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

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The rollercoaster of emotions while attempting God's work on this earth

As briefly mentioned, this week(end) has been one of goodbyes. Sarah left on Saturday, and John and Heather should be in Santiago as I type. I am excited for what God will be doing in their lives where they are, but I also know the ministry here will be missing their presence greatly.

For example, the boys' institute. We decided to have an ice cream party as a goodbye. We were surprised to find that there were, as is the colloquial phrase here, "a mountain of kids there." Normally we see 8 or so, and this day, the floor was covered with little kiddos enjoying a movie for the day off.* Approximately 12 or more. And when we mentioned that JD and Sarah would be leaving, you should have heard their agony. Chechu especially, who asked "Why does John have to go? When will he come back?"

It was hard to watch all those boys give a hug to the 6 foot gringo of the team, because what I saw was the lack of a genuine father figure in their lives.

I talked with a new boy today, Cristian, who talked about his family or lack thereof. "My sisters are in jail; my other brother is in another boys' home; I don't know where my parents are," he told me. Cristian, 13 years old, has been living on the street for many years.

So there Javi and I were, talking about the needs of these kids, and the reverse cultural shock the three will be facing in the coming weeks when...

..a guy driving his motorcycle crashed right in front of us. Okay, to the right of us. This guy (Fabian) and his friend just fell over, out of nowhere. In seconds, we ran over and pulled the bike off of them and then helped the guy get to the side of the street (the girl turned out to be fine). He moaned in pain as others gathered to the scene.

"Do we call someone?" I asked.

The guy said that we couldn't call the cops because he didn't have all of his papers with him. So we waited to make sure he had company until more help came. The after conversation thus, was what exactly were we supposed to do in that situation. Pray? Call anyway? Figure out if he broke his leg or not?

We go to the boys' institute and it went better than normal. They behaved very well, and I got in some good conversation time with the new kid, as I mentioned. We went to a nearby mall to play in the miniature arcade. Cristian's eyes widened at the sight of not the games but the escalators, and was overjoyed to ride one as soon as he could. He had the wonder of a 3 year old riding them for the first time or something. The moment took me by surprise, and I thought about what types of things impress me.

Then the moment of saying goodbye to Heather and JD. It's just so very strange to know they aren't coming back. And then there were four...

Next came going to the girls' institute where we made bracelets. Never in my lifetime did I think of myself as a crafty person, but I've actually gotten pretty good with making these things. Today was the first time I had seen Gladys so excited too, as she made (with lots of help), three bracelets, and for many people. My heart was overjoyed watching her enthusiasm and it reminded me of Cristian again.
As Javi said on our walk home this time, "Sometimes it's hard to remember that while they are mothers, they're teenagers too."

I got to thinking again, but only had enough time to do this and have a short chat with a friend from NU before teaching English to a lovely young woman I've gotten to know over the past couple of weeks. By the time that was over, a small dinner.. then here to type while chatting with Sarah.. and then I sucked myself into watching Good Will Hunting (after a conversation about it today).. there are other things to do to prepare for the weekend, but I'm just going to have to push them back because my mind is overflowing.

*Is it just me, or does Argentina ALWAYS have a holiday? Perhaps every other week there is one and it affects the schedule of our work.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Only in Argentina

As two more finish their time with us in the "Missionary house," I thought I'd make a couple notes about things the three in total will be missing out on:

1. NOT having a microwave. (It's just micro onda any way)
2. Paying for bills at a pharmacy, and receiving change for those bills in candy (yum!).
3. Dulce de leche (and all the included snacks: alfajores, Maria Elena's cakes, etc. etc.)
4. Taking the bus.
5. Church in the house.
7. ... oh sorry, I was taking my siesta...

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Los ados

When I came back to Córdoba, I had all day to unpack, to clean up a little bit and resettle before ministry started again. I have packed my weekends with hanging out with youth and let me tell you that it is the best part of my week.

Friday nights, I join Iglesia Santa Rosa where I mainly just serve as needed. It's a funny meeting, always, as it never starts on time. No matter what time I show up (often times, much later than the week before), I still end up being too early. The other day I had been hanging out in the kitchen with a few youth for at least 40 minutes when one of the other leaders came in and asked me if I would prepare a game.

Well.. given no advance notice and no resources, I said, "Sure." And we played 4 on a couch for almost an hour and a half. They had never played before and they loved it! If there's one trick up my sleeve it is the fact that I come from a different games-we-played-in-high-school background. Thanks God!

