National Friends Day: a day out with the boys

heading downtown

Friday was National Friends Day. We took the boys from the older boys’ home out for bowling and ice cream. They loved it. It was so cute to see that they dressed up in their best clothing for the outing. The director almost didn’t let them go because they had been behaving so badly. She changed her mind and let them, and they all behaved really well. There were only three boys, the others spent the day with family or relatives that had come to pick them up. That is why Tony wanted to take them out, he knew they would feel really hurt and lonely that no one came to see them on Friends’ Day.

My daughter scolded me at one point for taking pictures saying, “Mom! You can’t do that! You can’t post them on the blog!“. I told her not to worry, that they were stricter at the other children’s home I go to with the youth from church, but that at the older boys’ home they are more relaxed. Either way, I don’t want to put too many pics up out of respect for the boys and their privacy. It doesn’t always feel right. You can pray for them, though – even though you don’t know their names, God does.

There is only one mall here in the city. It contains what I’m guessing is the only bowling alley in all of Argentine Patagonia. And seeing as it takes three days to drive across Patagonia, that would make us pretty blessed to have a bowling alley right here in town. City living does have its privileges, I guess.

Because it was still winter vacation, half the city and its youth were at the mall. Which basically made me want to leave immediately. We could barely walk, and it was a pretty crazy with six kids. But the kids had fun, and it was worth setting my personal feelings of malls aside to be able to invest in these boys.

I got a taste for what big families are like, too. It’s basically chaos, and I guess you just give up trying to keep track of them all after a certain number.

Afterwards when we went for ice cream, the lady behind the counter asked if they were all mine.  Since the boys were listening to see what I would say, I said No, they are friends. I didn’t say they live in a boys home and that we were taking them out – that would have been hurtful to point out their secret wounds for all to see. 

I am not an ice cream fan, but I have to say: Argentina has THE BEST ice cream. It’s rich and creamy and so flavorful. Just cream and sugar and all natural flavors. It is so creamy that it doesn’t melt very fast; it’s not all water and air like American ice cream. The kids were so happy with their triple waffle cones that we didn’t hear a peep from them for a while.  Thanks to our supporters we could afford to do all this with them!

The next day after bowling, Tony went back to the home because the boys had been asking to see more movies. He wasn’t scheduled to go in, but has a very good relationship with the Director, so was able to stop in any way. He took our son to help with the projector (after many a tip from me reminding him that these kids have a lot of problems, and he’s to stay with his father at all times, and no going into rooms by himself, etc., etc., etc.). They watched “Courageous” – one of the movies we actually did not bring with us, but found at a book store dubbed over in Spanish. Everybody loves that movie, one of the messages being that God can change your life if you accept him into it.

After a little Bible reading of John 3 to them, Tony explaining more or less what it means, he asked who would like to accept Christ into their lives and become courageous like the men in the movie.

Four boys raised their hands and prayed to accept Christ.

Tony would like me to add that this has been a six month process to get to this point. In the beginning, a lot of the boys wouldn’t talk to him or pay any attention to what he was saying. They would fight with each other, hit and curse and throw things, and would scoff at the movies and any talk of God. They now search Tony out to talk, and will even hug him. They request more movies.

The movies have had a powerful effect on them, and they have consistently been hearing about God for a while now. Talking directly about the Lord, let alone hoping they will accept Jesus on the first visit is just not the wisest nor most feasible approach. These kids have been the victims of  so much abuse – rape, violence, alcoholic parents, neglect, abandonment, put downs – that much wisdom, patience, committment, and love is needed.

When Tony came home Friday night, he had Maria in the car. Maria is the mother of one of the boys we took bowling. She had come to visit her son the next day when Tony took the movie in. Maria’s son was taken away from her when someone called a social worker on her and him. She has to work all day, so would leave her son home alone. He apparently was getting into a lot of trouble in the neighborhood while she was gone.

Maria looks to be about 60, but is only 49, missing half her teeth. I could only understand half of what she said. Her ex is an alcoholic, and one of her four sons was found dead by the river. Who really knows how much of the story, her version anyway, is true – but one thing is for sure, it is evident that the family has all suffered a lot. Her son is very quiet, took a while to return my smile, and as soon as he saw me taking pictures at the bowling alley, he ran and hid, making sure he wasn’t in any of them. A life time of suffering, hurt, and disappointment shows.

