Archive for May, 2009

05.25.09

Caught Between Two Different Cultures

Posted in Excerpts at 09:30 am by admin

CAUGHT BETWEEN TWO DIFFERENT CULTURES

Stella and Grace on the Terrace

Stella and Grace on the Terrace

In my book, Divine Betrayal, I write about moving from America to Brazil in 1939 and back to America in 1945.  Then, in 1948, we returned to Brazil and three years later came back to America.  By the time I graduated from high school, I had attended fifteen different schools. I had no choice in these moves.  As the young daughter of a missionary, I moved with my parents.

I was five years old when we left Lansing, Michigan, where I felt safe and loved by my family and the church congregation where my father ministered. Brazil was a strange land to me. After the initial shock of a different language, different smells, the incredible beauty of Copacabana beach and a hair-raising car trip to the south of Brazil to stay with relatives, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

I soon adjusted with the help of my Brazilian cousins, and, with every new day I felt more comfortable in Brazil.  When we moved to Florianopolis, I became part of the neighborhood, with loads of friends and many different and exciting things to do.  The six years in Brazil went by way too fast, and then it was time to return to America.

When we returned to the U.S., I was eleven years old, but I could not read or write in English and I spoke with a strong accent. Kids can be cruel at that age, and they teased me constantly. The acceptance of my peers was very important for me and I had to work hard to be accepted. After overcoming some hurdles, like temporary blindness and moving from Michigan to California, I finally began to “fit in.”

I think that moving can be very difficult for children, even if it’s just from one state in the U.S. to another. Even the cultural differences between states like California and Michigan can be a difficult adjustment. Losing daily contact with close friends and family can also be very traumatic. These feelings should not be ignored or dismissed as unimportant.

Despite the difficulties, I not only survived–I thrived. I felt accepted, like a “real” American, by the time I was a freshman in Turlock High School. But just three years later, we had to return to Brazil. I did not want to leave California or my friends and return to that strange land, but as a fifteen-year-old, I had no choice. The first few months I cried a lot, and it took a while to disconnect from America. Also, I traveled throughout Brazil with my parents for eighteen months.  I didn’t go to school during this time, nor was I able to make close friends because the longest we stayed in one place was one week. I was very lonely at first.

But then I met Stella. As a teenage girl, having a close friend was extremely important. Stella helped me adjust to life in Florianopolis.  We went to high school together, had lots of friends, and I spoke Portuguese like a native. I could have passed for a Brazilian. Again, I felt secure and accepted.  Life was great!  I dreamed of going to medical school with Stella and staying in Brazil forever. But the dream ended when, three years after returning to Brazil, we again returned to the U.S.

My parents moved to Germany, and I stayed in the U.S.  Although I didn’t journal during this time, the first year back in America was very traumatic.  We were in California, and again I did not fit in.  I spoke with an accent, dressed differently, and was treated as an outsider, a foreigner. It took awhile to feel American again.  I longed for Brazil.

Anyone who has moved from another country to the U.S. can identify with the feelings I experienced.  I always say that when a person is raised in two different cultures, they will never be 100% happy and “at home” again.  There are things today that I miss and love about Brazil.  I love Brazilian food, Brazilian music, Brazilian beaches, and the roar of the Atlantic Ocean. But most of all, I miss the Brazilian people: their passion for life, their demonstrative nature, the wonderfully expressive Latin language and their friendliness.  It is very difficult for me to describe these feelings about missing Brazil.  Yet any Brazilian who moves to America may have these same feelings. 

America is a wonderful country with conveniences, super highways, financial opportunities, and great schools. Many Brazilians and Mexicans want to move here, but once here, they say as I do, “I can never be 100% happy again! I will always long for whichever country I’m not in.” I think this may be true for any immigrant from any country in the world. (more…)

05.12.09

Questions About Pentecostalism in Brazil

Posted in Excerpts at 08:19 am by admin

Questions About Pentecostalism in Brazil

 

Dad Preaching in Brazil
Dad Preaching in Brazil

In my book, Divine Betrayal, I criticize the way I was expected to be and act as the daughter of an Assemblies of God missionary.  Yes, it was difficult, especially in the 1940’s and 50’s because of the very strict and specific rules of conduct imposed on the church members at that time.  Although many of these rules still exist, they are by no means as rigid as in the past.  I am often asked: Do you think the Pentecostal movement in Brazil is harmful?  Are you against the Assemblies of God? Do you think it is a bad church? My answer is an emphatic “No!”

I think that the Pentecostal movement has been a positive force for change in Brazil and that there are obvious reasons for its popularity. First, I want to describe what a large movement this is.  The majority of Brazilians are Catholic, but this number is decreasing significantly year by year.  In the 1980’s, 89% of the population said they were Catholic; today the number is 64%.  Over half of these non–Catholics say they are Pentecostal.  It’s estimated that there are 24 million Pentecostals in Brazil, versus 5.8 million Pentecostals in the United States. In Brazil this number is mainly found in three denominations: The Assemblies of God, The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, and The Church of the Foursquare Gospel. 

