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

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Aquí estamos

There are certain things you get used to. Gladys will always call me Soraya (pronounced So-rah-sha); Hernán will always greet me with "bella"; the owner of the ferreteria has grown accustom to calling me Nicole. And in reality, they become such a norm that if they don't happen, you feel like something has gone wrong.

I woke up early today with every intention of biking to the boys' institute and meeting with the director Gabriel about how the year will look. I had gone yesterday to find an empty house being renovated for the new plans. While I chatted with the workers that were there, I thought it best to meet with the director himself.

Unfortunately, it was raining this morning. So I first called and asked if I could come later. Around 1pm it finally seemed to stop. I felt like I was risking it, hoping not to be the infamous Marianne from that one Jane Austen novel where everyone gets married at the end. Thankfully, I stayed dry.

Gabriel greeted me and we sat down. Again, no boys in the house. They have all either been shipped to Río Cuarto, or are in homes with family members throughout the city. "Everything is changing," he told me.

And to a point, it's not a surprise. I was expecting something to change, as we had talked about the possibility in December. The institute will become an open building for the kids of the neighborhood to come and take workshops. Workshops ranging from sports to computers to what have you. There was even mention of religious charlas* to which I showed interest. Only a handful of those we've come to love over the past year will make visits during this time.

The encouraging news is Gabriel had been thinking of us, and would like us to take over the sports side of things. I found it neat that he wants us to continue collaborating, even if it will be nothing like what we had been doing. The unfortunate part is just that. I want to work with the kids who don't have anything, not those of this neighborhood which is actually somewhat wealthy.

So I took a leap and asked about the others. Is there any way we can visit Chechu and Sergio and Rodrigo who have been sent to the other institutes further away? He looked at me sternly, but then softened. 'Thank you, Lord,' I prayed to myself.

"I would have to ask my superiors for official permission," he told me. "But with all that you have done in this past year for these boys, I don't see why it would be a problem." He added that it might even be possible to visit the other boys in the homes they are staying in. I just have to wait for the official permission.

So there's the first prayer; wisdom of how to make sure we obtain that permission.

When we finished our informal meeting, he showed me something quite special. "Remember when your dad came two Christmases ago? Well, we kept the painting that he made and it now hangs in the computer room" (the computer room takes up the former dwelling for the boys).

A remaining testament to the way things were.

In the ride back I kept thinking about what to do. Do we stay with this institute or is it time to move on? On one hand, is it not wise to maintain a positive relationship with a government facility, and see what doors open up in the future? Just thinking of the possibility of visiting the boys where they are seems like one fruit. It is but a few hours of my time to give each week. The other hand is mainly that which has already mentioned. I don't want to continue to spread out OM Córdoba's already spread thin ministry.

The second bike trip of the day consisted of the first time with the girls' institute. I just took mate and Uno so I could chat with the girls and see what they want to do.

"Soraya!!" Gladys says to greet me, and without skipping a beat, "What did you bring me?" haha

The ministry with the girls' institute allows for the local church to be more involved because it is conveniently only a 20 minute walk from the OM house/church. And in terms of personal desires for serving those in need, it caters to the spending time with those who have nowhere and no one else side of things. Buenísimo, one might say.

Biking home, I made a quick stop to make photocopies for Sol of the daily devotional I'm reading. "Hola bella," says Hernán once we make eye contact. We chat about some movies and where I've been this summer before I head out.

As I am already on Arrecifes, I pass by the ferretería. Looking into the window, I see my friend and he shouts, "Nicole!!" So I turn around and drop in for a couple rounds of mate. Again, I tell a little about my summer, but he and the other worker ask me more about what I'm doing in Córdoba. How exciting to share more of what I am so privileged to be a part of.

God is also gracious to hold back the rain during all of this time, until after I had re-parked Rosita in the back.

Here we are; some things already quite different. Many remaining the same. May I continue to seek wisdom for how to best utilize my time here. Chau!

*means "chats" with a hint of debate, but mainly informative

Monday, February 27, 2012

A full day

"What did I do today?" you ask.

