A letter from Josh Vis in Brazil
Playing the Odds
When we lived in the United States we rarely had to gamble. We were middle-class, with all that goes with that, and my parents and Kim’s parents were always willing and able to help us when problems arose. Our daughter was born at Duke University Hospital, one of the best hospitals in the U.S. She has always had the best car seats, the best doctors, and great caretakers. We could and did play it pretty safe. Now, don’t get me wrong—this hasn’t changed dramatically. Our parents still are able and willing to help us and we are middle-class, perhaps even upper-middle-class here in Brazil. And yet I find myself frequently thinking about the odds. Mahalia, now 4 years old, has ridden on my or Kim’s lap in cars many times here in Brazil. The cars are generally much smaller here and since we are relying on the generosity of friends and acquaintances, we have been willing to accept less than ideal safety conditions for us and, more importantly, for Mahalia. Just this past Sunday we went to church via bus but were kindly offered a ride back to Rudge Ramos, our neighborhood. We weren’t the only ones in need of a ride, so in order to accommodate more people Mahalia sat on Kim’s lap in the car. In the States we would never do this, partly because we wouldn’t need to and partly because it is probably illegal. But here it is quite common, and thus we were left to decide whether it was better to play it safe, risking offense, or to play the odds, which are in our favor. We played the odds and thankfully we didn’t lose.
Yesterday I was walking home from work, as I always do, when I came to the somewhat secluded part of my walk. Just last week a couple of young men attempted to steal the cell phone of our neighbor’s son in this spot. Now, I could take a longer route so as to be sure I would not be robbed (I was thinking about my computer with all of my dissertation stuff, only most of which is backed up), but I played the odds. Again, I didn’t lose. Next time I’m sure I’ll do the same thing because the walk to work is already a bit long and I see no compelling reason to lengthen it.
Kim is pregnant with our second child and in Brazil the majority of women of means (middle-class and above) choose to have a C-section. Kim did not have a C-section for Mahalia and does not want one now. Furthermore, Kim does not yet have a doctor here, nor do I, nor does Mahalia, for that matter. We don’t know the hospitals here yet. Again, since the odds are in our favor, we’re assuming that we’ll be able to sort these things out and everything will be fine. Call it irresponsible or carefree, but when you decide to do something like this (move to another country and learn a new language), you have to be willing to play the odds. If you aren’t willing to let go of the certainty and control that you are used to, you will go crazy. This new setting has increased our vulnerability and we are trying to just accept it and live.
This past month perhaps the most well-known and well-respected Old Testament scholar in South America died. Milton Schwantes was to be my colleague and mentor here at Universidade Metodista. He was very well respected throughout Latin America and he was beloved by the students at Metodista. If that were not enough, the man I replaced at Metodista as the biblical scholar from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Archibald Woodruff, also passed away this past month. Archibald left this position because he developed cancer, which ultimately took his life. In these cases the odds went against us. I, a budding Old Testament scholar, am the only new person available to attempt to fill the vacancy of Milton, and of Archibald. The prospect of filling the shoes of these two wise men is daunting, especially in a language I have only known for eight months. And yet I forge ahead, assuming that, odds are, if they could be respected and loved, perhaps so can I.
As always, we are grateful for your support, both financial and spiritual. Please pray for Kim’s pregnancy, Mahalia’s schooling, Josh’s work in Old Testament at Universidade Metodista, and language acquisition for all three of us.
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 27