Have Faith: Friends and family

Holding up the faithful, and playing our part in climate change.


The Ribeiro family — dad Robert, mom Nilma, daughter Ana, and son Matthew — have been active members of the Vineyard Assembly of God Church, with dad Robert being an integral member of the large Brazilian population who attend the church. Pastor Matthew Splittgerber sent me an email telling me about Robert’s current situation, and a little bit about him. 

“Robert and Nilma immigrated here from Brazil, where Robert taught mathematics, but since coming to the Island, Robert has worked for the Vineyard Preservation Trust,” the pastor wrote. “Two years ago, Robert suddenly collapsed with a seizure, and it was discovered that he had a cancerous brain tumor. Since then, he has gone through surgery, radiation, and ongoing chemotherapy.”

I looked up the GoFundMe page (bit.ly/rrfamily) put together by Ana and Matthew and read, “On June 5th of 2022 my dad Robert Ribeiro was diagnosed with glioblastoma Mmultiforme Stage 4, a very aggressive brain tumor. Since then, he has been through one surgery and multiple rounds of chemo, and is currently undergoing treatment for this aggressive cancer. This diagnosis and course of treatment has completely altered the course of my father’s life (as you can imagine), and our family’s life as well. This disease has weakened my father both mentally and physically. It has taken his physical strength to the point where he has had to give up certain roles and responsibilities.”

Then I called the family to check in on how things are going for them, only to find that Robert is currently in the hospital with pneumonia, on top of all his other medical issues. I spoke with Ana, though, and she filled me in on the family’s situation. Ana told me her dad very recently lost his position, and now will have even more difficulty paying bills and supporting his family. That’s where faith comes in. She also told me that their church family had stepped up and rallied around them. “Everybody has been amazing, but our church family has gone above and beyond,” Ana said. “They have given us food, donations, time, whatever we need. Pastor Matthew has done so much, and Pastor Ricardo at the Lagoinha Church has been wonderful too.” That’s what faith communities do, beyond constant prayers that most people say they can actually feel — the faithful take on the responsibility of truly living out the biblical notion of “loving thy neighbor as thyself.” 

Besides the community support, Nilma works from home as a baker, making amazing cakes for special occasions. Ana is prepping for a nursing program, and Matthew is working at Cronig’s Market to help out. She told me her family came here from Brazil in 2004, first moving to Florida for a brief period, then heading to Martha’s Vineyard, where they’ve been ever since. Robert taught Portuguese through ACE MV, and has helped with translation at the M.V. Hospital.

Splittgerber told me about his connection with the Ribeiros as well; they joined the Vineyard Assembly of God Church in 2017. “Robert and his family have been very active in the church, although his illness has curtailed much of his ability to participate,” Pastor Splittberger says. 

He said that soon after they joined, Robert got involved in the Translation Ministry, which provides live translation of the service into Portuguese for those requesting assistance in that area. Nilma was elected to the church’s deacon board in 2021, and still serves. 

“It would be an understatement for me to say that Robert and Nilma are beloved by the church,” the pastor wrote to me in an email. “Not only have people been praying for them for God’s sustaining grace, peace, and healing, many in the church have also been helping them financially either through the GoFundMe, or directly or indirectly through the church. In fact, last week someone who lives off-Island but who watches the livestream of our services on YouTube sent the church a $1,000 gift to be directed to Robert and Nilma.”

That’s the way folks support one another in this community — and those connected to it. I asked the family if they wanted to add any information, and they were mostly interested in expressing their gratitude to both the American and Brazilian community on the Island. Let’s hold them close to us in our prayers.


The Interfaith Climate Action Team is gearing up for the 2024 Climate Action Fair on May 19 at the Ag Society. They will have a table there where they plan to sign people up for the Environmental Voter Project. They will also have native red maple seedlings to distribute, propagated from the seeds of an Island tree by Polly Hill Arboretum. 

Abby Bates from Grace Church sent some info, saying that leading up to the fair, five of their member congregations, Grace Episcopal Church, the Federated Church, the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, and the Unitarian Universalist Society of Martha’s Vineyard, all plan to toll their bells 40 times on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, May 17, 18, and 19, at noon. 

“The number 40 was chosen to symbolize the goal set by Island planners of making the Island fossil-fuel-free by 2040,” Bates explained. 

“All of us in the interfaith community find ourselves called by our faiths, our scriptures, to care for creation — all that has been given to us by our creator — so that we pass along a sustainable world for future generations,” Bates says. “We all recognize that this awesome responsibility is impossible to fulfill alone, so we work together toward our common goal.” 

Well done! We’ll visit you at the Climate Action Fair!