Thursday, January 26, 2012

Feliz Navidad y Año Nuevo!

Feliz Navidad y Año Nuevo!

As promised here is the update on my cultural Christmas and New Years with my Paraguayan family in Asuncion.

Where to begin…the days leading up Christmas were a blast. Living with my Paraguayan family again was so much fun as this time I was able to communicate with them and understand almost everything they were saying. People in Asuncion tend to talk at the speed of light but it was a blast being able to have good conversations with them stress free now that I have a better grasp of their culture and language. I was even able to joke around with them which when learning a language is quite the achievement. It was also a great break from the campañia as they have a pool and we spent a lot of time enjoying the sun, it felt like a vacation to be staying at their house one again.

The few days before Christmas were quite surreal as in Paraguay Christmas lights are not popular and they do not give loads of gifts like we do in Canada. Of course there was also no snow so it felt so strange being there on the 23rd thinking that the next day is when Christmas celebrations begin. On Christmas Eve I got to be a part of something very special. The senoritas group (a college and career group for girls) went to a orphanage type place to do a supper and give gifts to children who do not have parents or were taken away from their parents. We were able to play games, paint their faces, serve them a good Christmas Eve meal, and share the Gospel with them. It was a lot of fun for me as once the girls found out I was Canadian they wanted to practice all the English they knew and it was really special as two girls really took an interest in me, asking me tons of questions. I really like that about being a foreigner, youth aged kids think you are the neatest thing.

After the dinner, we went back home where we got dressed up for our Christmas Eve meal. At about 8pm people started coming to the house, all family members, and before I knew it there were around 30-40 of us singing Paraguayan songs, eating, chatting, taking pictures, and just enjoying each others company. Around 11pm we went onto the patio where we lit fireworks and those “bombillas.” My Paraguayan mom, her daughter, and some cousins, also entertained us with some improv dancing, it was hilarious. At 11:45pm we all gathered together in the living room where we had a time of thanks. This Christmas the family decided that instead of giving gifts (usually the parents give their kids one gifte each), that they would give any gifts beforehand in order to focus more on the meaning of Christmas. So we all gathered around and thanked God for the health, family, Jesus, and shared prayer requests for family members who were having a hard time. We finished at 12am where we all said “Feliz Navidad” and went around doing the two kisses. It was very different from North America as we tend to focus a lot on the gifts and Christmas is more of a solemn remembrance, but in Paraguay it was a celebration that Jesus was born and for them it was about family not gifts. I really enjoyed that aspect. People started to leave around 1am and at 2am we had some visitors stop by. After they left at around 2:30am we went to our neighbors house (who happen to be the hosts of my friend Hannes) and we hung out there to wish them a Feliz Navidad and see some more fireworks explode as everyone lights the fireworks at 12am but they continue for many hours afterwards. Christmas Day was spent in bed until 4pm (…we were tired). When we got up and then got ready for the evening church service. The service was composed of Christmas Music in the order of the nativity story and the kids would act out the nativity scene during the songs. The pastor also gave a Christmas message and then we all chatted afterwards and went home.

For New Years I was expecting something similar to Christmas as for me Paraguayan Christmas was like our New Years in Canada. For New Years we went to my aunts cabin where about 25 family members were already there. The house (it’s not a cabin in our Canadian sense) is located on the Paraguayan river and their property is huge, it looks like a street block. They have the river view with lit up places to sit, a pool, a couple Jacuzzis, a clay tennis court with lights for the nighttime, a real beach volleyball court, then a soccer field like our soccer fields in Canada. It was beautiful and fun to walk around. So from around 10pm (the time we arrived) we chatted and took pictures until 11pm when we started eating supper. It is tradition to wear white on New Years as that’s the color of newness and joy and the other tradition is to eat late at night so that’s exactly what we did. One of the most well-known clubs in Asuncion was next door (so is the Golf and Yacht Club) so we were entertained by their music as we ate and at 12am we all raised out glasses and hugged saying “Feliz Año Nuevo” as the fireworks went off next door. It was amazing. The entrance for the club cost $200 American without a table but because we were next door we got to enjoy their music and fireworks for free. Right after 12am, the boyfriends of the cousins started arriving in order to go out to the clubs. Both on Christmas and New Years it is common for the college and career aged people to go out dancing after 12am while the parents go to sleep. For my Paraguayan family we stayed and visited then around 1:30am then left to go home and sleep.

Spending Christmas and New Years was something that I so desperately wanted to do in Paraguay as I really wanted to experience what it’d be like to have Christmas away from my parents. Since missions has always been something I’ve been interested in and challenged by in my walk with God, I really wanted to know what it’d be like to spend a holiday where I am a fanatic about Christmas traditions by myself. Surprisingly Christmas and New Years were not hard. I think the drastic difference in how we spend our Christmas’ and New Years’ helped with that. I felt at peace the whole time plus on January 1st I took a bus to Villarrica to do laundry and collect my things and I was able to have a skype Christmas with my parents where I opened a care package they sent. (By the way, thanks to all those who sent me those lovely encouragement cards in that cute little box, I definitely cried reading the incredible messages of encouragement from you).

