Volunteering and traveling in Argentina to proclaim God's great love, and hopefully not getting sick along the way.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

I like

Madeleine L'Engle. She writes in the fourth book in a series known as the Crosswick Journals:

"We need to say 'Thank you' whenever possible, even if we are not able to reconcile the human creature's free will with the Maker's working out of the pattern. Thanks and praise are, I believe, some of the threads with which the pattern is woven."

She then goes on to talk about the paradox of light as a wave and particle. "Living with contradiction is nothing new to the human being." (Yet, how hard it is to grasp the completely God, completely human paradox of Jesus sometimes!)

Then, in regards to marriage, about the many fights she had had with her husband:

"And I am reminded of one woman who, when asked if she had ever contemplated divorcing her husband, replied, Divorce, never! Murder, yes!" (Perhaps this one is better with context, but she makes a point between hot anger and cold anger. It is better to express feelings and let them be done with, rather than to bury them for years and years.)

I came to the conclusion that I want to be a mixture between this woman and Corrie Ten Boom. Madeleine's gentleness can be balanced out with Corrie's outright honesty. Both have a sense of daring, of courage. I remain the woman God has created me to be, but I look to these women (and many, many others) as examples. Just a thought. Chau.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Nuevas frases

First of all, an applause for USA not getting stomped by Lionel Messi.. I mean, by the Argentinian team. It was re-fun to watch it with Johnny, Chichilo, Juliano and Fernando and give each other flack throughout the game. I especially loved when they threw the Argentinian flag on me after the first goal. Oh, and all the times when the US would foul and they would look at me like it was my fault. jaja.

Moving on, I have realized, particularly after a short conversation with a friend on gchat, that there are so many colloquialisms to learn. You can speak a Spanish that is understood, but there's a visible difference when you use the words of the street. For instance:

1. "No me sale." When a word is difficult for you to say, instead of saying literally, "I can't say that word," use this phrase. It translates to, "It does not leave me well." When I said this during a devotion I gave last week at a local school, a couple of the kids came forward to help me out after.

2. "Chavon." This is the word for, "Hey man!" that is most used by Chichilo. Oh, how this kid is a riot. When I asked Maria Elena what the word means she explained and said that it's very "Violetero." That is, the slang from Las Violetas.

3. "Capaz." I'm still figuring this one out. But I kind of think of it as short for "capacity." You say it more or less when referring to a possible future. "Perhaps (Capaz) she will run a marathon in July," for example. As in, "She has the capacity to run, but it may not come to pass." Viste? Speaking of..

4. "Viste?" I explained this one to my parents the other day. It's not so much a colloquialism as it is a common filler word. Much like "Emm" instead of "Umm." Or "Me entiendes?" (<--not a misspelling with the use of "vos") instead of "You get what I'm sayin?" Viste is "Did you see?" The way I think of it is like the 1930s black and white movies that involve special detectives explaining how they solved a case. Picture Humphrey Bogart with a cigarette sticking from the side of his mouth, "He gave me the maltese falcon, you see? But then it turned out to be a fake. You're just going to have to back to Istanbul, you see?"

5. "Sepa." Apparently you can translate saber, which is "to know," in the third person to "Sepa." Plural, it's "Sepan." I asked Maria Sol if I could still say "Sabe," which I can, but this other word is more common. Who knew? Ahem.. Quién sepa? No? Oh well, I tried. :P

6. "Me alegro" and "Me pone feliz." I tried to say that something makes me happy, and I was corrected. I can use one of these two phrases, although the former is preferred.

There are so much more that take time to figure out, but they come. Slowly but surely. Praising God have more time to learn this beautiful language! Chau.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Awww shucks

For those of you who know me, this is one of my phrases. I would like to say I reserve it for special moments in particular. But that is not the case. It comes out when I'm happy, when I'm annoyed (and thus using it sarcastically), when people say nice things to me, etc. etc.

This time, it came out when I received a lovely package from my parents. First, when I received this oh-so-darling penguin oven mitt. After all, I do love penguins, I love to cook, and am now sporting three burns on my hands from three different occasions. It's like they know me or something. hehe.

