Ponderings on Argentina

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I’m back! January 18, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — vanosdola @ 11:00 pm

Hey everyone! Thanks so much for your thoughts and prayers while I was in Argentina. I would love to meet with you for coffee or something to further discuss the experience.




Under the mulberry tree November 6, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — vanosdola @ 3:18 pm

Going to Retiro Wednesday was amazing. We ended up outside in the Plaza, and it was a beautiful day. The birds were out, the sun was it–it was probably 80 degrees or so–it seemed to give Buenos Aires new life after two non-stop days of rain.

I was talking with some of our friends on one side of the plaza, and Meg told me they were having a mulberry party under a tree at the other side of the plaza. Intrigued, I went to go check it out. It turns out the tree is a mulberry tree, and it has long, drapey branches that give the tree the shape of an umbrella with a big, hollow space in the center.

I crawled under the protective branches of the tree and saw Tina and Margi talking with Andre, a really wise and trustworthy guy who loves to share the wealth of information he knows about life on the streets. His family has actually been living under this mulberry tree for a few weeks now–all of their possessions are in a grocery cart under the tree in plastic bags. They used to live in Villa 31, an infamous slum behind Retiro that drug dealers who sell Paco lord over, but recently there has been a lot of social unrest in the slum, and Andre and his girlfriend and their two little girls moved out and made their new home under this mulberry tree.

I crawled in under the branches and saw a pile of luscious mulberrys sitting on a newspaper in the middle of their blanket, and saw the stained fingers and faces of Tina, Margi, and Andre, and my first response was, what a mess…they will never get those stains out. I grabbed a spot on the blanket and began to listen to Andre, and, before I knew it, I the mulberrys won me over and I had matching stained fingers.

As we sat eating, Andre started giving us advice about men and boyfriends, just as if we were his daughters. We talked with Andre for at least an hour and a half. Even though I didn´t agree with everything he was saying (such as all men are the same, and if given the chance to be unfaithful they will), I loved how he was looking out for us. He then moved on to give us advice about what to do if we feel threatened while walking down the street, and how to best protect ourselves if need be.

In light of the serious topics, we asked him if he was worried about riasing his two daughters (about ages 6 and 2) in the street. At that point you could see the whole weight of the world on his shoulders, and he said he absolutely was.

We had an amazing conversation, and, by the time we were done talking, my hands were stained from eating the mulberrys, my cheek was stained from where Juan smeared one on my face, and my shirt was stained from the mulberry-throwing war Brian and I had, and I would have had it no other way.

After that, I joined the mob of people that had congregated in the plaza (there were probably 30 of us or so). It was the first time that we had brought the new guitar, and it was so exciting watching everyone play it. Maria told Tina how much she had missed it and requested that Tina serenade her new-born with the song ¨Nina de tus ojos.¨ One of the 3-year-old girls sat on my lap and sang the song…it was such a special moment.

After that, the little 3-year-old painted my cheeks, hand, and arm with some paint she had, and I painted her cheeks.

I felt like that day our friends at Retiro really taught me how to live. They all live in a harsh, cruel, often relentless and unforgiving reality, but they understand the importance of kicking back, staining yourself with mulberrys, paint, and being yourself. I learned that we trap ourselves so often from enjoying life through social norms and standards of beauty, and whatever else it may be, and that throwing those aside and living life is one of the most freeing things we can do for ourselves.

Yesterday I learned how to live life under the mulberry tree.




Some thoughts on ¨American Christianity¨ November 3, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — vanosdola @ 5:42 pm

It´s interesting to see how being away from your fatherland for a few months distances you enough to be able to view your own culture from a different perspective. So far I´ve been here for 2.5 months, and I have been learning to turn a more critical eye toward some American ideology that perhaps before I would have taken as true at face-value. My servant team has specifically been talking some about how the values and ideologies of America influence Christianity, something I will call ¨American Christianity.¨

Disclaimer before i continue:  I realize that not all churches or people buy into these ideas. However, I believe that this is a general theme. I would love to hear your ideas and thoughts as to whether or not you agree.

It seems that in American Christianity (AC), one of the biggest goals of churches is to convert people. I believe that is fine, as Jesus tells us to go into all of the world making disciples. However I think some churches forget that Jesus told the disciples to make more disciples, not to compete for who can get the largest number of followers. Too often in America we put all the emphasis on the numbers in our congregations–the more Christians we make the quicker, the better. So, to convert as many people as quickly as possible, some churches dum-down God´s message, making it less edgy and more appealing to the masses. To me, this ¨theology¨ is driven more from a consumerist standpoint than from the Bible.