In the morning, I prepared a few youtube videos for a youth group camp we'll be having next weekend. Our neighborhood teens are combining with the Santa Rosa youth group for a few days to talk about being rescued. Praying that a couple friends that Mily and Nieves invited can come!

As the camp is 200 pesos per person, we needed to utilize today to bake some Pasta Frola and sell it in our neighborhood to raise money. Sol and I baked, while the other girls played cards. I wanted to learn how to make this pastry, and I am looking forward to having a few more days like this--selling for youth group activities. It's a great way to get to know each other on top of learning more cooking skills.

Then I just stayed in Las Violetas, meeting up with Cleto and Adam for some soccer with the boys. I found some girls though, who weren't going to play, so I stayed with them and chatted. They are excited to meet next Monday to play cards and maybe share some mate.

Came home, showered, played the saxophone. I'm about to crash for the night. Although they are short paragraphs, there's a lot of personal soliloquies in there. A lot of revelations, and laughter. Busy days are so much cooler than unoccupied days.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Te vas??

This is an important question.

I sat, waiting for the director of the institute. She had work to attend to, but with a smile only slightly off symmetrically due to her lazy eye, she said she would be right with me. So I waited, and the one and only Maria Luz came over.

Head tilted, she looked at me with a sense of familiarity. I smirked back, "My how you have grown, child!" She patted her black and white polka dotted skirt. "Yes, that is a lovely outfit you are wearing," I said.

Eventually more little ones came, all trying to impress me with their toys. A new one, Guadalupe, adorning a Cancun, Mexico tee, offered me a miniature mate--a toy cup with cotton to serve as yerba, and a broken pencil to serve as a bombilla.

For now, there are 8 children and 4 mothers. Alejandra is back with her son Lucio, and she is pregnant again. Gladys came over and we talked a little. She will be going to high school this year, which comforts me greatly.

The time came to talk to the director. She was open to us coming back. "They are so bored here," she tells me. "They ask me what to do, and I say they can go out back." I explain how we primarily want to spend time with them sharing mate and making handcrafts. Slowly the memories of the past year and a few months come back as to why I am a part of this ministry. I am reaffirmed that this is where I want to be as I watch the kids fight with each other a little, and the mothers sit quietly in their own places.

I am not their Savior, but I know Who is.

I had been thinking about this primarily because the team in OM is slightly stretched in its ministry in Cordoba. A couple work with el Refugio, a couple with Luz Urbana, a couple with some teenagers in another neighborhood completely, and me and maybe another, with the orphans and teenage mothers. Part of this has to do with the need for more workers; partly it is because we hope to encourage the local church to take over the ministry if at some point we are no longer available. Would it be better if we consolidated? Would it be better if I combined with others to serve somewhere else?

Yes. And no.

So we go back to the title of this blog post. A question that impacted me most yesterday while re-watching The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The end scene, which I've talked about before, where Reepicheep says goodbye to his friends and enters the Country of Aslan. I couldn't hold back the tears as the thought of saying goodbye to my Argentine friends began to appear much more of a reality. I know, I know, I still have a whole year...

..but I don't. It's already almost March. It's already almost May.. where I'll be turning 26!! and next thing you know, it's time.

Me voy? Sí, en un rato, nada más.

There will be people here, there are people in the States, that I will never personally see again on this side of eternity. But these are happy tears because at least we will meet again, although I have no idea what that looks like (if we'll even recognize one another).

Además, since I have so little time remaining, I want to make the most of it. I want to fill my schedule with service for my God, trusting that He will give me the strength that I need to continue. The creativity in handcrafts, the help of other workers, the perseverance when times are tough. The director and I placed a tentative schedule of when we can visit. Three days a week this year. Here we go...

I gave the customary kiss on the cheek to all the little ones and their mothers. Guadalupe's brother Benjamin looked up, "Te vas?"

"Sí, pero vuelvo." Yes, but I will return.

"Ah, bien," he says as he continues with his toy.

How do I make the most of it? How can I be less selfish; give more of my time and love? I think of the words of Paul who says in Philippians, "I will rejoice, even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a liquid offering to God.." Translation: even if I'm being completely used up, it is my joy.