Since Christmas and New Years I spent my final few weeks with SIM in San Francisco where I helped Amy teach English as I lived with a Paraguayan family and focused on completing work for Ambrose. Unfortunately I was sick so I didn’t spend much time in the clinic as every time I was there the smallest things made me grow faint. I did get to spend one week as a camp counselor where I was the only girl counselor for 10 girls and had to lead 3, 20 minute devotions a day as well as sit down and interview all of them talking about their life. It was quite the stretch for my Spanish but I loved every minute of it. Hannes and I led team Rojo and that was a blast working together and trying to figure out how to explain the camp games in Spanish. On the last night they also gave me no warning but asked me to lead worship giving me a Spanish worship book….I don’t think it went so good but they were gracious. After camp, I was able to visit some friends who live in the campañia and got to experience Paraguayan life in the chacra (field). There were a lot of highlights but I will keep those for another time. Here are some prayer requests and praise notes:
1. Praise the Lord I have found a place to stay in Calgary. I will be living with the Gilbertsons, who are the couple in charge of Alliance Missions in Canada. He was also one of my missions profs. My internship at Foothills will start February 14th with Patti Love.
2. Praise God, I got my first car. Over Christmas my grandpa gave me his Honda Accord. So when I arrive in Edmonton I will be picking up my new car loaded with things for living in Calgary and I will be heading to Calgary to celebrate my arrival and my 23rd birthday.
3. Praise God my parents are here. Back in December my parents received a phone call where they were asked "how would you like to go visit your daughter?" God had placed it on the hearts of a couple to pay their way to come see me in Paraguay! They wanted to give my parents the opportunity to see the ministries here and to meet my friends knowing that it has not been the easiest time for me in Paraguay and knowing that I will be referring to Paraguay for the rest of my life. Well, my parents arrived last night at 11:35pm and we all sat down and chatted with my Paraguayan family. Mom is doing great with the language because she used to speak French and Creole in Haiti so she has been picking up a lot of words. Last night I had an embarrassing moment as I didn’t understand something Lourdes said and my mom translated for me! I was humbled.
4. Health. Please pray for health as my month in San Francisco was spent mainly sick and right now I am running a fever and huge headache. Please pray for the health of my parents too as they come into Paraguay and experience a completely different climate.
5. Friends. Please pray that me and my family would be able to use our time wisely as we visit my Paraguayan friends and then say goodbye to them as well. Please pray that I would be able to have good conversations with them and that I can find joy knowing that even though I may not see them again in this life, I can hold onto hope of seeing them in the next.
6. Please pray for peace as I end this chapter of my life and please pray that God would start to prepare me with the transition into the next chapter. Pray that the friendships I have made will continue and that I will be able to remember all that I have learned and carry them on with me the rest of my life.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Vida de Aventura

Driving Mami back to her home in the Campaña
The Reich's at the Jesuit Mission ruins
Christmas Kids Club
Spending time with my Villarrican Friends
Boat ride at Iguazu Falls
SIM Women's Night Out (all but 3 of us women)


I hope you all had a wonderful and relaxing Christmas. These past days I'll admit I have had tons of rest and almost too much rest this past week.

The last time you heard from me I was in Yuty, which was one of the highlights of Paraguay. I got to see what church-planting was like: a lot of visitations, having an open house and schedule, going out into the community to form new friendships, and being aware of the needs of the community. I loved it. The missionaries there are sweethearts and role models as their whole family really loves being in Paraguay. After spending so much time learning about living cross-culturally and reading about the importance of contextualization it was incredible to see missionaries who practice it almost spot on both in their ministry and lifestyle. Being a cultural learner makes a huge difference in your ministry and that was proven through the Reich's. Christy and Dan are excellent in both Spanish and Guarnani (in Paraguay they speak a mix of both languages but in the campaña they speak mostly Guarani with some Spanish thrown in; I was very clueless the majority of the time.) As a result the Reich's are able to be very active in the community. They even do a Christian radio program in Guarani. It was exciting to see them interact so well with Paraguayans and to see the countless doors that are open to them. I could write a whole book on what their everyday life looks like because they are so involved in Yuty, the church, and the surrounding areas. The joy of the Lord is their strength and it is so evident when you spend time with them.

