The Vegetables that Saved a Life

What do a large basket, three hundred trumpets, water from a donkey’s jawbone, and three boxes full of fruits and vegetables have in common?  Continue reading to find out the answer.

Fruits and vegetables purchased at market yesterday to take along to the village on Monday.

On Saturday March 3rd, my sister and I were peacefully sleeping in my little house in the jungle.  “Zujkywa*, Zujkywa!” Xibu’s frantic voice woke me from sleep just after 1 o’clock in the morning.  “Pandet morreu!”  (Pandet died).

“Whaaaa-aat?” was the first shocked word out of my mouth, before I realized I needed to be speaking the tribal language, or at least Portuguese, if I wanted to be understood.  Jumping out of bed and telling Xibu we would be right there, Bri and I changed out of our pajamas as quickly as possible, and headed to Pandet’s house, where almost everyone in the village was already gathered.

Thankfully, Pandet was not dead, but he was completely unresponsive.  (One interesting feature of the this tribal language is that they use the same word for faint and for die.  Yes, that does complicate conversations).  So when Xibu called through my bedroom window in Portuguese, she apparently translated the phrase literally as she would have said it in her language.  While we were thankful that Pandet had only fainted, his breathing was very shallow and his extremies were frighteningly cold.  It was obvious his life was in danger.

His wife and daughter-in-law sobbed loudly, while the rest of the villagers gathered around his hammock or in the next room, all with somber, grief-stricken, fearful faces.  Candles and flashlights did little to illuminate the bedroom and nothing to cheer the atmosphere.  We were helpless, under the shadow of death which hung in the stifling jungle air.

Before my sister and I arrived, Adam, who has basic medical training and is responsible for first aid in our village, had taken Pandet’s vital signs.  Since he was completely unresponsive, though, he could not give him medicine or food.  It appeared that Adam did not know what else to do.

Wishing I had relevant medical knowledge to share, I began to do the only thing I could – pray, asking God to somehow save this dear man’s life.  How could he have gone hunting just the day before and now be lying pale and unconscious in his hammock?

Later, we found out that he had been having diarrhea for a few days.  Then, several hours before, he ate cake and drank kool-aid, which is not the best bedtime snack for a diabetic.

Last to arrive on the scene were the chief’s oldest son and his wife, Eliana, who realized that Pandet was experiencing a diabetic coma and quickly assured everyone she knew exactly what to do.  Eliana’s younger sister has the same type of diabetes as Pandet, so Eliana had cared for her during many similar crises.  After she gave Pandet enough sugar water to revive him, Eliana had him eat some food, which gave him enough strength to sit up in the hammock.  He spoke in a very agitated manner as his family members cried.  I was not able to understand anything that was said.  After ten minutes or so, we all headed back to our homes for the night.

To understand the full impact of this story, you need to know that Eliana does not live in our village.  She is a “city Brasilian”, so their family has always lived in the city, but finally built a house in the village last year.  Although they travel back and forth frequently, they spend more time in Ji-Paraná than in the village.

Now let’s rewind to the afternoon of the previous day, Friday, a couple hours before Pandet ate the cake.  Xibu and her family returned from the city where they had been for about a week.  They brought me three boxes of vegetables and fruits, purchased by Ouripio, another missionary.  His ministry is maintenance and oversight of the mission base property, as well as supply-buying for us who work in the villages.  I leave him with money and a shopping list of vegetables and fruits.  After 3 weeks or so, since that is about the length of time that the last vegetables will run out (winter squash and onions have the longest shelf life), if he finds out about anyone traveling from the city to our village, he makes the purchase and sends my groceries along.  Don, who does daily Bible studies and Sunday services with native people in the city, keeps Ouripio informed of their travel plans, so there is a lot of teamwork involved.

In this case, on Wednesday night, Don found out that a family was planning to travel back to our village early Thursday morning.  So he and Ouripio rushed to the store, boxed up the groceries and took them over to the family.  Well, they changed their mind and stayed in the city (until now, actually), but the boxes with my name on them were all ready to go.

Then on Friday night, at about 8 pm, Eliana and her husband arrived in the village, about 3 hours after Xibu’s family.  They stopped by to say hello, drop off letters from misisonaries at the base, and give us the last groceries, a small styrofoam cooler with cheese and processed meat.  Eliana also asked if we had run out of food, which seemed an odd question.

Saturday, after Pandet’s middle-of-the-night crisis, Eliana told me that they hadn’t been planning to make a trip to the village yet, but all of a sudden her husband said, “Let’s go to the village today.  God put it on my heart to take Zujkyp’s* groceries to her.”  Finding out about this, Xibu, who is his sister, and her family decided to go that day also.

*Zujkyp is the native name I was given.