Precisely why we go where we go and do what we do. Tony always says that the whole point of him going to the boys’ home is so that, when they eventually age out and leave the home, they will have heard of Christ, and will hopefully have Him in their lives. If they don’t have Christ, what will they have??

God is so good to allow us to sometimes see the fruit of all our labors. It is the fruit of the labors of many others, as well. I often, especially these days, think of those that support us being here. I know they will also receive their reward in heaven. After this life is over, I look forward to the day when we will be standing before the throne of God and not be alone, but be able to look around at those who are there because we did something.

Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know. — Jeremiah 33:3

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becoming fishers

I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so
that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by
name. ~Isaiah 45:3

Saturday we took to the streets the practical tools for evangelism and discipleship we learned when the Campus Crusade group was in town last week.

setting up the visual survey

asking passers-by if they would be interested in taking the survey; this guy wanted to know why I was interested to ask him about his life

Others were not interested. :)

We parked the car in front of where we were and locked the kids in it with a movie. It was glorious to be able to have hours of uninterrupted conversation with adults!

This guy was fascinating to talk to. He came up to me, peered over my shoulder, and actually asked me what the survey was about. I told him, asked if he was interested in taking it, and he said yes. He proceeded to give the most amazing, thoughtful, and spiritually-minded answers. I then asked if he had ever heard of the Four Spiritual Laws; he said no. I asked if he was interested in hearing them, if he had another five minutes. He said Sure. I literally just read the little leaflet to him, asked him a few questions, then invited him to accept Christ into his life. He said that what I shared was spectacular, that he believes in God, and, yes, wanted to invite Christ into his life.

So he did, right then and there.

By far one of the best moments of my life. The first total stranger I have ever led to the Lord.

I gave him a copy of what I shared with him and he said he would take it home and share it with his children. I wouldn’t be surprised it he did, he was pretty enthused!

He gave us his contact information, so we hope to be able to get a hold of him to see how he is doing. Tony will most likely take it from here. Mauricio left us some great ideas and material for discipleship, so we’ll see what happens next.

Makes this whole year of extreme trial, challenge, and suffering all worth it!

I should add that three people accepted Christ this day, and numerous others expressed interest in continuing the conversation and talking more about God and spiritual things. Since CC left town, the follow-up fall in the laps of us who remain. Making disciples!

R.I.P. Budgie

This is Budgie, also known as “Plum” {for his sweet purpleness}.

Budgie, the Missionary Bird. A birthday present from Grandpa for the Girl, four short months ago.

He travelled with us on all our mission trips. Until he got sick from the stress of missions, caught a cold, and passed into eternity. He is now in Budgie Heaven flying around with all his little Budgie friends.

He was really sweet, soft, and cuddly. We have many memories of his little feet scurrying across the floor making little tap-tap sounds. He would sit on shoulders while the kids did their schoolwork, perch on the radiator keeping them company, and chirp his little happy chirp every morning. Here he is sitting in his favorite tree. Sigh.

He really was part of the family. He’ll always be part of the family.

But no more pets for a while. We’re not very good at keeping them alive.

We miss you, Budgie! We love you.

Shots for Patagonia, Argentina

**HUGE DISCLAIMER – totally not medical advice here. This is just our experience on our vaccination journey, plus a few personal reflections regarding health and living in Patagonia.

Today we took our youngest – after almost a year here – to get some shots. She is “behind”, and needed a few.

And I say “needed” because, whether you are pro or anti-vaccination, or somewhere in between, bringing your First World kids (or yourself) to the Third World can make you see the whole issue in a brand new light.

All in all, Argentina is somewhat safer than other Latin American countries as far as diseases are concerned. I get much sicker in Andean countries like Ecuador than I ever do here in Argentina. The improved sanitation and temperate, not tropical, climate helps tremendously. Argentina also has a very aggressive national vaccination program, which has helped keep infectious diseases perhaps more at bay than in other Latin countries.

