This blog is one part an effort to relay my experiences here through updates and pictures and two parts an outpouring of the lessons God is teaching me in taking up my cross daily and following Him.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Little Bit of Everything

Wow! It's been a while since my last post, and I have a LOT to share! I guess I'll just start at the beginning.

I left campus at 4pm on Wednesday, October 6th for my trip to Carlos Paz. Lucas Fernandez Paz, the director of the Bilingual Program (in Spanish referred to as PBB), was going to Buenos Aires already to translate for someone, so he graciously brought me, and dropped me off at Retiro, the bus station. I think that Retiro is potentially one of the largest bus stations in the world. There are around ten major bus companies that operate there in this manner:
1st you buy your ticket from the company you choose. There are three types (classes) of buses:

          1) Semicama
This is the cheapest and simplest, yet still much nicer than any buses in the states. The seats recline to about a 45 degree angle. There is also a piece that folds down from the bottom of the seat in front of you to your knees as a leg rest. Overall it's pretty comfortable. This is what I had from Retiro to Carlos Paz and back. In Spanish the word for bed is cama. I find it highly amusing that this literally means a semi-bed bus.

My bus, across the aisle
          2) Ejetivo
This is like flying first class. I got to ride in one of these from Retiro back to Monte (in US $ it cost $1.25 more) because it left an hour earlier than the semicama. The basic difference is the seats are much wider. You don't feel like it'd be nice to have a free seat next to you in order to be comfortable.

My bus from Retiro to Monte
          3) Cama Suite
I haven't had the privilege of experiencing this yet, but from what I've heard and seen in pictures the seats are even nicer and recline to all the way flat. This is very convenient because if you're traveling any sort of distance most of the buses run through the night.

     After buying your ticket you head outside where there are about 100 different spaces where the buses drop off/pick up passengers. At any given time there are probably about 50 buses in active unloading/loading. This is how it works: your ticket tells you within 10 spaces where your bus will be (for example 16-26), which type of bus you are taking, and what the final destination is for your bus. You then have to simply pay attention. It's up to you to check all the buses of your company first to see if it's the right type, then to see if it has the right final destination. At first this sounded like an overwhelming task, as I looked to my left and right and saw hundreds of buses coming and going, but after observing for a while, I realized that it's really not that hard. They really have developed a system of public transportation (at least in the bus system, I don't know about the subway) that far exceeds that of America.
A picture that doesn't accurately show how huge this bus station is
     My bus was at least half an hour late. My 8:30 bus finally left somewhere around 9pm. I was riding in a semicama and luckily had the seat next to me free for a little extra space. I fell asleep pretty soon after we left and awoke about 2am at one of the stops. Here an older gentlemen sat in the seat next to me, but we didn't really talk. I asked him where we were, and he told me, though now I have no idea where that was. I felt pretty awake then, so I watched "Braveheart" on my iPod, then fell back asleep. The guy next to me got off in Córdoba, so I had a comfortable amount of napping room for the last 45-60 minutes until we arrived in Carlos Paz. I was a little worried that I wouldn't know exactly where to get off, but luckily there was a nice big sign at some point that said "Welcome to Villa Carlos Paz" (in Spanish, of course). I could see Mr. Hoyt waiting for me. I felt a little bad, because our bus was late, so he had been waiting for over an hour, but it was nice to be there after about 12 hrs. in the bus.

