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Life-changing Service in Brazil

A Letter from Dorothy and Gordon Gartrell, serving in Brazil

September 2020

Write to Gordon Gartrell
Write to Dorothy Gartrell
Individuals: Give online to E200489 for Gordon and Dorothy Gartrells’ sending and support
Congregations: Give to D506355 for Gordon and Dorothy Gartrells’ sending and support
Churches are asked to send donations through your congregation’s normal receiving site (this is usually your presbytery)


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Dear family and friends,

Our time in Brazil, as missionaries has come to an end. Gordon and I have accepted an early separation offer from the PC(USA). It’s a blessing to look back on the seven places we worked in Brazil and see how many people have experienced the love of Jesus Christ and the deep joy that comes with being a part of a community of faith.

The church in Governador Mangabeira was our last place of service. Three people began a Facebook weekly service five months after we came to the U.S. They social distance, use different microphones and are beginning to have a few other people join the original three. It reaches a lot of local folks and others from two hours away.

Our first eighteen years we worked with the Independent Presbyterian Church of Brazil (IPIB). We began in Paranã, Tocantins, a town of 2,000 people, working in five congregations within a couple hours distance from of each other. They were in poor communities, some did not have electricity and running water. The town had no paved roads, so we offered rides to many people and drove them to the various places where we were going. Our life was simple, but we rejoice over many lives of all ages that improved and continue to help others.

Our second place of service was Imperatriz, Maranhão. It had 250,000 people and was a dangerous town on the edge of the Amazon Region. We had many children and youth in the church and only a few came from a happy family. Dorothy invited the youth over to our home to teach them about caring relationships. Years later we saw two of the couples at a wedding and were touched that they still attended church, were happily married, and taking care of their children!

Then we worked in Salvador, Bahia, a city of 2 million people. We served a church that was without a pastor, started a new congregation and worked with other congregations in a large presbytery who had lay leaders. Gordon served communion, performed baptisms, and lead worship. Our family lived with the lay leaders of the congregation and listened and supported them. The groups in the congregation enjoyed singing and doing special Bible readings in worship for us. Our children went to an American school with classes in English and a few in Portuguese, improving their Portuguese tremendously. Dorothy helped develop a PTA, introducing new activities for mothers and students. We each had special friends there and in church, many of whom are still very dear friends today!

Our fourth city of service was Recife, Pernambuco. The Brazilian church’s dream was a church with upper middle class or upper-class members, but those people had moved to suburbs and our neighborhood was dangerous. We lived on the sixth floor of an apartment building and could see the American School from our windows. People in our building entered their apartment, locked the door immediately, and didn’t leave until they went to work. It was hard to make friends. Daniel was walking home from school and two teenagers tried to steal his watch. A delivery man rode by on his motorcycle and yelled at them and demanded they leave him alone. He ran quickly to our building. The guard wasn’t allowed to leave to help anyone! Two years after we arrived people said “I know you’re happy to go back to the U.S.” The PC(USA) soon let us know that we were being called back to the U.S. and gave six months to say good-bye. We left January 3rd, after selling and giving away all our household items, so that Daniel would not lose a year of school.

We were in the U.S. for three years, waiting for a pastoral call. We spoke in churches for a few months, Gordon preached occasionally, and Dorothy substitute taught in all the Decatur schools. After a year, we moved into two small apartments. We slept in one and Daniel slept in the other, but we used just one kitchen and living room.

We went to orientation in Canada in January 2012 thanks to an invitation to work with the United Presbyterian Church (IPU). Daniel stayed with friends for one semester to graduate from high school. We served in Belem, Para at the mouth of the Amazon River. It was VERY HOT and rained each day at 3 pm. The description of our work had been written a number of years before we were called to travel there. When we arrived, we found that things had changed immensely. We expected to work with a congregation of 30 members, but we found a congregation of one member! We lived in a dangerous neighborhood and people asked why we were there. Why weren’t we in a better city? In over a year we were only invited into one house near the church, so we visited with our neighbors at their doors.

After fourteen months, we went to Pains, Minas Gerais, much further south. The pastor’s husband had killed himself 12 years before and she had a fulltime job. We brought new ideas and visited people often. Dorothy had a popular Bible Study with the ladies and every month we spent one Saturday in a farming community, visiting families in the afternoon and then conducted a worship service in the evening. After the service we stopped to eat a special corn dish, cheese biscuits and many other baked treats at the home of one of the church members.

In 2015 we began serving a church in Governador Mangabeira, Bahia, just two hours west of Salvador, the capital where we had worked. At the first service we had five members present. Until the 1990’s there were no local middle schools or high schools in the town, so the teen-agers went to Salvador, the state capital, to study and very few ever returned. We worked on reaching out to young adults in the community. Family members of members joined the church and in time others joined. There was no “women’s group,” all adults fellowshipped together. The leaders developed leadership skills and before we left, they developed activities, reaching out to the church and community. We were active in the community, using our spiritual gifts to serve in a variety of ways.

Thank you for your support over the years! You have enabled us to bring Christ to many lives. The PC(USA) will continue to support us through June, 2021. We will return to Brazil, as soon as it is healthy to do so to say good-bye and give away, sell, or bring back our things, so please continue to support us.
We invite you to join us in our final Zoom Worship Service this Thursday evening September 24, 2020 at 7:00 pm. Here is the Zoom Registration link:

May Lord bless each one of us.
In Christ,
Gordon and Dorothy

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