[I won’t get into the whole “Do vaccines cause Autism” debate” here – but one thing we have noticed is that there are very few children with autism here. Why this is, I do not know. And I’m not going to go there either, I’ll leave that debate for the more informed.]

At one of our gazillion trips to the hospital recently, I spotted the Vaccination Schedule posted on the wall in hall.

[For Argentina’s Vaccine Schedule in English click HERE]

While waiting, I snapped a photo of the calendar and studied the schedule. I noticed that Argentina includes TB shots for newborns. I asked about this, and the answer I got from the vaccination clinic was this: TB had been eradicated in Patagonia, but the influx of people from “the North” (Salta, Bolivia, northern Argentina) where perhaps there are “pockets” of unvaccinated populations which can lead to possible outbreaks, infected persons have brought cases as they have travelled to Patagonia. Now, as a preventative measure, mandatory TB shots are given to babies born in Argentina. Also, I was told by the nurse who administered our shots today, when an infected person is found, an attempt is made to vaccinate the entire family and surrounding social circles of the infected person against TB.

I also noticed Yellow Fever on the schedule at 12 months. But when I went to the local vaccination clinic, it was missing from the schedule. I am deducing – because I am slighty informed about Yellow Fever (had the shot in Rio before I headed to the Amazon way back when) – that Patagonia is not considered a “risk area” because Yellow Fever is a tropical disease, and we live in temperate Argentina.

Hep B is also given to newborns in the hospital within the first 12 hours of life. A booster is given at 11 years.

Hep A is given as a single dose at 12 months. I see the “need” for it in that I have met people half my age (that is, 20 year olds) who have had Hep A as children living here in the city. Vaccination has helped Hep A outbreaks here in Patagonia tremendously, as it is not nearly as common as 20 years ago.

The Polio vaccination is still given here (as of this writing) in oral form. As a mother, I was very happy about this. For me, today, it meant I could give my child the oral Polio drops (painless) and a shot (painful) at the same time, not having to worry too much about excessive yucky chemicals, heavy metals, and preservatives overload.

MMR is given here at 12 months, then not again until 5-6 years old upon entering school. I like that. It shows me that perhaps at least Argentina believes that immunization against MMR is acquired with only two shots, not the whopping four they prick babies with in the US – three of which are before the age of one year old. Interesting.

Because we do missions to remote areas here in Patagonia and work in very poor and high-risk areas, I have come to the very personal conclusion that the risks of shots far outweigh the risk of contracting any of these diseases. Personally, I just got tired of seeing the inside of the hospital. It’s pushed me over the edge. And these were just treatable viruses and infections we’ve had. I can’t and don’t want to imagine anything more serious.

TB shot? Yeah, prick me.

Hep A, sure.

Polio drops? Bring it on.

I have changed my tune for sure. In the States, after really studying the issue and seeing how over-vaccinated our kids are these days – I was not anti-vaccination, just a delayed vaccination minimalist.

Here, well, that’s another story. Bring it on. Give me a shot before you give me TB. But that’s just me. Anyone coming to Patagonia – or heading to a third World country – needs to study this issue for themselves. Educate yourself, read, talk to doctors and nurses, talk to people who live there or who have been there, then make your decision.

As my dad always says, “It’s your health, the most valuable thing you have!”

training

Here are some pics from the 3-day training seminar Campus Crusade for Christ gave us last week. Fantabulous.

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class

Mauricio demonstrating how to clearly and effectively share the gospel – genius

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lunch

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some of the university students

the new and fledgling Campus Crusade for Christ Patagonia group – woot! woot!

It was a fantastic three days. Tony went Thursday and was totally pumped when he came home. I was there all day Friday while Tony stayed home with the kids. (No, I did not miss them, and did not want to go home. :)). But when I did get home, I practiced what we learned on my daughter by sharing the four spiritual laws with her on the sofa. She has grown up in a Christian home, but we don’t pressure our kids to accept Christ per se. After reading the little booklet to her, she expressed the desire to receive God’s free gift of salvation.

