Holly, spruce, Paraná pine, palm boats, pinecones, balls of papier maché, tinsel – whatever thy hand findeth to do! We used to plan Christmas decorations starting the day after Thanksgiving, but where I live there is no USA-style thanksgiving tradition, and the stores and shopping centers start putting out holiday decorations beginning of November. For years I have wanted to put up a real rooted pine tree, planted in a big box for transplanting to the front yard so next year we have a tall outdoor tree. Not a branch stuck in a twenty-liter can of sand that dries up by the time January 6th comes round – but an old-fashioned Tannenbaum, decorated with antique colored glass balls, intricate paper cutouts, bows and pinecones and maybe even popcorn.

The first year we got back after six in the States (where friends had given us their retired artificial tree) our stuff had not arrived (heard that it went on a ship all the way to Argentina before getting to Brasilia in March ’93), so Christmas having my mother and aunt Jinny as guests in our home for the first time in ages was celebrated with borrowed furniture and a miniscule make-do Christmas tree with tiny silver-colored red-bowed presents as decorations). It was also wedding season – Davi and Adriana were tying the knot in a splendidly beautiful ceremony December 23rd, so Christmas decorations were not top priority (Actually Christmas season weddings have become a tradition, started with Lau and me in ’66, and Dan and Márcia following Davi and Adriana’s).

In following years, I alternated between natural versus artificial trees each year, and all the natural ones we planted in rainy season January did not take root, but withered and dried. I shared the Jewish sentiment: “Next year in Jerusalem...”, and as for decorations, bought a few more each year, so our tree was getting prettier with age – but was never the bona fide, extravagantly artistic tree laden with symbols to the aroma of ginger and spices and sound of joyous carols. Oh, I loved to bake and make jelly and cookies to share with friends, so there was always a Christmassy spirit around, and cherished singing in the choir on the streets and in hospitals and malls. I admire artistic talent and would love to spend time and a little bit of money crafting and producing symbols or even tiny indications of the beauty of the season -- but have to be content with the trite and simple of my rushed last-minute decorations. Had planned to dig up a pine tree among the eucalyptii from our yonder hill, plant it in a big container and make it our centertree for this year’s festivities, but Lau informed me that it will die if we dig it up and attempt a later transplant. He suggested we confect a tree from the abundant bamboo that sprouts in our yard, but when he tried to bind together the boughs, they sagged and dropped ingloriously. So I suggested we get the bottom boughs of the Paraná pine tree – the only typically Brazilian Araucaria – and raise up our tree. Wiring together the tree (not with lights, but literal metal wires to unite the prickly boughs) was no easy task. It was as if we were putting together a puzzle of live porcupines (those pesky animals that destroyed our corn last year, and every year fill the snouts of our disobedient dogs with dozens of awful spurs that take hours to be tweezer-extracted!). But finally Lau and Daniel finished our natural tree and dug it into the sand-filled twenty-liter copper container that my Dad got in Goiás Velho over fifty years ago. Beautiful. Ruth and I hung the balls and decked the halls among the prickles (well, actually our living-dining-kitchen is not a hall, and we only decked with boughs a wooden container a pastor-friend from the Congo gave us years ago, with colored balls and wooden people and animal figurines from Africa, Asia, America (North and South). A touch of global intent for the Advent, sided by two menorahs.

But my holiday decorations have never been up to par with my feelings of joy at God’s generous – yea, extravagant Gift – of Christ who was born not on Christmas day, but one day unknown by us was born, when He entered humanity and bestowed eternity on fallen humans. Before time ever was, the Greatest Decision Ever was made in sovereign counsel by the Triune God. The Lamb of God was held by a handmaid of the Lord, and placed in a manger. Angels and shepherds and farm animals were witnesses. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Though my Christmas decorations will never be on par with those of my friends elsewhere, our family celebrates Christmas every day, any day, all day, even when we forget.

Yea, Lord we greet Thee, born this happy morning (or was it some other midnight clear?)
Jesus, to Thee be all glory given!
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing:
Venite Adoremus, Oh come let us adore Thee, Ó vinde adoremos
Christ the Lord!

