28 Apr 2005

It's SPRINGTIME!

Submitted by Paul Brown

Sorry it's been so long since I posted an update here! I'm way behind.... I'll try to cover most of the important things since coming back to Portugal from Iowa: exams, my new project in INESC, church news, and whatever else I think of. :)

When I got back to Porto in January, it was just in time to start my first round of exams in the Master's program. I didn't know what to expect, since I'd never taken an exam in a Master's program, and I'd never taken an exam in Portugal. Since most of my grades come from the exams, I was a little concerned. :) But it all went well. I studied the notes from class and worked some example problems, like I usually do, and generally tried to relax and take it easy. Fortunately I was in lull in my INESC work so I could spend all day studying and not have to worry about it at night. I'm pretty sure I took the top grade in all of my classes....

My current project in INESC is part of a study for the electric system of the island of Madeira. They want to know the maximum renewable energy penetration that they can have, specifically looking at increasing the energy coming from wind turbines. My part is to run simulations to see what the frequency variations will be as a result of variations in wind speed. The work is very similar to what I did in my previous project for the Azores, but the system is a little more complex, but with fewer scenarios. I spent a lot of time waiting for data to get started, and now it is a little bit of a crunch to get results so we can write the report. Fortunately I improved on my scheme from the Azores and have things running pretty efficiently (I think--we'll see!).

When I was in Iowa in January, I stopped by Cornerstone and picked up a transfer letter so I could become an official member of my church here in Porto. Sadly, I left it in the car at the airport, so Mom and Dad had to mail it to me, delaying my membership a little bit. But now I am a member of the Primeira Igreja Baptista do Porto (First Baptist Church of Porto). In that very meeting that I joined the church, I was added to the music commission and the sound system team. It hasn't made much difference, since I was already helping in these roles, but it does give a little authority, so I can plan services now and then. So far I just did one, but it could come to be more now that....

...we have a new pastor! Having been without one since I guess November of last year, after a much shorter search than I think anyone expected, we made contact with a Brazilian missionary who was also thinking of moving into a more pastoral role. He is still part-time, finishing up other responsibilities and making the transition, but I am very glad to have him with us. He has a passion for young people and for missions--things that match well with our church. He is dreaming big, something that I think is really important. I look forward to working with him and learning!

At the beginning of April I took a week of vacation with Humberto, Evodia, and Lemuel, and we went to Galiza, Spain, just north of Portugal. It is a beach vacation kind of area, but this early in the year, it's not full of people and seems kind of empty. Which was nice! The weather wasn't perfect, but it gave some good days for walking on the beach and relaxing, and I even added a little tan. :) There are lots of pictures in the photo gallery.

The next big thing I'm looking forward to is a week-long visit by Mom and Dad in mid-May. It will be great to see them and show them around! I think my friends here are eager to meet them, too, and likewise my parents are ready to meet them.

There are lots more things that I could write, but I can't put everything. Plus there are some things that one just doesn't put out on the 'net for everyone to know! ;)

4 Jan 2005

Home for the Holidays

Submitted by Paul Brown

During the school break for Christmas and New Years (and a little extra), I've been able to come "home" to Iowa for three weeks. The biggest part is yet to come: my younger sister Sarah gets married on Saturday!

I left Porto on the morning of Monday Dec. 20 with a great group of friends to see me off. As I was waiting for the airplane there in Porto, after saying goodbye and passing security, I couldn't help but spend some time just thanking God for his faithfulness and goodness during the nearly six months that I had spent abroad. Instead of being "all alone in the world", the Lord provided great friends and a loving church to be part of, in a way that I had never imagined.

The trip back was nothing extraordinary, Portugal really isn't that from from the U.S., and the total trip time of 17 or so hours isn't very bad, on a world scale. My route went Porto - London - Chicago - Des Moines and then into the arms of my waiting family!

Since I've been here in Manning, it's been nice to have time to relax and just be with family. I've been digging into books, ones that I didn't have space to take with me when I left in the summer. Also I spent a couple days to upgrade the operating system on my server (the box that's feeding you this very article)--now running Fedora Core 3-- and add space for Mom/Dad --mostly Mom-- and Sarah to put pictures in a web gallery. Have a look!

Besides that, I got to see a couple of old high school friends again. My friend Matt has been stationed in Afghanistan with the Iowa National Guard and was home for 2 weeks of leave. I was surprised, he actually seems to enjoy being there since it's "not that bad" and they are doing a lot of good things for the people. Together we went over to Ames and saw another friend, Adam, with whom I'd lost contact for a couple of years. He's married now and doing pretty well, or so it seems.

