Bee keeping and church building in Brazil

Daveen Wilson and her husband Mike didn’t set out to plant a church when they arrived in Trapiá more than 20 years ago. But when it became clear that one of the greatest hindrances to this deprived and remote community in north Brazil was its lack of self-esteem they set about teaching God’s unconditional love in the hope that the people would realise their true worth. What started out as Bible studies has evolved into a flourishing church and the young people are living lives that just a few years ago seemed impossible to them. Here Daveen shares some of her reflections on life as a BMS missionary and why she can’t give it up.

Published 24 July 2009
|PIC2|When I was in university my thought was to get a good job and not be a missionary because missionaries really live hand to mouth. That’s how I grew up because my parents were missionaries in the Amazon. Then I heard a speaker who said ‘When you are on your deathbed what are you going to think about the way you've lived your life?’ And I just suddenly thought if I’m on my death bed and all I’ve got is a nice house and nice car, that isn’t what I want. I would want to have done something that was worth it.

I grew up in Brazil and my husband Mike learned Portuguese when we got married, but actually Brazil wasn’t where we had expected to go. We thought we'd go to Angola but we had a baby and there was a war going on at that time so the idea was to work in Brazil until the war finished. We’ve been here now more than 20 years!

When people think of north-eastern Brazil they think of the Amazon rainforest but in Trapiá we’re thousands of miles from the rainforest. It’s cactus here - in our first four years it didn’t rain! Trapiá is not a village but a rural community in the poorest part of the whole of the Americas and with my husband being an agriculturalist we actually went there to do rural development.

We found, however, that we couldn’t plant anything because there was no water. So we worked on child mortality, which was extremely high at that time. Half of the babies were dying before they were even a year old and it’s not in the official statistics because they didn’t register the baby’s birth or death. Things are generally better in Brazil now because for the last six years we've had a good president who comes from this area of Brazil and his number one aim was to reduce this kind of poverty and he’s done that.

To help remedy the high infant mortality rate in Trapiá we brought in water filters because a lot of the children were dying of diarrhoea. With so little water around, they just drank it however they could get it. Then Mike started researching what could improve the goats’ diet because as soon as there was drought the goats started dying because there was nothing to feed to them. So we planted a lot of trees that could withstand the drought and that stopped the goats from dying off.

We had been there about eight years when we started to see the people had extremely low self esteem. The people of Trapiá are despised by everyone and they despise themselves. They’ve never owned a piece of land. They are people who have always worked for huge landowners and can be moved any time. They don’t have traditions or structures.

And so we started studying the Bible together with them because we thought if they could see God values them then that give them more self esteem. We didn’t go there to plant a church, although obviously we are Christians and we expected people would become Christians through our work. But they had this strange concept of Christians as not being people who have a relationship with God but rather people who don’t dance, don’t smoke, don’t do anything fun, and then maybe God will reward them when they die! So we felt we didn’t want to ask them to become Christian at that point.

|PIC1|But after we started studying the Bible together we then started talking about the possibility of baptism and by the first baptism we had 52 people taking part. That’s when the church started and we started discipling them and looking after them. They lived with us 24/7 all year round, and we discipled them and they started house groups that functioned as churches in scattered areas and we met once a month for Communion in the church building by our house.

In Trapiá the quality of education is not so good so many of the people can’t read or write and with them becoming Christian it became clear that we needed to teach them to read and write properly. The flipside of that was that they then wanted to leave Trapiá and yet we desperately needed people to work in this area. We went around some of the churches in the towns and asked if anyone would come to Trapiá to help but no one wanted to come. They weren’t prepared to come and live in a rural area that was so isolated and with very few facilities.

Mike and I thought ok, we’ve got young capable people leaving cos there is nothing here; if we set things up here they'll stay and we'll have the workers. It was at that time that we discovered that the bees in Argentina and China – the biggest suppliers of honey to America and Europe – were ill and the tetracycline to heal them had got into the honey and suddenly there was an opening in the market for honey.

That was great for us because all the things that make Trapiá a bad area make it good for beekeeping! There aren’t large areas of crops being sprayed with poisons and even when it doesn’t rain the trees still flower. The bees in the area are also killer bees which makes them really dangerous but also extremely resistant to disease and adverse conditions.

The idea behind the beekeeping is that it becomes a part of the whole community so we’ve built it big enough for 1,000 beehives. The ones leading it are the ones we discipled because they trusted us enough to do it and the aim is not for them to get more money for themselves but for the whole community to receive the money.

It is slow work because traditionally people are scared of bees and we’d never done it before so we all had to learn how to do it. Last December we formed a legal body to sell honey and Operation Agri (the development agency of the Baptist Men’s Movement) has given us money to build the honey processing plant.

