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

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

That which I still don't understand

I have a mountain of work ahead of me before I take off for Jujuy again, but I think it's important to take a load off.. watch a little Battlestar.. and write here about what's been happening and where I'm going.

First, we arrived at the girls' institute yesterday to find a whole family staying with Gladys. I could see the stress in her eyes, but ironically, she was still more than happy to play hide-and-go-seek (called Escondidas) with the various children that were there. So we finished our craft of the day, painting little animals made of wood and gluing them to bobby pins, and headed outdoors!

Part one of that which I don't get--the way they play the game. Instead of looking for someone, tagging them, and thus passing on the grueling task of counting for everyone to go hide again, the rule is that once you see someone, you have to race that person back to the wall at which you counted. If you tag the wall before they do, they've been caught, but you still have to search for the others. Oh, and you're supposed to shout something too... "Pica!" or "Piedra libre!" and maybe their name too. I just shout all three and run. haha.

When you find the other people, the same rules apply. The final person to get caught, if that's what you even call it, has to count for the next round. So in a way, it's better to be found first, given that the others will be "caught" as well.

The director told me that Gladys loves this game, and again I was reminded of her childlike character. It's really quite adorable.

Before all this, there was the visit to the boys' institute where we played basketball. Nahuel was playing alone at first, and he didn't seem interested in doing our craft. Key to ministry is always to be flexible, so we played a little bball instead. [Smile]

My inner Upward Basketball coach came out, and I taught him the proper way to shoot, and a few dribbling tricks. When I showed him the spider, the most priceless look of amazement shown through his silver dollar eyes. "Your turn," I said, as I passed him the ball.

He looked at me, then the ball, below his legs, and said, "Javi?"

HAHAHAHA

When I say I'm from Texas, a few will mention the Dallas Spurs. I first correct them, and then add, "Yes, in San Antonio you have an Argentine representative in Ginobili... No, I don't know him personally."

And yet, whenever I've played basketball with fellow Argentines, they don't know the first thing about the rule of double dribbling. Their shooting is atrocious. And most of the guys are major ball hogs. Oh, well, I guess that's universal ;).

Encima de todo, I'm going to Jujuy tomorrow through Monday. We (Raul, Andrea and I) will be venturing to the same church we had visited during Holy Week to lead a weekend camp for teenagers. I don't know how many will be coming; I don't know how often messages will be given; I doubt if I'll have internet connection to update. I do know that I'm in charge of the games, and will be giving a personal testimony. The theme is "Holiness and Addictions." Prayers, as always, welcome!

Chau.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The way things are, pt. 2

"At the end of our time together, I have a surprise for you," shouted Cecilia, my gym trainer, over the blaring music that kept our rhythm for the step class.

Many were eager for the news, but I'll admit that I was nervous. In the middle of one of our series, I noticed her pick up the phone and completely stop the lead. We continued, as obedient alums, but the change in her expression was duly noted. She slowly got back into rhythm and gave us another calorie-burning challenge.

"And the surprise?" one asked with enthusiasm, at the end of the hour.

"Chicas," she started. "My daughter, who is 17 years old, is pregnant."

I didn't respond, but observed the response from the crowd.

"Oh, that's great!"

"Three grandchildren in one year!"

"Well, just remember, God will give us the strength we need to get through it."

She mentioned that she has two students of the gym who are 19 years old with two kids, and they told her that they are "re-contentas" or very happy. "So that gave me hope."

But you can tell that she was still a bit upset. Yes, she'll look on the bright side, and I felt like I was looking at Maria Elena again from earlier this year when she had heard the news that her older son's (Ezequiel) girlfriend was pregnant.

On my walk back home from the gym, I thought about the many pregnant people I've been seeing lately. I thought of how many of the mothers I see in general are still in their teens. On one hand, it's nice to have children young, because then your body is flexible enough to play all the games with your kids. On another hand, it's nice when you can plan a little bit to make sure your child grows up in a healthy atmosphere; two married parents, a good home, a good school, etc. etc.

I was telling someone the other day how if I were to approach Russia with a workshop about how to better it's community, I would start with the statistic about how many men die young due to alcoholism, and thus target that issue. Here, I think Argentina needs to face the issue of pre-marital sex, and how in the end, the kids suffer the most.