One thing I HAVEN'T done, that I probably should, is study for my exams, which will start in mid January. Somehow it seems there is always something more interesting to do, and, as I tell myself, there's still time. Well, now with less than one week left, I don't think that "there's still time" line is going to work any more. But Sarah's wedding is coming up, so things could get more busy. We'll see what happens, I guess! :)

12 Oct 2004

On a Roll

Submitted by Paul Brown

Classes are started, work in INESC is daily reality, and regular church activities come around weekly. The weather is turning cool and rainy. Traffic is jammed up about every other morning. In other words, life is becoming normal. :)

Classes started three weeks ago. They are, somewhat to my surprise, almost all in Portuguese. To my even greater surprise, I can follow along without many problems. The classes are all on Thursday afternoons and Fridays, so for Monday to Wednesday I am just working on my projects in the office at INESC. In the beginning of the semester I thought I would have a Portuguese language class two nights a week, but it turned out to be the same level as the one I took during the summer and is full of Spanish students. I have nothing against people from Spain, but they have entirely different needs in studying Portuguese because their language is linguistically similar to Portuguese.

I sent off a report over my first project. The report went through a number of iterations, but by the time it went out the door (figuratively speaking--it was emailed of course), I think it was a pretty good piece of work. There was a period where I didn't have anything to do, but now I have another project to work on. This project involves similar tools and materials as the previous one as it is also looking at the dynamic performance of the power system on small islands with relatively large installation of wind generation, but in this case it is an additional study to follow up on a previous study that was done some time ago and is more involved. As always I am applying my maximum ingenuity to minimize the amount of work I have to do get to the answer!

I have found a church that I am quite involved in now. The young people there ("jovens") are trying to become more active both in the church and in impacting the community. Last Sunday we led a Sunday evening service for the first time in a while. I played the guitar for the choruses, marking my first public "performance" with a guitar. I was also part of a mime act that we did. I have been playing and practicing guitar in most of my spare time lately since up till now the guitar has been mostly just for fun. Also I have been writing some articles for a monthly jornal that one of the girls in the group has been publishing. (For now it is just of the sort made in Word but she has hopes to get access to a computer that can run more professional software to make it really like a jornal.)

Gone are the days where the sky was always blue and the temperature always perfect! Now we have entered the period where it will get cooler and rainier. In fact I don't mind this so much except that I don't want to get wet (so far successful), and since no one else does either, the traffic is sometimes terrible. The morning choise is often whether I want to spend half an hour walking to work or spend half an hour crawling along in the bus.

I am looking forward to moving to another apartment sometime later this month where I will be able to walk to campus in I guess about 15 min. and not have to fool with all the traffic. The move will also make me closer to church and pretty much everything else as well. While the new place is the same price as my current apartment, it will have newer furniture and owners that I hope I have a better chance of convincing to let us use the living room instead of renting it out as another bedroom or just closing it off.

Last week I bought my airplane tickets to head for Iowa for Christmas and Sarah's wedding this winter. Although there was some confusion with the website I bought them through, I still ended up with a nice schedule that avoids going through Paris (the tight scheduling there is I think impossible to meet given the size of the airport). Even though the trip is still more than two months away, I am already looking forward to seeing my family again, visiting Cornerstone, and generally just being "home" where things are comfortable. That time will fall just before my finals, which will pretty much determine my grade in every class, so it won't be (or at least shouldn't be) a complete vacation.

23 Aug 2004

Reflections on a week at camp

Submitted by Paul Brown

I had the privilege to attend a one-week Baptist camp for young people last week. It was a very encouraging and fun week and I hope that sharing some of my experiences can be an encouragement for others as well. The week was full of many activities ranging from worship and teaching from the Bible to sleeping on the beach. This "article" was written in response to a request by my Sunday school teacher.

The first group activity each day was a Bible study with Raquel. She preached from Exodus 20 on five out of the Ten Commandments: the third (v. 7), the fourth (vs. 8-11), the fifth (v. 12), the seventh (v. 14), and the ninth (v. 16). Like Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Mat. 5-7), Raquel gave applications of how we might break the spirit of the commandments in ways that are not explicit in the text of the commandment itself. From this teaching I don’t think I learned many new things since I have already given thought to these subjects, however, the problem in walking in righteousness more often lies not in failing to know right thing to do but in actually doing it. This part of the week was a great encouragement to me to strive hard to walk in the ways of Jesus.