So she accepted Christ into her life, like seriously did. We couldn’t believe it; she has been the most non-interested of our children in following the things of God. Since Friday she is a different person. She is so… nice. And obedient – cheerfully. She is kind and helpful and sweet with her little sister. Before she used to wake up in a bad mood every day. She would constantly fight with her sister and brother. I would ask her to do something and she would fight me and argue. I love her, she is sweet and funny in her personality, but has always had a hard heart and is somewhat difficult to live with in some senses. I am not kidding when I say she is totally different. She is sorry and repentent when she does something wrong, asking for forgiveness and crying – something I’ve never seen in her. I just can’t beleive the change in her. Literally overnight.

God is so good. If moving all the way to Patagonia, sacrificing so much, and hosting CCC for a week is what we had to do to see our daughter come to Christ, well then Glory to God. It has been most definately worth it. Thank you, Jesus. ThankyouThankyouThankyou. I owe it all to You, every good thing comes from You. 

Saturday was pretty amazing, too… More to come.

:)

winter vacation: week one

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Mauricio explaining how to more effectively use the JESUS film in ministry

Winter vacation is upon us. Two weeks that schools shut down, government offices and many businesses slow or close, and people take off for somewhere. Not everyone is on vacation of course, but in general, it’s a lot more quiet around here. We don’t follow the school schedule here. We can’t; life’s too busy and unpredictable. We school when we can, and take breaks when we have to. Last week we plowed through a week of catch-up after all our illnesses, but this week I am letting the kids relax for a few days. I am taking advantage of a few paid camera jobs Tony got this week and the quiet around here, to post about our very blessed week last week.

Like I said, we had a great week with the Campus Crusade for Christ team from Mendoza. Tony spent the first few days running them around from here to there, introducing them to all the people that we know (churches, youth, pastors, and the ministries we do), and taking them back and forth to a Youth Congreso here in town. They were able to get connected with a lot of new people and students in the city. We prepared a few meals for them and thoroughly enjoyed catching up on the last 11 years that we haven’t seen them. Mauricio and his team brought encouragement, fellowship, laughs, and much needed training. They gave us some practical – and, quite frankly, fantastic – training in evangelism, missions, and ministry. To say they were a Godsend is an understatement. After one of the most difficult weeks we’ve had here yet, we had one of the best weeks. Tony and I both feel it was a pivotal week for us in many ways.

For those of you who are not familiar with Campus Crusade, it is an international ministry that focuses on reaching university students for Christ. The JESUS film project is a division of Campus Crusade for Christ – so any questions or needs we have regarding using the film we would direct in country to these guys. Which I find astounding, since they were the very group of believers God hooked me up with over a decade ago in Buenos Aires when I first became a Christian. Out of 40 million people, I just happen to know them. God is amazing.

Mauricio and his family moved three years ago from Buenos Aires to the city of Mendoza to begin a new ministry there with university students. He works full-time in evangelism, discipleship, and leadership training. He is also trained to train others in using the JESUS film. Awesomeness.

One afternoon after hosting them for lunch, we served up some tea, pulled out our copy of the JESUS film, and sat down to hear what Mauricio had to say. With 22 years of experience in ministry, he had come valuable wisdom to share. Some of the practical and myriad ways he told us we can use the film include: lending it out, gifting it, as a Bible study, in discipleship, in rural zones, in the city, in our neighborhood, and at events. The only way we had been using it up until now is at events. He also pointed out that it is not enough to just have an idea or a desire to do something – we need a plan. A specific plan that has a specific goal – something that we can actually implement and follow week by week, month by month – which includes short term, reachable goals. And prayer. Always covering everything in prayer. Because it is GOD that reaches people. The JESUS film, and everything else they taught us last week, are only tools. There are many ways to share the gospel, but it is God that does the work.

It is safe to say that Mauricio and our new friends blessed us beyond belief and did more to encourage us in one week than we have felt this entire year here. We have been giving and giving and giving and haven’t been receiving a whole lot. We were burning out but didn’t know what to do about it. God did, and he sent help by way of CCC. We didn’t want them to leave.

