Sunday, March 25, 2012

Paraguay 3

Saturday morning we took it pretty easy.  Chuck got out early and walked around the neighborhood, and practiced his Spanish by visiting with some workers building a house nearby.

Later in the morning we went to Tim's host home by taking a bus to the Botanico, and then walking through it to Tim's neighborhood.  The Botanico is a large park, about the same size as Central Park in New York City.  The entry is beautifully landscaped and very green.
Farther in, it is more dry, like a mowed prairie with a variety of trees.
several bottle trees in the Botanico
It was a pretty warm day, so we drank terere as we walked.
 We had lunch with Tim's family---I forget the name of the meat, but it is a fried breaded meat, and it was served with mashed potatoes, and ice cream for dessert.

We went back to Tim's home for the rest of the afternoon, which included conversation in Spanish without Tim's help, and a siesta. Then we had guiso for supper before going back to the hotel.

David and Judy and their Paraguay children were there, having gathered to help their daughter, Wendy, and her husband, Sammy, move into the apartment at the hotel.  We enjoyed getting reacquainted with them a bit before going to bed.

On Sunday morning, Tim was scheduled to play in the worship band at church, so we got ready early and Francisco picked us up in time for Tim to get to an early rehearsal.  We relaxed at the home of Francisco and Mercedez while Tim was at church, and walked to church when it was time.  My first impression of the church was that the sanctuary was quite dark.  The worship band was at the front and Tim was seated at a drum set, which seemed unusual.  People were very friendly and greeted each other and us.  It was nice.  I took a few pictures, but only one turned out.
The worship band rehearsing at church---Tim and Cara were both helping.
Then the lights came on, and Tim moved away from the drums to pick up the bass guitar, so that explained a few things.  The sanctuary really wasn't so dark after all!

We really enjoyed worship with Tim's church.  Chuck had written up a greeting to share, and did very well with that.  After church we got to tour the guardaria where Riley and Katie work.  It was inspiring to see that kind of momentum from a small congregation.

The pastor's family joined us for lunch at Tim's home. 

Tim went to play basketball in the afternoon with some friends, and we reconnected with a classmate of mine from high school, C. Paul Amstutz and his wife, Hildi.
We had a very good time sharing with each other where our lives have taken us and how God has moved.  We were so glad they had a little time in their busy schedule.  C. Paul is the supervising Chaplain for the same group of Chaplains that includes Feliciano, Andrew's host dad. 

Part of our conversation included how God had used small things to lead in ways we could not expect.  Hildi had enjoyed learning English in school.  Her teachers had encouraged her to learn even more English so she took extra classes beyond what was required.  Because of her proficiency in English, she was recruited to be part of an MCC team in Bolivia.  She needed the English for team meetings, because most of the other members of the team were from the United States, including C. Paul.

I thought about this in relation to my goal for the year, to look for how to be part of 'thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven'.  My tendency is to look for some big thing to become a part of...some major change...some huge sacrifice.  There have been major changes and sacrifices for C. Paul and for Hildi, but they began with the small choices right in front of them.

Here are a couple more pictures of the home where Tim lives.

 Monday was our first day to work with Tim at Alto Refugio.  Maybe I should begin with the story of Alto Refugio.

Chuck's cousin David Schmidt and his wife Judy were missionaries in the eastern part of Paraguay during the early part of their marriage.  One of the first people to come to Christ was a woman named Alicia. 

After a while Alicia moved away, and still later, David and Judy moved to Asuncion to begin church planting there in the city.  Soon after moving to Asuncion, they reconnected with Alicia.  She was living in the city, and she joined them in the work of planting a church, and also became their maid, living in a small house in their yard with her young daughter.

After a while Alicia became sick, very sick, and they did not know what was wrong or how to help her.  David and Judy were unfamiliar with the public health system because they had insurance and used a private hospital, so they had to learn through trial and error.  Fortunately for them, and probably by God's providence, the first hospital they tried happened to be the one that specialized in the disease that Alicia had.  That disease turned out to be HIV/AIDS.  Over the next couple of years, walking with Alicia through the course of her illness became Judy's calling.  As Alicia became more and more sick, Judy cared for her.  In hospitals in Paraguay it is expected that family members will accompany the patients and provide most of their daily care.  Judy became Alicia's nurse, and for the last 18 months of Alicia's life, with only short breaks of respite care from Alicia's family members, Judy was with Alicia most of her days and nights.  Judy even took on giving lessons in English to help pay for medications.  When Alicia died, David and Judy raised her daughter.

