Monday, October 26, 2009


I realized that I never told the story behind this blog title. It happened to come up this weekend and I thought it would be a neat addition.

About a year ago, it so happens that I found myself in a very lonely place spiritually. The burden of the reality and difficulty of my students´ lives in inner-city Portland was leaving me feeling hopeless, and God seemed nowhere to be found. Didn´t God care about their suffering?

I set out walking down Lincoln St. I felt desperate and that God was so distant. It was then that I ran into a beautiful garden of sunflowers, reaching their golden petals towards the sky. They looked the sun face on, as if appreciating, while dependant on the life-giving rays.

A year and a half prior I had adopted the symbol of the sunshine. I was traveling abroad for eight months, and I believed that God would shine like the sun through my smile and the joy in my life. God´s presence was so evident in that season.

Now that day on that walk, the sun was nowhere to be found.

Yet I heard so clearly, the sunflower is living proof that the sun exists. Without the rays from the Giver of Life, no one can know the beauty of the sunflower. Therefore, when you cannot see the sun itself, look for the sunflower.

I was comforted that day by the sunflower.

I was reminded recently of this story when I got a birthday package from a dear friend, and in it was a gorgeous sunflower bracelet.

It was a search for these sunflowers that has led me to Buenos Aires, and through them I have known that the sun is faithful to give new life. The sunflowers I have found here are the warm hugs of little girls who cry out, "Margarita!" and wrap their arms around me with all of their might on the diry train station floor. They are the dancing feet of a boy included in a party that he never would have dreamt of attending. They are the lyrics of being seen, loved, and given a name- shouted out by those who society niether sees, loves, nor gives names of dignity.

These are the sunflowers of Buenos Aires.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

a life giving week

This week was so good. I just felt very present, and like my mind was very lucid- able to think through what I am living and not just going through the motions. This is so important for me, and I had felt so jumbled preciously. We had a really great time of prayer as a community (life giving-I love group prayer) bringing our friends who are poor into the center of our community, we would say their names and light a candle for them- a typical catholic practice, my grandma always used to do that.

Then on Thursday, we celebrated mothers day with the moms at Retiro. Took them to a little park. It was so beautiful to get to wash their feet and to give them foot massages. For one, they loved it. But for me, just showing them that they are loved. My friend Maria had never had a foot massage, and she enjoyed it a lot. I think about how redemptive it can be for a woman who only recieves sexual or abusive touch from men, and touch of need from children, to recieve a truly loving and caring touch. Possibly redemptive and restorative? I don´t know, it was super impactful for me. I wonder if there´s not more there to that for me? Like possibilities of touch therapy. Seems kinda silly, but who knows.

When we got home that evening, the house was kinda disorganized. So I had the idea to just go crazy, wash all the dishes, organize the kitchen for our host mom alejandra. Pablo came home in the middle of it, and suggested maybe we should make her dinner as well. These are things that rarely happen, as Alejandra is often the one to cook and clean. I made her a card as well, celebrating foreign mothers day, as the real mothers day is tomorrow here. That was super life giving for me too, surprises and showing care and appreciation.

Yesterday, I just felt really present as well. Loving two 9 year old girls who beg at the train station. Showing to them with all my words and actions that they are so loved, their true identity is beloved daughters of God. At the villa, I came super alive teaching. Love the excitement of kids learning, grasping new things and also being excited about it. I also got to connect with some of my students after class, asking about life in the villa. Hearing how dangerous it was. I look forward to building deeper relationships with some of these students. Not sure it was necessary to tell list every detail of my week, but it was a super good one, very life giving for me, and very much giving implications of strengths that I might have, and things I love to do.

Challenges and Growth

How have I been challenged? Life here is the opposite of independent. I have an exact schedule of my week given to me on monday, and there seems to be very little room for spontaneity. I also realize just how independent I had become during that year in Portland. It is a super good example of the reality of community, dying to myself, and the loss of independence that is necessary to gain some of the benefits of community, something I have seen to be so good. I have been challenged by word made flesh. What life is worth living? What is the best? I love the lifestyle celebrations- intimacy with God always coming first, obedience, humility, and community. That´s as far as we´ve gone in depth to date. I am here, and I love caring for these people, being in legitimate community with the marginalized. I see how close they are to God´s heart. I have come to believe that seeing an oppressed woman smile and feel cared for, that is a glimpse of the Kingdom of God here on Earth. These are the things that Christ preached, that in the Kingdom the sorrowful would know happiness, and that Christ brought the Kingdom. Some of my questions are, is WMF the unique setting that these things can take place? I could see myself living here, I think. As much as I seriously don´t like Buenos Aires, the food, the reality and harshness of this big city. I love the community, and I love the emphasis on relationship in the ministry. Gosh, yet I don´t know what is best. I don´t think I need to know, now. I think I need to focus on loving well while I am here, seeking God with all of myself, and drawing small conclusions on lifestlye, not epic assumptions on life plans.