Elizabeth Gomes



Two weeks ago we were on our way to visit a daughter church, Igreja Presbiteriana Semear, at a hotel in Brasília after three wonderful days camping with them. We were intrigued by posters and advertisements announcing a “National Conference of bisexuals, transvestites and cross-gender workers in the battle against AIDS” to be held at the same location. When we got to the elevator, a hotel attendant asked if we were heading the right direction. We went to the place where the church service was about to begin, worshipped and celebrated the Lord’s Supper with our dear friends. Right direction, incorrect timing – the unusual (for Christians, at least) meeting would occur later on. As we were leaving church we perceived a glut of excited, flamboyant, and yes, very vocal men dressed as women, women passing for men and assorted unusually gay “couples”. The aforesaid conference would begin as soon as the Christians exited.

We live in a fallen world with increasingly blatant “sexual preferences”, and I had seen a lot of homosexuality in the workplace and even among people linked to family and friends, but never so many, so showy and so noisy in one place. It was no time for an uncertain snicker or muffled laughter. I’ve been remembering those faces and expressions since that day.

Several years ago a church shepherded by a friend of ours fired their organist and music director for her unbiblical sexual activity, and she promptly sued the church for its bias – and won.  Recently Brazil’s legislators have proposed making a crime of “any expressions of homophobia”, with view to inclusion and positive distinction of gay and lesbian educators from elementary to university level. When he was Minister of Education, the newly elected governor of the State of São Paulo became known for his “gay kit”, in which school children were advised on the importance of “sexual diversity” and told to never discriminate against any boy or girl who made “different choices” from those traditionally learned in their families. The “educational material” was so blatantly biased toward homosexuality that it was rejected at the time, but new similar proposals are high on the state and national leaders’ agendas. A spokesperson who was heralded as defender of homosexuals has proposed a new definition of family which excludes “the union of a man and a woman” as a marriage and prefers the definition “consensual union of any person or persons with another (or others) of either sex”. This will have profound impact on Christians, churches and institutions.

When I worked as case manager for people with HIV in the early Nineties, 80% of my clients were gay. My goal was to reach out to people who suffered, without questioning how or why they were infected. In a non-religious institution, we were not allowed to “preach” the gospel or opine as to personal faith – but my clients knew I was a Christian and were conscious of my non-approval of their lifestyles. They also knew that I respected them as persons created by God, accepted them as friends, and yearned for them to know what reconciliation with the Lord is all about. I’d never said it in so many words, but they sensed genuine love.

One time when I was doing pre-HIV test counseling with a drug-addicted girl who had just answered, “Five minutes ago” when asked when was the last time she had injected and sold herself in order to finance her habit, all I could think was, “Once you were a beautiful, innocent (even if fallen) baby with none of your habits and hangouts. How God loves you! How Jesus invites you to enter His fellowship and be free!”

I listened as my clients told of their fears and foibles, as they asked why -- questions about life and death and disease and said I would answer some of their questions outside the workplace. They were welcome and respected, though I never condoned their lifestyle, which was much more than “risky behavior”. My husband supported me in that work, and we invited my Portuguese-speaking HIV clients into our home for supper. One thirty-three year old man asked if God could forgive and save him, and he came to our church. Lau baptized him when he bore witness of becoming a brother in Christ. After returning to Brazil, he died of AIDS as a Christian.

Back in Brazil we started Santé, an organization to support and offer assistance to people with AIDS, and initially it was perceived as primarily a ministry to homosexual people. Over the years we have met and ministered to people from all walks of life, many of which have made depraved choices in their personal lives. One such person asks: “Can God accept someone who has lived like me?” – we ask back: “Can God accept a repentant thief, a repentant adulterer, a repentant murderer? The writer to Corinthians said: “the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God. Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God... that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” ( I Corinthians 6:9-11). Any kind of sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, prostitution, homosexual acts, thievery and swindling – forfeits God’s kingdom! But we are saved by grace through faith – not by our works. People who think living with a boyfriend without marrying is okay, or idolize rock singers, sports stars and hundreds of other idols, or are consummate deceivers and tellers of lies are just as guilty as those who partake of homosexual acts. God does not make a list of   “less sinful” or “more sinful” behaviors – even our non-consumed sinful thoughts are sin (Matthew 5:28). Actually, our condition as sinners is not so much from what we do (though we end up doing what is contrary to God’s Word) as what we are – totally depraved, and, when without Christ, totally lost (Romans 3:23; 26). Before a just and righteous God, heterosexual promiscuity is as serious an offense as homosexual marriage!

