Brazil Sojourn by Peter E Mathiasen


Our survey team pulled up in a clearing at the edge of the narrow forest road. Out over the bush, still some kilometres away was our destination; Loanda. Though still early in the evening, here in the semi tropics it was already dark. There ahead of us were the lights of this little frontier city, hacked out of the tropical forest around it. (Isn’t there something in the Bible about not hiding your light under a bushel?) There in the black night of the jungles where no hydroelectric power was yet available, twinkled the welcome lights of Loanda, powered by their own generators. Sixty three years have gone by and I still carry that picture in my mind.

Loanda's Main Street in 1959
Loanda's Main Street in 1959

That was my introduction to Loanda. Little did I know at this point that in less than a year, that is where Elna and I and our two-year-old son, Paul, would be spending the next four years until our first furlough in 1963. Yes, way into the interior, almost at the Parana River, the farthest inland of any of our missionaries, a slow 2-hour drive on the rough and sandy interior roads from our nearest colleagues, the Aamots (Jack & Ruth) in Paranavaí. 

What a Contrast! 

It was a big contrast to what we had experienced in our first 5 years of married life. That was interesting enough; living in 3 countries; the United States, Canada and a year in Brazil. Our first year in Campinas was a succession of days filled with new and interesting experiences in one of Brazil’s most modern cities. But here we were on the frontier, in a new city not more than five years old, filled with people from everywhere, but mostly from the state of São Paulo and Brazil’s north, though with a few Gauchos too. The roads were completely undeveloped with many sandy sections to slow progress. In Loanda itself, the city streets were not much better with no asphalt in sight. The houses were built with newly sawn peroba, (yes, still green!) harvested from the surrounding jungle, and red tile roofs from a neighbouring Santa Isabel industry. 

New arrivals from Brazil's Northeast
New arrivals from Brazil's Northeast

Getting Groceries 

There were other things to get used to. The grocery stores were very basic and carried little more than canned and dry goods. Bread, like a miniature french bread (pão de água) came by delivery in the early morning. (Fresh bread with butter and sometimes jam - deelicious!) A man on a horse with saddle bags packed with milk-filled wine bottles brought us unpasteurized milk every day. And sometimes one suspected that they were “baptizing” the milk with water. That milk had to be boiled before use, and sometimes we resorted to powdered milk which was also available. 

Milk came in wine bottles, unpasteurized.

We could buy meat mid-morning since they had to butcher it first. The butcher had a stall in a building close by. He chopped it off with a cleaver on a peroba stump. If you got there at the right time, you might be able to buy one of the better cuts. 

Fresh fruits and vegetables were hard to get. Usually you could find carrots, potatoes and tomatoes, sometimes cabbage and little else at the little green grocer’s on main street. We ended up going to Paranavai once every week or two, so we could have luxuries like lettuce, fruit and whatever else we could find. The stores never had papaya. We learned early on that if we didn’t plant it ourselves, we would have to go out in the coffee fields along the roads, where there were always plenty of volunteer papaya trees. The green grocer, Jaime (who also ran the town’s print shop and became a great friend of ours) was the one who urged us to do that! Ah yes! All this we learned to do in those first few months. 

Money Exchange 

And we needed to have the local currency, but changing money was another matter. It was possible to use the local bank, but they couldn’t do it locally unless you had the cash. Cheques had to be sent away, and you were never sure when the exchange might happen so you could pick up your cruzeiros. So once in a while I had to take out a loan at the bank. As a result whenever I travelled to São Paulo which was not infrequent since I was on several mission committees, I bought enough cruzeiros to last for a month or two, sometimes more. 

Air Travel 

Air travel was inexpensive. The first years we were in Loanda, air travel from the interior was actually government supported, to help open the interior. So it was usually cheaper to travel by air than by Jeep. However, the government support soon ended as the political situation deteriorated after Janio Quadros who had been seen as the savior of Brasil when elected president, suddenly stepped down, but that’s another whole story. The good part is that flights were always available, either by a DC3 three times a week or by teco-tecos like the one in the photo. The airport was simple with only a small garage-like structure for arrivals and departures. When one of the teco-tecos arrived, they would fly over the taxi line in town signaling the need for one of them to pick up the passengers. 

Paul with Luiz and his Cessna air taxi
Paul with Luiz and his Cessna air taxi


The interior was opening up because the soil was rich, the price of coffee was favourable and so every bit of land that was cleared was being planted with little coffee seedlings. The farms were small and the land company was fostering the arrival of farmers from northern Brazil to farm this new area. When we arrived, the first coffee bushes were beginning to produce and a huge coffee warehouse was being built not far from town. 

Loanda Coffee Warehouses built for 600,000 sacks of coffee

Hopes Dashed! 

Fires as in this photo, taken by Bob Kasperson, tore through the forests and coffee fields alike, bringing an end to the dreams of coffee farmers in northern Paraná
Fires as in this photo, taken by Bob Kasperson, tore through the forests and coffee fields alike, bringing an end to the dreams of coffee farmers in northern Paraná

In 1963 we left for our first furlough which was for a full year. We hired our neighbour who had an air taxi service to fly us to Londrina where we could catch the airline to São Paulo and from there to Canada. The night before had been cold, in fact the temperature had dropped below freezing, and as we took off, Luiz, the pilot, pointed out the damage. Everywhere where coffee was planted, the bushes had turned black from the frost, vast tracts of them. In fact, much of the virgin forest had blackened as well. Little did we know then that this was the beginning of the end for coffee production, not only in the Loanda area, but across much of the northern part of the state of Paraná. When we returned to Loanda years later, it was to vast areas of grazing land for beef cattle, plus cotton, sugar cane or rice plantations. There was hardly a coffee bush in sight. 

Where To Live? 

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Our little family settled into our new neighbourhood, excited at the new surroundings, new friends and hopes. With housing scarce, we started life in Loanda, living in an empty storefront while we built a house on an empty lot. 

Storefront behind which we lived while our house was being built
Storefront behind which we lived while our house was being built.

It was a happy day when we were able to occupy our new house. The architect called it “tipo Americano”, I could never figure out why. I had never seen one like it before, nor have I since in Canada or the States. We painted it chrome yellow and planted grass around it, the latter apparently a novelty which was soon copied by the neighbours. 

