Monday, January 13, 2014

Merry Christmas

by Josh B.
Merry Christmas
Josh and Erin posing next to a prop Christmas tree just after the Nativity play at Congregación San Lucas
It feels a bit strange to say those words – Merry Christmas – right now. Frankly, I am having a little trouble getting into the Christmas spirit. As I sit here typing this, sweat is dripping off my hands onto the keyboard. It isn’t supposed to be 95°F outside, it should be blisteringly cold and snowy, right?
Erin and I just finished watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, but instead of doing so wrapped in blankets with the fireplace blazing, we had an industrial strength fan blowing in our faces. Again, where’s the snow?
We’ve replaced hot cocoa and egg nog for lemonade and iced tea.
Rather than trying to keep gusts of cold air from following us in from outside, we are fending off the waves of mosquitos that want in.
There are no relatives in town that I can get excited to see. I won’t be with my family this evening as they lay their stockings out near the Christmas tree. And I won’t be reverting to my 10 year old self yet again tomorrow morning as my sister and I shake our parents awake at 7:00am ready to see what “Santa” brought.
This is an altogether strange and unfamiliar Christmas.
Despite the unfamiliarity for me, this is how the people in Grand Bourg spend each Christmas. Tonight, Erin and I will spend Christmas Eve with a family from the congregation. We will talk, laugh, share about Christmas traditions, and eat empanadas while forgetting about the heat. Tomorrow, we will sweat our way through a viewing of A Christmas Story before enjoying a Christmas asado at the pastor’s home. We aren’t spending this Christmas season with our own families as we are used to doing, but we are spending it with those that we hold as family here in Argentina; with those that have invited us into their families this year.
With that in mind, I am feeling a bit more in the Christmas spirit and so I say to you,
Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Accompaniment "opens doors"

Uruguay YAGM Elizabeth T. tells of an unexpected example of how her host family is teaching her about accompaniment:

"Wanna hear a cool story about teamwork and trust-building in another culture? The bolt to the bathroom door broke today. A minor problem, only I was inside at the time. Turns out that neither Gaby (host sister) nor I can describe the complexities of locks in our second language. However, she graciously accompanied me through this half-hour ordeal (this was on the 2nd story where there is no air-conditioning and it is the middle of summer) and passed useful things under the door. I was finally able to escape by breaking off part of a pair of tweezers and dismantling the door from the inside. Luckily we managed this moments before Cristina (host mother) left work and called the fire department, the natural guard, and a priest. Hooray for accompaniment!"

Friday, December 6, 2013

November Retreat: Part Two

Jumping picture in front of a beautiful Spring sunset.

YAGM Katie M. uses art to show what her first 3 months have been like.

The volunteers participated in sessions about initiative and accompaniment, spritual growth, abundance, scarcity, coping, charity and change, among other sessions. 

YAGM volunteers Jen D., Katie M., and Josh B. work in a small group for one of the sessions.

The directora of the farm shows the volunteers the different types of plants that are grown at the farm.

The volunteers meet the newest member of the farm´s cheese-making team.

Our Thanksgiving simulation meal.

Cheesy Potatoes.

The volunteers plus the farm's cook David, at the Thanksgiving simulation meal (2 weeks before Thanksgiving). David graciously loaned us his kitchen and helped us to create an authentic feast. We realized well into the cooking process that we hadn´t purchased a turkey or a chicken, so this meal was sides-only. It was delicious and abundant.

The volunteers leading their sending worship service. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

November Retreat: Part One

Here are some pictures of the beginning moments of the YAGM Argentina-Uruguay Retreat, held in Colonia Valdense, Uruguay. 

The night before we set off to Uruguay, YAGM Kristyn Z. made a birthday cake to celebrate with the 5 YAGM volunteers who celebrated their birthday in September and October!

An Argentine "bengala"...a firework-like candle that is used on birthday cakes.

The YAGM volunteers with Country Coordinators Krystle and Ignacio, getting ready to board our boat to cross the Río de la Plata, the river that runs between Uruguay and Argentina.

The volunteers with Ignacio and a friendly dog in Colonia Sacramento, the port town that we explored as we waited for our bus to leave. 

Some games and group-building activities.

The volunteers working on their art projects.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Mate, community, and how the Church cares for people in need [by Erin B.]

One of the very first things we learned about Argentina, even before we set foot here, was the importance of mate (pronounced MAH-tay). In our time in Grand Bourg, we have continued to learn more about the traditions and sentiments that surround this drink, which is by law the “national infusion.”

Mate is like a loose-leaf tea that you drink in a special gourd (also called a mate) with a special straw called a bombilla that filters out most of the leaves. You can drink mate alone, but the vast majority of the time it is drunk in community. One person is the cebador, and s/he pours hot water over the dry yerba mate leaves. First s/he drinks the mate until the water is mostly gone and the straw makes a sucking sound, then pours more water and passes the mate to the next person. That person drinks until the water is gone, and then passes it back to the cebador, and so on.

Mate is drunk at social gatherings, at official meetings, at parties… really, anytime several people are gathered, mate is there (insert sarcastic reference to Matthew 18:20 here). Even when it is impractical to drink mate, in choir practice for example, where both our hands and our mouths are otherwise occupied, mate is drunk anyway.

