Tuesday, January 26, 2016

January Encounter

An Encounter is a weekend retreat that we encourage all church members to participate in. It’s two full days of classes with topics ranging from the sacrifice of Jesus and repentance to family and sexuality. Normally, an Encounter takes place in a hotel conference room with five to fifteen participants. We have a normal Encounter planned for February 13-14, but in December we realized that two families had significant schedule conflicts. Emilse is due to have her baby boy on February 3rd, and Esteban and Jessica work weekends except for their two weeks of vacation in January. So, with two weeks’ notice, we decided to plan a low key Encounter for January. We booked a one night stay in a hotel, but did all the classes and meals in the church on our own. The week of the Encounter, Emilse experienced difficulties with her pregnancy and couldn’t come, so we got to love on Esteban and Jessica and their two kids for the entire weekend. We met this family through Hadassa's school-Hadassa and Jade are in the same class. They had never attended church. Like many Argentine families, they believed in God and kept statues of Mary in their house, but they never attended mass or practice any sort of religion. It's bizarre to teach about idols in a culture where physical idols are a real problem. We started meeting with them a couple months ago. When they learned that God is active and truly loves them, Esteban was all in with an impressive passion. Jessica has been more hesitant-not because she doesn't agree, but because she can't accept that God could really love her. She wants to believe and is taking very brave baby steps, including participating in this weekend. 

Hadassa, Genna, Julianna, Ian, Jade - they played "little
mermaids" for two days straight

A personal highlight was getting to teach the lesson on self-image. We were supposed to show a video, but we couldn’t find it in our files. I asked the pastors if I could read a children’s story instead. I translated “You Are Special” by Max Lucado into Spanish and read it as an introduction to the lesson. It’s a story I read every year to my students about wooden dolls who spend their lives giving each other stickers; good star stickers and bad dot stickers. One doll learns that he was created by a carpenter who loves him and doesn’t care about the stickers. The lesson in public school is that you are special because you are human and the opinion of other humans doesn’t change that. The lesson in an Argentine church is that investing in a relationship with God keeps the stickers from sticking. The rest of the actual lesson focuses on how our reactions to our circumstances and relationships depends on whether we have a positive or negative self-image, whether we believe we can change and improve. The message of self-esteem has become white noise in our culture, but this was something new for Jessica. She was neglected and abused as a child and teenager. No one has ever taught her that respecting herself is important for her relationships and her family. It’s exciting to start this journey with her.

Rachel, me, Jaci, Jessica, Ashley, Esteban, Dani, Junior
a final prayer over the couple

Saturday ends with a lesson about repentance using the story of the prodigal son. At the end, the pastors put a ring on everyone’s hands and we had a party. We didn’t slaughter the fattened calf, but we did eat flattened, breaded steak (milanesa-Argentina’s favorite dish). The retreat ended with a Sunday night service with the rest of the church. It was extra special because Noelia, our most difficult case right now, came to the service with her niece and nephew. 

Pastor Junior, Pastora Jaci, me, Damaris
playing balloon keep-away at the party

Part of the Encounter experience is being served by the leaders of church. Someone is always serving drinks or snacks or refilling water or replacing pens. We want participants to feel comfortable and be able to focus completely on the lessons. It was extra special this time because we were basically living in the church with our church family for two days. By the end, we were exhausted, but we didn’t want to leave. Right now, Esteban and Jessica's greatest joy is being in church learning about God. Esteban has been at every 4am Tuesday prayer service since the Encounter. We are praying that they continue to learn about God and that this knowledge changes into a powerful relationship with their Creator. We are also praying with them for restoration and growth in their marriage. After such a special weekend, we are even more excited for our next Encounter in February. 

Sunday night celebration service

Esteban and Jessica sharing their testimonies

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Holidays in Argentina

“Christmas in July” now has a new meaning for me after celebrating my first summer Christmas. It’s weird, but in many ways it’s the best of both worlds. It’s Christmas traditions plus lemonade and ice cream and sunshine and flowers. I actually got sunburned while doing my last minute shopping on Christmas Eve!

Argentines don’t really celebrate Christmas all month long like we do, but with so many North Americans in one house we couldn’t help making a couple hundred dozen cookies. We made up some plates of cookies to deliver to businesses in the neighborhood. Our recipients were either over-joyed or completely confused. Americans have a reputation of having an overabundance of Christmas cheer, thanks to our pervasive Christmas movies. We were happy to confirm the reputation.
Argentines celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve and then all night long. We started with a potluck dinner at the church at 9:00. We had Brazilian chicken cordon bleu, American green bean casserole, and Argentine grilled meat, all delicious. Having already opened their presents, some of the kids brought their new toys to play with. My favorite was a plastic tea set that was actually a plastic mate set. To make the evening good and South American, a very kind, stray dog wandered in. We couldn’t get it to leave until we all left around 11:30 to watch fireworks from the Pastors’ roof. If you’re reading this, you’re probably from Idaho and, like me, are accustomed to a Fourth of July fireworks show by the city and a couple of rascally rebels who set off reservation-bought fireworks from their houses. I have never seen an entire city of fireworks going off at the same time. Well, now I’ve seen it twice. At midnight on Christmas and New Years everyone lights fireworks. From the rooftop, it looked like the horizon was exploding. Apparently in small towns it is common to spend all night visiting neighbors and family members’ houses. Here in the city, people stay up chatting with family or go out dancing and drinking. Our Argentine team members stayed up late drinking mate on the sidewalk. The rest of us went to bed so we could wake up and start all over again with the “real” Christmas celebration.

Juan working on the grilled meat

The Christmas Eve dinner crew

Just like out tea sets but mate!!

We practiced our circus act on the way 

On Christmas Day, I got to skype with my goofy family in the afternoon. We got together as a team before dinner to read the Christmas story aloud (in three languages), do a gift exchange, and play four on the couch. I love playing four on the couch, but skyping with my family was by far the best part of the day. Although Anndee’s apple pie was pretty stellar too…

New Year’s Eve is a similar celebration: family, friends, fireworks, no sleep. Ours was extra special because we combined it with Juan’s birthday party. He has been super excited all month about the goat he was going to prepare for us. He bought it at the beginning of December because they are a hot item during the holidays and difficult to find for New Years. That means we’ve had a goat in our freezer all month. It was more entertaining before he put it bag. Retrieving ice was a harrowing task with a dead goat staring you down the whole time. The grilled goat was very good. The goat organs actually tasted good too, except with every bite my brain was screaming, “You should not be eating this!!” We introduced the Argentines to two more American favorites: ice cream floats and nerts. We don’t have any root beer here, but the coke, orange, and lemon soda variations were pretty tasty. Nerts is a hard game for beginners, especially with a couple experts around the table. Damaris is very competitive, but after a couple rounds she was a true convert. I see many tournaments in our future.

A cooked goat

Friends share goat legs

The birthday boy and his first float

Damaris with her Fanta float