Our house upon completion.

The Family Grows 

With the rapid growth in the area, the city never had enough water, and so we hired a boy to pump water to the upstairs tank from water that was either trucked in or that dribbled in from the city’s supply lines. Without many of the modern amenities of home, Elna was forced to hire help. She found an “empregada” to help with cleaning and the care of Paul, and our water boy’s mother came to help with laundry. 

Paul with our two Brazilians, Mark and Karen.
Soon Paul had a Brazilian brother, Mark to keep him company, and then a Brazilian sister, Karen, as well. We were so fortunate to have excellent medical care, and much enjoyed our friendship with our doctor neighbour, Hugo, just up the street. But Elna still opted to have her babies in Londrina at the “Hospital Evangélico.” 

Our Mission in Loanda 

We were told to take our time in starting services. It was important, we were told, to settle in, get to know people and be a part of the community. So it wasn’t until January of the next year that we finally took our initial steps. We had a Vacation Bible School with the help of Bible students from John Abel’s early Bible School in Londrina. As I recall, there were two, Israel from Londrina and Aurea from Cianorte. Of course Elna and I were involved as well. We used the two-room school at the bottom end of Loanda. (Loanda was built on a hill, with the new section at the top and the old section at the bottom). We took our Jeep around the community and announced the VBS using a portable PA system. We were flooded with children, about 60 of them by the end of the week. We had our own varied curriculum, with lots of handwork, recess with lots of games and in general an enthusiastic time.

Vacation Bible School- Aurea left, Israel back and Elna right
Vacation Bible School- Aurea left, Israel back and Elna right

Dance Hall Beginnings 

Then during Lent of that year we were offered the use of the town’s “Clube” for a week. Bob Kasperson came to preach, and Viola Reed played her accordion. Again, with the help of the Jeep and portable PA system we managed to fill the small hall. Many of the people came because of personal contact, but others we had never seen before. Among those who came was Manolo whom I had met when my tire was punctured on main street. Manolo ran the local tire shop and was only 50 yards or so from where it happened. He came the first night and as I greeted people at the door after the service he said something I marvel at to this day. To my complete surprise he said, “pastor, I’m ready to be converted.” As I recall, my rather unhelpful answer was “Manolo, I can’t convert anyone, only God can do that.” Manolo and his family became fast friends of ours and were one of several families who eventually were the foundation of our little mission congregation. Son Edson, who later became a pastor and eventually bishop of one of IECLB’s synods, later affirmed many years later that his father’s conversion dated back to those early days. 

Manolo (right) with a group of gypsies passing through Loanda
Manolo (right) with a group of gypsies passing through Loanda

Storefront Chapel

Our first accommodations for a meeting place are another interesting story. Again because of the constant arrival of new people to the community and lack of housing and commercial buildings, it was difficult to find a place to meet. When one of the pharmacies closed, I immediately inquired about who was the owner of the building, flew to Marilia in the state of São Paulo to see if I could rent the store and returned with the keys. We built pews, an altar and pulpit, put up a sign “Capela Luterana” and were soon having services. It was a good location. People came and we soon had an operating Sunday School at noon as was a common custom at the time, with services in the evening. 

Our Own Building 

Arnaldo and Mercede’s Wedding
But we wanted our own place of worship, so began looking, and found a city lot not far from our house. We bought it and then began the process of planning to build. Among our people was a second generation Dane, a Methodist where there was no Methodist congregation, and a builder. Pedro Olsen took on the job of building. Many of the materials were donated by various lumber mills of the area and others who supplied building materials. It couldn’t have been much more than a year before we had our dedication and members from other mission congregations in Cianorte, Umuarama and Paranavai and maybe even Londrina, crowded in for what was a glorious day. The little building had a chapel which could hold perhaps 80 people plus two Sunday School rooms and a little office. And that became our locus for worship, Sunday School, various meetings which soon began happening, plus Sunday worship. And it wasn’t long before we had our first wedding between two of our families: one of Pedro Olsen’s sons, and one of Manolo’s daughters. I guess you could say that our little church brought them together. 

We Reach Out 

Santa Isabel
Santa Isabel

During this time we hadn’t been idle in other places. One of those places was Santa Isabel, about 10 kilometres away. There we came in contact with a German Lutheran family who early on invited us to have services in their home. Irvin Kolm and his wife Edel owned a small grocery store with their home out back and that’s where we held the services. That also developed into a small congregation, and when the mission decided to experiment with the placement of portable chapels, we opted in. The components were made in Loanda and trucked the few miles to their location. Then Pedro Olsen’s sons mounted it on a cement floor. There we were able to have services and Sunday School in the morning since we had none at that time in Loanda. 

Reluctant Confirmand 

Before we were to leave for furlough in 1963, I was determined to have my first confirmation class. This did in fact happen, and if I remember rightly 4 children of our group made their vows shortly before we were to leave for Canada. But one of the members was reluctant and didn’t join the group: Edson, Manolo’s son. When we returned a year later, I met Edson at our annual youth retreat and he excitedly told me that under Pastor Biel’s ministry, he had finally made his profession of faith at confirmation. 

Edson as Student in Joinville
Edson needed to complete his secondary education, and since there was no such school in Loanda, the Tollefsons in Joinville kindly invited him to come and live with them. There he was treated like family and in addition to studying, became one of the religion teachers in several state schools. At the completion of his secondary education he continued his studies at the Faculty of Theology of the Lutheran Church in São Leopoldo in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, the beginning of another whole chapter which I will allow someone else to tell. Suffice it to say that after some years as pastor, he was eventually elected bishop of his Synod and later even vice bishop in the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession (IECLB) (though the IECLB chose to use the terms Synod Pastor and National Church Pastor or some such terms, rather than Bishop.) 

We Exit, Biels Enter 

When in early September of 1963, we winged our way back to Toronto, Canada, for a year of home leave, we knew we wouldn’t be returning to Loanda. We already knew that one of the new missionaries of what was by then The American Lutheran Church (TALC), would be replacing us. We were particularly comforted in knowing that Loanda would not be left vacant and that the Biel family, (Cliff and Donna) would be taking over the work.