Some things I have learned about myself. Something community will tend to teach anyone: I am so selfish. I love comfort, and I love protecting my little ego as much as possible. Seeing vulnerability within our community has allowed me to be ok with some of my shortcomings, ok to open up and allow God to heal some of the brokenness. Its a beautiful thing. I love babies. Did I already know that? Well, there is something very deep in me that draws me to bringing life into this world, and being a part of an intimate family. I have learned that touch brings life and can be redemptive. I have learned that I need relationships to be central for there to be meaning in things that I do. My biggest fear is being inauthentic, doing something meaningless. I am so lazy, my natural state is rest and I need motivators around me to get me going. Its funny that this experience is one that brings so much personal brokenness to the forefront, but I think it has to do with the reality we are in and the brokenness we are faced with every day. I think there will be a lot of personal healing to come through this time, and that is super exciting.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Teaching Englishey in a Churchey!

The funny title is in honor of our beloved Korean Pastor Sara, who persists with these hilarious pronunciations of English, no matter how many times we remind her of how to say it.

Sara and her husband have pastored a church in the Villa Bajo Flores, a slum of primarily Argentines, Bolivians, Peruvians, and Paraguayans. The slum is a fairly dangerous place, but there presence of almost 20 years has brought them respect and protection from many faithful congregation memebers. They are such a sweet family.

This is the church where we go to teach English on Tuesdays and Fridays. Each of us take two grade levels and teach grammar, conversation, song and activities for an hour or so. I teach 6th and 7th grade, and have loved getting to know the kids. I have learned that many attend public schools, where teachers come in from the provinceds and can end up missing more than half of the school days. They are very interested in learning English, with the hopes that it could help them to get a job and get out of the villa. This has been a wonderful part of our time here in Buenos Aires.
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That´s what they say when taking pictures in Argentina, to get the nice smile. This is Sara with her daughter Perla and another student. It is the most adorble thing to hear this little Korean girl rattling off a perfect, high-pitched Argentine Spanish. She was born in Buenos Aires, and they live in an area where there is acutally a high population of Korean immigrants.
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This is the beautiful Peruvian woman who cooks us amazing food after we teach English at the Villa Bajo Flores. She also happens to be married to our driver Fausto, who we might all four be in love with. They are a stellar team.
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Beautiful mama to be, read story to follow to find out how she fits in.
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Learning about humility...

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There is quite the story behind this photo. This is my new friend Flor and I in front of the Iglesia San Lorenzo, the oldest church in Buenos Aires... here are words from my journal this Tuesday.

Humility. I am so humbled by Flor´s kind spirit, her willingness to share. I have made so many excuses as to why we don´t really just learn these amazing lessons form the poor- they´re not all selfess and wonderful people. It is true that we musn´t generalize and group of people, nor idealize the poor. However, I can´t deny the generosity and love that Flor showed me today, unlike anything I´ve ever experienced. I am so proud, to judge from my place of privelidge. Like the widow offereing all that she had, Flor sacrificed for me.

I had the mindset of Martha when I left the house today, I had looked up a musum, the national cathedral, Café Tortoni the oldes cafe in Buenos Aires, and a Monestary called Manzana de las Luces. All day scheduled with beautiful sights, in hopes of making progress with my servant team project- my focus for the week had been typical Argentine cultural photos. This week as a community we are focusing on humility, one of the lifestyle celebrations of Word Made Flesh. All morning I was super torn , I am trying to learn about humility by going to a cathedral and this gorgeous café? To take pictures in hopes of showing how good I am at taking pictures? That´s not my attitude, but it still didn´t seem to add up. I just prayed that my eyes would be opened to see Christ that day.

Got to the cathedral, epic, beautiful. Reminded of Spain, I felt awe-inspired by the ornateness, and the separation of the holy and the ordinary. I arrived just in time for mass. I am attracted to liturgy, I value tradition, yet I am not in favor of the heirarchical structure of the Catholic Church. The reading was from the Gospel of San Lucas, the story of Martha and Mary. Jesus was visiting them in their home, and Martha was so busy preparing things and complained when Mary was not helping her. Jesus assured her that Mary had made the better decision. The Bishop explained that we are often like Martha, so busy, and never resting in silence to allow God to speak to us through the Holy Spirit. I felt super convicted, there I was, trying to be so busy in my time off. Trying to get things done and so excited to finally have a project in Buenos Aires. I took the Eucharist and prayed that God would still somehow be able to speak to me through this time. Mass ended and I did get some decent pics, including a few of this awesome wooden Paraguayen Saint with Maté. So great. Felt good to get the artistic juices flowing again.