"Because, this is a very great adventure, and no danger seems to me so great as that of knowing when I get back to Narnia that I left a mystery behind me through fear." - Reepicheep

Monday, February 20, 2012

All sorts of things

All sorts of things happen. It's impossible to be completely faithful to write down everything that comes my way. Here are some highlights that are at least worthy of mention (maybe):

Don Hammond was here again and we enjoyed the team retreat with his various words of wisdom which were then repeated at a three day conference with a local church. I sold books. haha

I had an amazing conversation with one of the couples on our team. I got to translate for them actually, as they were speaking with Don. It wore me out, as well as convicted me, for many of the truths that they were saying. I praise God for that time together.

I finished Starving Jesus and thought about the fact that I had watched the video of them before. I didn't make the connection until the end, and found the book that much greater. All of my doubts and concerns that I had had, came back and I find that you shouldn't have one without the other. Video plus book, that is.

Had dinner with Maria Elena and family, and was reminded of how much I love and had missed them. It was wonderful to reunite and be better at Spanish to have fuller conversations about that we have learned over the summer. I look forward to continuing eating with her for my second year. I can't believe it's already been almost one and a half years of meeting in her home! What a wonderful woman.

The house now has several new things for which I am thankful: Laura, our new team mate. A dish rack. And last, but not least, a new washer!!!

Made my first tuna, macaroni and cheese casserole. Appears to have been a success.

Umm.. yeah.. basically we are in the planning stages of the year, so I don't have all that much to report. They are details to taking care of business. Meetings mostly. Phone calls are in there. Putting order to my room so it's not a cause of stress with all the planning schtuff. etc. etc.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Speak, for your servant is listening

Have you ever been desperate to hear from God?

I'm not just talking about having a feeling from God. You know, where you fill in with your own thoughts what you think God is trying to say to you. I'm talking about hearing a voice. The Voice.

Then again, it's a scary thing to ask for that sort of thing. "God, I want to hear you." But do you really? I think it was Chan who was talking about this; how many can honestly say that they don't want to hear from God because they know He'll ask something impossible from them. Which by the way, He will, but not without reason, and not without His help.

Or I get to thinking about the Voice that spoke and there was light. That spoke and there was the world--out of the darkness comes the known universe. That is incredibly powerful. Too powerful. Scary powerful.

So when the Israelites say to Moses, "Let God talk to you, and then you talk to us," I kind of get it. They wanted a mitigator, not just a mediator, for this unbelievably powerful God to speak to them.

These past couple nights, it has taken awhile for me to get to sleep. I have had moments of just staring at the bottom of the top bunk (which isn't all that interesting, as it is only slats of wood over a blue mattress) waiting for something, without knowing what that is. Maybe it's the Voice, but I couldn't really tell you.

Then this morning, I woke up in part because of the humidity in the room and in part because of that itch that wants to be scratched. "What is it you want, God?"

It was a feeling, not a voice, but I followed it any way. Outside I went to look at the sky. It was an Abraham moment, or so I told myself, and I would get to see a bunch of stars and God would tell me, "You will preach to this many of my great love."

I came outside to see a cloudy sky, and a fingernail of a moon.

I didn't hear a voice, but I sensed something very scary. "The end is near."

Truly, I was afraid.

And who's not skeptical of this sort of thing? Yeah, yeah, the end is coming, whatever. But what does that really mean?

After a few minutes, I searched for my Bible, busted out a breakfast, it was 6:45 after all, and began to read 1 Samuel. I was tempted to go straight to chapter 3, when the young boy first hears from God, but realized that context is just as important and began at the beginning. What a concept.

And there's that woman, Hannah. But the story doesn't even begin with her, it begins with her faithful husband and an unfaithful priest and his two sons. To me, I love that God uses story. He could have started with chapter 3 and the story would still be sufficient, yet He chooses to give us more. Details that resonate with our own soul of desperation.

To receive from God; to perhaps hear from Him.