Missionary Reunion 2012: Uncle Don turns 90!

There were about 20 or 30 American Lutheran missionary families in Brazil at any given time between 1962 and 1980.  The mission set up a hostel a few blocks away from the Escola Americana de Campinas, EAC, where most missionaries sent their kids to get an American education.  Don and Lil Aarsvold served as house parents for a couple of decades, raising these children in an environment that felt safe and nurturing to most of the children who lived under their care.  Many of these kids formed life-long bonds that continue to this day, decades later.

The Aarsvold family, courtesy David Grant

Uncle Don and Aunt Lil, as we knew them, seemed to have endless cheer, good-will, and were tireless in making us feel at home.  I went to EAC for high school, 1977-1980, and by the time I got there, most of the missionary kids had either gone on to college or now studied in the Brazilian school system, staying at home with their families, so there were only a few of us occupying this huge building.  1977 was also Uncle Don's and Aunt Lil's last year of service.  

They were replaced by a Brazilian couple, Ronaldo and Odete, who remained until the facility was closed down a few years later.  I believe that it is now a Senior Citizen's home.  Thomas Grant, one of the missionary kids, visited a few years ago and shared a current photo of the entrance:

Entrance to the Lutheran Hostel in Campinas, Brazil

Uncle Don celebrates his 90th birthday today and many of the missionary families are converging on their daughter's farm in Minnesota to honor him and Lil.  My parents and brother will be there.  I had hoped to go, too, but the 12 hour drive just didn't work out.  I celebrated my 50th year in January and most of the "kids" are now grandparents themselves.  Life goes on, but those early years have always stayed with us!

Lutheran Missionary Kids in Brazil, 1968, Courtesy David Grant

We were asked to contribute a page for a book that will be given to Uncle Don and Aunt Lil.  I made the photo collage at the top of this page and my Dad printed it out. I think it came out quite well!  You can click on any of these images to see larger views.

My parents will send me some photos and I'll post them here for "posterity".

Don and Lil Aarsvold dedicated much of their life to children and young adults.  Don wrote about his calling in 1992:

‘My God is Real”

There have been some things that have been laid upon my heart lately that I would like to write about. As I’ve been reading recently regarding various missions, missionaries and their work, I am reminded once again of our (my wife and I) ministry with the American Lutheran Church Mission in Brazil from 1967-1978. The following six years we spent in Anaheim, CA as Resident Counselors at the Lutheran Bible Institute. Throughout these years of ministry, many students would ask the question, “How come you left the farm to enter mission work, after twenty years of farming?” Well, it’s a long story, and this is how it all came about...

In my late teenage years I became convicted of my uncommitted life to Christ. My pastor helped me through this time, as I yielded my life fully to the Lord with a desire to live for Him and to serve Him wherever that might be.

I grew up on a farm and helped my Dad as a kid and then later worked on two other farms as a hired farm hand. During these years I had a very fine Christian girlfriend with whom I could share my thoughts and feelings. We talked and prayed a lot together! After one of these evenings upon my return home, I had a time of Scripture reading and prayer, went to bed and to sleep. Later, I was awakened by a vision in my room. It appeared on the ceiling - first like clouds in the sky and then gradually it became a map of the world. It sort of frightened me at first and then I remember saying -“What’s going on, Lord?” As I watched, one country after another disappeared except one - and that one remained, namely South America, and finally that disappeared too. I then remember saying, “Lord, are you trying to tell me something? If so, I want to be open to your will.” Needless to say, I shared this experience with my girlfriend and we prayed a lot regarding God’s will in our lives.

In 1946 we were married. By the way, she was Lillian Peterson of Kasson and a school teacher in the area. I continued farming and she teaching in the country schools. We purchased my home place south of Kasson and in the years that followed we were blessed with four children, Dennis, Cheryl, Mark and Donna. We were enriched in our church life and outreach to missions in various ways.

Then...in 1967, we were faced with a call to missions in Brazil, S.A. One of our first thoughts was regarding my vision in 1943 of So. America! Well, after much prayer and seeking God’s guidance, we made ourselves available to ALC Missions in April - with a specific call to minister as Houseparents to missionary children. In June, after our interview with the National Board we were extended an official call and would enter that field of service in late Dec. of 1967.

I just think it is so great to know that the Lord is concerned for His children and to realize how “right” his timing is! Just as surely as we knew He was calling us to Brazi], we also knew when our time there was finished. Our last year there once again became a time of searching as to God’s plan for us upon our return to the U.S. which would be in the Spring of 1978. Through a newsletter we received from the Lutheran Bible Ins titute in California we read that LW would be moving from their residence (a Lutheran church building) in Los Angeles to a new campus in Anaheim. Their plan was to be moved and begin classes there in January of 1979.

Again, I felt led to write to the Director of the School to inform him of our resignation from the Mission in Brazil and that we would be returning to the U.S. in 1978. I also shared with him our desire to continue in Christian service work and asked if there would be an area of service at LBI that we could fit into. It wasn’t long before we received a response from the Director (Pastor Frank Wilcox) who wrote they would indeed be needing a lay couple to be Resident Counselors at the new campus. He asked if we would visit with him in May (‘78) upon our return which we arranged. We felt good about our interview with him, but he at that time could not promise us a position there because of finances, etc. The Board of LBI was very interested in our application and certainly hoped and prayed that it would work out. That summer we continued with AbC Missions in Deputation work, etc. We continued in prayer regarding the LBIC possibility. Then...early in October we received a letter of call from LBIC to serve on their staff, beginning the first of Jan. 1979. We accepted this call with grateful hearts, being assured again of God’s faithfulness to us. He is “great and greatly to be praised!” Psalm 96:4a. We had six wonderful years of blessing in serving there with staff and students.

In one’s lifetime there are things that happen that I feel are important to “Family.” I often wish our children could have known my Dad (their Grandpa Aarsvold). He just loved children! I am thankful they knew and loved Grandma Aarsvold, as she was a wonderful person too.