     Once we arrived at the Hoyt's house, Mrs. Hoyt had a nice breakfast of sausage gravy and biscuits for us. This was the first of the many wonderful meals I was blessed with. My favorites were definitely the breakfasts, because here at the BI (Bible Institute), we really don't get much for breakfast. (Breakfast consists of coffee, bread, dulce de leche or jam, bananas, and corn flakes. Personally I can't stand the cornflakes because they don't refrigerate their milk, so it tastes pretty gross.) Because of this, I REALLY appreciated the ham, eggs, pancakes, and omelets we had for breakfast while I was there.
Yes, I actually took a picture of my breakfast. That's how excited I was
     What did I do while I was there? Well, there weren't many exciting events or adventures, but I did get to do some interesting things. One of the mornings Ivan and I climbed one of the "mountains" (big hills) with a cross at the top. We had a great time talking about many different things of life: architecture, glorifying God in/with our lives, ministry, the trials of ministry, the necessity of bringing others to a realization of their sin and need for Christ before they can understand the Gospel, etc. It was a really good chance to catch up a little bit and hear about what God has been doing in each other's lives. On the way up, we stopped for a few minutes to catch our breath and appreciate the view as we were talking and as we started back up the hill I noticed an 8gb microSD card on the ground. I was surprised I noticed it considering it is a little smaller than a dime, but it was quite the find. At the top of the hill was a big cross which, once I discovered that on the back there was a ladder up the top half, I really wanted to climb, but fortunately I had no way of even getting close to reaching the bottom rung. I really would like to climb to the top some day, but will probably refrain out of consideration for the Catholic church and others who would be offended by this.

     One of the things that never ceases to amaze me here is how long it takes to do/accomplish things. It will take literally all morning to do the errands that in the U.S. would take maybe an hour. This can sometimes be very frustrating! I appreciate the fact that people aren't always in a hurry here like they are in The States, and that they will always take time from what they are doing to help you, but I think it is often taken to the other extreme, which is just as wrong. In the same way that it is inconsiderate to be in too much of a hurry to help someone, it's just as inconsiderate to continue talking to them and taking their time when they have other things they need to do. Not that this is always the case, I'm just noting that there is danger in either extreme. I think us Americans could stand to be a lot more like the Argentines in this, but I also think the Argentines could learn a little from us Americans as well.

     Saturday night was youth group night. Ivan asked me if I had any thoughts I'd like to share, so I began translating my thoughts on Hebrews 12 (see below) into Spanish with his help. I really enjoyed doing this as going through the process with him of figuring out the best way to say things in Spanish was really helpful for me. We went over to the church, but no one came, so eventually Ivan and I went across the street to the park and I introduced him to slacklining. I had a great time, and I think he enjoyed learning a little bit about it, as well as trying it out for himself. We also talked about how things like that can/could be used as ministry tools.

     One of the days we went for a drive and I got to see the area. We went to the dam that creates the lake, providing water for Córdoba. We also stopped by the Plaza Federal, the supposed center of Argentina.

 This is the new dam. On the right is the old dam that was destroyed. In the middle is "The Funnel" this is the overflow. When the water gets high enough it goes down the funnel and shoots out two tubes on the other side!

Plaza Federal, the other picture is across the street

A map of the day's activities

A map showing the Hoyt's house, the church, etc. in Carlos Paz
     I also had the privilege of meeting the rest of the Ramirez family. The Ramirez's work with the Hoyt's as missionaries in Carlos Paz. Pablo and Andrea Ramirez both attend the BI here. Andrea was very helpful when I was seeking to know more about the school and we emailed back and forth a few times, and Pablo was very helpful in getting my tickets and ensuring everything was all set for my trip. Sunday afternoon Tito, Adriana, and their two daughters, Alejandra, and Ani (not sure on some of the spellings...) came over for asado. Asado is a general term equivalent to a barbecue. We just had chicken, but my understanding is that typically one will have many different types of meat eaten in stages throughout the evening. It was a great time of getting to know them a little, and playing guitar and singing with the girls.

Above is the grill for asado. The bucket is used for starting the charcoal, when it's ready, it comes out the bottom and you scoop it up and spread it under the meat.

       After church Sunday evening, where we mostly just sang songs (I learned some new ones, and they learned some new ones), we all (the Ramirezes and the Hoyts) piled into the Ramirez's van and they brought me to the bus station. They were kind enough to wait for my bus (SURPRISE! It was late again!) they saw me off. I slept on and off on the way back to Retiro.