Through this experience, David and Judy became aware of the extreme needs of the Paraguayans who have HIV.  In Paraguay persons with HIV are so ostracized that family members abandon them, fearful that they also will be ostracized, just because of the association.  Medicine at that time was difficult to get and expensive.  People from outside the city had to travel to the hospital and had no one to care for them or visit them, and no place to be while waiting for appointments and treatment.

David and Judy began visiting others with HIV in the hospital while they looked for a way to be even more involved in ministry to those who were suffering.  Through contact with a ministry in Africa, they realized that a drop in center would be an ideal support.  A house across the street from the hospital became available and they found a way to buy it.  It became too small for all the needs they were trying to address, so they tore it down and built bigger, and then bigger, and then still bigger. 

Currently they have support groups, medication clinics, and food distributions.  They serve breakfast and lunch every day.  They have a program for the children.  They go out into schools and businesses in the community and educate them about HIV.  Many have come to faith, but that is not a prerequisite for receiving help at all.  Churches from all around Paraguay, and even internationally, have become involved in the ministry and it continues to grow.  You can learn more at their web site
David and Judy Schmidt
Our day at Alto began with a tour, and then we packaged food for distribution. After lunch we had the opportunity to attend a very special event.

This day was a special day for the program for children.  A Quincenera was planned to celebrate the fifteenth birthdays of those young people who come to Alto Refugio.

A Quincenera is a celebration often as big as a wedding in Latin cultures, and the families who come to Alto do not have the means to provide this for their children.  Alto also has to do it on a smaller scale than a wedding, but they did it very well.  The upstairs area was decorated beautifully and there was a huge decorated cake, gifts for the fifteen year olds, favors for everyone, and plenty of pop and pizza for all.  There was a program that included a testimony from a young woman, a devotional from David, and liturgical dance.  There was the traditional waltz, and many many opportunities for families to take pictures and celebrate the growing up of their children.

We did not take any pictures in order to respect the privacy of those who come to Alto.  No pictures can be posted online of clients at Alto unless those people have expressly given permission.

In the evening we visited more with David and Judy, and that is where we heard most of the story above.  We also had the chance to visit one more time with their son, Anton, and his wife, Faith, and their children.
Anton and Faith
Emily, Jordan, and Nyah
As I pondered this day later, it again became evident that God leads through our faithfulness in the small things that are in front of us.  Judy could have chafed at giving up the time she would normally use to be planting a church in order to care for Alicia.  She could have thought it was too small in comparison to the greater things she could be doing for God.  But it was through caring for Alicia that this ministry began.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Paraguay 2

Because I'm so slow at getting this trip recorded, I'm going to try to get through a couple of days in one post. 

When we landed in Paraguay, we were greeted at the airport by Tim, David, and Francisco.  David is Tim's boss at Alto Refugio.  Francisco is Tim's host dad.  They took us to the hotel, and we quickly changed into summer clothes before going to Tim's host home for the evening.

That day was a birthday in Tim's family.  Laura was celebrating turning 23.  When we got there at around 4 or 5 in the afternoon, Laura was already working in the kitchen, preparing for the feast that was to come.  There was a wonderful asado, and many guests...mostly family.

People arrived through the late afternoon and evening.  Mercedez, Tim's mom, and Janette, his sister, came and also got to work in the kitchen.  Someone started charcoal in the grill outside.  Meat began roasting over the charcoal while other dishes were cooing in the kitchen.
This pic would have been better when the plates were full...but you can still see the sausages and mandioca on the back plate, and the sopa paraguaya on the front plate.
 There were a variety of meats served throughout the evening, along with delicious mandioca, a root vegetable that is often prepared in similar ways to the way we prepare potatoes here.  Sopa paraguaya is a corn bread that also has cheese and onion in it - delicious.  The food began to be served around 8 or 9pm and continued for a long while.  It is a good recommendation for slow food.  We just continued to nibble and enjoy conversation in our broken Spanish throughout the evening.