I had a home life that was so meaningful. Dad and Mom loved the Lord and they lived their Christianity, which I never had reason to question. To be sure - we were not rich in worldly goods, though we always had sufficient food, clothing, a nice home and loving care. Our physical and spiritual needs were met, both in our home and at church.

I often wish my Dad would have left some writings of special “happenings” in his life for me, my children and grandchildren. I feel strongly regarding the faith stories of our lives and as a Christian parent, I trust and pray the spiritual part of life will never be taken for granted, but that it will be nourished and grow in faith, hope and love. There is real joy in living for the Lord and serving Him wherever we are!

“My God is Real” is what He has laid on my heart to share with you; and though you, my children, know all about what I am writing, I want my grandchildren and great grandchildren to know as well, so therefore [I] would like to pass [it]on for posterity. Thank you!


A Child's Christmas

Every Christmas brings back fond memories of how we celebrated in Brazil.  For years, the ritual was the same.  We would practice daily for weeks for the Christmas program that always took place at the Church at around 3PM on the Saturday afternoon before Christmas.  Mom would buy boxes of candy from a distributor and we would have an assembly line set up, filling up the bags that Santa would hand out at the program.

After the program, we would head out for a walk to the ice cream parlor.  (Remember, it was summer down there...) We would get to the gate and Dad would say, "Oh, wait!  I forgot something.  Be right back!"  He would dash in and take the presents out from their hiding places (which we had already found) and put them under the tree.  As we got older, we would wait impatiently at the gate, rolling our eyes, knowing what he was doing, but thinking it was funny that he still had to play the game.  When we got back, it would be, "Oh, look!  Santa must have dropped by while we were out!"  We had already felt the packages, shook them around and had some guesses about what we were getting.  But, sometimes he succeeded in being especially sneaky and took us completely by surprise.  Like, when Charles and I got new 3-speed bikes!  That was something!  And, I'll never forget when I got my OWN cassette player.  I could listen to my own tapes and to whatever radio stations I wanted to in my own room.  That was unforgettable.

Presents were opened on Christmas Eve at night.  We always had guests over who had nowhere else to go.  We would sit in the living room and read the Christmas story from the Bible and sing some hymns.  Christmas was definitely about Jesus first, with presents as the icing on the cake.  We took time in opening the presents, each one opening one so that everybody could see and then it would be someone else's turn.  Not like the frenzy I've witnessed in many places as an adult.  We always got something that we really wanted (the bike, the player, etc.) and then clothes.  One year, I got a pair of jeans, brand new indigo blue jeans.  Too tight.  I had a growth spurt and my Mom wanted me to take them back.  I begged to let me wear them for the night. I was serving one of the guests coffee (very hot coffee) and tripped.  Coffee all over the new pants.  My mother was absolutely disgusted with me because now she would not be able to return them.  Money was tight for them and now I can look back and understand why she was so mad.  

Our festivities would wind down at around 11PM and soon a knock would come at the front door.  "Pastor, can Rachel come over to my house now?"  That was Adelia, my friend since I was six years old.  For years, my parents let me go down the block and spend Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve with her family.

Me with the Ogama family, 1982

Even though they were Japanese, they celebrated the Brazilian way: a feast of finger food, every kind of goody you can imagine, tapas style.  Several weeks before, they would have built a huge manger scene, taking up a large coffee table.  They made hills out of paper bags, ponds out of mirrors, trees and bushes out of sticks and little potted plants.  The manger scene would be at the top of the hill and the clay shepherds and magi were out towards the opposite ends of the table.  Every day we would move them a little closer to the baby Jesus.  On Christmas Eve, they would arrive.  We opened more presents, mostly things we had made for each other.

Those days were days of waiting.  They were centered on the gravity of God becoming human, of the babe promising love and redemption.  

Now my Christmases are a huge contradiction.  I have been involved in some form of retail sales for the last 25 years.  When I had my brick and mortar shops, I was exhausted by the time Christmas Eve came around.  Now that it is all online, I am still exhausted.  We depend on these sales to build our businesses, but it takes away the ability to wait, the expectancy.  And, then the commercialization of it all now...  it's just disgusting.  A big part of the problem for me is that I have no children, so I can't replicate the traditions that my parents instilled in us.  The joy that children experience is still real.  They are the ones that make the celebration fun and exciting.  But, then, we all have that child within and that is the challenge: to make each year be a Child's Christmas, where innocence and abundance meet the Child made Man.

Feliz Natal!!!!

May 2012 be a wonderful one for us all!


Letter to Grandpa and Grandma Biel, September 25, 1975

 Mato Grosso Farm Scene, Brazil, 1973

My Aunt Marian kept many of the letters my family wrote to her.  Apparently, she also had some that were written to my Grandparents.  She returned them in 2010.  Most are recorded here.  They were not entered in chronological order, so the best way to view them is by year, found in the index on the sidebar.

Dear folks:

Thank you for your letter of the 15th!  It had quite a bit of news that I hadn't heard yet, for example, that Roger had suffered a heart attack.  One thing you didn't make clear in your letter was whether you bought that Buick for us or for yourselves.  It really sounded like a good buy!  When I told the kids they said, "Buick?  What's a Buick?"  Anyway, MANY THANKS!  And, you can draw the US$100 out of our account to pay for it.  Please do, and put it in your name.

By the way, I didn't renew my Minnesota Driver's License.  I'll just use the Brazilian one again.

News here is a little hard to come by.  I've heard it mentioned that there's been a round-up of Communists lately, and I believe it's time for there was an oblique announcement in the paper (local) the other day saying that the people should not get excited, because certain measures were being taken to guarantee their tranquility.

In a week and a half, I'll be doing a swing through Southern Mato Grosso to try and find out what's going on there.  Apparently, the pastor got out of town- fast and went to a far corner of the parish where he's well-liked and abandoned the rest of the parish.

 Heidi Lampe, Miss Apucarana, 1975

Rachel is studying piano again, this time without being driven to it.  We've got a University girl from another town living with us- a former beauty queen- (you'd like her, Dad:  blond, long hair, blue-eyed, tallish, and very precious), also a piano player and she and Rachel are hitting it off famously.  Tonight they went to a piano concert together-  True to form, Rachel has picked up another friend older than herself.