Sure, robbery and teenage pregnancy are "the way things are" around here, but that doesn't mean that it was the way God intended.

Chau.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Gladys

While I have a moment, I thought I might express the un-expressed from earlier.

You saw the picture of Gladys and I with our cat masks that we made last week. It was a beautiful Friday morning--the one we've added to the already busy schedule--and the necessary one in order to spend more time with the one and only mother in the teenage girls' institute.

She's "descapaz" which translates mentally slow. I don't mean this in a negative way toward her; I'm actually quite certain it has everything to do with the abuse she received from an older man in her home village. The reason she is in the institute to begin with. The reason that she treats her daughter Maria Luz more like a sister than a daughter, because Gladys is still needing and wanting the attention.

The reason that at 17, she is unable to read, and barely able to write.

I have had a full year with Gladys by this point and our friendship has been a roller coaster. Never has it been something where she's been mean towards me or the others, but she has often been distant as she was less forthcoming when the house was full. Now that we've had more focused time with her, she is all the more excited to receive us when we come both on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Last Friday, we had one of the better days with her. I was impressed, for instance, with her first time to make the craft of the day for her daughter as well. Maria Luz was entranced by my pink mask that I had made as an example, and wore atop my head during the time. So Gladys, always eager to make an extra craft for the other workers, decided this time to make one for Luz. I took pictures to remember the event. Printed the one in the previous post for myself, and the rest for Gladys for today. But before I get to today...

We met this Tuesday, and I came very close to retracting all of my positive feelings. It was like Gladys was a completely different person! She was pushing her daughter around, not helping make the torta that we brought to work on together, and saying bad words. I was confused and saddened, praying to God for the reason.

Then she explained how one of the former residents had made a recent visit and I connected the dots. This former resident also happens to be one of the worst of the bunch, and her influence was and is very strong on the others.

For as soon as I stepped inside of the institute today, Gladys was the one with whom I had grown accustom again. Miraculous.

I ended up coming alone this time. An intimidating first. I was nervous, but had a few moments to pray before Gladys came in. We played some Juegos de Mesa--Jenga, Memory and a couple puzzles. I made the Memory game from poster board, using pictures and words so she could practice reading. I noticed how she would guess based on the picture what was spelled, but by the end of the game she knew what each one said.

She asked if she could keep the game, and I asked if I could add more cards and give them to her next week. She agreed.

Additionally, I got to ask about what she remembered of our stories about Jesus that we have been sharing. She talked about how God punishes us for our sins. I got to explain that God placed the ultimate punishment on Christ. That through Jesus, instead of punishment we actually get grace--

Here's the thing. There are always these moments. We get to the core of something and get interrupted. It can be frustrating. It can also be exhilarating because it means we're doing something right and someone (with a lowercase s) wants to get in our way. To that I say John 16:33. Lord help us in this work, especially with the prospect of these institutes shutting down!

Prayers appreciated. Chau for now.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Honesty

I'm going to take a moment and make this real. This place is tiring.

The craziest part is I still enjoy it. Yesterday was a blast for instance. Going to the gym first thing, going to Flor's for mate and having an encouraging heart to heart. Then lunch with the Rodriguez family, and walking with Sol to visit the teens in order to give them a special invite for this Friday and Saturday. Then Sol, Flor and I all went to a "Welcome Spring" event called Desinvernopolis (shedding off winter) where we met up with Johnny, Giuliano and Inti (as well as a few others) and played ping pong, foosball, and the personal favorite--soccer on a mini inflatable field. I told them I think I laughed more than I was able to play. Even typing this puts a smile to my face.

Then to end the night with pizza and ice cream with the newbie and the girls. Classic.

But then to have to wake up early only to find out something was cancelled, when you get there. Or the fact that you can't find a place that's selling the tokens you need to ride the bus. Or that almost all the restaurants don't take credit card. The movie theater continues to show the B level movies (and what's up with showing Top Gun again??!!). To be overcharged when you use the internet cabana, as they're called, but are too mentally exhausted to fight it.

I went home and napped for two hours. Sometimes the most spiritual thing I can do after all, no? hmm..