     Once I got back to Buenos Aires at about 8:30am, I went to see if I could change my ticket for 3:30 in the afternoon to an earlier one. (Yes, I did this successfully all by myself) The earliest I could go was 1:50, but that hour was totally worth the US$1.25 it cost me (besides, I got to go executive class!). I still had 5+ hours to kill, though, so I walked to Florida St. This is a very busy pedestrian street with a lot of shops, malls, street vendors, etc. Eventually I made my way back to a park (la plaza de San Martin) and studied my Spanish vocabulary for my test before I made my way back to Retiro.

     I barely woke up at the bus stop in Monte, and had to ask a few different people if it was the right spot. I could have paid for a taxi (here a "Remis") to take me back to the school, but decided to save the money and walk instead. It was probably a 4-5 mile walk with my backpack and guitar, but the weather was nice and it was pretty enjoyable. Monday was a Holiday (not sure what for, I just know it was a Holiday) so things were pretty busy in both B.A. and in Monte.

     Two more things to finish up:
1) While in Buenos Aires I had to ask a policeman for directions to Florida St. I knew I was close by, but figured instead of walking around forever looking for it, I'd just ask. I walked up to him and proceeded to begin by asking him where Florida St. was. I was slightly surprised by his response of "Good morning! How are you!?" then I remembered that I was in Argentina, and here you don't just get right to the point you have to have at least a minimal amount of small talk first. I told him I was fine, asked how he was, commented on the weather, and then asked how to get to Florida St., but walked away thinking that this was a good reminder for me of how many opportunities we pass up to make an impact on people. Instead of stopping and taking the time to talk to people and maybe even share the Gospel with them, we are so used to just using people for whatever we need/want and passing them by.

2) Random fact about Argentina that I learned from Mrs. Ramirez. If a family has 7 kids of the same sex all in a row (7 boys all in a row, or 7 girls all in a row) the President "adopts" them and pays for all of their educational expenses. This very rarely happens, but for us, it would mean that Noah would be "adopted" by the President, and could go to whatever college(s) and/or university(s) he wanted to, and it would all be paid for by the President herself. (The President here is currently a female) Just a random fun fact for the day, and a great way to end this post.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Two Things... Something Sad and Something Good!

Today two of my best Latino friends left for three weeks to Pichi Traful, the hotel in the Andés Mountains run by the school. I will get to go there for a week of vacation the week after my birthday in the end of February. They will work there for three weeks to help pay for their school year. They are two of the people that I spend the most time with here practicing my Spanish, etc. They have both opened up to me and accepted me as a brother (one of them lost a brother about my age in January of this year), so I will miss them, but they will be back soon.

Tomorrow I get to leave to visit the Hoyts! I am very excited to see them, to see where they live/work, have a break from being here at school, and have some other food. I am a little nervous about traveling so far in a country that I barely speak the language. I am getting a lot better, especially these last few days, but I don't really feel prepared to face ensuring that I get on the right bus when it's actually entirely probable for me to miss it. Here in Buenos Aires the bus station is apparently huge. Each company has their own space, and they just kind of come and go, you have to figure out which one you're supposed to be on, and make sure you're on it, before it leaves! :) Pray that I won't have any problems! Once I get on the right bus, I will have a 10 hr. bus ride to Córdoba. Where the Hoyts will pick me up. I will (hopefully) post again once I am there and have more time, but just wanted to update you all on what's going on with me. So, that's all for now.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Some Thoughts on Hebrews 12:1-4 & 28-29

Hebrews 12:1-4, 28-29

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

Today in church, I got kind of bored with the half of the message that I understood, so I started reading the passage around the verse we were looking at. Chapter 11 consists of many examples of those who lived by faith and then Chapter 12 turns to us and our response. We are instructed to "Lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely". The author of Hebrews rightly realized that
1) our purpose in life is to bring glory to God
2) it is not just sin that slows us down, but other "weights" often hinder us as well. I believe the author is referring to mankind's idolatrous heart that turns many good things into a god. This is his encouragement to us to get rid of anything that inhibits God being glorified in our lives.
3) he recognizes how easily we are tempted by sin. We are never safe from temptation. It's always close at hand. No matter how mature we are in Christ, we will always deal with sin and temptation and it will always be pressing in on us.
because we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses we are instructed to have endurance in these three things. I have often heard that this "great cloud of witnesses refers to Christians, but I'm not sure it does. It seems to make more sense that it is simply referring to all of mankind. Because mankind is watching us, we need to lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles us, and seek to glorify God with endurance looking to Jesus as our example. Especially as an example of resisting temptation.