We've got some English neighbors- or have I told you that?  They're experts in plant seed development.  Their company plans to work for 20 years in Brazil before it gets a break-even return on its investments!  They're Anglican and one studied to be a priest before he became interested in zoo-technology. 

For the last couple of months, I've been reading up on ethics and trying to work up a paper on "Pastoral Ethics".  This was to be presented for debate at the "Conselho de Pastores de Maringa".  (Local pastor's council)  It was sort of a time bomb, because there's been quite a bit of sheep-stealing going on.  They asked me to do the paper because I was the least involved of any of them.  It went over very well.  I'm happy to say, and the discussion following the six page manuscript was very productive.

Now that we know where the car is coming from it's pretty certain that we'll fly in to Minneapolis or Rochester.  Please don't go spending money unnecessarily, it's precious!  I've got boots and that car-coat that I had before, which will serve just fine.  They're here.  Not sure what the others need.  Hope we get a snowy winter!

It finally rained, Hallelujah!  It's been a couple of months since our heavy frost.  What the frost didn't kill the drought attacked, and what didn't dry up the plant lice by the billions sucked dry.  Now it's planting time again (beans, rice, coffee, and later, soybeans).



Letter to Marian and Frank, January 6, 1973

My Aunt Marian kept many of the letters my mother, Donna Biel, wrote to her.  She returned them in 2010.  Most are recorded here.  They were not entered in chronological order, so the best way to view them is by year, found in the index on the sidebar.

Dear Marian and Frank, Lisa and Eric,

Since I didn't write anything on the Christmas letter, I now will make an effort to tell you the news.

Before Christmas, I helped an agronomist missionary family as they got their things ready to move to another city.  The seven of them slept here a night.  A neurotic lady from our church came a week before Christmas and stayed for four days.  Cliff had programs for three days in various places so he didn't have time right away to talk to her family.  She has had mental problems for over twenty years and has stayed here before.  She calls many times or stops by to talk, then I listen for an hour to two hours.  About the only way I can help her is to listen to her problems.  Her husband says he has a cross to bear, but the family could try to be more understanding.  Another family that has problems is a Church of Christ missionary family.  When she is overtired or under pressure, she has emotional outbursts.  They have been in Brazil for one and a half years and now are packing up to go back to the United States for the other couple that works with them wrote to the U.S. recommending that they be ordered back.  I feel sorry for them for they have many things to sell, then have to rebuy them when they get back.  They were a risk to be sent here for they spent two years in Africa and she had emotional problems there. 

The Church of Christ has different ideas.  They don't use instruments in the church for the Bible says "to make melody in your hearts" which they interpret to be without the help of instruments.  Also, they don't celebrate Christmas for they say we don't really know the date of Christ's birth, which misses the whole point.  Some date has to be chosen so that we can observe it.

Helen is happy to have a second hand bicycle.  It's been about two years since she decided that she was too big for her tricycle.  Charles's old bike was traded in for a new one.  Rachel got science sets which have a microscope.  For a science project in school, Cliff helped her build a telegraph, which she got a good grade on.  Another father helped his child build one.  Cliff said it was going to be a battle to see which father got the best grade.  The kids are enjoying the kitten born in the first part of November.  Another one was given away on Christmas day.  We think our kitten has a hernia.  Cliff says that some day it may bump its head too hard against a post.

Next week we have Vacation Bible School.  The children have vacation now until February 12th.  Then Helen will start first grade Brazilian School.  Right now she is half way through the first grade English course that I give in the mornings.  Charles doesn't have too much homework, but Rachel does, so I have to supervise that during the school term.  The teacher makes them work hard.  Every two weeks they have to give a book report.  Even though Charles doesn't have any competition, as he is the only one in his class, the teacher says he is doing very well.  At times, Rachel lets things pile up and doesn't get good grades on a test, but her final grades are alright.  Rachel, almost eleven, is 5 feet 2 inches tall.  Charles is almost nine and is getting too heavy.  We decided we should eat more fruit as all of us could lose some weight.

Some more urine tests done show that Helen doesn't have an infection, but she continues to wet.  The urologist in Minneapolis wrote indicating that a medication which was given last July at higher dosages, so now she is taking it for two months at a lower dosage.  Our field representative of the mission office said that we can take her to the Mayo Clinic when on furlough.  I hope that the problem is solved soon.  Before Christmas I spent many hours sewing plastic pants bigger for the night wetting, but the biggest bother is daytime wetting.

Our church was used in December for Baccalaureate services for college graduation for those who are Protestants.  This week a junior high school (included ages 14-25) held services here after first going to the Catholic church.  cliff had the service for the junior high school.  A week before Christmas, Cliff attended graduation of the first class in our Bible Institute in Londrina.  There were six that completed the three year Bible course.

We had an enjoyable New Year's with the Louie Becker family who live one hour from here.  We played games with the children, went for a walk to the park and finished the day by singing Christmas songs and eating my birthday cake.  Just before Christmas, we got a tape Cliff's family sent.  We enjoyed hearing it even thought most only said a few words.  It seems like they had a hard time thinking of something to say with everyone sitting around and watching them when they were trying to talk.  Seems like Frank found it the easiest to talk.  I haven't had Lutafisk or however you spell the fish dish.

We haven't gotten a letter from you in a long time.  Hope you will write us right away when the baby is born.  LaVonne wrote that Lisa is quite the artist, that she sent Mike a picture when he was in the hospital.  I hope to get Helen to write to Lisa before I mail this.  It's almost 100 degrees today and we are at the swimming pool.


Donna and Joey

Easter Letter, 1974

My Aunt Marian kept many of the letters my mother, Donna Biel, wrote to her.  She returned them in 2010.  Most are recorded here.  They were not entered in chronological order, so the best way to view them is by year, found in the index on the sidebar.