Keep in mind this is not  necessarily critiquing large churches. It is critiquing churches that are only driven and motivated by numbers and attendance.

Secondly, it is interesting to look at how many churches view a conversion. Often times, when someone decides to be a Christian they go up for an alter call, or repeat a simple prayer asking God to forgive them of sin and inhabit their heart. After that, they are Christian. Alter calls and prayers are extremely good things–that is, in fact, how I became a Christian. However, I think we should see them for what they are: a begining. Accepting Jesus into your heart isn´t the end of the journey. Making it to the altar for the call is not the final destination. Instead, they are the begining of the conversion in our lives. We need to think of what we are converting to. To Jesus? Yes, of course. But we are not only converting to Jesus, we are converting to a new lifestyle. I think following Jesus is a life-long commitment that requires a mindset change about how we see the world, and requires us to dedicate ourselves to actively seeking after God´s own heart and the things God values.

So, according to AC, what exactly is the purpose of converting? Many churches would say to reserve a spot in heaven and to ensure eternal life with God. I do think that this is a large part of believing in God, however I think salvation is more than receiving a ticket to heaven–that only has good ramifications for the individual that converted (which makes sense with our individualist culture, but we have to remember that most cultures around the world are more community-oriented). Maybe God´s original intention for salvation is more inclusive–perhaps it is more about His dream to reconcile and restore the world to His original plan. Maybe our salvation needs to be more community-centered: we believe in Jesus, and then we join in His kingdom revolution by loosing the chains of injustice, setting the oppressed free, sharing our food with the hungry, clothing the naked, and doing away oppression (Isaiah 58).

Did God intend for us only to accept Him into our hearts and then wait around for our everlasting lives with a ¨this world is messed up, but there is a better one to come¨ attitude? What if that were God´s attitude toward our world now? I hope not. That would make this world a dark, depressing place. Maybe we as Christians are supposed to catch on to His vision for this world and do everything we can to work towards it, keeping in mind God´s promise for everlasting life and a ¨new heaven and new earth,¨ and knowing that, ultimately, complete reconciliation will come.

I´m not a theology student or pastor, and I don´t pretend to think I know everything about the Bible or what God wants for us. These thoughts stem from various books we have read, discussions we have had, and experiences I have had in the past 2.5 months. While I´m sure that my ideas will continue to change and be challenged, I wanted to throw my thoughts out there to you all as a discussion piece, and hopefully as a tool to encourage us to continue asking questions, encouraging each other, and seeking after God´s will.

So…what do you think?


Prayer October 21, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — vanosdola @ 1:21 pm

I wanted to write another story about one of my friends from Retiro saved me when I was lost in the city last week, I just didn’t feel right writing that story without first expressing some prayer needs we have. I’ve noticed that most of my entries on this blog end on a good note, with a fresh glimpse of hope the poor give us, or how God is working at Retiro. This is good, and this is true, but I wouldn’t be giving you the entire picture unless I acknowledged that God is not the only one trying to capture the hearts of these children at Retiro.

Many of the youth at Retiro use drugs. Inhaling glue smeared on the inside of a plastic bag to get high is common. There is also a relatively new drug that is growing quickly in popularity here called Paco. Paco is a mixture of crack and cocaine that they can produce very quickly and inexpensively, thus making it popular. However, Paco is extremely dangerous to those who use it because of how they produce it; it has some bad side effects. Sadly, youth are getting addicted to it at young ages–8 or 10 years old.

I would say that almost all of the youth have been abused at some point in their lives, whether emotionally or physically. Some just suffer from the nature of their lives–living and sleeping wherever they can or in dangerous slums.

Sadly, even they have a system of hierarchy–of who is better. Having light skin is valued, and those with darker skin are often called derogatory terms.

This is just a quick attempt to give you a fuller view into some of the struggles of some of the people. By no means is it representative of everyone we know and work with; there are some people and families who do not do drugs, and who are working hard to provide loving homes for their children. However, there are many people who do struggle with these addictions and emotional and physical wounds.

As we continue to love these people and look for Jesus among them, I think it is really important to keep in mind some of the things they struggle with and deal with. It’s important not to romanticize the poor or what we are doing here; it is not always easy. I think the struggles help put things in perspective…it is through God and by his love and grace that  reconciliation comes about.

Let’s continue to pray for our friends in Argentina that have to deal with so much at such a young age!


Church at the Slum October 19, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — vanosdola @ 4:36 pm

So last Sunday the girls and I went to Sunday night church at the slum where we teach for the first time…it was quite an experience! Pablo, the pastor, picked us up from the subway station  in his rickety, old, much-loved car that likes to stall every five minutes.