Then on Saturday, we had a small group over for the youth from our neighborhood where I taught a version of hot seat. This went exceptionally well as it allowed us to be even more open with each other than we've ever been! I was so impressed with how honest each of them were, and was thankful that we've reached a point at which we trust each other well enough to be so.

Even though we didn't get to the lesson, as we were discussing some deep things, I was very happy on that night. I wanted to spend a little quiet, reflecting with tears of joy moment in my room after. So beautiful!

In all of this, I have seen various needs that I need to be better at lifting up in prayer. For the Friday night group, a desire to not just play games, but to be excited about the message as well. For the Saturday night crowd, a greater desire to come and know each other well. In both, an increased passion for the gospel. For me, to be bold in constantly sharing that gospel, even when I lack so much of the ability to communicate well. Oh Lord, teach me!!


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Buenos Aires revisited

Here's something fun about the buses in Argentina. Well, other than the fact that they are amazing, and I'm almost at the point of choosing to ride a bus over a plane if it weren't for the one convenience of time.

You can buy your ticket last minute AND make pretty much any changes you so desire.

For instance, I figured on the way to Bs. As. I could go to San Ignacio first. A mission that has gotten my attention due to The Mission which just so happens to be filmed at the Iguazu Falls. The bus company arranged everything so that I could take the morning bus to S.I., then take a later bus from there to my final destination, with plenty of time to see the sights and take it all in. Bazinga!

What was great about San Ignacio is that it's very well kempt. At the same time, this is surprising considering there are no rules. Ok. There's one rule: don't take anything with you.

Otherwise, you can walk where you want, stay as long as you want, touch practically all the buildings (that date back to the 1600s). Even at the one point in which I thought I had broken the invisible rules, I talked to the cop-looking young man and he just wanted to know where I was from.

I took my time, savoring every precious stillness before going back to the big city. The "Paris of South America."

It was the second visit that made me realize how much French influence invades this city. However, the slow ride in was mainly pervaded by sleep and the additional hour bus ride to get to Ari and Caro's.

As both were gone doing prison ministry, I had time to shower and continue the book I would end up finishing on the trip, Alexandre Dumas' Georges. That evening, Ari and I got to converse about where we are now in terms of trusting God with this missionary life. She only has a few months left, and I continue to praise the Lord that I have a year to continue with the youth group.

I was in Bs. As. in order to take the boat to Uruguay for the day and re-stamp the visa. Didn't do too much in Colonia as I had been there before and there is not much to it. Jokingly, Markus told me I could visit the shopping mall. As I had several hours, I made my 3 minute appearance and then went back to the coast. haha

The next morning, we went to the hogar that houses around 40 orphaned kids. It is quite difficult to give your best among so many, but I was able to spend quality time with a girl named Maria. She told me about her family, and we ended up playing a game where we would spell words to each other. The winner could say what the word was within a couple of tries. At one point, I spelled out B-E-S-O (which means kiss, and is often the way you end a message with someone).

She looked at me and then thought about what it could be, putting emphasis on the first part of the word.. on the last.. until she finally realized what it was. Her eyes perked, and she gave me a little kiss on the cheek as a reward. Precious!

This was followed by the team meeting and then a few hours more with Caro and Ari. And then, as fate would have it, a friend of a friend had just arrived to the city that Sunday. Through the grand technology of the internets, we were able to meet up for some Starbucks and talk about what we were doing here. Lauren and I clicked, especially after the part where I learned she had spent the previous summer in India. And in general, it's always encouraging to meet someone who is passionately following Jesus. Our conversation flowed as if we had been friends all along, and to me, it was more evidence of how amazing our God is.

Our time was cut short however, as I had to make my way back to Córdoba. Not a bad thing, as I was assuredly ready to continue in ministry for the weekend! Chau!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Finally.. on Iguazu (the details)

Welcome to MarcoPoloInn in Puerto Iguazu. Sarah and I were pleasantly surprised to have a $30/night room to ourselves where they even provided towels (a big deal when packing for two weeks and only bringing a backpack) and a decent breakfast! We booked a week or two in advance and paid in cash. The best way to go in Argentina we've found.