The future is looking promising economically, but also spiritually too. We now have five of our young people studying at university and you don’t do that if you have low self esteem! And some of them have really got involved in politics and I think that is a really good development, to see Christians standing against corruption, which is really bad in our area and really deep-rooted, and to see that they can make a difference there.

Everything we’ve done in Trapiá we’ve had to learn how to do it ourselves first and then train others. In many ways, we’ve had to be quite flexible and do what’s needed and that’s what I thoroughly believe in! We've been asked before to package our approach so that it can be replicated elsewhere but we feel that until you go somewhere you can’t know what needs doing. We don’t think ‘ok now we’ve got the formula for north Brazil!’ It may not be a very efficient way of doing things, but I think it’s the way Jesus does things.

The young people in Trapiá always used to say that they could manage the church and the beekeeping but that they needed us to provide the overall guidance but now they are doing that too. We have a group of around eight people leading who can do everything we can and better! When we arrived in the area the Baptist Church in Brazil was not active there basically because the people are very poor and there aren’t schools or shops and cinemas so pastors are not prepared to live there. But God is raising up people in Trapiá and now people are coming from all over the area to our church and saying ‘Oh, it can be done’. It is a model church now really.

We have a very good church in Sutton Coldfield in England but when we first came to Trapiá we didn’t have a real church there. You wonder if you are going to survive on your own and you realise that you do and that God can look after you. Now it’s the other way around. We are part of a very strong community in Trapiá, the church there has grown up, our house is always full of people, and we’re a community. You come back to England and you can go through the whole day without seeing anybody!

Now my hope and prayer is that the church in Trapiá will mature and the beekeeping will be established and make a real difference in the community - and it’s going that way. And I’d like to see more churches like ours spreading. That is happening but I’d like to see it happen on a greater scale and see some of our young people going off and leading these.

With the young leaders doing a good job maybe now is the time to go somewhere else. Where Mike and I went and who we went with was always secondary and still is, but now we feel what makes us passionate is being alongside people that other people look down on and despise. We don’t mind where they are.

That doesn’t mean being missionaries is easy. Very often it’s hard! Because you do give up a lot when you go and people expect a lot of you. And the people who tend to go are people who are used to achieving things and you get there and suddenly you don’t know the language very well, you don’t know the culture, you don’t really know what you’re doing and you don’t accomplish anything!

|PIC3|Our first year was just terrible and Mike said at the end of it: ‘This has been worst year of my life!’ But we’ve since found that’s quite normal in the first year and that all the good missionaries - all the ones that last - never end up doing what they thought they were going to do. We keep testing this theory and it seems to hold true!

One of the hardest sacrifices was leaving behind my friends and family, not being involved in their lives any more. You miss your nephew’s wedding or you don’t see your niece until she’s two. You drift apart from friends. Now the most difficult sacrifice is being separated from my kids. I taught them until they were 11 but there just isn’t adequate schooling there and we struggled but in the end we sent them to boarding school in England as the best solution. It’s not easy for us and they don’t find it easy but so far they’ve survived and they know that if they really couldn’t stand it we'd give up being missionaries.

Whilst here in England, I’m talking in the churches and if loads of people respond and go and BMS doesn’t need us anymore then great! I’d love to be nearer to my kids! But if God gives you something to do, you can’t not do it simply because you don’t want to be separated from your kids. Jesus said ‘Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.’ You can’t put anything before Him and I know He is capable of looking after my kids.

We’ve got a house here in England and the garden is terribly neglected. I’d love to spend my days now working in the garden, but what do you do about all the people who desperately need help and need to see that God cares for them?! A lot of missions are struggling and in 2007 just one couple offered for long-term mission with BMS. Last year two couples offered and yet there is tremendous need everywhere. People are willing to give six months or a year or two years - as long as it doesn't interfere in their careers - and it just isn’t good enough! So I can’t potter in my garden yet. I’ll just have to do my garden when I get to heaven!

Winston Churchill was once asked if he weren’t an Englishman what he would want to be and he said ‘If I weren’t an Englishman I’d want to be an Englishman’. If we weren’t missionaries we would say we would want to be missionaries because you get to do something of eternal value with your life. Do you want to fritter your life away, take what God has given you, put it in a hole in the ground and watch the hole? Or get out there and take some risks so that at the end of it, He can say ‘Well done good and faithful servant’? Where we go in eternity depends on what we do here with this little bit God has given us and it is a little - 50 or 60 years. If we are faithful with that then we'll be given something even better in eternity.

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