We arrived at 7:25, and the band was in the middle of playing some worship songs. When we arrived there were only 5 other people in the pews, but people filed in for the next 40 minutes until the pews were full.

We worshipped for a full hour at least. It was beautiful. There were no fancy projectors or powerpoints–everyone knew the words by heart. There were no exciting ¨mood-setting¨ touches either–the light shows, skits, solos, and videos we have come to expect in a church. The people were there to meet God. I could sense how desperate the people were to meet Jesus there, and the desperation was contagious. Living in that Villa is so dangerous–even going to the church service isn´t 100% safe. But still they go, every week, trusting that there is a Kingdom that is not of this world that is advancing. Trusting that this Kingdom does not use knives, guns, and threats to advance, trusting that there is a love stronger than abusive marraiges, one night stands, and sex addictions, trusting that in this New Kingdom little children can play on the streets without fear, no one will have to fight the street dogs for dinner in the garbage, and everyone who is sick has hope to be healed.

It is sometimes easy for me to believe that this Kingdom is coming, because I have lived a life in which I have never gone hungry, lacked medical care, or been abused. It´s easier to believe in this New Kingdom when you have a nice home, and a safe neighborhood.

This is not the case of many of the people who live in the Villa. Often, it is quite the opposite. As I looked at the people surrounding me in the pews, I realized what an extraordinary faith these people have. It is miraculous that they can proclaim this New Kingdom in the midst of the hurt, the poverty, the sickness, and the brokeness of the Villa. They come every Sunday to praise God for his goodness, his grace, and his mercy, and to invite his comming Kingdom into the Villa; they teach me so much about true faith.


Some verses to chew on October 9, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — vanosdola @ 2:15 pm

So I’ve been reading Isaiah recently, and have come across some really amazing verses. I would love to hear your thoughts on them!

Isaiah 26:5-6

He humbles those who dwell on high, he lays the lofty city low; he levels it to the ground and casts it down to the dust. Feet trample it down–the feet of the oppressed, the footsteps of the poor.

Isaiah 30:15

In repentance and trust is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength

Isaiah 33:2

O Lord, be gracious to us; we long for you, be our strength every morning, and salvation in time of distress.


Saturday Sabbaths

Filed under: Uncategorized — vanosdola @ 2:07 pm

A few weeks ago, Jen and Jare were teling us about how their family celebrates the Sabbath on Saturdays. It’s a day of rest, a day when they can put aside their ringing cell phones and the demands of their job and focus on celebrating God, family, friends, and the outdoors.

As a servant team, we started talking and decided to try having our own Sabbath, as well. Every Saturday morning Tina and Megan hop on a bus and come over to the house where Margi and I are staying. We eat breakfast together and then march up to the huge, sunny terrace that is on the roof of our house. We then spend the next hour or two crafting our own time of worship–none of which we planned out beforehand. Tina brings her guitar and we sing, we read Scripture, we share intriguing passages from books we are reading, we pray, we take communion–this time of Spiritual refreshment has become a must-have in our micro community.

Last week during Sabbath, Megan picked up her Bible and started reading Psalm 9, about how God hears the cry of the poor and afflicted. While she was reading it, the verses surprised me how much they resonated. I felt like I could relate to the needy and afflicted for the first time in my life–not only because I know a lot of needy and afflicted people here, but because by knowing them I realize that I myself am needy and afflicted. Give me a second to explain.

I feel like this is a message that I’ve heard a lot over the last few years, but hasn’t clicked until just now. Maybe when the Bible talks about the poor, it doesn’t necessarily mean poor in terms of economic status. Maybe God means people who recognize their brokeness, their desperate needs that we cannot fill for ourselves. I think that, often, it’s by hanging out with the economically poor that we are forced to face our own brokeness. The rich are really good at putting up fronts and walls to conceal their needs and their brokeness. The orphans, poor, widows, sick–not so much. Their needs are a reality that they live with; it’s a huge part of their identity (according to the world), and because of this they can’t just shove them under the rug.

I think that by hanging out with the poor, our own brokeness starts to creep out from under the rug (if we are honest with ourselves). And I think that is kind of a good thing. God blesses the poor, the broken, the meek. He blesses them because they need his blessing!

I know that I never faced my own brokeness or really understood my own needyness until I came here and began befriending the people who live on the street and in the slums. Because of them I’ve been able to see my own brokeness, and I’ve definitely been changed because of it. This is a pretty revolutionary concept–letting the poor change our lives by acting as mirrors through which we see ourselves. I like it.

And that is one of the many new discoveries I have made due to Saturday Sabbaths.