What is the appeal of this movement?  I think it is easy to understand when you look at the Brazilian cultures and the impact of these churches on those cultures. When you read about my childhood, you get a picture of a typical poor neighborhood in Brazil; barely enough food to survive, no medical help, disease, death, alcoholism, dysfunctional families, and prostitution. Sadly, these problems are still widespread in Brazil. The Assemblies of God church provides a safe haven which meets the needs of the poor.  I will try to describe how this works for a poor family.

First, the woman visits the church and there she finds wonderfully loud music. She is free to sing at the top of her lungs, clap her hands, cry out loud, and speak praises to the Lord as she wishes.  The weight of her miserable world is lifted, if only for a day.  Not only that, but the church members act as a supportive family and she is able to ask for forgiveness of her sins, without a priest, and then be assured that Jesus will be by her side and help her make it though another day.  What a cathartic experience!  The sermon gives her hope for the future. She hears that Jesus loves her, there is a purpose for her suffering, and that her reward will be in Heaven, where there are indescribable riches and streets paved in gold.

Chances are, the woman returns to her home smiling, as if the weight of the world is off her shoulders.  She will be more pleasant to live with and will be able to convince her husband to go with her the following Sunday to see for himself what this is all about. The husband agrees, thinking he will be able to hide in a corner and observe the scene. When he enters the church, someone comes up to greet him, asks his name, and welcomes him to the church. Next, they take him up to the front pew, as it is the custom that visitors sit in front. He is too shocked to say no.

The music impresses the man, too. There are large musical bands, a well-practiced choir, and most of the congregation sings along as loudly as possible. Before you know it, he is also singing.  During prayer time everyone prays out loud, and many cry out loud. While this may shock him, he is still interested in what is happening.  The minister makes a point of welcoming all visitors before his sermon.  The sermon is upbeat and the message alternately hopeful or frightening, telling of eternal damnation and hell for those who do not follow God’s way.

At the end of the service, members come to greet him, and often he discovers neighbors he recognizes but does not know personally.  Overall, this has been a strange but positive experience for him. There is often a positive result from all of this.  If he decides to become “born again,” as his wife is, his life will change. The man stops smoking, drinking alcohol, and spending his money on prostitutes and gambling.  He is able to hold down a job, and the result is a rise in family income and a decrease in family violence.  Another common result is better health in general for the family.

No wonder the Pentecostal churches are growing so quickly in Brazil.  They are a positive force and do wonders for the lower classes of Brazil.  Recently, I read an article which describes this same phenomena going on in the worst slums of Brazil, and it resulted in people giving up, not only alcohol, but drugs and drug trafficking as well. The Pentecostal churches are helping desperate people to live better lives right now in their current circumstances and to hope for better things in the future. (more…)

05.05.09

Choosing a Book Title

Posted in Excerpts at 08:40 am by admin

Choosing a Book Title

Choosing the right book title is a very difficult and important decision.  The title has to describe what the book is about and should inspire a person to buy and read the book. So, I am often asked about the meaning of my title, Divine Betrayal.

Looking back on my life, I find that I was betrayed in many ways.  The very first betrayal occurred when a trusted missionary friend, Brother Widmer, sexually abused me when I was six years old.  In describing the abuse perpetrated by the Catholic clergy, the word “betrayal” is commonly used.  The betrayal is not only of the child, but also of the parents.  Someone they totally trusted, a spiritual guide or model for themselves and their children, betrayed their trust. 

In recalling my experience, it was significant for me to remember that I did not tell my parents.  I kept it to myself.  Why did I do this?  First, I was afraid that they would make me discontinue my “story-telling sessions” with Brother Widmer.  Second, and most importantly, I did not think they would believe me.  I did not feel safe in sharing my questions about Widmer’s behavior because I was raised in a “closed” religious system. My definition of a “closed” religious system is a system where questions and doubts are not allowed and where doubt in any form is SIN. So, it would have been sin for me to question a leader’s behavior or suggest that he was doing anything wrong.

Also, I was afraid my parents would accuse me of imagining it since I knew they could never see Brother Widmer as a pedophile.  In their view, a man of God would never be capable of such an act.  That is why my parents defended Brother Widmer when he was accused of child rape.  I have read scores of letters they wrote to relatives, friends, and even to the head of the Assemblies of God Mission Department defending “dear Brother Widmer, who is being persecuted by the devil,” referring to the legitimate accusations leveled against him by the community.

Closed religious systems are very subtle, and it took me years to realize that I was trapped in one.  My mother and father were wonderful, sincerely devoted Christians, but there could never be a two-way conversation between us. They “had all the answers” and could not be questioned because their answers came directly from the Bible, the Word of God. The consequences of questioning and doubting were eternal damnation and separation from God, but the most devastating consequence for me, their child, was the loss of their love. 

I believe that this also is betrayal.  Many fundamentalist parents today, like my parents then, do not allow their children to question anything or act out some of their doubts, and this is often damaging for the children.  Extremely religious parents often use fear, rejection, and a heavy dose of guilt to manipulate their children to agree with them and never question the faith. This kind of manipulation occurs by some members of all forms of religions. Radical sects within Catholicism, Judaism, Mormonism, Islam, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Protestantism believe that only they have the direct path to eternal salvation and try to convince everyone to follow them. The ones that are hurt the most by this type of extremist fundamentalism are the family members. (more…)


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