When I was in Yuty I was able to play volleyball with a group of women from the community, go by myself to Paraguayan homes for supper, see the new church there, and even participate in worship and a Christmas kids clubs. There were many things in between like seeing the Jesuit Mission ruins, going to school events, and hospital trips, etc. There were so many valuable lessons, but to share a few the main thing I learned from them was 1. how important it is to be a cultural learner and culturally sensitive 2. you need to be brave and throw yourself out there when you are in a new culture. 3. focusing on learning the language well makes a huge difference in what you are able to do 4. That 5 people can easily run a 3 day children's program for 80 kids haha. That was probably the biggest shocker.

After Yuty, I headed to Villarrica and spent a day with some of my fantastic friends. We got to explore the countryside, go cliff jumping, and enjoy some waterfalls. The next day I went to Argentina to see the famous Iguazu Falls with another missionary and a short-
term medical student. It was beautiful.

Since I got back from Argentina on the 15th of December I have been in Asuncion. On December 15-18th all the missionaries had in-service training and the annual Christmas party. I was able to catch a whole day of the in-service training about orality. For me it was very fascinating because Paraguay is a oral culture so this has been a major focus for the missionaries. It was also fascinating to learn why I had so many frustrations with my students. For missionaries with SIM orality effects how they do ministry as in the churches 5 point sermons are not effective in rural Paraguay and for Bible studies many people are illiterate. For them, they are able to understand and engage with a story or a text that is told like a story whereas for us we can listen to a sermon and remember the bullet points.

Since this is the case, their church services are very different than ours. They sing songs, have a time of prayer, but instead of a sermon each week someone from the church volunteers to tell a story from the Bible. Another will volunteer to read some verses and then for the service there is a time for discussion on what they had heard and how it applies to them. It was really neat to sit in on the in-service training and hear the advice that these missionaries had to give about this form of discipleship and even evangelism through "storying."

After the retreat I decided to stay with my Paraguayan family in Asuncion for Christmas and now for New Years and it has been a blast, it feels like home. I have been sharing a room with their 16 year old daughter and I have really been enjoying it. It has given me more contact with Camila and Ambar and I feel even more connected as part of the family. This time around I can actually hold a conversation with my family which makes everything that much easier.

I would tell you what we did for Christmas but because I am verbose I am going to keep you in suspense until after New Years. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!

Prayer Requests:
1. Wisdom: Time is ticking fast and I need wisdom in how to spend my time so I can see my friends once more before I go and so I can finish my assignments for Ambrose.
2. Friends: My best friend Pilar has decided to get married on January 6th. Please pray for both her and my other close friend Miguel whom she will marry; that God would guide them into a healthy marriage and that he would bless them and Pilar's son Santiago (5 years old) in this
3. Parents: My parents are coming to Paraguay! (I'll explain more later). Please pray that all their travel preparations will go smoothly with passports and visas.
4. Passion/Conviction: In a recent conversation with the pastor at the church here in Asuncion he mentioned how important it is to have a passion for Jesus and a conviction to serve him. I desire a deeper understanding of that.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Taste and See that the Lord is Good

One of the girls I tutored and her sister
My friends Hulda and Suely
Grade 5
Grade 6
Grade 7
My Volleyball Girls
Some of my close friends

Praise the Lord!

After a very hard October and half of November where I struggled with myself and God, I am so thankful that I through it I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Ps 34:8).

Two months ago I was in a dark place, I did not want to be in Paraguay and spiritually I was not doing good. The past two years have been difficult for me with many ups and downs and doubts raised about God’s character and very existence. I began to have trouble praying as I thought “what if God was just an imaginary friend that I have been indoctrinated to believe?” I got to a place where when I read the Bible questions about God’s character and it’s reliability lead to doubt producing indignation and a hard heart rather than an eagerness and desire to find out more. I always thought maybe when onSite would come God would finally make sense again and I would be released from this battle in my mind, but that did not seem to happen. It wasn’t until everything seemingly crashed and there was no distraction to save me from confronting these doubts that I could finally find the truth.

For the first few weeks in October I had decided that if God wasn’t real then I could figure out ways to humanly get over the hurt I was feeling over an ended relationship. I played a lot of guitar, exercised a lot, talked to friends, journalled, everything, but it did not help. I was bitter at God as some people said “it obviously wasn’t God’s plan for you stay together” or “if God wanted you two to be together he would have made it work out” and things of the sort that would just make me angry. I finally came to the point where things were not getting better and everything I could do on my own was not helping. I went to Asuncion and visited Kelly and Tom (my mentors) and shared what was going on in my head and heart thinking that now after I have tried all humanly possible things that maybe I would give God a chance even though he A. might not exist or B. would not help me after I neglected him for such a long time. Tom said something very profound to me as I sat there on their couch telling him about the war in my mind and how stupid I felt that I got myself into this situation by letting myself get so hard hearted so that here I am a “misionera” with doubts about God’s existence. He agreed with me and said “yes, you are stupid.” I looked at him surprised and he elaborated, “yes, you are a failure.” It was comforting.