Tony has been trying to talk me into going to Mendoza for years. “It’s so lovely, it’s so beautiful, it’s so clean, it’s so green, it’s so amazing, etc., etc, etc.”. I have read about Mendoza in guide books, and hear about it on travel blogs, and read about it on other ex-pat writings online: how incredibly fantastic and amazing Mendoza is. It took CCC coming to town and inviting us to visit them to finally convince me that I might actually want to go to Mendoza.

We were thrilled with the way everything went for them here in town this past week, and immensely blessed in return. We know they will be coming back. We know that their visit was the start of a very good thing here in Patagonia; that God is doing something here. In the meantime, I think we have a trip to Mendoza pending.

just another day in paradise

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This happened last week, two minutes before Tony and the CCC crew were about to cross the tracks.

After almost a year here, it’s funny the things that no longer shock us. This would be one of those things.

The conductor was drunk. The truck was pushed 150 meters (or more, who knows) down the track. Fortunately no one was hurt.

Train tracks here don’t have railroad crossing signals, flashing lights, dinging bells, or gates that come down as a train is approaching. You have too look up and down the track yourself, crossing at your own risk. Sometimes we’ve seen a train’s headlight in the distance, and even heard a whistle – but you can’t count on that.

Case in point.

a blessed week

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with the Campus Crusade crew at a Christian radio station downtown, advertising for this past week’s events

 

A fantastic, blessed week. Pics to come.

 

a taste of mountain missions road trippin’

Here are some snapshots of the drive back from our last trip to the mountains. Day 3’s evangelistic outreach to the little village of Tricao Malal was cancelled due to rain. The only road in had turned to impassable mud. We were very fortunate to be able to drive the 40 miles out to the main highway. There were mud slides that covered parts of the dirt and gravel roads that lead out of the valley. We had to drive through several, hoping and praying we didn’t get stuck. In the worst one, our back wheels started spinning and we started sliding towards the cliff with no guard rail, and there was that hopeless feeling of not being able to do a thing about it. Fortunately, the wheels stopped spinning, we hit ground, and slowly drove out of the slide to the other side. It was heart-stopping and was too petrified to snap a picture. The kids (I call them kids because they’re half my age :)) in the truck that followed us out had the same close encounter with the mud.

We spent Day 2 and the night in Cancha Huinganco, but couldn’t make it the 10km the next day to Tricao.

The waters were beginning to swell in the streams and rivers.

They swelled so much that this bridge we had to cross was washed out the next day. Gone.

Good thing most people have horses.

Locals.

About an hour after hitting the paved road, Dani (who we call our adopted son) stopped for these two women whose car had broken down. We call Dani the Good Samaritan. He stops for everybody. This would be what towing looks like Argentinian style. The crazy thing is that they did about 55mph rigged up like this, with the two ladies sitting in their car chatting away. No big deal round these here parts.

Here is Dani when he stopped for a motorcycle on the way into the valley. They couldn’t fix the bike, so they loaded it and the guy into the back of the pick-up and dropped him off at his destination.

Two hours from home, after nine hours on the road, the church’s mission mobile broke down for good. The kids didn’t seem to mind. They made their own good time as we waited five hours by the side of the road out in the middle of Nowhere for the tow truck. It finally came at 1am. We finally rolled into town at 3am Monday morning after the six hour trip took sixteen hours. Tired, but worth it.

recovering and CCC

kitchen counter turned pharmacy; all the meds we’ve been on for weeks – bye-bye meds! we’re through with you. for now.

We are finally almost fully recovered from our most recent battle with these brutal Patagonia viruses. Agressive, like the wind here.

Perfect timing, because our friends from Campus Crusade for Christ just rolled into town on Sunday.

They’re a great group and this is their first time in Neuquen, coming from the city of Mendoza 12 hours away. Last minute their contacts, both cars, place to stay, and conference location all fell through, leaving us as their only contact and help. After Skyping with them several times, trying to put this all together amidst sickeness and half a dozen hospital visits, they rolled into town by bus at 6am Sunday morning. Tony has been on call 24/7 since then – playing the roll of host, chauffeur, liason, organizer, and friend.  I wish I could count the number of ways God has shown himself all over this trip, honoring their faith to come, providing every last thing for them down to the very last detail, but there are just too many.