The phrase escaped my mouth a second time when I received such lovely letters from most of my cousins and aunts and uncles and grandma and grandpa to encourage me in my time here. I can't pick a favorite, because they are all great!

And it came out once again when I realized I had received word from my adopted kid in India named Deep. He said that he's praying for me, and I just sighed.

Awww shucks indeed. Chau.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Not so Catholic

I joked in my latest update about practicing Lent in that I'm not eating meat. Lent is Cuaresma in Castellano, referring to the 40, or cuarenta, days before Easter (Pascua). I figured that not only is it a tradition in my family to give something up, but I'm in a predominately Catholic nation. It just makes sense, right?

Not so right. While Wikipedia does say 70-90% of the proclaiming Christians are of the Roman Catholic persuasion, I'm not so sure.

After all, Sarah and I searched all day for one of the Catholic Ash Wednesday services to no avail. We were even in the city that night and didn't see, or at least I didn't (I don't know about Sarah), a single cross on one's forehead.

When we asked Javi what the deal is, he told us that there hasn't been as much respect for the Catholic churches for these past five years. And for the same reason you might suspect--various scandals among the leaders of the church.

"Certainly there are still celebrations like midnight mass for Christmas?" we asked.

"What?"

Hmm.. I've had other conversations with the people talking about the differences between the Catholic and Evangelical churches. Many are surprised to hear the Catholics are actually Christians too (which is a similar line of thinking in the States). Some though, acknowledge that the problems of the Catholic leadership is really what is offensive.

It just kills me to see such beautiful churches...

... but no one knows the work being done in and through them. I explain that I can't eat meat for Lent and they respond, "That's okay, we'll get empanadas."

Umm.. no.. that doesn't work either. And after a few minutes of explanation they still don't make the connection. You will find many Argentinians make the sign of the cross whenever they pass these churches, but they really aren't so clear on what they believe. Chau.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

One of the best days

I have to be honest, I've had a lot of "best days" in Argentina; days where I look back at all that happened and I think, "Wow, God. You've done it again." The crazy thing with God though is that he always surprises me. And I'm one that's not easily surprised. I can usually predict what people will do, particularly how they will act in a given situation especially when they may be trying to surprise me. I have to try and limit my guessing skills in order to take more pleasure in the given moment, if that makes sense.

But with God, he gets me every time.

So yesterday I was asked to lead a devotional for a Christian school. The second half of the day is for the high school group. Obviously, I was excited to lead because I still love that teenager group. And obviously, I was nervous, because while I enjoy giving talks of all kinds, they always make me anxious.

But the Lord has put an important word on my heart as of late, and that is the word freedom. I rejoice in the freedom we have to choose Christ, to choose Love (to all those dedicated 4Cs readers out there)--that we are not forced to follow God or even live like him. This is true, un-obligating, unconditional, love. I shared this with the students using the story of the Garden of Eden where one of the first rules the LORD God gives Adam is the freedom to eat from any tree in the garden. As Paul writes, "Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial." So I continued to explain how Adam was free to eat, but that death lied on the other side if he chose to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

So the applause from these teenagers is natural. I had experienced it the last time I shared with them in the spring (whoa, how the seasonal differences are so strange here). What was unnatural was to hear a few "Amens" from the crowd, and that was really neat for me. The director of the school said I was welcome any time to come back and share.

But then something else happened. Some of you may remember my story about Noemí. If not, you can read here. Any way, I had met her at this school, and I was so happy to see her again. We talked after the devotional and she shared with me some of the greatest news:

1. She has a boyfriend!! I've been praying for her as she is much older and I imagine it's discouraging not to be married by this time.

2. The boyfriend's name is Cristian. Okay, it's more than that. It's that he IS a Christian! And even more important, she kept telling me how much he loves the Lord! "He loves God so, so, much," she said.

