Our recent trip to Fortaleza brought back memories of my first moments in Brazil. The post below shares one of the more intense experiences I had in those days. It is a re-post from a few years ago, back when only part of the first Missionary Max book had been published. I have edited it to reflect the book’s current status*. 

The following is a an excerpt from Missionary Max and the Jungle Princess :

Closer… closer… Cascavel, “rattlesnake,” fingered the switchblade in his hand as he watched the americano climb the hill. He was a man who enjoyed his work. The money was okay, but the part he loved was that moment when surprise turned to fear, and then fear to absolute terror and panic.

Closer… He licked his lips in anticipation. NOW!
Cascavel jumped out in front of the American. “Passa a grana, ou eu furo você!” Then, showing off for his newest victim, “Give me money!”

As with many situations in the book, this section had its origin in real life experiences. In the case of the mugging scene, the seed of the story was planted on my first full day in Brazil.

It was late November, 1989. Brazil was a far different country from the exploding economic powerhouse that it is today. The economy was on the skids, the government was in chaos, and the divide between the American and Brazilian way of life was enormous.

Enter me, a skinny seventeen-year-old who had seldom set foot outside of the northeastern US. Suddenly, I found myself in the city of Fortaleza, northeastern Brazil. I was temporarily hosted at the Fortaleza Academy–until recently a school for MKs (missionary kids) run by Baptist Mid-Missions. The students there were amazingly friendly, eager to tell me all about their country and to hear the latest news from the US.

Among the kids I met that day were two brothers, Dan and Jeff. Their parents were missionaries in another city, and they studied at the Fortaleza Academy, living in the dorm. For a kid whose idea of being away from home was a week at summer camp, the notion of two kids my age being virtually independent was compelling.

Fortaleza Academy, as it appeared on the day the events in this post took place.


Late in the afternoon Dan approached me. He had an easy, confident manner that made it impossible not to like him. “Hey Andrew, how would you like to go see the open air market tonight?”

Of course I thought that would be great, so at the appointed time we met at the gate of the Academy compound. The gate was locked for the night, but Dan was not deterred by this technicality. “We’ll go over the wall”, he said, as if this were a common occurrence. So over the wall we went.

As soon as we were on the sidewalk below, Dan turned to me. “Oh, by the way, we might get mugged. It happens all the time here. Hold on tightly to your things.”

And by “things” he meant the camera around my neck, the high-top sneakers (a luxury item in Brazil at that time) on my feet, and the wallet full of cash in my back pocket. Indeed, when you added my skinny frame and wire-rimmed glasses that made me look like I had come straight from the set of Revenge of the Nerds, I was a walking target for muggers.

A picture of me later that evening, drinking Cajuina (a soft drink made out of the Cashew fruit) for the very first time. Note skinny frame and Revenge of the Nerds glasses.

We began to stroll briskly down the avenue (Desembargador Moreira, for those familiar with Fortaleza) towards the market. As we passed by a park to our right, a wirey man in a white t-shirt and cut-off jeans approached us quickly. As he drew near, he suddenly drew a breath and turned away.

“That guy was going to mug you,” said Dan–way too causally, I thought. “He stopped when he saw me.”
We continued our walk. Dan was nonchalant as always, while I was a bundle of nerves. A few minutes later Dan glanced back. “Don’t look now,” he said, “but the mugger is following us, and he brought friends.”

Despite Dan’s injunction, I looked. Sure enough, our white-shirted friend was back, and in his wake were three other men.

“What would you think about getting a taxi?” asked Dan, as if nothing out of the ordinary was going on.

“Yes please!”

Dan raised his hand and almost immediately a VW Beetle pulled up. We piled in, Dan said something in Portuguese that I’m sure meant “step on it”, and we pulled away from the curb, leaving behind us four disappointed bandidos.

Years later Dan would help me as I was planning to buy my first car here in Brazil. He is now a successful businessman in the US. His brother Jeff is one of our missionary colleagues here in Brazil, doing an outstanding job in the city of João Pessoa.

Over the years I have wondered what would have happened if it had just been Dan there, without the presence of the skinny American kid to cramp his style. This imagination led directly to the scene quoted above.

To find out how Missionary Max deals with his assailant, read Missionary Max and the Jungle Princess.

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