Being an impressively flexible and supportive wife, married to someone from a very different culture, Eliana prepared for the unplanned 5-hour trip and they headed out the door.  Granted, the chief’s son is known for being spontaneous, but this was different than normal.  It wasn’t an idea he came up with, but a conviction that this was something God wanted him to do immediately. 

Eliana continued, “That’s why I asked you last night if you and Bri had run out food, and if you were both alright.  It was just so odd for my husband to talk that way.”

My voice was hushed by the awe of realizing that something far more important than groceries had been at stake.  “No, we were fine.  Our fruits and vegetables ran out a couple weeks ago, of course, but that always happens, and we had plenty of other food.  After what happened last night, I guess we know the real reason God put it on your husband’s heart to come yesterday.  It wasn’t for Bri and I.”

Tears came to my eyes as I reflected on the miracle that had taken place.  God knew that Pandet would go into a coma and that Adam wouldn’t know what to do.  Not only had God prearranged the timing of the grocery purchase so that the fruits and vegetables would be there just waiting for a ride, He prompted the chief’s son so strongly that he felt compelled to come, arriving in the village only five hours before the crisis occurred.  If Eliana hadn’t been there, it was very possible that Pandet might have died.

Are you facing a crisis in your life, friend?  If God could set events in motion to make sure the right person was in a remote Amazon village, hours away from emergency medical help, to save Pandet’s life, you can be confident that He is in control of your situation too.

That doesn’t mean everything will always turn out the way you want it to, but it does mean that God has a plan.  Will you trust God to work in the hardship or crisis you or your family might be experiencing now?

We serve a God who still works miracles and saves lives, sometimes through very ordinary, commonplace objects and people.  In Scripture He used things as varied and unexpected as  a basket, water from a donkey’s jawbone, and three hundred trumpets and pitchers.  Last month, in our little corner of the jungle, He used fruits and vegetables.

Experiencing such an amazing example of God’s foreknowledge and lovingkindness challenged me to be more sensitive to His leading in the events of daily life.  If you ever feel that God is putting something on your heart, even if it seems odd or unexplainable, let me challenge you to do it.  We never know when our obedience might be a small cog in the machine of a current-day miracle of God.  And we wouldn’t want to miss out on that.

How to Get a Brazilian Permanent Residence Visa in Just Under Ten Years


“Chegou semana passada.”

“It arrived last week”.  Those words from the officer on the phone sent me out the door yesterday afternoon on my first bike ride since Tuesday, when my sister and I went riding together on a quiet, semi-rural road, her last morning before heading back to the States (you will hear more about her visit in my next Crossing Cultures e-mail update and upcoming posts here).  What a surprise to hear that my visa had already arrived!  Granted, I applied for it in December, but for my second-year religious visa extension, I applied in January and the card was not ready until September, so I was expecting it to take a few more months.

If you missed last year’s episode of my visa saga, you can read it here.  And if you would like your own ten-year adventure in mishaps from first entry into Brasil until obtaining permanent residency, just try what I did, summarized in the dated bullet point list below.  Feel free to skip the list and just read the story underneath, however.

  • 2008: entered Brasil with tourist visa, valid for 30 days.  After that, applied for another tourist visa, valid for 5 years, multiple entry, but only permitting me to spend 6 months in Brasil each year.  I was there from October 2008 – April 2009.
  • 2010: applied for and easily received a religious visa, went to Brasil for six months, then due to ministry changes, went back to the USA, where the religious visa expired.
  • 2012: entered Brasil with my tourist visa from 2008, stayed for 2 months.
  • 2013: entered Brasil under the tourist visa again, stayed for 5 weeks.
  • 2014: planning to return as a full-time missionary to Brasil, attempted to apply for religious visa in NYC, was not allowed to do so, given tourist visa instead, and told to change it to a religious visa in Brasil.  That proved to be impossible, which led to visits to various branches of the police in São Paulo and the nation’s capital, Brasilia, to begin a complicated legal process requesting the right to stay in the country longer than a tourist visa would allow.
  • 2015: left Brasil, wondering what the results of the legal process had been (I was never contacted by the immigration department with information about my status, and did not have money or time to continue making trips to Brasilia to inquire), and whether I would be fined on my way out of the country because I had stayed a year and a half with only a tourist visa and a pending legal process.  Nothing was said.  At the end of the year, back in NYC, I applied for a new religious visa, which was granted.
  • 2016: entered Brasil with one-year religious visa
  • 2017: payed fees and did paperwork to extend visa for second year.
  • 2018: applied for religious visa to be transformed into a permanent residence visa, which only has to be renewed every nine years, by a simple process and payment of taxes.