Having arrived early to the city we decided, "What the hey, let's just go to the park!" We took a short bus ride to the national park and entered a sea of butterflies (as previously displayed), a mesmerizing view of, truly, Niagra Falls on steroids, passed a store of Yerba for maté that smelled so good, and a bunch of these guys:
cute. but dangerous.
They're called Caoti and they look pretty adorable until you sit down for lunch. These guys have no fear when it comes to tourists, especially when they are hungry. At one point, Sarah and I stopped for the day at the general lunch location. She went to the restroom, and I pulled out the first portion of lunch I had bought from a local grocery store. If there's ever been a sense of the force, it was then, as slowly but surely, 5 Coati started to surround me. Creeping toward me, noses perked by the smell of the ham and cheese sandwich I had left in my bag. One, much less stalker-like, simply jumps onto the table in front of me. We were face to face.

He reached for my bag! I squealed, "Es mio!!!!" and pulled it away. Everyone of them slowly backed away. Sarah came soon after and we moved our eating location. I had a scratch on my hand to prove the ordeal.

The park is worth 2 days. I've been to some beautiful national parks, but so far, this one hits the number one mark. In my paper journal I even wrote it above other important sights like David in Florence and Monet's Waterlilies in France. Seriously.

There are 5 main paths to take. We didn't have time for one, but we saw enough. Our main comment is that the park naturally builds upon itself. First you're above the falls. Then you're under. Then you go to an island in the middle of everything and you see a pretty powerful one (my new profile picture on facebook is of this one). We took a boat that led us under the falls and thought we had seen it all.*

Until the walk to Devil's Throat, as seen below.

I've already mentioned the tears that invaded my eyes. How it looked like the earth was being sucked into itself.
Such a place of wonder.

Such a place in which I had to let my words be few.

And then it wasn't over. We took a boat tour above the falls that allowed us to see more of the tropical forest side of things. It was the first time I had seen an alligator, with a good sized head peeking above the water, without a wall of glass to protect me. The guide thought it was a good idea to take us closer, and I just so happened to be the closest at one point. I freaked. As calmly as possible, so the gator would have no reason to freak out as well. While the guide explained that they are very tranquil animals, I just said that I don't like taking that sort of risks. After all, even the Steve Irwin died from a manta ray, something I was holding in my arms just a week before...
We couldn't go through the weekend without some more hands-on adventures! Namely, rappelling, a hike through the forest (with a view of Paraguay), and zip lines. Zip lines through trees can be pretty scary. It was cool too, in that we would go down one. Stop at a tree. Climb the tree a little bit higher, then go down another. Etc. Etc.

During our hike, we thought about wanting to see toucans in their natural habitat. I began to pray and once again the Lord brought us not one, but TWO! I pointed them out and even the guide had not seen them before. I asked if I could get a discount on the trip for that. lol.
We might some nice British folk on these adventures. Unfortunately, they were staying on the Brazilian side, and since Sarah and I didn't have $300 to spare for that crossover, we just enjoyed the conversation while we had it.

On our final day together we decided to go out to eat instead of relying on grocery bought sandwiches. I couldn't decide on what to eat, so I got a little bit of everything (it was all pretty cheap after all). So to the left, you've got your pumpkin mash, to the right your surubí salad (surubí is the Iguazu version of catfish. It's got a different texture, but still a bottom dweller of the Paranha river.) and in the middle those aren't fries--it's fried yuca! Everything was delicious. Even the un-pictured sambayón I had for desert.
A great trip. Nothing like what I was expecting, although I don't think I really could tell you what I was expecting. Aside, I also secretly like getting to have a tv in the room just a little bit. It's great that we don't have one in our home, but a little of it to fall asleep to can be fun.

* Recently 2 died and 8 were injured in a boat accident. The same boat company that took us under the falls is at fault. This is what I mean by fear. This is also what I mean by taking us under the falls. It was amazing, but we certainly need to have reverence for His power.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Mariposas at Iguazu Falls

Something that I've never encountered before was an overwhelming amount of butterflies. I have yet to visit a butterfly pavilion, though I hear they're pretty cool.

Any way, it was a blessing not only to see such a variety, but to even have a few of them land on us throughout our time there.

This one we found on our way back from Devil's Throat. I saw it moving just a little bit and investigated. Neat, eh?

I'm thinking of making some of these into book marks. Maybe add a cool verse to them or something.

By far, the most fascinating of all the butterflies. Found myself entranced by the lines and colors. The other side of the wings are this translucent blue with red stripes. Beautiful!

Below I think is a moth. Nonetheless, with brilliant colors too precious to pass by.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone - while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place...
When I said, 'This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt'?

Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
Tell me, if you know all this.
Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades? Can you loosen Orion's belt? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seas or lead out the Bear with its cubs? Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God's dominion over the earth?

Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no one lives, an uninhabited desert, to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass? Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew?

Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom and spread its wings toward the south? Does the eagle soar at your command and build its nest on high? It dwells on a cliff and stays there at night; a rocky crag is its stronghold. From there it looks for food; its eyes detect it from afar. Its young ones feast on blood, and where the slain are, there it is.

Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook or tie down its tongue with a rope? Can you put a cord through its nose or pierce its jaw with a hook? Will it keep begging you for mercy? Will it speak to you in gentle words? Will it make an agreement with you for you to take it as your slave for life?

..If you lay a hand on it, you will remember the struggle and never do it again!

Iguazu Falls in Misiones, Argentina was just another reminder of God's great power that can never be overwhelmed. I end with a picture of me in front of, interestingly named, "Devil's Throat." A place where, so completely in awe of the clout of the falls, tears fell from my eyes. I would gladly return, and if you have any doubt that there is a God, you should come with me.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Another answer

For those of you who struggle with praying, I just want to say I get it. I get how hard it can be to remember that God is with you at all times. Usually it takes a time of desperation to truly rely on the power of God to get you through each day. If you're going through something like that right now, I'm partly sorry, but I'm partly grateful. God is equally desperate to have you realize He's there, watching and loving you.

I call myself a trampa, or cheater, when it comes to prayer. Not only have I had some solid examples of prayer warriors in my life, but I've also been in a business that sort of requires a dependency on it. All businesses technically require this dependency, but ministry within the church sort of desires it on your resumé.

So I write this very simply, He listens. It was a just a short moment we took, Sarah and I, before entering the girls' institute. While I prayed in English, I couldn't think of the English word, so I definitely used "conocer"-ing at one point. Therefore, be encouraged that you don't even have to make grammatical sense when you talk with God.

Now normally, only one girl is present at a time. We had planned to maybe take this girl out to get some french fries from a nearby McDonald's or something and play Uno. When we arrived we were told that there are now 4 girls. Ohhhhkay. Calling an audible, we switched to just playing Uno at the institute. Sarah and I both gave each other a look. We talked after and realized we were thinking the same thing--'What if one of those girls is the one that gave us the most trouble last year?!'

We ended up with zero troubles. Even the directors played cards with us. We laughed, we "conocer"-ed (got to know the girls a little more), we were so very thankful for how well things went.

At the same time, I don't remember exactly what I prayed. However, as I watched everything fall into place, I could not help but think that God was the master designer of it all. It was His pleasure to help us through a time that is often difficult for us.

There are prayer requests though. Looks like two of the girls are pregnant again (a 16 year old and 17 year old. Note: again). One of the girls is slower mentally, and we want to continue to lift up her daughter in prayer in terms of her health as well. One of the children shares my birthday, so pray we can do something special for her!

Thanks, and chau!

Friday, May 6, 2011

TWIM action

So this week in ministry includes a nice little plethora of sorts. Here's the play-by-play (without paragraph divisions--today I feel lazy):

Monday: Cooked some enchiladas. Tried a new recipe, and went well. Had invited a girl that works at the local panaderia (bread store), but she didn't come. Will have to try again. For the afternoon, I went to help out at el Refugio, but Maria Sol didn't come. Just hung out with some of the boys in the street. They tried to get me to open the doors, but I could see mischief written all over their faces. Ended the evening with a team prayer meeting.

Tuesday: Morning went to boys institute, but only Rodrigo dos was there. Tried to teach him to use a computer program that is a functioning knock-off of Photoshop. He was easily distracted, so he wrestled me and was surprised how I could take him down. I tried to tell him that I have a brother, and my dad has taught me the basics for defense. In the afternoon, we went to see Jessica, only to find Belen in her place. Cool moment: Sarah and I were prepared to teach English and to draw with Jessica. Belen doesn't like to draw, but the director told us that she had a feeling we were coming unprepared for Belen. Therefore, she brought some yarn and a crochet needle just in case. It was perfect! I just played with the daughter, in which she beat me up :P.

Wednesday: Enjoyed the morning off, followed by an afternoon of visiting the boys. There were more this time, and we stayed in the institute to continue to teach the photo program. We stayed longer than normal, so I had to leave early to make it back to Las Violetas. Met with Nieves to work on our project for Friday night's youth group. We are in charge of teaching the story (history, genealogy, etc. included) of Esther. We got most of it finished, but I had to return home early for our team meeting.