And people think we are crazy, just like Eli thought that Hannah was crazy. But when the Lord remembers her, she keeps her end of the bargain and prays this amazing prayer:

My heart rejoices in the LORD my horn is lifted high.
My mouth boasts over my enemies for I delight in your deliverance.

There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.

Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance,
for the LORD is God who knows and by him deeds are weighed...

... The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up.
The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts.

He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.

For the foundations of the earth are the LORD's;
upon them he has set the world.
He will guard the feet of his saints, but the wicked will be silenced in darkness.

It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the LORD
will be shattered.
He will thunder against them from heaven; the LORD will judge the earth.

He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of the anointed.

How does Hannah's prayer of thanksgiving turn to the judgment of the Lord? How is it that she gets into the subject of destruction of the enemies, when she has just given her son over, for his whole life, to God?

Because, "The end is near."

We read on of the sons of Eli who do absolutely nothing right, and this coming from just reading Leviticus and the instructions of the sacrifices. Which on a small tangent, the sons are crazy to think that boiled meat tastes better than asado. And then a prophet comes and tells Eli of his pending doom.

Continuing on, there is the famous chapter 3. It was the first time I noticed how distant God's voice must have been all those years, if it took three times for the priest, the PRIEST, to realize God must have been talking. I also noted that Samuel was sleeping in the tabernacle where all the holy articles of God had been. In fact, he was sleeping "where the ark of God was." He was in the holy of holies, as it was called. A place I hear that you could be struck down dead if there was any impurity in you.

When Samuel listens, the famous line that always sticks out to me does so again:

... See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle.

The references in my Bible indicate the story of Hezekiah's illness, terrifying marauders in Job, and coming disaster prophesied in Jeremiah. That is to say, "the end is near." Coming destruction. Terrifying judgment.

And sure enough, the Philistines come, people die (including Eli and his two sons), the ark of the LORD is stolen. Nothing this big has gotten the outside world's attention so much as when God freed the Israelites from the Egyptians. I say this because the Philistines had been scared for that very reason (see 1 Samuel 4:6-8).

It was then that I sensed the need to look outside again. The moon was gone and the sun was rising. It was a little like what I had read in C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce. The Son will rise. Very soon. I may not know what it looks like, but for some reason I do fear it. For those who do not know, boy am I scared. I prayed for those that need to know Him. That I would be obedient in telling them the good news. That their hearts would not be hardened. Might they be just as desperate to hear the Word as I am?

What will you do?

First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, 'Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.' But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

2 Peter 3: 3-7

chau.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Offensive

I just began Starving Jesus. A book similar in theme to Radical, which I read near the end of 2011. (Holy Smokes! It's 2012!) But when the guys who wrote this one are creators of x3church.com, you get a little bit more in-your-face-go-out-and-do-something compared to the more subtle hints of stop-reading-and-get-out-there from the pastor, albeit a pretty radical one.

All that to say, I like it. And have been thinking about this word, "Offensive," for several weeks now due to a very interesting conversation I had with that guy Ewout I had mentioned earlier.

We were in Buenos Aires, in the hostel, in the morning. It was time for me to read a little bit of the Word before my apparent adventure would start. Ewout naturally asked what I was reading and why. He began to explain how he is reading something pretty powerful too. I recognized the title as something Oprah has supported. One that got a lot of people excited about living life again. Taking charge, self-helpy. The one that eventually still leaves you pretty empty when you do things on your own.

You know the type.

When I tried to explain that I was reading the Bible and I try to read it every day because of how convicting it is, Ewout had made a comment to this effect:

"Oh I dunno. To me I don't think any book can really change you. They're just words."

I must express that never before had I had such a reaction of holding back tears. But after this year and a half (there goes that time flying thing again!), I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Word of God is not just words.

It is living.
Breathing.
Active.
Sharper than a two-edged sword.

Because the Word is Jesus in us. You might call it Immanuel. Or better yet, thanks to some Francis Chan business as well, the Forgotten God. The Holy Spirit.

The very One who helped me preach while I was in 30 de Agosto. Who gave me the words with many new friends from Ushuaia. Who gives me strength to persevere in this coming and quickly passing year.

