Brazil mission offers a place in the shade

Teca Greathouse remembers when she didn’t want to go to school. 

Gordon and Teca Greathouse
Gordon and Teca Greathouse

It seems hard to believe now for the Methodist missionary who has spent most of her adult life pressing for educational opportunities for the people in her homeland of Brazil.

But Greathouse grew up in an impoverished community outside the developed cities of Brazil, and schooling was difficult because of lack of infrastructure. Travel was mostly by boat during the rainy season, and when the waterways dried up, so did the travel routes.

In the early 1950s, at age 4, she contracted polio and spent two months in a coma. She was the only one of five polio-stricken children in the community that year to not only survive but emerge without a crippling disability.

When she was 11, her mother arranged for her to stay with a relative where she would have access to education. She balked. The boat trip was going to be 24 hours, so she knew visits would be rare. She did not want to leave family and friends.

“My mother said, ‘God saved your life because he has a purpose for you,’” Greathouse recalled. And off to school she went, later attending college to become a teacher and ultimately returning to her community to build a school.

“I was saved to do something to make a difference in the lives of children,” she said.

Today Greathouse oversees a network of after-school programs at Methodist churches in her native country. Called Shade and Fresh Water after a Brazilian saying for relief from hardship, the ministry she shares with her husband, Gordon, is supported by the Florida Conference and other United Methodist conferences in the U.S., as well as the Methodist Church of Brazil. 

‘Tis the season of itineration for many United Methodist missionaries in ministry abroad. If your church would like to host a presentation by a missionary in covenant with the Florida Conference, contact Icel Rodriguez, Global Missions director, at You can also check out the Global Missions blog or learn about missionaries in relationship with the Florida Conference at

The couple is itinerating in New York for a few months, and Teca Greathouse visited the Florida United Methodist Building in October to make a presentation about her ministry,  which also sends boats with volunteer doctors and dentists and medical supplies to isolated rural areas where health care is hard to come by.

For Americans, the thought of Brazil may conjure images of sparkling beaches, glittering tourist centers and exotic rainforests. But Greathouse knows a less pretty picture of the sprawling country that dominates much of the South American landscape.

Despite the ups and downs of religion and politics, the couple’s ministry has grown and earned local and national respect, Greathouse said. The program targets children ages 6 to 14 who in the U.S. would be considered “latchkey kids.”

In Brazil, most parents work long hours to provide for their children. School operates four hours a day, and children are left on their own much of the time. Many turn to the streets, where they fall victim to drugs and crime.

In the 1980s and early ‘90s, Brazil attracted international attention for late-night “death squads” hired by store owners fed up with thefts and robberies. The vigilantes reportedly executed thousands of children roaming the streets.

Today Brazil has one of the highest numbers of children in prostitution in the world. In the 1990s, a United Nations survey found it second only to Thailand.

To address the problem, the Brazilian Methodist Church has supported the Greathouses’ mission of equipping local congregations throughout Brazil to offer Christian education, tutoring, sports and recreation, crafts, computer skills and health tips during the after-school hours.

In 13 years of operation, the project has grown to 55 sites that enhance the educational opportunities of 3,000 children and reduce the numbers who turn to the streets. 

John Wesley Medical Boat
The John Wesley Medical Boat takes volunteer medical professionals to the backwaters of Brazil, where preventative health care is hard to come by. Photo from the Virginia Annual Conference.

In addition, thanks to an American who made a mission trip to Brazil, Shade and Fresh Water and two other church organizations have received boats that were equipped for trips into the backwaters of the Amazon River to provide health and dental care for people in need.

The John Wesley Medical Boat is a godsend but also expensive to maintain, Greathouse said. Both the after-school program and the medical relief ministry provide plenty of opportunities for volunteers looking for a mission trip or people who wish to donate funding, she said.

Rev. Clarke Campbell-Evans, director of Missional Engagement for the Florida Conference, said he has known the Greathouses since his days as a mission intern for the General Board of Global Ministries in the 1980s, when the young couple pioneered a concept of missionaries taking charge of community services.

“They were the fresh faces of mission at that time,” Campbell-Evans said, adding that until then, “it was mostly pastors serving churches or doctors serving clinics or agrarians [helping people farm].”

Campbell-Evans said he also admired the couple's early service in a part of the world  governed by dictatorship, when Methodist preachers often were jailed for standing up for human rights.

In more recent years, he said, ecumenical groups have sought out Teca Greathouse for advice and leadership in community service ministries.

“She has a very natural gift that I think can be taught to others about how you can be a witness for Christ through your engagement in the community.”

Greathouse remembers the young faces of many blessed by Shade and Fresh Water, but one in particular a few years ago stands out. He had been carrying illegal drugs for trade. Juveniles often are recruited for drug trafficking because they are immune to prosecution in Brazil.

Once introduced to Shade and Fresh Water, though, the boy told her, “I was involved with friends that took me in a bad direction. … I did a lot of bad things. [Without Shade and Fresh Water,] I would probably be living in the streets and selling or using drugs.”

For information about Shade and Fresh Water, Brazil, click here.

-- Susan Green is the managing editor of Florida Conference Connection.

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