3. She went to a retreat over the summer.. about being a missionary!! And her boyfriend has a heart to be a servant for God as well. She told me, "Cristian has told me that if we are going to think about marriage, I have to start praying about my willingness to go wherever God calls as well."

4. As a result to these things, she said she has been reading her Bible and praying every day! She said that she wants to make sure she is in the middle of the will of God.

She started to cry as she told me about all that she is learning and doing. I cried from joy with her.

Seriously. How. Cool. Is. That? Ahh!! I skipped on my way home, and couldn't keep from smiling. The way God answers prayers (because I know I wasn't the only one that was praying); the way God can move in someone's life and in only a few months!

We will be continuing our meetings together starting next Wednesday. Please pray for me to encourage her as best as I can.

-----

I came home to watch a little bit of March Madness and nap. Then I made my way to Raúl and Andrea's church for youth group. About 20 kids showed up, and we started with a giant game of Mafia. I happened to be one of said Mafia, along with Chichilo and Juliano. Oh, how I'm even chuckling thinking about it. I played the quiet innocent one while Chichilo played the backstabber. Ha. We won in the end, and it was just so great to confuse the whole crowd with who was guilty and who was not. Truly fantastic.

Went to Maria Elena's afterward, followed by 5 of the youth and 2 of the leaders. She had prepared meatless pizza for me, and then the boys spent most of the night talking about the ridiculous game of Mafia. It was the most that I've ever heard Juliano talk, which was very encouraging to me. He's always been fairly quiet, but he's come out of his shell a lot more. He's also one of those kids that you can tell has great potential for leadership, so I look forward to watching him grow.

Maybe it had something to do with the beautiful fall weather too, but the night was absolutely linda. Full of laughter, learning new things (thanks Fernando for teaching me the two-finger whistle, even if it did almost start a gang fight. Wait, what?), and a very good nights sleep before the first Escuelita of the school year!

Chau.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mondays for cooking

We've changed the schedule a bit. So I thought I'd enjoy my first Monday of cooking to the extreme. It began with a rice salad. And while yes, dad, I know you don't like mayo, you should try this:

2 cups of cooked rice
16oz can of pineapples (chopped)
1 medium bell pepper chopped
2 or 3 stalks of green onion chopped
1 cup of broccoli.. you guessed it.. chopped

for the dressing mixed in:
1/2 cup of mayo
juice from a lemon
1 teaspoon of curry powder

For me, I don't have curry powder so I used a dash of cumin, red pepper, parsley and a little bit of salt and pepper. Also, as you can see, I have to chop up my broccoli myself. All that leftover seems like a waste*.

Then I had some leftover garlic mashed potatoes that I had put together last week. I looked up a couple recipes of "What to do when you don't have a microwave" and found these:
Potato dumplings. All you need is a little extra flour, an egg, boiling water, and voila! I already tried them, and must say, "Yummy!!!" (They would even serve as my next few days' worth of breakfasts.)

Tomorrow for the boys institute, I remembered that it's Rodrigo dos' birthday. We had a bunch of extra bread laying around in the house (that not even 7 of us could consume within the next week), so I decided to make...
Bread pudding! I was scared at first when I smelt it burning. I immediately peeped in the oven to find it rising like crazy and panicked. Turned it off, let it settle, and now it looks much more normal. And it seemed to go over well during our visit. Smelled normal, but it's more of a shame that I couldn't taste it to be sure. I'll have to make it again once Lent is over :)
Finally, what I have been waiting for the most--a chance to make eggplant parmesan! I prepared the berenjenas, breaded and baked, while putting together a sauce made of garlic, onions (regular and green onions), tomato sauce, and carrots! Never thought of putting carrots in a sauce before until I tried it last week per Eva's doing. It's quite delicious I tell you.

Any way, that was most of my Monday. I got in a good nap and took care of other necessary housework items, but mainly I just took over the kitchen. I think I will like Mondays much more now, though I don't think I'll be going all out as I had done this time. Any way, chau for now!

