the orchestra music that she had learned that week, but she played it extremely well, and if anyone could be perfect, you could say that she played it perfectly. She got a standing ovation from everyone who was there listening.

Supper was at 5:00 and I think it was more rice, beans, vegetables, and meat. It was a quick meal because we had to leave at 5:30 on the bus, and the service was scheduled at 6:00. Well, we took our time eating, arrived at the entrance shortly after 5:30, and soon enough we were on our way to Igreja Batista Esperança, a church about 10-15 minutes away from the seminary right between Crato and Juazeiro.

Full Service at ChurchThe church facility was so neat! It has two small classroom buildings and another two-story shelter that houses a kitchen and bathrooms. Behind the small buildings are large steps that lead down to a soccer field and a huge outdoor gym. The services are held in the gym, the huge steps also serve as bleacher-style steps for soccer games, and there was a large landing next to the gym where people could talk. It reminded me of an outdoor ballpark more than anything else.

Once again, there were hundreds of people there, anticipating the program. The lights were dim and we scrambled for chairs, but excitement was in the air one last time. We had some troubles getting people arranged, and one of the piano keyboard’s electrical cords didn’t work, but we finally got started. I watched as one of the young piano players stood up and let the girl without the keyboard play his piano while he held the music up for her.

At this time though, I was probably the most sad I have ever been that I don’t know enough Portuguese to talk to someone. The second bus pulled up with a few more people after the first group started, and at least three or four of the people were supposed to be playing in that group 🙁 I found some chairs in the classroom and tried to indicate to them that they could go join the group, but they said no because it was too late 🙁

I played my quartet piece and then told Pastor Renato about the situation, and he said the others could come join if they had chairs. So I went and found Sarah Lounsbrough and she talked to the other guys, but they had already given the chairs away. Fortunately, we convinced one guy to take an empty chair and go join the group between songs and play his guitar.

But oh, how sad the other guys looked as they sat off to the side during the whole program, their instruments going unplayed. At the end of the first half, the one guy who eventually played came to me and thanked me with his little English for getting him the chair. It was encouraging to see how appreciative he was to still get to play.

The second half of the program went fairly well, our last hurrah of the 2013 Semana de Musica Sacra. We had to restart one song after a rocky start and the last song was faster than we even did it on Saturday night, but overall, it was good. I enjoyed playing in one last orchestra concert for the year before school begins again in the fall. The kids choir stood in front of us this time when they sang their four songs, so during the song which we accompanied, we had to look around and through them to see Pastor Renato as he led the song.

Group PictureAfterward I gave all my pictures to Pastor Daniel and then I found all the people that I knew wanted their pictures taken with me, just like the night before. So we took lots of pictures, and I also found a good use for many of my extra prayer card/bookmarks. I handed them out to people with my Facebook information so they could find me and but also pray for the remainder of my time in Brazil. It was sad to see them all go as we wrapped up the evening.

I rounded out the evening by getting pictures with rest of the Americans in our group and then we returned to the seminary. Before going to bed I helped Jennifer retrieve the leftover food from the cantina in the dining hall and bring it back to the house, and sometime later I collapsed into bed, a very blessed person.

I can’t even explain in this blog post just how much I enjoyed the Semana de Musica Sacra. I talked to Danae about how much I loved it, and she can probably understand better than anyone else since we experienced it together. It was definitely the high point of the year, and it was right in the middle, just like a chiasm!

It was challenging to see the commitment of these people to learning music. Many of them had some experience, but most of them did not have near as much as experience as me, so I looked like a much better musician than I really am! It made me realize how blessed I was to have music lessons as I grew up. These guys try so hard to play music, but many of them have no access to good music lessons. They don’t learn music in school, but rather at church.

Pictureof AmericansAlso, it was encouraging to see what they sacrificed for this week. Though the price for the Semana de Musica Sacra was reasonable by American standards (somewhere around $100-$120) for a whole week of intense music training, that’s not an easy expense to pay for some of these people, especially those who brought their families! But they wanted to learn and they want to use music to serve God, so they came.

As Uncle Jim said, this is the one week of music lessons that some people get all year, so it’s a huge highlight for them. Nevertheless, in only five days they got music and compiled a wonderful program. Even those who did the Elias were not experienced enough by some standards to perform that piece. But because of a combination of excellent teachers (like Stephen, Pastor Renato, Olivia, Renato Costa, and others) and a desire to do their best, they pulled it off! At the beginning of the week things looked scary as we sightread the music, but they did it!

What do you get when you put together 19 guitarists, 17 violinists, 1 cellist, 1 violist, 14 recordists, 9 flautists, and 5 pianists? An orchestra, of course! Oh, if only you could hear the sound coming from that first group, many of whom are new on their instruments. It was SO beautiful and so well-arranged, and their beaming faces communicated their love for what they were doing.

I love my orchestra at Faith, and this reminded me of the times I get to travel to churches and play, but I didn’t even miss my orchestra this week. Why? Because I was playing with new people, making new friends despite a minor language barrier, and playing high-level music for three concerts in just one weekend. It was a huge encouragement to me in my own life, and I hope I was an encouragement to them as we played together. My only wish is that my orchestra back home could have this experience with these Brasilians.

So, it was an amazing week, and when the week came to an end, it was sad. I don’t like the term bittersweet because it seems like it emphasizes the bitterness more than the sweetness, so it was a sweetbitter day for me. I made many new friends, played some great music, and saw great motivation for ministry from people who don’t have much musical training.

Not to mention, playing with 12 other violins and outnumbering rest of the non-string members of the orchestra was a lot of fun 🙂

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