Speaking of which, many of my friends in the USA live in states that approve gay marriage. That does not mean you have to condone it or, if a pastor, perform such a wedding ceremony! To begin, homosexuals are not gay in the classic definition of “happy, fun-loving and full of joy”. Same-sex attraction most surely entails much anguish and uncertainty – even when “coming out” of the closet is accepted or condoned by society. A dear person close to our family decided to “embrace” homosexuality – he did so with more than a sense of damnation and despair and is too enmeshed to believe Jesus can set him free. Another person, a girl, decided to “marry” her female lover – and discovered that it is a howlingly empty “marriage” and the lover loves only her own self and selfish desires. They have tried and tried again – like the Samaritan woman who had five marriages and was presently living with someone else’s spouse (John 4). Jesus – only Jesus can do so – offered her living water that quenches eternal thirst.

We have seen several cases of people in Christian leadership who end their ministry by embracing “gay rights” for themselves. Like any ministry shipwrecked by sinful behavior, the only solution is REPENT and RETURN to the Lord (Isaiah 55:7 NKJ: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon”! What a breathtaking promise! Someone said “you Christians are always talking about sin – how dreary!” But admission of sin implies the possibility of redemption – you can’t be saved if you don’t have anything from which to be redeemed!

The subject is vast and full of serious questions, but in a nutshell, I would affirm:

1.       The Bible, from Old through all the New Testament, condemns homosexual activity, as it does many other sins (Romans 1:18-32);

2.       Our Christian ethic includes both loathing of sin and love of sinner – this balance is exemplified by the only perfect God-Man, and should extend beyond what society or culture or status propose;

3.       People who demonstrate prejudice and discrimination against any who are or are perceived as different from themselves – must repent of lack of compassion such as Jesus showed to the woman caught in adultery.

4.       People who are engaged or enticed by any form of sin, whether “unacceptable” or socially “accepted”, must repent, return and convert their hearts to the Lord.

5.       There is NONE Righteous. All our self-righteousness is like dirty rags!

6.       There is NOBODY who can not be saved if called by the Lord Jesus.

If  your heart is disturbed by this blog, turn to the God of Comfort; put on the righteousness of Jesus and don’t live for yourself – above all, don’t die because of what you call bad choices and God calls sin – die to your selfish self and live unto the Lord!
Beth Gomes



When we were planning to go to the States for my husband to pursue graduate work, a young pastor and his wife offered to host us in their home until we found a place of our own. What we thought would be a couple of weeks in John and Nina Yenchko’s home ended up being more than two full months, and besides our youngest son (at that time aged twelve) being with us from the beginning, our eldest and a friend (college students) joined us all for the last month and they were invited to stay until our living arrangements were settled.

I shall never forget their generous hospitality, taking them out of their newly married comfort zone into the boisterous presence of a “foreign” family of early forties and teens. After we moved, among several jobs tackled, I worked at a public library, where I enjoyed access to many good books and a very low income. However, the Lord provided us with half a mansion, which we shared with another pastor and graduate student and his family (of two small kids and a wife who worked full-time as a nurse – Canadians).

Many times our friends from Brazil came along on their way to other tourist spots, and more often than not, we had a full house and an almost empty larder.  I had grown up as a missionary kid in Brazil. Since our marriage, I had been welcomed into my in-laws’ home and learned many lessons of hospitality with them, as well as in the homes of people all over Brazil who hosted us when Lau was guest preacher, or we were the visiting missionaries at a church. At the seminary where we went to school, hospitality was taught and practiced. When still single, I remember a Terena Indian pastor and his wife hosting the visiting Bible school students – putting us five girls to rest in their only double bed (they resorted to hammocks), while the men slept on the thatched roof church benches. Generous, inconvenient hospitality!