Okay. It was nice to get some of that off my chest. Moving on..

When my Spanish tutor didn't show, I was thankful to have brought Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. Ended up reading the whole thing with the extra time on my hands. I was convicted of the treatment of Miss Eliza and thought much about my treatment of some of the boys and teenagers that we visit.

Sometimes I am much more interested in behavior management than who they are. I am in desperate need of showing (and learning how to show) more grace and love to them. I look at one of our more recent helpers, Betania, and how well she is able to connect with Ivan. Sure, on one hand, she has a gifting for kids that I do not have, but are we not called to desire the other gifts.

And when the greatest of these is love??

While I doubt this was Shaw's aim with his play, I am definitely ready to be more like Colonel Pickering, who saw the duchess in the flower girl (or as Five Iron might put it, to see the flower in these weeds).

Chau.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Two urgent prayer requests

1.) As some of you may have read, Cordoba is prone to robbery. Just this Sunday, as I was returning from Cerro Colorado, someone stole the motorcycle of an attendee of our church--parked in front of our house/church. This attendee just so happened to be visiting for the first time. To add to the trouble, she was invited by a recent convert who is currently being discipled by one of our teammates.

The family of this first-timer is upset with our friend Vanessa, who invited her friend.

Please pray for understanding from the family; for Vanessa to have peace about the situation; for the motorcycle to be recovered.

2.) Maria Sol teaches the 5 and 6 year olds during Escuelita held each Saturday in Las Violetas. This past week, a few of them were laughing about some of the movies that their parents watch. When Sol asked for more information, she found out that they are adult movies, and that the parents do not hinder their children from catching a glimpse.

As a result, the children play games where they challenge the girls to kiss one another. As one confessed to playing, the rest admitted to it as well.

Pray for this disgusting habit to be confronted amongst the parents; for the childrens' eyes to be protected; for the higher standard of love to be shown and followed amongst the families in Las Violetas.

Thank you and chau.

Friday, September 16, 2011

An important picture

Gladys and "Sorasha"
I'll explain later, but for now I present to you Gladys--someone who is easily becoming one of my favorites.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Meet Marcos

Marcos is not a believer. And while he knows that I'm a missionary, and pretty adamant about loving Jesus, he still invites me over for some warm milk and music. He loves music (very good at piano and guitar). And the Simpsons. The talking point that led us to hang out in the first place.
Then again, we don't hang out all that often, but it's fun when we do. We play poker and I beat him. We chat about how to get over a broken heart, as he has most recently lost his girlfriend of a year and a half.
My heart breaks for him every now and then, as he makes minute comments that lead me to believe he's really hurting over his parents' separation. For this reason, more than anything else, it's hard to have many deep conversations in the first place. He's avoiding. He's hiding.
It's hard to watch him leave after our hang out times to go smoke weed with his friends.

Join me in prayer for my friend. Pray that I might have the words--to have the right questions ready so we could get to the heart of the matter. That he may grow into a mature young man who loves Jesus too.

Chau.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Boys' institute

It is a constant battle to help these young men mature. We aren't in Argentina to watch them cause trouble; we aren't visiting these homes to pass the time. But with all of the--for lack of a better term--crap that their pasts hold, how? How do we encourage?

It's not like visiting a middle class kid with two parents and his own room. These boys share their places of sleep (intentional euphemism) with up to four others. Some of them don't have pens and pencils of their own. They are malnourished because the food they are served is mainly junk. They have deflated soccer balls, and no pump. A travesty in any Latin American culture.

Nonetheless, I can not help but see great potential in every single kid. One in particular, is Rodrigo dos. Although Rodrigo uno has long been gone, this one is still number two to me. As of late, he has become the alpha male, so to speak, as his older brother and former leader Franco has been taken to another home in Cosquin. Rodrigo has easily filled his brother's shoes, and all of the remaining kids have followed his lead whether consciously or sub-consciously.

I work hard to get him to come play soccer with us, and when he gets there, it is a chore to make him stop playing with the cell phone that doesn't even make phone calls. When we play, he is full of bad words. We have moments of laughter, and even hugs after goals. But he's more aggressive than the rest, and even hits the others, joking afterwards that it was all in fun.

