For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.

And for us, Barb and Gus
a time to change, a time to move on,
a time to hear another “call.”

“ a time to be born, and a time to die,
  a time to break down and a time to build up,
  a time to mourn and a time to dance, 
  a time to seek and a time to lose
  a time to keep and a time to cast away.”
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-4)

And for us, Barb and Gus
a time to change, a time to move on,
a time to hear another “call.”

But, not without all of the feelings cited above. I have reached my 80th year and Gus, his 79th. I have spent half of my life in Brasil and now a part of me will die, will break down and mourn, feel a sense of loss. But at the same time, it is time to dance with joy for the wonderful people who have struggled with us to empower others and work for God’s justice over all these years. It is time to begin a new life, to seek another way to serve in Christ’s name. Our lives have been filled with victories and we cast away the failures, the negatives and seek only to remember all that has been accomplished with your help. Your loving and caring support has been another victory for us and though we weep at leaving so much behind, we dance as we remember, secure in the knowledge that you will continue to shower your love and support for our ministry of which you are so much a part. We will no longer be your hands here in Rio de Janeiro, but wherever we are, we will continue to be your hands as a part of this ministry.

But it is time! We have felt it from the moment the city took over our health clinic. We are still there, helping through the transition from our NGO’s administration to the Social Organization which took over the administration of all the public health services in Rio. The beautiful buildings belong to our NGO and the rent the Social Organization pays for its use, will support our very important physical therapy program.

Our NGO, the Association of Community Health Educators, will continue with the Training Course for Community Health Educators, the basis of our ministry, as well as our successful children’s program which I have written about. As the health educators training course changes women’s lives so the children’s program changes the lives of children who might otherwise be led to drugs, robbery or prostitution.

Our NGO will also continue with our educational women’s scholarship program which to this day has helped so many to finish grammar school, high school, professional courses and even college. The Global Ministries of the UCC and Disciples has aided us in this scholarship program so that in January two of our women will graduate from college as nurses.

At this present moment, our financial aid for women’s education is helping three of our health educators to finish grammar and high school, two studying to be nurse technicians, one doing advanced computer training. And now hopefully, we will begin to financially aid the coordinator of the course for community health educators and my administrative assistant all these years who has just entered a university to study to be a teacher.  These are life changing experiences. Women’s empowerment through education! “When sleeping women awake, mountains will move.” (Chinese proverb)

A new Board of Directors of the Association of Community Health Educators has been called, and in January, the legal papers will be signed. Let me introduce you to them.

PRESIDENT, MARIVANI: has been the vice president for many years. She is a college professor, social worker and theologian, extremely active in church and politics and a member of the Catholic Church in the shanty town. (Her husband speaks and writes English.)

VICE PRESIDENT, KELLY:  one of my students from the first health educators training course in the shanty town in 1993, finished high school while working as a health educator in the clinic, became a nurse’s assistant after finishing the training and then, with the financial aid of two dear friends of ours, she finished college and became a nurse in the clinic. She is taking English lessons. (she lives in the shanty town)

SECRETARY, CLEIA:  a former pre-school teacher, retired, a community organizer and politically active. She has helped us for many years when we had clinic problems with the city health department and when the shanty town was threatened with demolition. She also accepted the role of coordinator of our children’s program for which we will pay a minimal salary. (she lives in the shanty town)

2ND SECRETARY: FLAVIA: one of the students from my first health course in Anil, active in the community and church, especially active in projects for the benefit of the shanty town as she has lived there for more than 40 years.

TREASURER, ISABEL (BEL): one of the students of the first health educator training course, I gave in the shanty town in 1993. She became a health educator when the clinic began in 1999, then a nurse’s assistant after we helped her go through the training course. She later became a teacher of the community health educators’ course, and finally the coordinator of the training program in my place. At the same time she became my administrative assistant in the clinic. She has just entered college to become a teacher for which she has so much talent and, hopefully, we can continue to give her financial aid as she will be the leader to carry on the mission. (She is a single mother or two and lives in the shanty town)

2ND TREASURER, ROSA: she has been our treasurer ever since our first one stole our money and went to jail. She bailed us out of the financial problems this caused. She is a retired banker and will be able to train Bel because of her financial expertise. She has handled our bank accounts for nine years, investing donations and overseeing our building projects paid for with church donations. She has been our right hand person. (her son speaks English)

SUPERVISOR OF PHYSICAL THERAPY PROGRAM AND RESPONSIBLE FOR THE FINANCES OF THE CHILDREN’S PROGRAM, LEA: I have known Lea for 40 years and worked with her on many projects. She was the creator and is the organizer of our physical therapy program and has done all the shopping and supplying of the needs of all our programs.

The NGO also has other members responsible for checking the administration of the Association as well as the clinic’s activity.

And, now for Gus and I. We will be moving to a UCC retirement village, Piedmont Crossing in North Carolina. My youngest daughter, Judy, lives nearby. My middle daughter, Susan, who lives in Texas, hired an immigration lawyer for Gus will have to immigrate again as he lost his right to use his green card after being away for so long. And guess what? We might even have to get married again if he comes in on a fiancé visa like last time! Our family is enthusiastic about our finally moving closer to “home” after all these years. They recognize how hard it will be but are there to help. We can never be away too long from our beloved River Falls but the winters are just too long and cold for out tropical blood!

We will continue to be a part of the NGO in Brasil and with Sue Christopher and Barb Peterson’s help; we will be in constant contact with it and all of you. Gus and I cannot sign off without saying a special word of gratitude to Sue for all she has done for us personally, as well as our ministry over these last 25 years. She has been God’s gift to us and as they say in Portuguese, “Deus lhe Pague”, or ”only God can repay you (her) enough” for she is as much a part of our ministry as we are; she is the behind the scenes administrator.

We thank the Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ for their support of our ministry all these years beginning with  Rev. David Vargas who believed in the project for the empowerment of women though health education. Our thanks to Rev. Felix Ortiz, now responsible for the Latin American division of the Global Ministries and all of the staffs of both churches who have been behind us in every way possible. “Deus lhes pague.”

We thank our faithful and loving congregation of United Church of Christ, River Falls, WI., our home church, and the loyal Pastors, beginning with Rev. Dick Hoblin, then Rev. Del Permann and now Rev. Chris Myers for these years of support, and the loving concern for the people we serve. We also thank Barb Peterson for her support of us personally, from her first unforgettable smile to two lost newcomers, as well as the Brasilian Fund’s accountability. “Deus lhes pague”. 

We also thank the wonderful congregation of the United Methodist church in River Falls and the Pastors who have been such faithful supporters beginning with Don Stannard, Revs. Jenny Arneson and Janet Ellinger. We thank the faithful congregation of the Lake Bluff Union Church, Ill beginning with Rev. Bob Emory, later Carl Lugn and the present Pastor Mark Hindman, for supporting our work ever since I left that church for Brasil in 1967, 43 years ago, “Deus lhes pague”.

And last, but not at all the least, we thank you, the members of so many churches all over the United States, some I have even had the privilege of visiting, for your showing of Christ’s love and concern to “the least of these” your less fortunate brothers and sisters. We pray for your continued support. And “Deus lhes pague”.

In gratitude. Shalom,

Barb and Gus

An early wish for a joyous holiday season and a New Year filled with hope for a better and more just world.

Barb de Souza is a volunteer with the Institute of Religious Studies (ISER).  She serves as an advisor for popular education and training in the areas of health and sexuality.