*I've learned how to prepare the broccoli leaves. They now sit in the fridge waiting for me to actually eat them. Ha. With all of this weeks leftovers I haven't gotten around to them yet.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Developing stronger friendships with the boys

So um.. I'm still pretty good at foosball apparently. Not to brag or anything (wink), it's just, ahem, for the past two days with the boys, I've been the reigning champion.

We had gone last year to play metegol, as it's called here, and it went over very well. We were saddened to find that it is no longer is available locally. That is, until Sarah and I took a stroll to one of the malls in that direction, and found a place with not one, but TWO foosball tables. Even Javi was surprised, taking a step of faith when we left the institute on Tuesday, "How did you know this place existed?"

On Tuesday, it was Rodrigo uno's birthday, and his brother Santiago was visiting. Javi knew Santi from another institute that now holds the teenage mothers. Interesting. But moving on, we had a lot of fun. Sarah and I had made a birthday card for him, to which he liked reading all the names and asking, "Who's that?"

"John? That's him," pointing to the missionary from Nebraska.

"Y Sarah?

"Y Sha-ray-drah?"

"No sé," I joked.

"Ah. No sé tampoco. ¡Qué lástima!" he winked.

After some foosball, and after adding Chechu to our crowd, we went to the Parque de las Naciones, where we enjoyed the fresh air and amazing view of the city before walking back. All of us leaders could not get over how well behaved the kids were. God be praised!

-----

Today only Rodrigo uno and Santi were available, so we made our trek to metegol once again. On the way, Rodrigo practiced some of his English that he's studying, and then joked by saying some of his favorite more colorful words.

"We do not talk like that," I told him.

He immediately begged my pardon. Practicing more of his English, with his cute little Argentinian accent, "I'm so sorry." It made me smile.

But later, he yelled the bad words again. All of us stopped in the middle of our walk, and he began play fighting to distract from the situation. I looked him square in the eyes, "I am angry Rodrigo, that these words come from your mouth."

His puppy dog eyes came on, but I stayed firm. "I am serious. If you say them again, you will not come with us next week."

"Yes, yes!" He responded eagerly. "No more."

And we continued on. It was so neat to see him really work at not saying the bad words while playing. I was seeing how much it really is a reactionary thing for him. Like how we say "Ouch" when we stub our toe. As if he can't help it. He tried so, so hard. 

He did fail again, and at the end of our time together, I pulled him aside. He put his hands on my shoulders, and I spoke to him with all the love in my heart. "It makes me sad how these words come from your mouth. I really want to see you speak well." He nodded enthusiastically. "You know that you can't come with us next week, but in the end, know that I love you (te quiero)."

"Te quiero mucho," he said.

I must say thanks to the many of you that I know are praying for us as we visit these boys each week. I could not express to you how much I feel those prayers during the times that are harder, the times that are tranquil, and just in general seeing the growth in these kids' behavior. It's amazing to watch God change hearts, albeit little by little. Chau!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Gathering or community

I was challenged by a thought today while doing some exercises and listening to Mosaic's podcast. I'm a little behind for the year with all my sermon listening from the States, but sometimes I wonder if God's timing has something to do with it.

It was the idea that the church of the US these days is less of a community and more of a gathering place. That is, sometimes it's just a building where people go for a day out of the week. Reasons for going include and are not limited to: to alleviate the conscience full of sin, to see that cute guy, to hear some teaching for the week and let that soak in for the other seven days, etc. etc. The church becomes less and less an organism, a group that is called out, and more and more a coffee shop where you get your fix and set out for your life for the rest of the day/week.

"Yeah, I'll take my usual, grande sermon, and a dash of prayer. You put in a little too much last week, and I've got a game to watch this afternoon."

The community we seek in a church has to meet outside of the doors of that building. We get examples in the book of Acts how people met in each others' homes to break bread. But I would imagine it's also possible to you know, just hang out. Softball teams, going to concerts, to the gym, watching movies, playing video games.. endless possibilities really. Because these are the things we do with "normal" people, what makes "church" people any different?