Then we come to the point of passing out the "premios," the rewards for good behavior. Sergio easily gets one because he played even though he didn't want to. Mariano gets one for acting his age (the eldest at 14). I hold back with Rodrigo. "Why?" I ask. "Why do you get one?"

"Because I played," he responds.

I explain all the other points that discouraged me--the bad words, the fighting attitude.

"All the others said bad words too, and they get a prize!" he whines.

Did I mention that when I went to ask him to stop playing on the cell phone, he had looked at me and started yelling, "Sh**! Sh**! Sh**!"? Yes. In English.

Sarah and I said that his whole aura changes when he smiles.
"I hear them more from you," I explain. Even in my head, I know that's a weak argument. Then somehow, this next soliloquy escapes my lips.

"Sabés por qué? Realmente, es porque yo sé que sos mejor que eso. Que en realidad, sos un líder. Tienes una potencial más grande lo que podes ver. Y para mi, porque veo esta posibilidad, tengo un standard más alto para ti. Yo quiero lo mejor, ves? Es una problema poner este standard para tu vida?"

He looked at me for a few seconds and said no. It's not a problem.

(Translation: Do you know why? Because truly, I know that you are better than this. That in reality, you are a leader. You have a potential greater than you can see. And for me, because I see this possibility, I have a higher standard for you. I want what's best for you, you see? Is it a problem to put this standard in your life?)

The ability for these kids to switch is incredible to me. There are times when they are so cruel to each other, but within minutes you see them giving a sincere hug to one of our volunteers. Within minutes, Rodrigo had thrown the premio that I did give him to the ground, had said he was sorry for all he had done, had eaten another premio that I had given (I gave everyone two, because they were smaller than before), and had begun chatting with the other volunteers with us.

He includes me often in his questions--sometimes he makes fun of me, sometimes he is serious. I am often guessing what comes next. Part of the work too, is distracting him with questions of my own, in order to keep him from bothering the other kids.

I took Sergio home early because he had a theater class of some sort to go to. I passed the pen that Javi had decorated with thread for Matias to one of the teachers. Ivan came home without having to be dragged. Mariano and I talked a little about his family in Rio Primero. I recall the funny conversation Nahuel and I had the day before about how much we've "engoradados" in this year alone. I still blame the empanadas--haha. I think much about Chechu who has been moved to another home in Rio Cuarto.

Am I discouraged when the boys don't show the same excitement to see me as when they see Javi? Sometimes. I know there's a part of them in great need of a father figure in their lives, so I gladly pass that baton. I was greatly relieved to have this moment with Rodrigo though: to help him know that I have nothing but high hopes for him. I regret that it was in front of the other boys because I don't want them to think I only think this way for him.

I've been better at telling them that I love them, but it still doesn't feel like enough.

[Sigh]. This is hard work. There are days when I feel like I haven't put in many hours. But the hours that do pass seem like a lifetime. God has taught me a lot. I've reached such a higher level of Spanish than I imagined possible, and I've seen changes in my attitude as well. Sometimes it's not just about these boys maturing, but my growth as well.

Hmm.. wrote much more than I planned, and in a lot of ways, I've just skinned the surface.

Chau.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Random, y como no me di cuenta q hoy era 9/11

How come every time I go to the mall now I just think about how I could possibly make the clothes/things that I want myself? I remember watching a Shane Claiborne interview about how he sews his own clothes, and never thought I would be capable of doing so as well. Well.. let's be honest, I'm still not capable, but it's within grasp now that we have a sewing machine in the house, and I've learned a thing or two..

But I'm in one of those "save the world" kicks in general, you see, thus feeling the need to recycle our plastic bottles in the house like we used to. On my bike ride to Wal-Mart, the closest place to deposit your plastics, I was convicted to pick up all the "Pritty" discarded bottles along the way. My little frontside basket isn't large enough, so I literally made two trips.

On a completely different note, church was lovely tonight. We just sang songs, and they were requests from church members. After each song, the person who requested the song had the opportunity to share why they did so. Two people chose a cancion about how God is their Father--both explained how they loved the song because they don't have earthly fathers. "At least this way, I can think of God as the father I never had," they said.