Monday, when the kids were feeling somewhat better, we all went over to the house where they are staying (another perfect timing thing – friends were out of town at exactly the time they were coming in and opened their house for the whole team to stay, whew!). We sat around the table catching up – we have not seen them in 11 years. Mauricio, CCC staff for twenty years, remembers praying for Tony’s salvation back when we all lived in Buenos Aires. He jokes how half of Buenos Aires was praying for him. Now here we all find ourselves, in Patagonia, reaching out to others, working together.

Their visit has been such an encouragement to us, a link to our past, a window to the present, a reminder that God is in the Big Picture.

I have a real admiration for CCC and a special place for them in my heart. I first heard the gospel through them at college in the US. It was through them I found a church in Buenos Aires when I was a baby Christian. Campus Crusade is a fantastic ministry, and they are not only strong in evangelism, but in discipleship and leadership training. They took the time to come to my little apartment in Buenos Aires over a decade ago just to disciple me as a new believer. I wasn’t even a university student – just some poor gringa lost in a big, bad city. They had no obligation to come or to help me, but they did, not bound by the limits of their ministry, but looking always after the work that God is doing.  I have never forgotten their kindness and their friendship.

Tomorow their 3-day seminar and leadership workshops begin. The church we attend here has been so gracious to host this last minute, not charging them a thing.  Tony has been going around visiting churches and talking to youth in the city, telling them about the 3-day (FREE) seminar, and the response has been a hearty, “That is EXACTLY what we need!“.

At this very moment they are all downtown at a radio station, having been given a 20-minute space on air to advertise the event. We are praying that God hooks them up, the beginnings of a much needed ministry here in the city, equipping the next generation to reach their country for Christ.

Amidst all the chaos and illness of the past two weeks, God has sent not just one, but two people to come physically to us with encouragement. It makes me tear up and smile at the same time.

Last night we had the pleasure of meeting the son and grandson of American missionaries. Juan’s parents came from the US in 1947 with two young children. Juan was born here in Argentina. His parents never returned to the US, all their children growing up here. Juan is still here, having married and had all his own children in Argentina. He is a pastor and leader of missionary objectives here in Patagonia, just like his parents.

He called us last night – a strange mix of American and fluent English and Argentinian and perfect Spanish. He had driven almost four hours with his son to pick up someone at the airport here, and wanted to stop in and meet us. While they were waiting for the plane and their guest to arrive, we fed them dinner (at the norm of 10pm), thoroughly enjoying their company. Our impressions of Juan were one of dedication, peace, and eternal perspective. He reminded us {when we have most needed it} that our life here on earth is temporary, coming to a definitive end. Eternity if forever. Why do we, as Christians, often live as if life here on Earth is the most important, and do not live for Eternity? In discussing the comfortable life in America {that all five of us greatly miss!} as opposed to the difficult life we all live here, he reminded us that Christ NEVER thought of nor pursued his own comfort. He lived with Eternity in view. Always. He came to do what his Father had for him to do, a life marked by obedience. Why do we Christians live any different? We do not allow our lives to be led by the Spirit, yet chose to seek after our own desires and goals, living for comfort and economic status and following hard after the material things of this world? As Christians we are constantly tempted to do this. We do not live for others, for Christ, we live for ourselves [and I include myself here], telling ourselves that this pleases God, that this is what God wants me to do. We do not read the Bible and do it, we explain it away saying we are called to this and that, we are not called to actually DO what is written there. No, not me.

I can relate. I feel this way often. I don’t want to care about sacrficing for Christ, I don’t want to obey, I want to relax. Life’s just too hard, Lord, can’t we just pull back and chillax for a bit?

We look forward to the rest of the week of improved health, fellowship, and training. Tony will be attending the seminars and CCC will also be giving us our own personalized training on how to use the 2 1/2 hour JESUS film in ministry and evangelism. Hooked up. Feeling a little better this week. Thanks for all the prayers – I mean, THANK YOU. Many days we feel like giving up. Then there are days like today when encouragement rolls into town, someone donates the next two month’s rent, and we look at each other with relief and renewed hope.

“My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.” Psalm62:1