Running

1pm, Thursday 5 February.

Yesterday (Wednesday) was some much-needed down time: nothing scheduled except the 7pm evening service. Today, Paul had an 8:30am local Pastors’ Council meeting (which usually goes to midday), then at 2pm we have the kids’ games dropin centre, then at 7pm tonight there is another prayer meeting. After that hopefully we have a meeting with some of the other workers, who in two weeks in Brazil I have not yet had time to meet with other than to exchange a couple of words of greeting. But even then, it will probably not be until tomorrow that I can get some real one-on-one face time.

We’ve just come back from town on two typically urgent but banal missions: one, to buy refilled inkjet cartridges, because Paul is printing out calendars to send to his supporters back home so that they don’t forget him (it’s all too easy for a missionary to just fall into a communication void, and loss of supporters means loss of vital income; as it is his budget is thin). Fortunately third-party refill ink is cheap and he got a good deal on photographic quality paper, so the calendars come out at about R$5 each and maybe fifteen minutes of punching and hand-stringing spiral binding. Postal costs are another R$8 each, but I’ll be bringing some back myself which will be cheaper.

The other mission was to confirm the status of one of his bank accounts, which he closed five years ago. However today he received a statement notifying him that his Internet access for this apparently nonexistent account had been suspended for lack of use. A bizarre mystery which needs face-to-face contact with the bank to confirm, because it could indicate either computer malfunction or attempted fraud or some other illegal activity.

(For example: in the same mail, today, Paul got a demand for payment from a private ‘trademark registry’ for his Avivamento Já ministry, which he has submitted for trademarking to the real Brazilian trademark registry. This is required because otherwise people register competing organisations using the same name and then sue you – at least two other fake Avivamento Já organisations claiming authorship of his writings have already sprung up on the Web since he launched his website.

The fake trademark registry writes an imposing letter and invoice, and they’re obviously well connected with the right databases, but they’re not the real agency. Whether they’re actually illegal or just a ‘helpful’ third party wanting to skim a ‘management’ fee is an open question. There’s a similar greymarket scam in the US with a fake Internet domain name registrar, but here in Brazil the criminals are more creative and have governmental connections. So that’s why you don’t trust anything written in Brazil unless you get independent confirmation that it’s for real.)

The bank eventually confirms that yes, the closed account is really closed and they have no idea why their computer sent out a statement claiming it was still open. That level of automated incompetence is worrying, but at least it seems not to require immediate action to avoid financial or legal penalties.

(In New Zealand, you get into a bank by just walking in the door. Not here. The entrance to the bank is a revolving one-person-per-quadrant door with metal detector built in. An armed guard stands watch inside a few steps away from the door with his hand on his holstered pistol and a row of bullets on his belt. There’s a queue five people deep to exit the bank. It’s intensely claustrophobic but fortunately the metal detector doesn’t choke on my wallet, keys, camera or the tin-foil lined chewing gum packet, all of which trigger airport detectors.)

In the not-quite-hour we have left, we need to make and eat lunch (turkey and cheese sandwiches), which will involve first disinfecting some tomatoes. Vegetables are problematic here – the local supermarket does not sell first-quality goods (we have no idea where that produce ends up, but not here), the city water quality is toxic, and the heat and humidity means that even in a fridge, vegetables spoil rapidly. But tomatoes seem to work, as long as you soak them in bleach first.

And there’s washing to bring in.

(We did eat okay yesterday. The comida á kilo place we went to for lunch has both tasty salads and a great barbeque, and my heaping plate plus drink and dessert cost less than R$20. The day before that the main meal was Subway foot-longs, also around R$20.)

Oh, and last night after calendar making Paul was up to 2am updating the Moodle installation on his website because the Moodle folks just sent out a security alert warning that in a week the latest exploit would be posted publically. Not having your site pwned seems like a good thing, but it’s a huge investment of time and energy to apply these updates, which come out every month or so. Just downloading and uploading the update files over our intermittent slum-quality broadband connection is slow, and then there’s manual backups and configuration to apply. It’s a precarious infrastructure, but it’s pretty much state of the art for web communities at the moment.

The Moodle site has already generated several requests for ministry, with people asking for more information about prayer for healing and someone offering to translate his teaching series into Spanish. So yay for the Internet and yay for open-source, grassroots networking. Who knows how many of these folks might turn out to be the next Che Guevara (hopefully with less guns). But it’s a lot of work to maintain all this, and like running the little church in the slum, the payoff is not always immediately visible.

I haven’t even mentioned the worship service last night, because it’s difficult to find the right words to describe spiritual experiences, but it was what we call in the trade ‘a good one’. There was a presence and energy there which left us spilling out into the street giggling like drunks, and I pity our neighbours. I tranced lightly. One of the teenagers was laid out in a deep trance state on the floor and later claimed he had a vision. Whatever; it’s hard to judge the quality of these things except by their impact on people’s lives, and that comes afterwards.

Is this kind of Pentecostal/Charismatic religion a positive or negative social force? I’m familiar with both sides of the equation. All I can say at the moment is that when I find myself embraced by a warm presence that gives me deep feelings of love for my fellow humans, I think that that’s probably on the good side of the equation. Marxists would probably disagree and call such worship an opiate, at best a distraction or diversion of revolutionary anger, at worst a negative economic force like an addiction. And certainly there is enough of the kind of religion here that is. But… well, miracles do happen, and healings of both the body and the soul. And sometimes they happen in bad, soul-destroying churches as well as good, and that gets very confusing indeed.

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One Response to “Running”

  1. wing Says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zAm33zndd1o&feature=related

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