And then there was the fact that my grandma Zulema is telling folks how proud she is of my ability to speak Spanish even though I'm so "gringa." haha. I'm still smiling about this. Ok, goodnight. Chau.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Walking into each other

Everyone tells me not to walk to Maria Elena's. "You're taking the bus, right?"

I nod. But when I get outside and it's so beautiful, I change my mind again and I walk.

Eight o'clock around here is actually quite busy. I'm less afraid with more people around. And I know all that talk about robberies can make one worry, but I stay guarded. That and hardly ever have anything worth stealing with me.

Besides the point... yesterday something "me llamo la atencion." Caught me. Stuck with me, if you will.

For the second time now, the directors from the teenage mother's home asked if we could come more than once a week. It's not that I don't want to--it's that I want to be careful with what free time I do have. It's difficult when recently I feel like it's "go, go, go" all the time.

But such is this life, no?

I chatted with Flor this morning about possibly going on Wednesday mornings. Instead of sharing mate together like we usually do, we can make morning visits. She was excited about this idea, which encouraged me.

I've been praying about it all day, and was thinking about it on my walk, when I got hissed at. Have I mentioned how guys will hiss at you if they find you aesthetically pleasing? Usually I pay no mind, but for some reason I turned. It was one of the directors. I felt as if she was my answer. I was able to chat with her about the possibility of going in the mornings and she said that it would be perfect. Chuckling, I explained how I couldn't come this week, or the next, but the following?

"Por su puesto!"

Well, that was easy. And had I taken the bus instead?

I thought s'more about how much I've been able to see people I know in my various transits by foot or by bike. I like, for instance, when the local carnicero Manuel will pass me on his motobike when I'm making the weekly WalMart run. Seeing the locals is something maybe we don't get as much when we're always traveling by car.

But another thing, is it makes you tired, and so with that, I'm out. Buenas noches a todos! Chau!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Currently

...very addicted to maté.

...in season three of Battlestar Galactica (also an addiction? maybe..).

...got a full length poster of Messi on my wall--thanks Rodriguez sisters!

...proud of some of my boys at the institute today who not only behaved well, but made the craft with precision!
...one year and one day in to the time in Argentina. Maria Sol wrote a beautiful note to me (happy Argentine bday!) that encourages so much, I even thought to myself, "I could stay here even longer!" Of course, the irony is Sol won't be staying here as her dream is to move on to other countries as well. Great minds??

...thinking of enjoying a siest-ita! Chau!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The way things are

I am already contemplating what it will be like to describe typical life of Argentina face to face. I do my best in this blog, and now.. quite literally one year into my time (ONE YEAR!?).. I can not help but think that my reaction during my two weeks in the States, not for another 2.5 months, will be the best education.

But one thing worthy of note, especially due to recent events, is the necessary precautions one must take around here.

After all, one of our very own was robbed during the night within her first month of arrival.

Raul's car was robbed of it's radio last Sunday.

A taxi driver took an extra 20 pesos from Steph by lying to her, telling her she had only given him 2.

Then on Wednesday Joy had paid attention to a couple, in broad daylight, in the middle of the city and yet in a not-quite-Starbucks (that is, a decent Resto-bar), who made a few attempts to steal purses from the unsuspecting.

This past Friday, in the middle of youth group in Santa Rosa, a man came in calling for Raul and another, whose car was parked just outside. They ran out (very dangerous I might add), to stop a small group from trying to take what definitely wasn't theirs.

Robbery is a way of life here. It's important to be on your guard, and yet to love the people as best you can. I suppose it's similar to that verse about being shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves. Do not be ignorant of the ways of the world; certainly be innocent of it.

I would feel comfortable riding my bike home for the night for a couple of miles--if I were in the States. It's just not something you do here. Even where you put your purse in your car is not safe, as Joy (how come she's always the one?) had watched a motorcycle circle back around a block just to punch a window, and take the purse left on the passenger seat.

The bigger question here may be this: what brings a people to rob this often? Rest assured it is a complicated answer, with many pointing fingers. It also has a spiritual element, for sure. But truly pondering this question will hopefully remind us to put faces and names to those who may one day rob us--will hopefully remind us how much they need Jesus. Just like creepy dude in the previous post...

Chau.