Mate is a beautiful way to practice sharing in community. Everyone drinks out of the same mate gourd and uses the same bombilla. Depending on the number of people sharing the mate, several minutes might pass before it’s your turn to drink again. So if you’re looking simply to satisfy your thirst or benefit from the caffeine, it would be better to drink a bottle of Coke all by yourself. Mate is not primarily about thirst or caffeine, but about togetherness and friendship.

There are a few individuals and families that pass by our church every so often to ask for a small bag of food to help them get by. These bags usually include rice, lentils, sugar, flour, and… mate. Josh noted that at first glance, mate seems to be the odd thing out in these bags. The other items are staples; basic things that help the person survive. Mate, on the other hand, doesn’t provide any physical nourishment, yet it is always included in these basic food kits. Why?

We have come to realize that mate doesn’t satisfy a physical need, but rather satisfies a social, emotional, spiritual need for community and identity. Mate is part of being an Argentinean, just like eating is part of being human. In providing mate for these families, the church is helping not only to sustain them physically, but also to sustain their dignity as Argentinean people.

How have we as the wider Church succeeded and failed to sustain the dignity of the people with whom we are in ministry? How can we begin to care for our neighbors as whole people, with needs that are physical, emotional, social, spiritual?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Beautiful things...

Each week the YAGM volunteers reflect on their experience by answering different reflection questions that their Country Coordinator sends them. This week they were asked to reflect in a different way.

Each volunteer was asked to take a picture of 3-5 different things in their host community (people, places, etc) that they consider "beautiful," and to include a description of why these things have been beautiful to them in their first three weeks.
Here are some of the things that they find to be beautiful:

YAGM Katie M. writes, "I was so happy to discover a murga uruguaya club here in Corrientes. I went to my first practice on Thursday and really enjoyed it. I think it is so beautiful that students here have created this group and want to create this community space to creatively express themselves. I am so happy they have invited me into it." 
YAGM Josh B. writes, "this is my journal and everyday I write about the people I meet and the experiences that I have in all the various aspects of my community and site placements. I am excited to skim back through the pages months and years from now."

YAGM Jen D. writes, "Fernanda is a first-grader who attends Club de Niños at La Obra.  She has the heartiest laugh I’ve ever heard come from a little girl.  Seriously, there is no way not to be in a great mood when she laughs.  This photo was taken during a field trip to a plaza in the city.  While our card game lasted all of two minutes, Fernanda took great care in arranging the cards just right for this photo."

YAGM Tyler D. writes, "No words needed for this dude he's the bomb. It was also a great night for a stroll and I always find beauty in water so that helps too." 

YAGM Kristyn Z. writes, "Mate. How beautiful is that? Sitting around outside in a park, chatting and sharing mate. Nothing better."

YAGM Elizabeth T. writes, "I love my little wooden nightstand and lamp. After a long, cold day of strained ears and wet feet, nothing looks quite as beautiful as a steaming cup of coffee/hot chocolate and a book... Next week though, I'm leveling up and plan on borrowing one of the novels in Spanish. "

Erin B. writes, "Saturdays at Congregación San Lucas are the busiest day of the week. Children, youth, families, and older adults pass through at different times of the day, and many people stick around for hours at a time. It is beautiful to see this wall filled with backpacks and jackets, because it means that there is a community that it alive and well in this place."

The Beginning of Life in Uruguay-- by Jen D.

Uruguay volunteer, Jen D., writes poetically about her first few weeks in her host community.
The days are long but the weeks short
At work I’m a friend, a companion
In the morning with teens
Afternoon with the kids
People whose lives have seen different problems than mine
Some because of money, some drugs, some broken relationships
Some because of things I cannot even understand
(and this is not the fault of the language barrier)
I am here for the relationship
My “work” comes in the form futbol (soccer) games, cooking, and swimming
Sometimes via jump rope or homework or dancing
My assignment is to be; to listen and to participate
The assignment is consistency
What am I doing today?
The same as last week and the same as next week
Still coming, still going, still playing, still smiling
“Good morning”, kiss on the cheek, time for activity
“Will you play with us tomorrow/next week?”
“Of course, there’s no place I’d rather be”
The days are long but the weeks are short

(versión en Castellano)
Los días son largos pero las semanas, cortas

En el trabajo, soy una amiga, una compañera
En la mañana con adolescentes
A la tarde con los niños

Personas que en sus vidas han tenido problemas distintos a los míos
Algunos por el dinero, algunos por las drogas, algunos por relaciones rotas
Algunos por razones que no puedo entender
(y no es por la culpa del idioma)

Estoy acá por la relación

Mi “trabajo” viene en la forma de partidos de fútbol, cocinando, y nadando
A veces a través de saltar la cuerda, o con tarea escolar, o con baile
Mi tarea es “estar”: escuchar y participar
La tarea es consistencia

¿Qué estoy haciendo hoy?
Lo mismo que la semana pasada y lo mismo que la próxima semana
Todavía viniendo, todavía yendo, todavía jugando, todavía sonriendo

“Buen día”, un beso en mi cachete, la hora para actividad
“¿Jugas con nosotros mañana/la semana que viene?”
“Por supuesto, no hay ningún lugar en el que me interesaría más estar”

Los días son largos pero las semanas, cortas