On a practical side, this process required lots of research, money, time and travel.  Thankfully, I was not alone, but received help from parents, siblings, a cousin, uncle and aunt, a street evangelist, pastor and church members, coworkers, Brasilian parents and pastors, Brasilian friends of friends.  These people drove me to bus stations or government buildings (everywhere from Utica to Montreal to SP to Brasilia), picked up approved visas and mailed them to me, housed me overnight, and more, graciously giving of their time and resources to be part of this crazy ten-year process.

On a spiritual side, obtaining permanent residency has involved many tears, fervent prayers, and hard-fought battles to surrender my desires to God’s perfect will, whatever that would turn out to be.  There were moments where I wavered between trust and fear, and even wondered if the door to future ministry in Brasil would remain open, or if God would allow it to close, severing ties with a place and a people I already loved deeply.  I was not alone spiritually either, as all the people mentioned above, and many other brothers and sisters in Christ (including some of you reading this) encouraged me and prayed for safety, direction, favor from government officials, and miracles.

On on occasion, at the consulate in NYC,  I was coldly informed that the requirements for visa application had changed, and the website had not been updated; therefore, I did not have the correct documents.  There were less than two hours left to obtain said documents, return to the consulate, and legalize the documents, although I could not apply for the visa that day.  I needed to catch the bus late that afternoon to be back at work the next day, and hadn’t looked into any options for an overnight stay anyway.  Exhausted from spending the night traveling and then waiting in a little shop for the consulate to open, I could barely hold back the tears as I walked past the Brasilian flag and the guard, who, thankfully, was friendlier than the lady behind the desk had been, and wished me good luck in Portuguese, probably noticing that I looked distraught.

How was I to navigate a huge, intimidating city alone, in search of a library, a post office and other locations for which I had no directions?  I will never forget kneeling just outside the NYC Brasilian consulate, completely oblivious to the people milling past, alone with God.  The cement was rough under my knees as tears of frustration, cooled by the chilly winter air, trickled down my cheeks.  I pulled out my Bible, knowing that it would be foolish to race into the next two hours without the strength and assurance that can only be found in the Word of God.

The passage the Holy Spirit brought to mind was 2 Kings 19, where, after receiving disturbing news in a letter, King Hezekiah

…went up into the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord.  And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord, and said, O Lord God of Israel, which dwellest between the cherubims, thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; thou hast made heaven and earth.  Lord, bow down thine ear, and hear: open, Lord, thine eyes, and see: and hear the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent him to reproach the living God…Now therefore, O Lord our God, I beseech thee, save thou us out of his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the Lord God, even thou only.

If you know the story, you realize that the situation I faced that day was very different from Hezekiah’s.  A cruel enemy nation was out to kill him and the country he ruled.  He was told, “let not thy God in whom thou trustest deceive thee,” implying that the situation was hopeless, and that God was either incapable or unwilling to save Israel, if their God even existed.

Compared to that, I admit that visa problems aren’t worth crying about.  However, I had received very disheartening news, and was facing a challenge for which I was unprepared, an obstacle bigger than my limited knowledge and resources.  The only logical reaction was to take it before the Lord and pray, acknowledging His power and sovereignty and pleading for His help.  I asked God to hear and see my need, and open doors in miraculous ways, not just so that I could serve Him here in Brasil, but so that everyone who would hear the story would know that the Lord is God and give Him the glory.

After five minutes in the presence of the Lord, I stood up, not knowing what the outcome of the day would be, but with full confidence that the God in whom I trusted would not let me down.  My panic was replaced by a calm determination that if it were possible to get the documents and return in time to legalize them that day, I would somehow succeed, with Jesus.

That “somehow” included friendly New Yorkers who gave me directions, lines that moved quickly, breathless jogs down bustling streets with a backpack and ankle-length coat (I must have looked ridiculous, but that didn’t matter), and an indescribable peace that kept my mind focused on doing the next thing instead of worrying.  As you might have already guessed, God worked it all out for me to submit the new documents just before the consulate closed.  Isn’t our God awesome?

That is only a small glimpse into the story that ended yesterday afternoon, with permanent residency in this country I fell in love with nearly a decade ago.


If my visa process had been predictable and quick, as it is for so many other missionaries, so much time and money would have been saved.  But would the qualities of perseverance and determination have been developed in my life to the same degree without the obstacles that had to be overcome just to live here?  Maybe not.  Would my conviction of God’s calling be as strong as it is today?  Probably not.  Would my faith and relationship with the God of the Impossible have grown as much?  No.  Would friends and family and I have prayed as much about this visa if every trip to the consulate had gone smoothly?  Of course not.  Would the thin piece of plastic I hold tightly in my hands bring such grateful tears to my eyes and such a thrill to my heart?  Never.

Not only do I now finally have the legal right to live in Brasil, I also have one more tangible proof of the faithfulness of the God of the Impossible,  in the form of a simple plastic card which represents so much more than anything a government agency could ever print or give.