Dear friends in Christ:

Greetings to you all!  Did you have a good Easter?  And, you mothers, was your Mother's Day a happy one, and bright?  A salute to you mothers!  A child's such a messy little thing, so slow to grow and learn.  It's born with a will full-blown, a gale wind that fills its sails yet has no captain to chart its course.  Slow, so slowly, by fits and starts through long slow years of creeping growth, the child, weaned, blends into his destiny.  Some call their mother blessed, whose years of youth and strength in the slow years, a mother's strength molded to the child's weakness.  And, then it's mind, a darkness into which, probing, pushing, come filtering the first weak tentative rays:  words the child hears, repeated, first empty sounds, that pattern themselves into its life, and then spill out in childish jargon groping for the sense of what's about.  And when the mother's there it's her wisdom that first lights its mind, putting the tiny hand to the wheel that steers life's course.

To all who have a mother's heart, this toast!  God grant the grace to have joy and peace in fitting His children to their destiny.

We've been having a busy time of it.  Some of the highlights:

At the Maringa church there was a record number of communicants on Good Friday:  96.

We dedicated a church in Ivaipora.  They have just a small congregation:  18 families.  However, they managed to build a very nice little church without any aid from outside the parish.

Until now we'd met in the home of a member.  I am temporarily taking care of the church and have been for the past two years.  We have services twice monthly, when possible.  Until then, the maximum they'd had was services six times a year.

At Borazopolis, which is on the same road, we had the special joy of seeing a family reunited which had been split by business dealings mixed with avarice and wine.  They all communed together on Holy Saturday.  The wounds heal slowly, they only get together under the sign of reconciliation: worship, in the name of Jesus.

Sunday school seems to have been rejuvenated in Maringa by moving the hour to the same as worship and calling on mature members as teachers.  About 35 are enrolled.  On Mother's Day they did a very nice program in the afternoon.

A new man has come into town: a Swiss who speaks English, French, German, Spanish, Swahili, and a little Portuguese.  He's an engineer and worked for many years in Africa, then came to South America and is "trying out" Maringa.  His driving interest seems to be making money and loneliness brings him to church.  He's an outspoken, rabid racist and and anti-Jewish.  He has been strongly influenced by a so-called "Jewish Manifesto".  Now this is where I want some help from some of you.  Who can tell me anything about a "Jewish Manifesto"?  I'd be much obliged.  The copy he's got was published in Spanish, in Argentina.

Right now I'm a little laid up with a cracked ankle-bone.  I'll have a cast on until the end of May.  coming soon after a bum knee makes me think I'll have to give up playing futebol de salao (court soccer) with the young adults.

We had very good participation in a Bible camp in February.  About 30 youth from the parish went.  Now we are looking forward to the retreat in July which we will be in charge of as it will be on a farm near here.  The farm belongs to a doctor and it is used mainly for retreats.  With the bunk beds, there is room for 75 people.  The theme will worship.

Helen's bladder problem was finally diagnosed and operated: a cyst near a urethra.  She was operated on in Sao Paulo by a surgeon considered to be one of the best urologists in the world, and is recovering well.  She is still taking medicine and has monthly urine check-ups in the nearby city of Londrina.  She has no more wetting in the daytime, but still needs diapers at night.

Rachel is doing much better in school lately, is as tall as her mother, has begun confirmation study, works on her stamp collection and is teaching English to a class of neighborhood children she got together.

Charles goes every day after school to a nearby park to visit the animals there.  His allergy to dust has been bothering him.  He is taking a vaccine by drops for six months which we hope will relieve the stuffed nose and sneezing.

Power to you all, in what's right.

Clifford Biel and family

P.S.  Farmers are hurting: soybeans are only $4 a bushel (30 kilos)

+++++++++++++ On the backside of the above, typed letter, a handwritten one to the Beiwel's:

Dear Frank and Marian:

Well, the last ones on my list!  I've been writing letters all yesterday and all day today, to my family and Donna's.  Today I was to have gone to a meeting in Joinville, traveling all night by bus each way.  But my foot swells to much yet when it's down, so I didn't go.  Instead, I've been sitting on the bed, listening to the record player and writing letters.

We gave Rachel a record for Christmas and enjoy it more than she does!  Andy Williams, "Alone Again".

You really shouldn't spend money sending candy every Christmas- We eat it all up and then - wait.  For the next Christamas!  We hope to be home for furlough for Christmas, '75.  We're talking about that.  It fits the kid's school vacation and they want to see SNOW!  and feel COLD!  Yek!  And, maybe everybody won't be so busy like they are in the summer.

Sounds like everybody is really skimping there in the States.  We're also pinched, but I think we'll break even this year.  The cost of living here has jumped 25% in three months while income has held steady.

Saturday we're going to Marilia (about four hours drive from here) for the silver wedding anniversary of our colleague there.  I'll be preaching, but what can you say to somebody who's been hitched that long?

There was a hilarious cartoon in TIME.  Gold Meir and Willy Brandt were sitting on a park bench.  He says to her, "If this were a week earlier, they'd call our meeting a summit conference."

A girl just stopped by and gave us an invitation to her wedding in the Catholic church.  Five years and she's never come to church here.  Her brother is Antonio Roberto, who is studying to be pastor (Lutheran).  Her mother is a spiritist.  She's marrying a Japanese.

Well, carry on.  Let us hear from you.


Joey and family

Letter to Beiwel's, March 26, 1977

 Surgery on Velvet's ear with Doutor Luiz

My Aunt Marian kept many of the letters we wrote to her.  She returned them in 2010.  Most are recorded here.  They were not entered in chronological order, so the best way to view them is by year, found in the index on the sidebar.  This is one that I wrote when I was 15 years old.

Dear Beiwels,

Hi, there, how are you all?  I trust that you're fine.  We're O.K.

Please forgive the double "L" on Helen's letter.  She didn't know better.

Velvet died yesterday night.  She was 13 years old and had tumors, was blind, deaf, but we still liked her.  (That is, Mom, Helen and I).  (Oh, by the way, she was our Puli dog, sort of like a sheep dog or an overgrown poodle.)

 Velvet in 1977

Dad was traveling to Sao Paulo and came home this morning.

Guess what!  I'm thinking of studying 12th grade in the States.  I'll only be finishing 9th in June, so it's a long ways off.  It's an idea though.

Thanks a lot for your presents.  We weren't expecting them.  We were already so happy for the books and candy.  You shouldn't torture us that way with candy, it's SO fattening!  (But delicious!)  I really enjoy reading books.  These will last for a long, long time.  I've got lots of friends who read, too.  (We're really bookworms.)

