A letter from Bob Butterfield in Portugal
Keiko and I want to thank you again for your unflagging support for our work in Portugal and share with you some stories that give you the flavor of the place and the churches, especially as Christmas approaches.
Folks in our congregation in Alhadas, a semi-rural town of some 2,000 people, frequently mention something called “The Collectivity.” But never having actually visited it, I wasn’t sure exactly what it was. It sounded vaguely like an agricultural cooperative. But it turns out that The Collectivity is an orchestra hall where, since 1854, local musicians have gathered to give music lessons for free to students of all ages, who play mostly with donated instruments. There are ensembles of different kinds, and all together they form an orchestral band of 80 members. This band also has uniforms and marches. And in nearby towns alone there are 19 such collectivities. Recently three collectivities held their fall concert in Alhadas. Marching into the square each from a different direction, the bands played a greeting to each other and then marched into The Collectivity. After introductions, speeches, and exchanges of gifts, each band played for a full hour: everything from John Phillip Souza to salsa to jazz to the Beatles. And the audience of about 300 loved it, and so did we. The long-time historian of The Collectivity is a member of our congregation. She graciously invited us to sit in her loge, told us the whole history of the institution, and helped point out other church members playing in the band. I came away immensely impressed that such a small, poor town could have such an advanced and long-lasting cultural institution, still going strong in spite of Portugal’s economic woes. Such a thing is possible only because people care about each other, donate their services (and instruments), and all pull together. The same spirit is found in the Presbyterian Church of Alhadas. I don’t hesitate to say that it’s the Spirit.
As I’ve mentioned before, the condition of women in Portugal has historically been rather bad. For example, most women over 40 were denied educational opportunities. Their parents didn’t have much money and chose to use it to educate their sons while the daughters stayed home after 4th grade and helped their mothers around the house until they were old enough to go out and get a job. But once such a woman overcomes her shyness and feelings of inferiority, she can evolve rapidly. Such is the case with two sisters from our congregation in Granja do Ulmeiro. Cinita and Esmeraldina are both bright and eager to study the Bible with me. But at first they were reluctant to even read aloud for fear of making a mistake and embarrassing themselves. In time, though, they’ve come to take considerable pride in how well they read. For quite a while they depended on me to interpret for them, but now they’ve gotten to the point where they both read and interpret, which they do quite well. As a result, they feel really good about themselves and are confident enough now to speak out and serve in various ways they wouldn’t have dared to do before. And the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Portugal (IEPP) has many women like Cinita and Esmeraldina. They just need a chance to study and some gentle encouragement.
In October the IEPP received a delegation from John Knox and Northern Waters presbyteries. They brought with them a bag of gifts. These were small crosses made of wood taken from logs that had absorbed too much water, sunk, and then eventually popped back up to the surface. Such logs are known to loggers in Minnesota/Wisconsin as deadheads. A retired Presbyterian minister uses such logs to make these crosses, which he calls “second chance” crosses because the logs are getting a second chance to be useful and because God graciously gives us second chances. Anyway, these crosses, along with the (translated) story of where they come from, have been a sensation among Portuguese Presbyterians. Everyone in my congregations wanted one to give to a son, daughter, or grandchild. So thank you, John Knox and Northern Waters, you thought of exactly the right gift!
On November 9 Pastor Nini Titosse, Silvina Queiroz (president of the IEPP), Keiko, and I made the very long drive to a remote corner of Portugal, to a town called Ligares on the Douro River near the border with Spain, to visit a Presbyterian church that has been operating for more than a century and whose members are all approximately that old too. In any case, this congregation has inherited a large piece of land suitable for vineyards, and they plan to sell it and give the proceeds to the IEPP. In this way these old women whose lives have been so blessed by their participation in the IEPP will have the amazing opportunity to bless future generations of Portuguese Presbyterians. It will be the best Christmas present that they have ever given or that the IEPP has ever received. Special thanks go to Pastor Rui Rodrigues, who for years and years made the arduous trip up to Ligares to keep that congregation active.
May these stories remind you that Christ is alive in the world.
In His service,
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 270
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 276