I was on schedule, though hesitant, I wasn´t sure what else to do but continue to the fancy Café. With my camera camoflouged in a funky plastic bag, I headed confidently up Avenida de Mayo, aware of my surroundings adn looking to scare off any potential thiefs, thanks to the recent mugging. Abnormally determined, I would be surprised to encounter humility, right there on the sidewalk.

"Excuse. Money? Food?" with a tap on my arm.

I was so caught off guard. There was a woman, rotting teeth, and a sincere look. I don´t always give money on the street, as I prefer to build relationship, yet I recognize the legitimate need of those who have no other income but begging, and I know many for whom that is true. As determined as I had been, I could not just keep walking.

"Would you like something to eat? Empanadas? Sure, let´s go."

I had just past a bar that caught my eye. Flor was her name. Margarita, I introduced myself. We sat down like two strangers eager to know every last detail about one another. She asked me all about my family, my likes and dislikes, what I was doing in Argentina, and was quick to give advice about safety on the street. I chuckled when she asked if I was a communist after my shpeelon equality adn how there is enough food in the world that no one should go hungry. She told me all about her three children, how they were her life, she explained that she lost her job four years ago, and was living on the street, but now stayed with her mother, her daughter and her partner. There was an instant connection. We trusted one another.

Flor was so concerned when I told her that I had been mugged. They had stolen my only pair of shoes, and so I was wearing flipflops adn she was worried I would get too cold. It turned out we wore the same size shoes, and she said she had a pair of boots to give me, but they were all the way back at home. I asked Flor if she wanted more to eat, but she declined. She asked me if I liked facturas, little pastries. I told her not particularly, but that we could get some. She exclaimed, "No no no, te invito." Which means she wanted to buy them for me. This woman, who was just asking for money on the streets as her sole source of income, wanted to buy me coffee and facturas? I was so moved by her generosity.

Excited to introduce me to everyone in the area, as they all knew her, we went to Don Roberto for some coffee and facturas. From there to a bar where the owner gave Flor a big hello and wrapped up a bag of empanadas for her to take with her. From there I told her that I didn´t really care to go to the tour of the monastary that I had mentioned to her over lunch, but that if she didn´t mind I´d love to accompany her. Flor was stoked, and she said we would head to a church to ask for food.

Apparently it wasn´t just to pick up a bag of food, as Flor had led me to believe, because next thing I knew I was sitting in a circle with needy mothers for a weekly self-help group. What?! So hilarious. "Hola, my name is Margarita, just came here with Flor today." When the leader of the group asked for highlights from the women´s weeks, Flor was quick to raise her hand and tell everyone how something really special had happened to her today when she was just asking for money on the street, when I asked her if she wanted to get something to eat, and then I went with her to the church and I wasn´t even afraid. It was so sweet. We said the Padre Nuestro and Santa María, both of which I have down from attending private Catholic school for a month in Costa Rica during high school, and we were off.

Walking the streets, asking for money (Flor, not me, people gave me odd looks- apparently we were quite the pair) Flor asked me if I like Maté and mentioned that her niece also wore the same size shoe as I did. Seemingly unrelated details in my mind, yet Flor led us directly to her niece´s home to drink maté and see if she had any shoes I could borrow. We arrived and a beautiful pregnant woman stood at the end of a long hallway, she seemed to be crying. Sofia explained that her hormones were going wild due to the pregnancy, and she welcomed us into her home. We chatted it up and drank maté. It came up that I taught English in a slum and we thought up the idea to meet together to exchange talents. Sofia runs a restaurant of sorts with her friend, so English lesson in exchange for Argentine cooking lesson, and ending with a big celebratory meal all together.

Sofia lamented that she had lent her only extra pair of shoes to her aunt who lived in the slum, and they too had been stolen. Flor encouraged me to take photos, as I had told her how much I loved to do so. We said goodbye to Sofia, confident that we would all be together again soon. We went up to the neighbors, as Flor insisted on finding me a pair of shoes. By this time is was four in the afternoon, and Flor had to start thinking about heading to the train to go home. I told her that I was sorry for taking her day and asked if she would be alright without having been able to get much money. She looked at me with sincere eyes and told me that it was not a lost day at all adn that it was beautiful that we had met. We decided to meet again the following Tuesday.