The chapter closes with a challenge to us that we need to be properly grateful. That if we truly understand what's been given to us our lives will be an outpouring of acceptable worship with reverence and awe. We are reminded once again of the power of God over everything. He could exact this worship from us, and He certainly deserves it, but He wants it to be our natural expression of gratefulness for all that He has done for us.

These are just a few of my thoughts about Hebrews 12, I'd write more, but I really need to study for our tests tomorrow.

Something I wrote up this morning.

Yesterday was October 2nd! This is an important date for me for two reasons. 1) It is Mom’s Birthday – Happy Birthday (again) Mom! Hope you had a great time, sorry I couldn’t be there (again. I feel like I haven't been there for like the last three...). And 2) it marks one month of being here in Argentina! It’s weird to think that I’ve been here for an entire month already.
Life here certainly has become normal already as the excitement wears off. My Spanish has been improving rapidly and I can understand most of what people say (depending greatly on their level of patience, how quickly they speak, and their level of annunciation). I’ve found a great number of Spanish speakers don’t really open their mouths when they talk, making it really difficult to understand them-especially since it’s already hard enough to figure out what the words mean. I try to sit with Latinos during meals to practice my Spanish. Two nights ago I talked with my friend Miguel for about two hours (in Spanish, of course) about the book of James (the subject of our current Bible class) and cultural differences in relationships between Argentines and Americans and the pros and cons of each. It was a very good conversation and helped me to see how much Americans ignore truly seeking God’s direction in their relationships.
I have been wanting to visit the Hoyts for a while, and God has provided for me to be able to go this next week. I will leave Wednesday after classes to go to Buenos Aires, and take an overnight bus to Córdoba, where the Hoyt's will pick me up and bring me to their home in Carlos Paz. I will get to spend all of Thursday through Sunday there, then will take another overnight bus back Sunday night. I am really excited to be able to get away for a few days, visit some friends from home, have American food (anything other than the regular meals here), and just get away from the extremely busy schedule here. I really like it here, but not really being able to leave, or go anywhere really, starts to wear on you after a while. At least it does for me. This will probably be my only chance to go somewhere before I go back to Carlos Paz for the month of December. Compared to travel in the States, it is relatively cheap to travel by bus here, it will cost less than $100 round trip to take a 10 hr. bus ride each way. For about 5-10 dollars more you can have a seat the equivalent of 1st class in the states. Here, however, they just have an entirely different bus that costs more, with seats that can lay almost entirely flat. Maybe someday I'll get to try one of these, but for now I just want to get there and back to visit the Hoyts as cheaply as possible. :)
We are each assigned a "counselor" or mentor among the staff or missionary staff here on campus. The Lord has also provided another blessing in my counselor and his wife (Chuck and Darla) allowing me to wash my laundry at their house. They have a washer, and have very graciously offered to let me use it. Last time Darla even hung it out for me! They have a laundry service here that washes, dries, and even folds your clothes for a good price, 10 pesos (~$2.50) but when you don't have a lot of money, it really starts to add up. It has been a great lesson for me to see how God provides for us, though often it requires us to let go of our pride first. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of hanging my clothes out to dry, they get all stiff instead of having that nice comfy feeling of clothes that were dried in the dryer. I realized, though, that sometimes God provides something for us, but our pride stands in the way of us accepting it. God has provided a way for me to save some money provided I do a little extra work myself and have clothes that were hung out to dry instead of dried in the dryer. I guess having a dryer is just another one of those little things I realized I have taken for granted, but isn't really necessary.