And now that I'm fired up, I want to drive it home with my point. My point is... Christians, especially in the US don't want to offend their friends and neighbors and family members who don't know Jesus. But what about when they offend me with this kind of sentiment???

I know it has a lot to do with ignorance and a hardened heart. I also know that in many ways, I wanted to cry for Ewout (more than my own feelings) because he didn't understand how truly powerful our God is.

My point is that by what people say about my Jesus, I will be offended pretty much every day. It's time I start offending back. In a way that shows Jesus loves you and wants the best for you now. You don't have time to reject Jesus. He will change you and give you the best life you could ever imagine. Trust me, He's real. And He is good. In respect to Valentine's day, His love endures forever.

You know, longer than those bonbons you might have received this year.

Blessings and chau!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The purpose of 30 de Agosto

All because I met a woman at a camp. Back up. Because I met a woman during a meeting with Samuel. She came to talk to Samuel about a camp that she wanted us to be apart of. It was at this meeting that I learned the theme of the camp was the circus.

I juggle. And the camp was in English. I think I know that language fairly well.

Then I went to this camp, months later, and met a teacher from the country in the province of Buenos Aires. As is typical of Argentines, she invited me to her home over the summer. She likes to host people from other countries because she wants her kids to experience diversity.

I had emailed her early in December about coming perhaps the first week of February? I even asked her, if you know.. maybe.. I could present the work that I'm a part of in OM with the church in her town. Her pueblito, as we like to call it.

So she checked with one of the local churches, even though she herself doesn't go, and the pastor had said it was fine.

Justo. Justo is like saying "In the exact same moment." Or, "perfectly coming together".. the week that I came, another missionary was there. He and his wife were visiting churches before heading out to Spain to serve for possibly the rest of their lives.

I was able to meet with a few of the youth beforehand on Friday, but then I was also invited to share a few words on Sunday, with the other missionaries that would be there. On Sunday, I shared my testimony, and the other missionary shared the mission vision that not only encouraged the congregation, but me as well. Mucho.

On Sunday morning, I had prayed a prayer along these lines..

God.. I love Argentina, really, truly. But why here? Sometimes I don't get where you're taking me, or what you're doing. And even though I have seen how much you have changed me and molded me in my time here, it can still be very crazy. I'm speaking another language now. I'm doing things, like visiting perfect strangers in the middle of nowhere, without fear because I know you are with me. All because you put a desire in me to go to India. Which gets me back to the beginning.. what's up with Argentina?


So Sunday evening comes, and the missionary brings with him such Spirit and fire, and I'm back to my original feeling of 'Yes. This is where I want to be.' And so I go and I talk to him and say thanks, and he encourages me back (after all, I did give a brief message) and I ask them, "Why Spain?"

He had just preached on the amazing things God had done in Bolivia over the past several years. He looks at me and says, "Spain was on our heart originally, but God had planned a path that took us to Bolivia first. We know that we needed to be there to be better prepared for this moment to serve in Spain."

Me quedé callada. I was in awe, once again, by the way God speaks.

But that's not all folks. It never is, really.

The pastor's daughter, who works with the teenagers and young adults, invites me to share more of my story the following Wednesday. Talk for maybe 30 minutes, "Or more, if you want." Not that I don't want to talk for that long, but the capability in Spanish can make it quite difficult. Plus, what would I have to say.

The story of Elijah has been on my heart recently, and in part to a book I just read by Paulo Coehlo. After some prayer, I began to write out what I would say. Oh how the words flowed, and I knew it didn't come from me.

On Monday morning, I receive a call verifying the Wednesday time, as well as a how-would-you-feel-about-talking-on-the-local-radio-let's-say-tomorrow request. Umm.. okay. haha. In a town of 7 thousand, everyone listens to the local radio. I got to tell them what I do and why. God, the opportunities you give!!!

And then there's the talk on Wednesday and I feel so empowered in the moment. I look at my watch and realize not 30 minutes have passed but 45.. And the congregation joined in Amens and nods of agreement. The pastor came up to me afterward, his hand on my shoulder..