There was one day in which I got stirred up because I disagreed with Raquel. She taught that Sunday is for Christians as the Sabbath (Saturday) was for the Jews. What bothered me wasn’t the idea of a day of rest (I think that’s healthy) or setting aside Sunday for worship both with the church and in private but the presentation of the fourth commandment as a rule for Christians. Afterwards I spent time thinking about the issue more and found my opinion the same. Nonetheless, it was a good exercise to work through what the Bible teaches again.

After the Bible study each day, we met with “mini-groups” for a time of discussion over the day’s lesson in the context of a smaller group of about eight people. My mini-group leader had a number of questions or topics prepared to start us on discussion. Unfortunately my group had a couple of guys who continuously made jokes that kept everyone laughing but also kept the group from seriously discussing things in any meaningful way. The mini-group was also the period in which I had the most language difficulties.

During two of the afternoons we watched some (American) movies dealing with honor: Men of Honor and The Last Samurai. These were not just entertaining movies, but they also presented powerful images of men acting honorably, willing to lay down even their lives in pursuit of a purpose higher than themselves. Viewed from a Christian perspective, these movies reminded me of the strength of the great exhortations and examples in the New Testament like “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Heb. 12:1) and “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:12-14).

On three other afternoons we had time for “you choose” sessions of studying a topic (yes, you guessed it) of our choice. I went to the sessions about “praise” where we studied what adoration is, ways that adoration is expressed to God in the Bible, and some things that can hinder adoration. What I took away most from these sessions was the concept of a life driven by adoration of God occasionally punctuated by expressions of this adoration in song, prayer, etc.

In the evenings we had services in the chapel with worship in music led by various campers on various instruments and in the end with preaching by Pastor Pedro. This time of preaching was one of the highlights of the week for me. Pastor Pedro presented with great style powerful challenges for us to live lives fully committed to Christ, bearing fruit in increasing holiness. Fortunately and in answer to prayer, I understood the majority of these messages, for the most part only missing the jokes. Like the morning teaching, this time was not so much about learning new things as about being encouraged to live passionately a life worth of the love the Lord has lavished on me. (Col. 1:10)

Although we had many activities planned and scheduled for us, nonetheless there was significant free time to use as we pleased. One thing I especially enjoyed was getting up a little early to spend quiet time reading and meditating on passages in the Bible, praying, and reflecting on the previous day. Most of the rest of my free time was spent with Lemuel talking about all kinds of things, sometimes in English, sometimes in Portuguese, playing games, napping on the beach, or just relaxing on the swings. I don’t know how much my Portuguese improved, but there was noticeable (to me) improvement in Lemuel’s English from the beginning to the end of the week.

In the end the answer to the question “Did you enjoy the week at camp?” is a resounding “Yes!”. I feel as much love for the Lord and as much energy to live for him as I ever have and am eager to see the fruit that he will bear in my life and in the other young people from the church. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9)

11 Aug 2004

A Day in the Life....

Submitted by Paul Brown

I haven't been doing anything really extraordinary or interesting lately, so I thought I would just write a little about what I do on a typical day. Basically, this is what I have been up to for the last two weeks since the language program finished at the end of July.

7:30 - The alarm goes off for the first time.
7:45 - Get up, get cleaned up in the bathroom
8:15 - Do some situps and pushups to maintain my stunning figure :)
8:30 - Make breakfast, comprised of delicious oatmeal and eggs cooked to perfection, all accompanied by a fine glass of milk or water.
9:00 - Head out for INESC. Generally I walk 15 minutes into Porto proper and catch a bus the rest of the way.
9:30 - Arrive in INESC, say good morning to the others that are here, and get to work checking email, looking up the news, and possibly making some progress on my project.
12:00 - Go for lunch. Sometimes in the food court near INESC, sometimes to a mall, usually with someone(s) from the office. After we eat, we can browse through things at the mall, or just sit and talk--pretty much anything except work!
2:00 - Return from lunch, nose back to the grindstone!
5 or 6:00 - Go home, usually getting a bus with someone from INESC and getting off when it stops going closer to where I live, then walking the rest of the way. If I need groceries, I can stop on the way.
5:30 or 6:30 - Get home, maybe have a snack of some fruit or bread, then sit down to read for a while. I've cruised through a couple long Stephen King novels I borrowed from Naing and am now starting a Portuguese book (not exactly cruising....).
9:00 - Take a break from reading to throw together something to eat. Pan-fried chicken, rice, and vegetables from the freezer have been popular, though it could also be pan-friend pork. Or even something crazy like pan-fried meat and rice with tomatoes on top!!
9:30 - Back to reading....
10:30 - Get ready for bed, write in my journal for a while, do some Bible studying, and hit the hay.

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