Thursday: Day off, technically. Usually I meet with Noemi, but the buses weren't running to the center. This isn't a problem for me, as I prefer to walk, but I think she can't. Therefore, another calm morning. I did a lot of reading, hoping to finish Little Women soon. I didn't think I'd like this book, but I've already decided it's one I'd like to read to my kids (if and when that time comes)! For the afternoon, Nieves and I continued our preparation (taking about 5 hours for me) to bring you...

Whaddya think? I know it's a little long, but vale la pena in my opinion. hehe. In the evening, Eva, Heather and I watched the Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I might have comments about this movie for a later post (as well as Marie Antoinette directed by Sophia Coppola, which I also had watched this week).

Friday: Today, which isn't over, but that's okay. Not too long ago, I got back from visiting Flor and Betania. It's sort of a weekly habit now. I enjoy it thoroughly as I am able to talk about the Bible with them most of the time. We have some very fun discussions, and I'm very thankful for this opportunity to meet with "my people" as I call teenagers and young adults. We'll see how youth group goes tonight, and then tomorrow there's Escuelita and the meeting with the teenagers in our barrio. Ministry schedules are rather scatter-brained at times.

Monday, May 2, 2011

This date in history

We're +1 PST, therefore the news (and by news I mean facebook statuses) of Osama's death hit us on the second of May. I made Sarah look up the information in depth, and then ran to tell Joy who was chatting in the meeting room. She found it so important, that she even shared it with her friend who's from Argentina. I mean, I guess he would care, but it's not as significant as it is to us. To US.

We remember where we were on September 11th. I was walking down the hall my sophomore year to Chemistry. I would always go early to hang out with Catie, maybe cook up some Church's chicken from our mutual friend via bunsen burners. The news came on and we sat in aww of the destruction. Catie had freaked out because her mom worked in the "Twin Towers" of Dallas and didn't know about the ones in New York. I freaked out because I was just on top of one of those buildings a month before.

And now the guy that we point the finger for all the madness has passed away. I asked Sarah what she thought, but it wasn't as big of a deal to her. I suppose it might not be, as we continue to progress in some sort of fight against terrorism. The war still isn't over. She joked that the only reason she'll remember this moment now is because I brought up the "where were you when" issue. Sometimes I can be overdramatic.

The irony is I (finally) began listening to Josh's sermon series about pacifism just the night before. One thing he talks about in the first of seven messages that stood out to me was how there was not a single dissenting voice against pacifism for the first 3 HUNDRED years after Christ's resurrection.

Now, I've written on pacifism before. The ideas aren't complete, and it was mostly inspired by Shane Claiborne's Jesus for President. But if you want to read it, look here. Bueno. What's the point?

The point is, I think more and more I'm a fan of paz. Peace. Creative, non-violent ways of ending evil. Still don't know how that plays out exactly, and an excellent example comes from today.

I was lost in these thoughts on the way to el Refugio only to find all the boys waiting outside. Maria Sol forgot to come. I had the keys to enter, but decided we should wait instead because I doubted my ability to control the boys especially all on my own (as you shall come to read). So we hung out for awhile, and two girls came. One boy, the one who likes to be the cool kid, you know the type, started play hitting with one of the girls. He was obviously making fun of her portly shape, and I did my best to make him stop. The word "Basta" or enough, can only go so far. Myself as a human shield was equally ill-qualified for the task.

I talked to the girl herself and apologized. I told her how I wish I had the language to explain to the boy not only that he should not treat girls that way, but why. To give a Mrs. March stylized life lesson that would put him in his place. And while every part of me wanted to play hit him back, I restrained.

After the fact, I realized that he had come close to hitting me, but never did. Was there some sense of personal victory there because every time he went to hit me, I never showed a sign of retaliation? Every time he grabbed my neck (which he had done several times), I joked as if already choked, and he never increased his grasp. When he got all the boys to pick oranges from the tree of el Refugio's backyard he started chucking them at the girls, including me, I held the girls close and told them not to move. Not a single orange hit us.

Obviously, I don't know what to do with children like these. I know in my heart of hearts how difficult life must be for them, but certainly they can be shown the better way. Additionally, I know my two hours a week will never be enough. I watched a mom lovingly dote on her son walking in the same rough neighborhood of Las Violetas. Learning to live right begins there--with mom and dad--but what do they do if they don't have a positive environment? How, specifically, will we stop the cycle of violence with peacemaking?