United Church of God

Bridging Two Cultures

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Bridging Two Cultures

For 10 days, an eight-member team traveled to the savannah hills of northeastern Brazil. In April 2014 at Passover time, plans were laid for drilling an irrigation well, and for initiating a vegetable garden and orchard to supplement the nutritional needs of the community. The May-June 2014 issue of United News has the background information on the project. 

The Builders Assemble

On Dec. 16, 2014, the eight-member team assembled in Miami, Florida, to begin the 10-day project in Brazil. Members included Jorge de Campos, senior pastor from Cincinnati, Ohio; Lloyd Teetaert, an elder from Regina, Saskatchewan; Paul Syltie, a soil scientist from Sinai, South Dakota; Nick and Megan Lamoureaux from North Hartland, Vermont; Abigail Syltie from Dallas, Texas; Angela Helseth from Tucson, Arizona; and Meagan Garant from Kitchener, Ontario. High spirits characterized this team as it flew to Manaus, Brazil, and then the following day to Boa Vista, the capital of Roraima State along the Guyanese border to the north. The group was met in Boa Vista by Geraldo and Benedito of the Maloca de Moscou United Church of God, and by late afternoon the eight had driven to the town to set up tents and accommodations.

The Wapishana are very poor by the world’s standards, and this lifestyle does not encourage more than subsistence living: Enough is enough, and making money by Western standards is rather foreign to them.

Armed with the gift of service toward their needful brethren, and selflessly devoting their time, the group of eight set about the task of “priming the pump,” to demonstrate to their Amerindian brethren how they can capitalize on their land, crops, and energy to bring in more income to better support their families, and be lights to others in the community. Land on the reservation is free, and lumber and other building resources are readily available, so overhead costs are low. Armed with a water well recently dug and financed by United Church of God, Good Works and LifeNets contributions, the work officially began on Dec. 17, 2014. The community had recently built a barbed wire fence around several acres to keep out cattle, with about a third of an acre in one corner fenced with chicken wire to keep out wild hogs that roamed the area. The hogs are capable of extensive damage, even during a single night.

It soon became obvious that God was blessing the project. Seemingly impossible tasks were faced, attacked, and completed by the combined efforts of the volunteers and the church community. A “mountain” of cattle manure outside the garden fence needed to be spread across the garden, yet within two hours the first morning the entire pile had been spread evenly over the soils using wheelbarrows and shovels, sacks, and sheer human muscle power.

Now the obstacle of adding lime to the garden faced the group. There appeared to be none available. Fortunately a church member knew of a neighbor not far away who owned a lime grinder, and within a few hours about 500 pounds of lime had been ground from limestone rocks and was delivered in bags to the garden site. The willing workers heartily loaded into wheelbarrows and spread this supply by hand across the garden. The fertility was in place! Moreover, a tractor and disk arrived before sunset to incorporate the materials into the soil. How the pieces all fit together in one day was miraculous!

An Orchard and Pipeline as Well

Meanwhile, a portion of the people began work on the orchard, first measuring and making rows, and then digging holes to plant trees at intervals along the rows. The holes each had a berm built up around it to hold water. Construction of a water pipeline, from the well atop the hill above to the garden and orchard below commenced on the first day as well. Picks and shovels rapidly dug a shallow trench from the well, along which water was run to soften the hard, sun-baked soil and allow easier digging. Used plastic pipes were laid and connected.

The talents pulled together for the project coalesced by an unseen hand. Nick’s experience with irrigation systems, my own knowledge of soil fertility, gardening, and orcharding, Lloyd’s talents in engineering, and the nascent wisdom of everyone worked together in a rhythm that was hard to comprehend by any rational judgment.

There is still much work to be done on both the garden and orchard. During a parting teaching session, we taught the brethren what to do next. A more secure lower border around the garden fence must be constructed to keep the hogs from burrowing underneath; more fruit and nut trees need to be planted; crops must be thinned, watered properly, and mulched for weed control and water conservation; the garden must be filled with additional crops; and fertility needs to be maintained in the garden for subsequent plantings, which thankfully can be supplied by an abundance of freely available manure. The brethren came up with the magnificent idea of composting the manure to make an even better fertilizer, so instructions were given for such a project.

A Basis for Growth

Now that the garden, orchard, and well have been established, the potential for improving the nutrition of the Wapishana community, as well as selling excess produce in the local markets, gives the people hope for greater self-sufficiency in monetary needs for their families and for the Feasts. The price of cassava, their main cash crop, has dropped significantly these past months, so vegetable and fruit sales should help make up for this loss and boost incomes over the coming years.

There can be no doubt among any of us that were there in Brazil for those 10 days of hard work and joyful diversions, that the spirit of the living God was the guide and sustainer of the effort.

Thanks to the selfless contributions of time and effort by six Youth Corps volunteers, working side-by-side with their Wapishana brethren, a bridge to the modern culture—and especially to God’s unique culture—is being built. This bridge will not damage the inherent good of Maloca de Moscou’s strong family traditions and contentment with the basic essentials of life, but rather will help them confront the realities of a present-day society that demands they provide better for their day-to-day needs. It is a “pump-priming” from which all will benefit.