That embroidery sure is beautiful.  Thanks a million to whoever chose it!  I'm putting my drawings in that subjects thing.  It's really handy.

Well, I guess that's all.  Please write back.  We enjoy knowing what's happening to you all even more than getting presents.  (I guess that's cuz we luv you)



Letter to Marian and Frank, April 19, 1974

 Biel Family, mid-1970's, Brazil

My Aunt Marian kept many of the letters my mother, Donna Biel, wrote to her.  She returned them in 2010.  Most are recorded here.  They were not entered in chronological order, so the best way to view them is by year, found in the index on the sidebar. 

Dear Marian, Frank, Lisa, Eric and Julianna,

We received your package the day before Easter.  Joey brought it when I was trying to decide what to make for dessert on Easter- we made the cake.  Delicious!  We will have the other one on Joey's birthday.  Needless to say, we enjoyed the candy, too.  Thank you for the "sweet" gift.

We heard that you were going to Julia's for Easter.  I imagine you saw several changes in her house for Harvey wrote that he had been puttering around there and Julia said Martha went to help one day.

We remembered Julianna's birthday even though we didn't send a card.  It is easy to remember since Marian's is the next day and my sister Marian is on the 14th, too.

I suppose you are starting to enjoy spring weather.  We still have summer although the mornings and evenings are cooler.  It was chilly when we went to a mission meeting at the end of last month.  It was held at a city in the mountains of our southernmost state.  We traveled 24 hours by bus to get there, stayed two days, then spent another 24 hours traveling back.  That shows you are far away we are from some fellow American pastors.

Cliff Biel doing the Hamburger Skit

You would have enjoyed seeing Joey in a skit at the mission conference.  He did it at the fun night at Bible Camp and the youth really thought it was good.  A man who owned a hamburger industry liked to try hamburgers out at different places to see if anyone served better hamburgers.  At the place where Joey was a cook, he thought the hamburger had a different flavor so he asked for the recipe.  When he found out the same ingredients were used, he asked to see the cook making them.  Out came Joey, shirtless, oil on his skin and then water poured over to look like a lot of sweat, cigarette hanging from his mouth and a tattoo on his heart saying "meat".  He demonstrated and at the end, to flatten the meatball, he put it under his armpit.  That was where the different flavor came from. 

The next day, when Joey came late for breakfast, I told the people at our table that he was helping to make more hamburgers.  We had hamburgers that noon but round ones.  Several people told us that if and when they came through our city, they hoped we won't serve them hamburgers.  We have been having the mission meeting with wives every two years.  The men get together once a year for a business meeting.

Helen is doing fine.  I called the doctor yesterday after receiving the urine results done last week in Londrina.  He says to keep on giving medicine to keep the urine free of germs and do another urine test in a month.  Apparently, this will go on for some time.  It take three hours to get to Londrina by bus, about 15 minutes to do the urine exam, have lunch with Gaylord Grant's and then come back.  Thus, it takes all day.  We leave at 8:30 and get back at 5 p.m.  We have a laboratory here but the medical care is better in Londrina so the doctor thinks they are more careful in doing lab tests.

Helen saw an unpleasant sight when I took her swimming  two weeks ago.  While we were there, a 16 year old boy was pulled out of the deep end of the pool.  They don't have lifeguards at pools here.  No one did anything-  I went and turned him over and barely started giving chest-arm respiration when a doctor who was playing tennis started mouth-to-mouth respiration and his wife, an anesthetist, gave heart massage.  I couldn't find any pulse.  When they got their instruments, the doctor couldn't hear any heartbeat and said that just by looking at the boy's eyes, he said that he was dead.  He used an instrument to look in his lungs and said that there wasn't any water in the lungs.  Apparently, the boy had eaten off and on during the afternoon, had stomach cramps, and disappeared without any signs of distress.  He had been under water for at least half an hour, the doctor thought.  After seeing this, Helen said we can sell our membership at the club as she doesn't want to go back. 

For some time, Rachel and Charles haven't wanted to go- they have friends playing here all the time.  It is too bad that they don't have public pools and we could pay whenever we could go.  The club fees have gone up to $10 per month and now gasoline is so expensive so we might as well sell our membership.

Since the children didn't have school on the day after Easter, we went to a city one hour from here to visit with the pastor's family there.  We will go as a family to get together with all of the pastor's families in our area, about nine of them, on May 1st which is a holiday.

You may have heard from Cynthia's letter that Joey was in bed for a week due to a swollen knee.  After a week, he hobbled around.  He thought he would need a cane, but an ace bandage helped.  Now he has been fine.  I told him that he should play mostly chess since he hurt his knee in a soccer game.

One of Rachel's English students gave her an egg (chocolate) that cost about $6.  I told her that maybe I should start teaching if I could get valuable gifts.  I spend time every day helping Helen with reading in English as she is weak due to not paying attention to phonetic sounds.  She is improving but is having a harder time than Rachel or Charles for they went all day to school in English until last August and had Portuguese on the side.  Now it is the opposite for Helen-  having little time of school in English.  Her main problem has been spelling but by studying, she is doing much better.  In Portuguese you spell as you pronounce a word.  Charles is too busy playing to do hardly any extra reading in English, but Rachel reads many books.  One of the books that I read I found interesting, "Ana and the King of Siam" for which the movie "The King and I" was made.  A television series about this is being shown.

We went to see the movie "The Day of the Jackal" about the plot to attempt to assassinate Charles De Gaulle.  It was interesting and full of suspense.

We have a shampoo that you might like, Marian.  It has vitamins in it and brings back the natural color.  Several of our pastor's wives have started using it. One who was much grayer than Joey has no more grey hair.  Joey refuses to try it as you would have to wash your hair two or three times a week and he goes for three weeks without washing as he feels that washing it makes it soft and it doesn't stay in place.  With all the talk about streaking, they said at our mission meeting that now with this shampoo, no pastor has to have streaks of grey hair.

Donna and Joey


Letter to Marian and Frank, February 4, 1974

 Helen on a ladder, a bit younger than in this letter.

