some vines and some grace

The neighborhood dogs have begun barking their little heads off early today. No hawks, though.

Last Monday was a holiday; I don’t know which one, there are so many here. One thing Argentina is good at is holidays. There is at least one a month; one three- to four-day weekend when everything shuts down and everyone has off. We find it fantastic, and the one thing missing from American culture: more holidays and more rest. Americans work themselves into the ground, many living for retirement and some “future” rest. I’m not so sure that is how God meant for us to live.

Our kids like the States better; one is okay with living here, one doesn’t like it here at all, and the other is too young to notice either way. We try to find fun things to do with them and for them in an attempt to make life better and more positive here, although it’s challenging. They often say there is nothing fun to do here. There isn’t much, I agree. Life is very, very different here. Pickings are slim. Last Monday we decided to go on another field trip (last month it was the art museum) to a vineyard. We picked a vineyard where a dinosaur was found during excavation and left encased in glass right where it was discovered. How cool is that?

On our way out of town we stopped at an ATM. There was no money in it. We drove to another. There was no money in that one, either. At the third one, halfway across town, and with a car-less family we picked up along the way also looking for money (they were very appreciative for the ride, the dad kept smiling), we found an ATM with a line – a good sign. We finally got some money out for gas and we had a very nice day walking among the grape vines listening to nothing but the sound of the wind in the poplars. Ah, sweet silence. So rejuventating. I had forgotten what silence sounds like. It was good to get away from the noise of the city.

My girls have spent all week playing with plastic trash bags. My poor deprived MKs, making toys out of trash bags. They made “little birdies”: ripped up flaps of plastic which, when tied to the end of a string “fly” as they ran around the house outside. It kept them busy all week. At the supermarket they only give you three or four bags for your groceries, and won’t give you more even if you have tons of groceries. I remember the first time I went food shopping here feeling shocked, confused, and wondering how on earth I was going to get all the stuff home. They suggested boxes, and fortunately went hunting for some for me from somewhere in the bowels of the store. To this day I still forget to take my own bags and usually end up doing the same thing: scrounging up some boxes at checkout.

Both of our older kids speak Spanish now conversationally. There are still many things they cannot say, but my son recently Skyped in Spanish with his cousin who lives in Germany. A year ago you couldn’t get “Hola” out of him. I’d say this is significant progress.

The boys at the children’s home now ask the director, “Cuando viene el tio?”. [When is Uncle Tony coming?] They wait for his visits now. When he goes they ask him, “Can you take us for a ride in your van, tio?” They think our conversion van is the greatest thing. “Can you bring more movies, tio?” “When are you going to take me to your house, tio?”

The boys open up more and more as time goes by. It’s truly unbelievable some of their stories. Sergio’s father was killed in prison, 17 stabbings with a knife. His mother doesn’t want him. She abandoned him at the children’s home. At his father’s viewing, he saw one of the stab wounds on his father’s face. Sergio sits with Tony and says, “I just want to see my mother. I don’t want to be here. I just want a family. I don’t want to be in this place.” Sergio has tried to kill himself several times. He is 12 years old.

Esteban says that someone stole his money. He gave it to one of the caretakers to hold for him like he’s supposed to. But one of the tios left his job at the home, taking Esteban’s money, jacket, and sneakers with him. How are the kids supposed to better themselves with that kind of example? When Esteban was nine he saw his mother commit suicide. He has not been well since then.

Cristian was taken away from his mother because, at eight or nine, he was already stealing in the streets. His mother sent him to do it. He also used to watch his mom have sex with men in front of him.

Ale and his sister were abandoned at children’s homes when they were very little. Their father was in prison for killing their mom’s lover. He’s out now, and the kids go visit him on weekends. But Ale doesn’t want to go anymore because “things happen there”.

Both of Andres’ parents have mental problems. Andres has two sisters, one older, one younger. All have been abused one way or another in every way imaginable.

Victor’s story is the same as Andres. Abused, beaten, abandoned.

Martin and Pablo left the boys home and are now living with one of the tios. They seem to be doing well and say they are happy there. They tell Tony they always remember the things they talked about with him, things he said to them.

Nico is now in a home for boys who have abused other boys.

Overall, in spite of all the challenges, things were going well with the boys. They were making progress until Victor came. Victor has mental problems and is constantly creating conflict. He has changed the whole environment in the home. He fights and hits and causes problems day and night.

It is into this environment that Tony steps several times a week, sometimes for half the day or more. It is very hard to work with these boys. The only time, Tony is told, that they are quiet and still is when he sits down with them. They become strangely quiet and actually listen to what he has to say.

This is Grace.

They talk about relationships and God and family and what it means to be a man. They work on Bible verses, they watch movies. They loved the Prince of Egypt. Loved it, and asked for more like it.

Two weeks ago the boys all gathered around in a circle and opened up about their lives. They were all crying. Some prayed for the very first time. An amazing moment, arms draped around each other’s shoulders, crying, praying. The tios often hang around when Tony comes, watching, listening, not saying a word.

Friends and native missionaries Damian and Marta stopped in unexpectedly the other night. We want to get back to Chos Malal to help them some more, to follow up on our last evangelistic event there. I had been filling a box with clothes and supplies for months, set aside specifically for mission trips. I was so happy to pass it along to her. After rooting around some more in my kids’ closet, we filled many more bags with clothes, an entire Torchlighters set of DVDs, some tracts and booklets given to us here by CCC, and a brand new soccer ball. We know they will use it all. It feels good to give. We have never been in a position to support missionaries, so it’s nice to be able to do so now – if not with funds, with valuable and costly, hard-to-come-by supplies in this little corner of the world. Something is something. We had a nice time talking with them, as well – they are a wonderful couple, sincere, hard-working, faith-filled, and dedicated. Very dedicated. An example to us. It is a pleasure to be able to help them.

Our first year here looked a lot like we imagined it would. The second, not so much. Letting go of what we would like things to look like, and just doing what God puts before us, what we can. Offering sacrifices without the camp.

“And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.
Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not
have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Heb. 13:12-16

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he
will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

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