"Wow," he says. "At first I was reluctant to give you too much time on stage since I know this isn't your first language. But we understood everything. You encouraged us. You encouraged me. God had a purpose in you coming to 30 de Agosto, and we praise Him for it!"

Amen y amen. Y chau!

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Adventure

The plan was to meet Ewout (pronounced eh-vart) at the airport. He would be landing about an hour and a half before us, and we would part from there. I would be landing in the nick of time to take a bus to Retiro, and then another bus to the pueblo 30 de Agosto.

But when we arrived, there was no Ewout waiting. Cletis, feeling a bit rejected, searched the rest of Jorge Newbery Airport to see if his newest aquaintance from Holland was waiting somewhere else. When we checked the tvs we realized it was because his plane had never landed. It was to be another two hours of waiting.

Our plane too, had landed later than I expected, which stopped me from going to Retiro. One more day in la capital, supongo..

I decided to wait with Cletis, playing cards in one of the seating areas. I am not very good at Rook, but it helped to pass the time.

All three of us would finally leave J.B. at one thirty in the morning, waiting just outside at the bus stop for the 145. I need to look into how many bus options there are in this city. There must be thousands. Even looking outside the plane window while we landed I couldn´t stop thinking about the vastness of this great city.

Part of the surprise was coming to a stop just outside of Retiro. I had already made up my mind that I wouldn´t stay in the bus terminal overnight. Taking my chances with the two albeit crazy young men was better than being sola.

Ubicate. I like this verb, ubicar. It means to know where you are. To have a sense of direction. And now that I´ve been to Bs. As. more than thrice, I have a decent idea even at times like 3 in the morning when we finally got off bus 145, number 2. I laughed when I found out that they didn´t know the exact address of the hostel, but Ewut had written it out in his notebook, and we were able to ubicarnos.

"Nossa.. nossa.." lightened up the mood as we finally made it to the dark street where a few were laughing over a shared cigarette. It was a car that had bustled past us, playing the song of the summer. At first, I was rejected at the door without the reservation like the rest, but when the bouncer, as I suppose he is called, saw I was with the two gringos, he let me come in. "I imagine we have ONE bed available," he told me.

I had to wait a bit more. Argentina can be a waiting game as has been accounted many times before. But a bed was found, and I stumbled as quietly as I could into the room, taking one of the three empty beds available. I prayed it was the only technically unoccupied one, and closed my eyes.

The morning came too quickly. Only one eye was willing to open to the sunlight and sounds of young people preparing their equipajes. The other eye finally opened as well, realizing the need to make sure my own suitcase was still accounted for. That was when I noticed it.

Of eight beds, seven were of young men. Oy vey. Thankful this was only for one half night. At least in Germany when we were outnumbered, I had Kendra with me.

Packed up, met up with the boys who were in other, separate rooms. They too, noticed the odd imbalance of male to female. We took care of basic needs. Breakfast and lunch. Internet time to tell the parents that everything was all right. A quick look for English books for Cletis.

I chose to leave for Retiro early, and chanced the subway system instead of a cramped bus. Arrived much earlier than expected, found my overpriced bus ticket, and found a spot to read. It was a lovely couple of hours because the book, Paulo Coehlo´s The Fifth Mountain is a pageturner. I hardly noticed that the sky was pouring in on the city until the ceiling spilled a little on me.

More waiting.

On the bus finally at 10pm and fell asleep upon impact. At two, everyone awoke to find that something was wrong with the bus and we had to get off. In the middle of nowhere, and hardly awake, no one had motivation to argue. I just confirmed with everyone, "I will still make it to 30 de Agosto, right?"

We arrived at another small town and were again told to get off the bus. Menos mal that we were in a station and not the side of a highway this time. We would need to wait another two hours for the final bus to take us the mere 30 km to my destination. I texted my contact person, and she willingly came to get me. Home sweet home at 6 in the morning. I would sleep until about 1pm.

Despite all of this, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God had a purpose for this adventure. I will share with you in the next post! Chau!