Once, when Lau and I traveled with our then five and two-year old children throughout the USA on our first evangelistic trip in which he preached in twenty-two states, the people who were supposed to put us up for the weekend had an emergency, and resorted to their parents to host us. I will never forget the white-haired, aged lady with a heavy German accent saying to the twenty-something couple and their two rambunctious kids, “Welcome in the name of the Lord Jesus!” They took us in as if we were angels (which we definitely were not) and when we prepared to leave for the next location, sent us off with bags full of sandwiches, fruit, juice and cookies to “tide us off” until we got to the next destination. I had worried about our being in the home of a couple of people well over seventy, but they showed us what it means to feel welcome in Jesus’ name.

I enjoyed entertaining – throwing a Christmas party or shower for a friend, having a professor over for dinner or a prominent preacher in our home for the church’s weekend conference, but was less enthusiastic when a couple who was in town for medical treatment and had nowhere else to go was stationed in our home for several weeks. Sometimes I am a slow learner, despite having been on the receiving end many times – and the Lord had to teach me the difference between entertaining and being biblically hospitable, not when it is convenient to us, but when and wherever the need arises.

One of the ways he taught us was through irony. We were called upon to offer hospitality – actually, to entertain – some VIP’s from Brazil. Not our ordinary pastoral or missionary fare, but a State governor and several representatives from Brazil’s states of Goiás and Tocantins and the Federal District. When our friends Marcos and Beth called us and said they were bringing the “comitiva” over to get to know an authentic American-Brazilian home, I was flattered – and my stomach fluttered at the perspective. I rallied several friends in the church and neighborhood, to loan me proper dishes, silverware and glasses, and prepared my best recipes, proudly telling my friends that we were hosting so and so. Everything was perfect – except this imperfect hostess.

Half an hour after the expected time, our friends called and said they were running late, and the Governor and his entourage had apologized saying they had decided to go to Atlantic City instead, and it would be just our old friends Marcos and Beth – whom we had entertained, as they had hosted us, zillions of times with anything from popcorn to mortadela sandwiches and lemonade or roast pork and gnocchi.

When Paul instructed Timothy about who and how to care for widows, some of the attributes listed were being “well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds” (1 Tim 5.10). Peter sandwiches hospitality between loving love each other deeply, “because love covers over a multitude of sins.  Offer hospitality to one another” and adds an interesting thought: “ without grumbling” – he admonishes to use our gifs in service toward others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms”, and adding, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:8-11). Whether preaching or serving, our goal is God’s praise – not that of host or hostess!

How do we practice biblical hospitality in the twenty-first century? With the solicitousness of Martha and the personal interest of Mary of Bethany. With the generosity of the woman who broke her alabaster box and the strength to serve of Peter’s mother in law after being healed by Jesus. We may not be as cunning as Rahab (I doubt that you will be called upon to hide your guests on the rooftop under piles of flax!) but we can glean from the Source of wisdom for every situation. Our homes can be warm, caring places that show God’s love to the stranger as well as to those we love. We will exercise and develop patience while practicing hospitality. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it “(Heb. 13:2). Some day we will be permanent guests in God’s eternity. That will be quite a party -- bustling, joyful and eternal home!

Elizabeth Gomes



Several years ago, a friend invited me to speak at a women’s meeting in her home in Brasília. She had met several embassy wives from various Islamic countries, and had befriended them by sharing recipes and special Brazilian dishes – and they had reciprocated by sharing their favorite sweets and stories. Celina was not a Bible teacher and was not known as a proficient evangelist, but she loved Jesus and loved people who did not know him, so she decided to offer her new friends “Tea and Friendship” with a word of wisdom. 

When I arrived at her apartment, about thirty women were crowded into her living room, chattering in five or six different languages. Many of the women had brought “treats” to share from their national cuisines. Their beautiful, volumous clothes, some complete with headdresses (from India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon) contrasted with the lighter, “less clothed” dresses and slacks of the five or six Brazilian Christians who had joined us. (These Christian friends had been praying, along with Celina, for over a month – for this particular meeting – and I was touched by their dedication and the awesome responsibility ahead of us.)