Flor never asked me for a single thing after that initial, "Excuse. Food? Money?" She only insisted on giving to me. By the measures of material possesions, I had so much more, yet today Flor has shown me true generosity. I am so humbled by the person she is. I left the house that morning as Martha, busy to get to work, but when Christ was before me as a hungry woman, I was able to share a meal with her, to sit with her, and be drawn closer to Christ´s heart.


Flor in Iglesia San Lorenzo.
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Saint Maté

A Paraguayan priest who came to Argentina way back in the day. My favorite.
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Saint Maté

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Catedral Nacional de Buenos Aires

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In the National Cathedral.
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Only one big load has been washed in two months, but undies are a lil more necessary and have been washed three times. Yeah, pretty high maintenence.
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Beautiful way of expressing thoughts. Fighting for workers rights.
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Dig the colors
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On the walk from the church to Constitucion.
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Word Made Flesh, namasté

South America regional coordinators for WMF, Adriana and Walter Forcatto are a solid couple and I have really enjoyed getting to know them and their two daughters here in Buenos Aires.
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Pastor Juan José and Wife Lorena

That´s right, this is my pastor in Buenos Aires. Busting out the Rastas for the spring costume party, probably everybody´s favorite church party of the year.

This picture is obviously hilarious and potentially problematic for conservative Christians, but in all seriousness, this church is amazing. Juan José is an incredible pastor that preaches the Bible, the life of Christ, inclusion and lives these things out. Half the congregation is homeless, and a number of these people are able to stay at the church, where youth also rent rooms and Juan José and his family also live. I have learned so much about community from this congregation, about living life together. And, they´re super good dancers.
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Dale Boca

The Dream Team made an epic entrance at the Spring Fiesta, shouting a Boca fight song that was memorized five minutes before the party.

Boca and River are the two main rival futbol teams in Buenos Aires, although my host dad would say the world belongs to Racing.
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The Deans

Jen & Jer were awesome as American tourists, with big cameras and money hanging out of there pockets. Selah and Jordan were adorable little puppies.
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Costume contest winners

Homer and Geisha took the top two prizes at the church costume party
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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Life in Buenos Aires

All sorts of things happen here in Buenos Aires, with the kind of work that we are doing. Since I last wrote... I'm going to try to summarize.
One day I was hanging out at the church, when we got word that our friend had just successfully had her baby, a C-section, in the public hospital. It is great that health care here can be offered free to everyone, its phenomenal actually. But the reality of that system is that they get the bare minimum of care. Our friend needed someone to come in and function as a nurse essentially. It was the only way that she could have her new born baby in the room with her. I volunteered, and was able to spend 8 hours with her in the hospital, doing my best to learn about new born babies and the Argentine hospital system. Some super funny moments came about. I am trying to do this all on my own, by the way, as they don't let men on the floor outside of the two visiting hours a day. So when I go to ask for authorization to be on the floor, I get yelled at for barging in on a doctors meeting without knocking. Later our friend sent me to Neonatal to ask for her baby. I thought to myself, really? If I just show them this little authorization paper, are they just going to hand over a newborn baby to some crazy north american? sure enough, the nurse looked at me like I was crazy- you can't just take the baby! We'll send him when he's ready.
It was worth the wait, the baby was so beautiful. We sat together and I got to hear more of my friend's story. I have so much to learn from her. She loves her three children so selflessly and works so hard to provide for them. This was my adventure to the Argentine hospital.
A couple of days later we were back at the hospital visiting our friend. Afterwards we had decided to show up at Jen and Jer's with a Sabbath Surprise, kilo of ice cream. The visit was short and we were on our way to the bus stop, the same route we had taken a hundred times. Walking down the street, all of a sudden when I looked back and saw that some guy was roughly trying to take Tina's guitar. Before I knew it someone was grabbing at my backpack. I took off running, but when I saw the knife in there hand and there pull was strong on my bag, I let me arm out of the strap and said goodbye to my belongings. I rushed to alert Jer of what had happened, screaming and pounding on there door. We all ran in the house, flustered and upset, yet so glad that nobody had been hurt at all. Jer would run down one of the thiefs and steal back Ambers bag. A guy from the neighborhood that knew the kids went and asked them for my bag! They gave it back. Although they had taken out my only pair of tennis shoes I own, my water bottle, my sweatshirt and some cash, I was so thankful to get my journal back. Everything else can be replaced.
This is the reality of the places where we work and spend our time. It was a good reminder to never let our guard down, and to not carry so many things with us. Just so everyone knows, we are fine and we are very safe. We will be very cautious.