Tonight at church was pretty cool. If I haven't mentioned before, church here meets in my house. I like this in that I can take my late afternoon nap, wake up, chug a glass of water, and open a door on the other side of the kitchen to see my neighbors getting ready to sing. We normally begin with a couple songs, pray, more songs, pray, offering, maybe a couple more songs, then message, announcements and ya está. Every now and then, we'll have a special event ranging from baby showers to psuedo asados to dramas in the neighborhood.

Tonight we had a special event. I'm still not sure what it was about except perhaps to welcome in the new school year. We played games, the people enjoyed about 10 dozen empanadas, and just in general we talked to one another about life outside of church.

Granted, this culture is naturally hospitable, and everyone knows each other well here. But over the past few weeks in gearing up to start a youth group, I realized that at least I haven't seen very many people outside of Sunday. On top of that, I haven't seen much growth either. It's the same faces; meeting in the same size building.

I'm not saying that we should be bursting at the seams to prove we're a good group of believers. I am saying that Christ in our lives can be pretty infectious in an already welcoming culture. So why haven't we seen something different?

Personally, I challenged myself to make the effort to meet outside of the home. I'm grateful that I have a place and motivation to start (ahem.. with the teenagers). At the same time, I realized that in the future if I'm not working with them, I'll have to jumpstart community and stop relying on the gathering place mentality. How about you?

Chau.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Pictures of the day

Throughout my time here, I have happened to have my camera with me for some opportune moments. Or, simply, to highlight the uniqueness of culture in Córdoba. The first is capturing a famous U.S. business:

Who knew that Blockbuster was still alive and kicking? No but seriously, I was caught off guard when I saw this, and the street itself made me feel as though I was in the middle of a big city or something. Weird.

The second best prize for fun picture as of late goes to (focus on what is between his front two paws)...
Two words: smoking kills.

And finally, the best of our boys on the way to the museum this past Tuesday:
Left to right: Franco, Rodrigo dos, Javi, Chechu and Nahuel. The colored shirts makes it feel like they're a boy band. I just enjoy how much bro-love is being administered here. hehe.

Chau.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Change of perspective

Sometimes I get in a rut and I don't want out. It's a good rut after all, or at least appears so. It's comfortable, but perhaps the better term is another C word.

Complacency.

I'm excited for the year to come, yet all the preparation work involved before the actual doing work takes a lot out of me. I'll take a more tangible example from this past week. We were asked to help renovate a little of el Refugio in Las Violetas. I've been painting mostly. Yet before we paint, we need a couple hours to scrape the last of the previous years' paint(s--blue, yellow, pink and green. I joked with someone that the wall looks like you're looking at the inside of a Gobstopper), a quarter to half of an hour to prepare the paint, the brushes, and naturally, bring in the tarp or newspapers to protect the ground. Ugh.

But if you want the paint to last.. if you want to do a good job.. you've got to prepare. There's some Biblical lesson in that, but I will keep going.

I experienced the lack of the lack of the lack of desire to even help out much this week. Sure, I had one day in particular that was hard for me, the death of the mom of one of my best friends in life. But even the other days, when I was feeling better, I didn't always want to be there. Then two things happened.

The first was a small inspiration to look up the work of Charity:Water again to see if they had any Spanish resources. Just watching some of their videos was enough to be reminded of how easy I have it. I complain about working for three hours when people walk more than that just to get clean drinking water for the day? Something about thinking about this made it easier for me to wake up and get chugging.

The other was after this evening. Eze, JD and I went for the afternoon to continue the labor when Eze called out to a few boys in the neighborhood to help us out. I ended up getting paired with a kid named Leo, with whom I shared conversation about some of his dreams for life. He mainly wants to be a dancer or a soccer player, but I asked him what he would do if that didn't work out.

The thing about a lot of the kids in Las Violetas is they don't imagine life outside of it. The stigma attached to the barrio, well, even just this past week at the post office when I mentioned I volunteer there, the man looked at me in shock. He also proceeded to show me how I can receive my package without having to pay for it (I had told him the books were for sharing with people here). Taxis don't go there. Everyone walks in the middle of the street. I can't possibly describe to you what it is like, because you just have to experience it for yourself.