Dear Marian, Frank, Lisa, Erik and Julianna,

Greetings from the huge city of Sao Paulo (largest in Brazil).  Wouldn't ever want to live here- the traffic is terrible and some days there is a lot of smoke due to factories but the medical care is the best in Brazil.

We were here for five days- January 14th through the 18th for X-rays, blood and urine tests.  I was with Helen the 2.5 to 3 hours it took to do the x-rays for they let me hold her hand.  I was impressed how thorough the 19 x-rays were done on the kidney and bladder.  While the dye was in the bladder, the x-rays from the right side and lying flat on the back showed everything normal, but on her left side of the bladder a cyst was found.  She had to urinate and several x-rays showing the bladder full and half full and empty showed that the cyst was larger when the bladder was empty and in the cyst a residual of the urine stayed.  This apparently was (the wetting) better when she took sulfa or antibiotics but only surgery was the solution.  The medical term is diverticulum.  I wish I had a Merck Manual to understand it better, although the doctor did a diagram for me.  He said that this is from birth, so apparently the x-rays at Fairview Southdale taken 2.5 years ago weren't thorough enough.  I'm glad we finally found out what was wrong.  the doctor says that there could be a complication from the surgery, in that the urine could try to go up the ureter to the kidney- he called this reflux and said that he tried to prevent this from happening by doing certain things in the operation.  This doctor was recommended to me by our dentist in Maringa.  He is a urologist for children.  Since I came here, I found out that he is consdiered to be one of the best in Brazil and is well known. 

After the exams, Helen and I went by night bus to Curitiba where we me Joey, Rachel and Charles and then drove for seven hours to a city where a pastor from our district was to be ordained at his home church.  This pastor is our age but did a short course offered due to the shortage of pastors.  He had correspondence lessons to do and Joey was his tutor the last year.  Before he became a pastor he worked with his family at a tile and brick factory in the country by his father's farm.  Here shingles aren't used on roofs, but tiles.  It was interesting to see the process of how the tiles were made.  We also visited an old folk's home for 75 residents where this pastor that was ordained had worked for four years before going to our own district.  The sermon was given in German since most in that area prefer that language-  we had a copy of the sermon in Portuguese.

On our way back home we were by the ocean so we spent two days at the home of a Dutch couple who live one block from a nice beach .  This couple had lived for 15 years in the U.S., five years in Canada and went back  to Brazil to be by their only son who had married a Brazilian when the parents left Holland 25 year ago and stayed here for 5 years.  Now they are about 68 years old and haven't tried to learn Portuguese which all their grandchildren can speak.  They lived in Maringa for a few months and we helped translate for them but they decided it was too hot there for them.  Joey wouldn't go in the water but we had fun jumping in the waves.  The sun was very hot one morning.  I made Helen and Charles wear shirts but Rachel took hers off and consequently got a burn so her back peeled.  We didn't get lotion under Charles nose, thus large water blisters formed which made him look funny.  While on the beach we saw a beautiful film made in Austria, "Sissi", spoken in French with Portuguese subtitles- only Helen couldn't read fast enough so I explained as it went along.  The movie was about a girl who was chosen to be the queen of Austria- Elizabeth was her real name. 

Rachel and Charles had their birthdays while Helen and I were here for exams.  Rachel made a cake and invited a few neighbors.  Rachel is now my height.  According to the Reader's digest, one can double the height for girls at 18 months and add an inch for good nutrition.  She and Helen should be 5' 9".
Today is the 8th day in the hospital and Helen will get out.  We will spend two days at a pastor's home here before we go back on a 12 hour ride by night bus.  She has had a catheter in for seven days.  When she got up a plastic bag was taped on to her leg so she could walk around.  For two days she has had a lot of gas.  They didn't give her an enema before surgery.  She didn't have a B.M. for five days and then it was very hard, finally they gave an enema but still she has gas pains quite often.  The doctor didn't leave any order for gas so they gave her medicine for pain in order to go to sleep for two nights.  Just about everywhere you go, there are couches in each room for a relative to sleep by the patient.  Nursing care is better here than in Maringa yet relatives are the ones who feed a patient when he needs help, gets them out of bed, helps them walk.  Nurses come in just when it is time to give the bath, take the temperature, or give medicine, unless we call them.  There is no T.V. in the hospital unless one has a portable one to bring.  We brought a tape recorder, coloring books, dolls, and many books.  Most days I read to her and when I read all of the books, I bought comic books.  Now that she is better she will play with her dolls, so I can write letters.  Helen had 11 stitches from the surgery.  American school starts on the 11th, so I will probably carry her up the steps so that she can go.  Brazilian school starts on March 1st.  That gives her plenty of time to recuperate.

We didn't hear from you , Cynthia, Louie of Stan's for Christmas.  Laurie sent Rachel a letter. Just think, Juliana is almost a year old!  Will she be walking soon?  Wish you could send us a picture of her when she has her first birthday.  How about printing us a letter, Lisa, or drawing us a picture?  Hugs and kisses to all,

Love, Donna and Joey

Thought Eric would be interested to hear that while we were in the hospital we saw helicopters going on top of a 22 story building about 8 to 10 blocks from here to save people from a fire.  It was tragic in that 200 people died.  Many jumped and there wasn't any netting so they had an instant death.  They had fire equipment such as hoses and extinguishers inside, but the 1000 people that worked there panicked and didn't remember to use them.  The whole city stopped working to see this tragedy and many of the duty nurses went back to work and hundreds of people went to give blood that was needed.  We heard ambulance sirens all day long.  Fire started when an air conditioner exploded due to over heating of the electrical wiring.  The fire department complained of what little equipment they had and what few firemen for this size of a city, and said many more could have been saved if building codes had been enforced- such as helicopter landing on top of the building- the only helicopter that could go up there had to land on skis.  One man held a wet curtain over his nose and mouth.  He waited calmly for three hours to be rescued while others became desperate and jumped.  He said he would have waited all day and encouraged others not to jump.

Thurs. am.  We got back home.  Everyone is fine.  Helen has to take antibiotics by mouth for a month and then have a urine exam before the doctor says everything is O.k.

Love, Donna and Joey
Rachel, Charles and Helen

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