Friday, September 2, 2011

How to get rid of creepy dudes 101

So there I am, minding my own business. I just got done hanging out with Noemi and was ready to hang out with Flor in San Martin square. Every first two weeks of September there's a giant book fair, and I had high hopes of finding some English books to keep me company. I have some still from what we've found in the back, but they are dwindling.

Any way, so I'm waiting. Sketch man approaches, 3 o'clock. I take note of him, just so he knows that I know he's there. Ultimately, I turn away--cold shoulder folks. Very clear.

He asks me for a light. Nope. No can do, not my thing. He walks off for a bit.

Comes back in ten minutes asking me if I'm waiting for someone. "Yes."

"Boyfriend."

"No."

"And if she doesn't come?"

"She's always late. She'll come." (Come on...!!!)

I give terse answers to everything.

"So what do you do?"

I cave. I give him a little bit longer answers, praying that God is protecting me, and relying on the fact that I'm in a public place in the middle of the day. I respond by asking about him. "What do you do?"

"I'm an employer of the government."

Great, even more reason to not put my trust in him.

"Is your friend coming?" he asks one more time.

"Yes."

"'Cause if she doesn't, I gladly invite you to my place if you're hungry."

HA!

Thankfully, he changes the subject and asks why I'm here if I'm not a student and I don't have a job. I resort to telling him about how I volunteer. I serve the community by visiting children's homes and helping out in the neighborhood with whatever is needed.

"Yes, but why?"

Here it goes. "Look," I say. "Jesus died on the cross for my sins. I figure, if he could do that much for me, I can live for him anywhere. I can serve wherever, whoever, and even when it's hard because I'm so far from family, I just remember what Jesus did for me. For all of us."

Phone rings. He answers and says something about the person with whom he is talking, "Oh you're in the plaza? I'll come find you." Looks at me and mouths a "Nos vemos," although I seriously doubt that.

Chau.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Mouthpiece

My saxophone, sadly, has been sitting under my bed for these last few months. I think of the lost dreams of playing in San Martin plaza, or on a corner in general, and it actually makes me less inclined to pick it up and try again. A couple of friends have asked me about when I'm going to play and I shrug. I fear failure is the bottom line. On another level, I wish I had a teacher to help me get better, show me proper technique, and challenge me with various exercises.

Speaking of exercise, this sort of training is exactly what I have been receiving from Cecilia at a local gym. She doesn't exactly focus on me alone, but has been able to push me at times I would like to quit, or get by without working as hard. But back to the saxophone...

Or at least back to a story my parents have often related about a time when I was a little girl and I was busy drawing on a scrap piece of paper at church. During his sermon, the pastor had asked, "Is God a liar?" At which point I, head down, seemingly focused on my efforts with the pencil, shouted back.

"NOOOOO!!!"

The pastor apparently froze for a second and then regained himself. "Exactly," he said.

Eva pulled me aside just the other day to tell me about a conversation she was having with God one night. I had already gone to bed and was well into my REM cycle when she asked a question. "Was I prudent in that situation?" she had asked, in her mind.

Out of seemingly nowhere, I replied, "Yes." Except to stay true to the story, I said, "Sí."

It surprised her, as much as it surprised me when she later shared the story. I mean, has that ever happened to you? A sleeping person offers an answer to a question that you asked to God and God alone, in a language that is not native to the sleeping person?

I've been reading the book of John and contemplating what it means for John to be a mouthpiece for Jesus, and even for Jesus to be a mouthpiece for God.

Then it all comes back to the saxophone. I open the box to look at all of its parts: the mouthpiece, the reed, the body of the horn, the neck strap, the tools used to clean, the wax, the cork, etc. etc. Obviously there is the, every-part-counts metaphor. But it's something else. It's a surprise to me, to have been so clearly, and yet so simply, used in this way. Whenever I go through the downs of the rollercoaster missionary life and ask for yet another confirmation of my time here, I get one. God is that faithful.

Why can't I pick it up and try again? I have so many excuses I'd rather not go into. Why can't I let the fears pass and just go for it? How do I trust that this instrument is staying till the end, no matter how well or how poorly I play it? Ahh.. there's the metaphor I was going for.

Chau.