And yet, I've been more comfortable there recently. I had performed a personal experiment where I said "Hola" to almost everyone I passed from my neighborhood to Las Violetas adjacent. I noticed the responses getting colder and colder the closer I came, and that most people in the latter did not even make eye contact anymore. This is not always the case, but it was something that changed drastically today.

That is, when we finished our few hours of work I walked outside in my clothes, covered in paint and dust. Some of the older women were sweeping a nearby porch. "Hola, nena!" one of them said to me; the equivalent of "Hello, my daughter." Then I went to buy some juice to satisfy our thirst and more and more the people kept looking at me to give their salutations. I could tell that this time it wasn't because I was the gringa.

It's sort of like what I see in Rodrigo uno, who gives us more respect now after our consistency with him (Although, we still have to be careful that he doesn't manipulate us). And I still don't throw aside the possibility that there were more people outside when I went to buy the juice in Las Violetas. Nevertheless, I was walking alone, and I didn't feel afraid.

All this to say: if you're not willing to get dirty, you might never get any good work done in the first place. Puede ser...

Chau.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Loving discipline

There's a new kid named Alan. He's from Chubut, the same province my parents and I went to see these:
Mom and kiddo wave hi
That's pretty far south. 19 hours on a bus, in fact. He's a long way from home and you can feel it. He climbs the institute walls, trying to live without boundaries, and the directors of the institute tell us how little they know what to do with him. "He just does whatever he wants!" they tell us.

Needless to say I was a little worried to bring him along with us, but I also recognized that it's precisely for boys like these that we are here. God's heart is all about the orphan; our eyes are to be directed in that way as well.

Both Rodrigo uno and Alan joined us today. The plan was to play foosball, but apparently the kiosk that has foosball got rid of it, so we went to a local shopping area and hung out for awhile. The boys really love going up and down escalators we found out (from last week as well), so we allowed them that freedom. I sometimes would go down one and hide behind a pole nearby to scare them. We all had a good laugh.

When it was time to leave however, we encountered a problem. As leaders, we are learning to set limits for these boys, and one of them is that if a child misbehaves, he can not come with us the next trip. Alan decided he did not want to come back. He did everything within his little 12 year old self to not return, including laying down in the middle of the shopping area. We calmly explained again the importance of behaving and he still would not budge. Rodrigo offered "help" by fighting with Alan while saying, "C'mon man, we gotta go!"

So I did the best thing I knew to do. "Hey Rodrigo, I'll race you back to the house!" His eyes widened..

..And we were off! It's only about 6/10 of a mile, but it was pretty hot. I figured if Alan wasn't being provoked by the other kid, and that there could be more attention with the rest of the leaders, maybe it would be easier to bring him back. The other leaders seemed to say it wasn't easy, but it was possible.

Javi was asked by the director point blank whether Alan behaved well. I watched as Javi struggled to say how hard it was to get Alan to come with us, to say that he will not be allowed to join us next week. You can tell how much Javi wants to show grace. And yet we must be firm.

The Bible tells us the the Lord disciplines those He loves. Even the apple of His eye* had to face the consequences of his sin**.

Before we had come to the institute, we had a meeting with one of the leaders of OM's TeenStreet. We asked advice on how to handle the anger and negative attitudes of these kids, and how to encourage the love of Jesus. The advice centered on our need to be loving and firm, and to set the best example of Christ with our lives more than anything else. What is usually the case is that these kids have no good thing going for them; we might be the most positive experience for them each week. But we also want our being together to be a privilege.

It will be important to counter the negative with positive. To be firm when we separate them during a fight, but then to show a loving pat on the back, and an expression of, "It worries me to see you act in this way." These kids have to know they are loved, and have to understand that boundaries in their lives are a good thing.

We received very helpful advice, even if putting it into practice is difficult.

*ahem, King David.
**ahem, the whole committing adultery and murdering thing.