Celina introduced me as her friend who would try to speak to them in Portuguese and English, since she knew several had not yet learned the Brazilian language and were proficient in English (which she unfortunately had not learned, she deplored). I had previously prepared a three-point Bible study for sophisticated seekers, but my mind immediately recalculated, and I thought: WATER, and began to talk about how there was one thing every person, from every nation and every situation, whatever their religion or political bent, cannot live without – water. Some of the ladies had already asked for a glass of water when they first arrived – Brasília is so dry in the rain-less season that the humidity is similar to that of the Sahara dessert. Though fruit juice and soda (plus the advertised tea) were available, most people had chosen to drink cool, fresh water. And I said, “Celina asked me to explain something about us that is neither Brazilian nor American, African or Indian.

It is a story of a Jewish teacher, a rabbi, and a woman from a national group despised by traditional Jews – a Samaritan. Besides Samaritans and Jews being secular enemies, she was also a woman despised by her confused marital situation. She had plenty of husbands – five, to be exact – and a lover, and no love, no lasting relationship. Like many of us she had faced her share of prejudice – maybe she also deeply pre-judged anyone who was not like she was. And this teacher, this wise man, was talking to her – though holy men were supposed to ignore women, especially women like her, who had to get water when nobody else was around and did her everyday activities with constant fear and shame. He asked her for something she had – a glass of water!

After she protested Jesus’ request, he piqued her interest by saying that the water from Jacob’s well would satisfy very briefly, but he had living water that quenched eternal thirst. I continued to narrate the story of the Samaritan woman alternating English and Portuguese, and for many, it was the first time they had heard of Jesus as a person instead of “one of the three great religions in the world”.  A couple said that despite their husbands’ great generosity, they had already been warned against any religious talk with Brazilian women, who were beautiful, generous and harbored dangerous ideas. Some of the women asked to come back to Celina’s home to hear more another time. One lady invited us to “hear the wisdom of Allah at a women’s meeting at their mosque”. I was reminded of Jeremiah’s words about God’s people having committed two sins: “they have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jer 2:13). And prayed, “Fill my cup, Lord...”

Elizabeth Gomes



On our way to the airport, the cloud-covered Itapeti Mountain Range looked like an immense plain blanketed by virgin snow. English would say that the fog was thick as pea soup, and we questioned whether the planes would leave on time, such was the near future’s uncertain visibility. Sun ended up showing its bright face before we got to the airport and in few minutes the world around us was once again one we knew well. The flight would leave without delays or interruptions. But I kept thinking about the great cloud...

...of witnesses. People that surround us on all sides and testify to God’s faithfulness and omnipresence. When fog lifts, everything that was doubtful, fearful and uncertain – which covers the same scene we watch day by day in a constant, safe routine – becomes visible.

Recently I have discovered old friends from a distant past – and new friendships made due to a common link: life in Christ. As we connect the dots in the tracing of these lives, I observe three common characteristics:

1)      Deep down, we are alike, the same as always, common people that  breathe the same air and aspire to the same dreams of years ago;

2)      In that which is externally visible, we are unique, different, each of us with his or her own share of sui generis victory and pains different from any other. Nobody knows de trouble I’s seen... Or the glory I aspire!

3)      In this mélange of unity and singularity, we are one: “For in him we live and move and have our being.” Simultaneously, we are different members, with different gifts, ministries and workings – all part of the one unique and unified Body ( I Cor. 12:12-27; Eph. 4:1-16).

In such diversity, we have different life experiences and find ourselves in diverse stages of our pilgrimage – but there exists one certainty for each and all of us, interlinked by two aspects: a) As to who sustains us, God is faithful. b) As to finite imitators of a great God being sustained by Him, we live, obtain victories, suffer, or even die in apparent defeat – by faith.

I am moved by situations my sisters and brothers face today: irreplaceable loss, family problems (or the void of lack of family ties), finances and finiteness, serious disease that put their permanence on this earth at risk. We still do not have Paul’s fortitude to say, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Phil 1:23). However, all of us are part of this great cloud of witnesses that surround us all, testifying that “He is around me to guide... uphold... strengthen... renew...” What we really desire, far more than the foggy clouds we experience around us, is that the God of our life be exalted in our life or death (Phil 1:20). Always. Each time. In every circumstance.

Elizabeth Gomes