I believe that in our minds so many things become bigger issues than they truly are. We isolate ourselves thinking that “we are the only ones feeling this way” and we are embarrassed to tell other people our thoughts and struggles. I also think if we do have struggles we confide in people who are having the same struggles thinking “they are the only ones who know and even then they don’t know what it’s like as our situation is unique. That no one before has ever experienced the same and came out the other end ok.” Wrong. That weekend I heard more about the lives of Tom and Kelly who had both experienced many of the same things. They had been through heartbreak and times where they were failures too (haha, Tom that’s for calling me stupid). Even though they did not go through the same doubts I had, they had faith that I lacked and they had answers to questions I never thought of. They also knew people with the same questions. I came back from their house refreshed and back on my feet convinced that if they were right and God was real then what they said about his mercy, forgiveness, and love would be true as well. So I was willing to try the process to recovery again but this time with God and not alone.

Long story short, in the past two months God has addressed all my doubts and through them he has shown me how merciful and faithful he is in spite of my stubbornness and unfaithfulness. He has renewed my mind and my vision and passion to serve him. All of these things I felt would be impossible for God to fix or change and thinking about how he has brings tears to my eyes. I am still so embarrassed thinking about how stubborn and hard hearted I had become that it took years of bad decisions and going overseas as a “misionera” to realize how real and good God is. I am so thankful that God is bigger than me and my bad attitude. He definitely humbles the proud.

So now that you are caught up on how I am actually doing on the inside, on the outside a lot of things have happened since October…and I am not just talking about weightloss from stress and countless exercise haha!

Since November 25 I have finished my work in Villarrica at the school. I was blessed with two great weeks without curriculum to basically hang out with the kids and play games with them. I was also able to go on a couple field trips which was such a good note to end off a hard semester. After it ended I went directly to Yuty where I am right now. I am staying with Christy and Dan Reich and their two boys. It has been great to quiz them on what it’s like to do missions and church-planting in rural Paraguay, which I have always been interested in. They are busy people so it has been a great experience to see what ministry looks like for them in a town with hundreds of little homes in the area where only a few Christians live, and to see how involved they are in the lives of those in the community. They are great examples of missionaries and parents so it has been so good to see their example and take lots of notes in hopes to learn as much as I can to follow their Christ-like example.

After Yuty I will only have 2 months left in Paraguay! Crazy how time flies! Next, I will be headed to Asuncion for a youth camp December 8-12 then I am going to the Falls for my Christmas vacation. After that there’s a retreat with all the missionaries and for the rest of December I will be finishing up work from Ambrose and hanging around Villarrica to continue the friendships I have made. In January I will be moving to San Francisco to live with Amy and Jeff McKissick and their…6 children! In November they phoned and asked if I would be willing to live there and do 2 English courses, one for beginners and another for advanced speakers. In the mornings Jeff also said he would love my help in the health clinic. Amy is a nurse and Jeff is a doctor so other than church-planting they have a van that they transformed into a clinic so I will be able to help him with that in the mornings. Doing nursing and church-planting has always been an interest so I am excited for this opportunity.

Then finally, once I arrive in Canada I have found out what I will be doing next…I will be moving back to Calgary! When I get back I have one modular course left at Ambrose and so in the past month I have been brainstorming different possibilities for what I could do next between that and summer. Through the past couple of months I have realized my desire and need to be mentored and to learn more about ministry in a church setting possibly with immigrants. I got in contact with Foothills Alliance Church and Patricia Love the intercultural ministries pastor has agreed to take me on in a informal internship. For this internship I will be working at the church alongside Patti helping with the administrative and practical tasks to the numerous programs they have to reach foreigners. Foothills is known for having the most established intercultural ministries in Canada and many other churches have asked Patricia to help teach them how they can do the same thing so I am excited for this chance to learn from the lady that started it.

So that is my life these days, thank-you so much for your continual prayers and support. I am so thankful for the body of Christ. From this experience I have an even greater appreciation and understanding of what God’s intention was for us to encourage one another and spur each other on to do good works and continue walking with the Lord.

As far as pray requests other than continual prayer for safety, deeper relationships, love for the people, and a greater love for Jesus, I would also like prayer for this upcoming internship in Calgary. Now that this has been confirmed the next task is to find a place to stay. Since it is an informal internship it is unpaid and so while I am there I will be going more into debt but I feel as though this is where God is leading me and there is no better time for me to do a free internship than now when I am in between college and the work world. For that reason I am looking for a place with either very cheap rent or the best situation would be a place where I can only pay utilities and food so the amount of debt will lessen. As for onSite I am still $4,500 short of the funds needed to raise for being here in Paraguay so please pray and keep your ears open if you hear of a couple or family with a spare room in Calgary.

Thank you so much for your support once again!!