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A Legacy of Education

A letter from Gordon and Dorothy Gartrell serving in Brazil

August 2015

Write to Gordon Gartrell
Write to Dorothy Gartrell

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Dear Friends,

One of the legacies of Presbyterian Missions in Brazil is EDUCATION.

Here in Governador Mangabeira, land was bought years ago to build a church and, right alongside, a school. The church was founded 66 years ago; it was the first Protestant church to establish ministry here. As part of the church-planting strategy in this region, the Presbyterian Mission provided a worker for the church as well as teachers for the school.  This strategy was followed on many Presbyterian mission fields.  Many of the schools came to be recognized for their excellence and filled a great need not being covered by local governments.

Nilza, the director of the school, and her sister Jorcele who was assistant director

Nilza, the director of the school, and her sister Jorcele who was assistant director

The nearest big city to us is Salvador, capital of the State of Bahía. There mission workers set up the Colégio Dois de Julho, a boarding school established to serve children from the rural area.  Nilza Pereira da Mota, an elder in our church, went to Salvador to study at this school when she was a teenager. Nilza is one of nine children born to Presbyterian parents in Mangabeira.  Nilza enjoyed her studies and dedicated herself to the education profession.   She took full advantage of the opportunities given her.  She taught in small country schools before she completed her college degree in Education.  Her sister, Ester, studied nursing in another school started by Presbyterian missionaries.

In 1984 Nilza returned to Mangabeira as Director of the Josué da Silva Mello School, the little school established on the land adjacent to our church and named for a beloved pastor who was also an educator. Nilza’s father and uncles were instrumental in the founding and development of the church and paid for the current sanctuary.

Nilza showing Gordon and Dorothy activities of the school

Nilza showing Gordon and Dorothy activities of the school

Nilza continued as Director until 2014. Under Nilza’s 31 years of competent leadership, the school came to be recognized as a model institution providing classes from kindergarten through third grade.  Another of her sisters, Jorcele, served as Assistant Director.  Nilza was always the big picture person and her sister tended to all the details (when we visited the school recently it was her sister who always knew what keys fit what locks!).

The school catered to underprivileged children and made an excellent name for itself in this community.  As Brazil invested more in education, the school registered with the state and later partnered with the city.  For a number of years the city paid the salaries of teachers and other school employees while the state provided the materials necessary for the classrooms.  The church provided upkeep for the building and grounds.

For more than three decades, the school was filled to capacity.  Many children were placed on a waiting list, should any of the children drop out for whatever reason

All this changed early this year. The Brazilian government, at both national and state levels, has been investing much money in building new schools in recent years.  In Mangabeira the mayor received funding to build a big new school that had plenty of space for playgrounds and large classrooms—facilities that far surpassed the crowded conditions offered by Josué da Silva Mello School.  Nilza was shocked to learn—just weeks before the new school year began—that the teachers and other staff, whose salary was paid by the city, were being transferred to the new school.  She had thought that both schools would continue in operation.

Now in her 70s, Nilza has been left doing lots of heart-searching.  She never married.  She has poured her life into teaching and being the Director at the school.  Although she is past retirement age, she still has plenty of energy!  She is a respected leader in town and is a gracious and caring person.  In this new situation she and the other elders are evaluating how their church can continue to use the school building and what other needed educational services they can provide for the community.  One option they are looking at is to provide a supervised space where kids can do their homework and get educational reinforcement.  Currently we are providing English classes and music lessons, especially keyboard and guitar.  These are services that even poor families are prepared to pay small fees to receive.

Please pray for Nilza and the other session members as they discern what will be the next chapter for the Josué da Silva Mello School. Pray especially that Nilza finds ways to continue to serve the Lord, the church and her family in a fulfilling way.

We have learned a lot since we wrote our last newsletter.  Our town claims to have a population of 20,000 people, but it turns out that that is the population of the whole county.   The actual town has about 6,000.  It is not surprising, then, that we have to go to other towns nearby to do many necessary things.

In the last newsletter we said our partner church sends a van to pick up children for Sunday school.  To explain: we do not have a partner church. Our church does, however, send a van to pick up to 25 children who live on the edge of town and bring them to Sunday School.  It always arrives full of excited, energy-filled children anxious to see what the next two hours have in store. They are children who have never attended church, so we are trying to help them learn to respect the pastor and church leaders and how to behave in the sanctuary.  They love to sing, so we sing a lot of hymns and choruses before we have a Bible story and an activity.  The children range in age from 5 to 15, so we have divided them into two classes. Many of them have not learned to respect their parents or schoolteachers, so it is a challenge to help them learn to behave in the 10-15 minute opening session with the whole church!

We are thankful for your prayers and for your continued support for our ministry.  If you are learning of our ministry for the first time, please pray for us.  Won’t you consider supporting our ministry with your gifts? Without your constant accompaniment, our ministry would not be possible.

In Christian Service,
Gordon and Dorothy Gartrell

The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 49

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