It was great to begin to get to know Tim's family and see how they enjoy Tim.
Laura and her cake

This is our only picture of Juliana.  She lives in the home of Tim's host cousins, who also happen to be a Radical Journey host family for Riley.  Juliana's first word was 'Riley'!  Apparently she is a biter, not out of anger, but out of excitement, and Riley has been on the receiving end more than once.
The next day was a Friday, and we slept in and relaxed at the hotel during the day.  In the evening we were invited to another host family's home for supper.  This was the home of Feliciano and Rosa, who have Andrew living with them.

Andrew with his host family
Feliciano is a chaplain.  In Paraguay, Christian businessmen sometimes contract with a chaplain for the spiritual nurture of their employees.  There is a network of Mennonite chaplains that includes 50-60 who minister throughout the country, and Feliciano is one of them.  Rosa teaches math at a high school in Asuncion.

One of the fun parts of our trip was bringing gifts from home to the team.  We had two large suitcases full of candy and other things to share with the people we spent time with in Paraguay.  On this evening we got to distribute the treats for the team.
These are some of the goodies sent for Riley
Andrew works at Alto Refugio as his assignment for Radical Journey.  In the mornings he works at a variety of jobs, along with Tim, and they enjoy working together.  They might be cleaning, packaging food for distribution, moving furniture in preparation for a meeting or party, cleaning a pool, etc.  In the afternoons Andrew works with Dulce Refugio, a complementary organization to Alto Refugio.  Dulce Refugio is a program for the children who come with their parents to Alto Refugio.  There is a wide age group, especially during the summer school break, and Andrew seems to really connect with all the children from the youngest through the adolescents.
In the afternoons, Tim's work is mostly on updating and reworking the Alto Refugio web site.  He has been learning a lot about how web sites work in the process.

Katie and Riley work at a guardaria, which is similar to what we would think of as a preschool/day care.  The guardaria where they work was started by the church that Tim, Riley, and Cara attend in the neighborhood where they live.  The church began the guardaria with preschoolers and have added an older class each year so that now they provide preschool as well as school through the second grade.  The plan to continue adding classes until they have all of the grades younger than high school.
Cara works at a different guardaria.  This one was of interest to us, because it is one we visited when we were in Paraguay thirteen years ago.  It is located just in front of the albergue (hostel) for homeless children where our Laura worked during her service year.
 Just a couple of other pics from that evening...
I really like this one of Chuck enjoying the people and the evening.
This was our meal, well, part of it.  Pizza kept appearing from the house until we were way too full.  It was wonderful.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Too Contented??? Redecorating and Introspection

The last two weeks we have been working very hard to finish our dining room.  I finished plastering the walls.  Chuck did some ceiling repairs.  We painted.  I sorted and cleaned and got rid of many things and organized many other things.  We bought a rug, a light fixture, curtains.  I endlessly thought about which furniture I wanted in here while walking through the house to figure out what would fit and how.

One day we were talking about the project with Becca and trying to remember when we began the project.  I was thinking two years ago.  She was thinking it might have more like three years ago.  So I looked up the blog post that documented the beginning of the project.  Here it is.  And if you don't want to look it up, here are the pics I posted.

Yes, the date is April 15, 2008---almost 4 years ago!

The ability to be content has usually been a good thing for me, with the life I have chosen.  But there are some areas in which discontent would be an asset.  At any rate, after four years of living with the pics in that post, we now get to enjoy this!
The photograph on the wall was taken by Cookie Wiebe.  It is a print of one of the photos in her exhibit, Through the Eyes of a Stranger.  The metal chest with drawers once belonged to Aunt Joanna, Chuck's great aunt.  But I claim her too, because I already loved her before I knew or loved Chuck.  She was my Sunday School teacher in Jr. High, and introduced me to keeping a journal.  She was an adoptive parent, and was a mentor and empathetic guide as we floundered our way through adoptive parenting.

The two-way china cabinet---put the dishes away from the doors in the kitchen, set the table from leaded glass doors in the dining room.

The old entertainment center, now book and cd storage.  The photo is another of Cookie's.

and one more Cookie photograph above the computer desk

the fireplace corner
comfortable seating on area rug

light fixture over table's new location

Before launching into the final push on the room and after many ideas from kids and others, we realized that we wanted to change the room to make it reflect the life we have now.  We are only two people living in this house now.  A table for 10 does not need to dominate the room.  

With my knitting hobby, I like something to watch while I work, so we have been watching shows on line a lot this winter.  Usually we either sit on hard wooden dining chairs, or we move the furniture around and squeeze in a couch from the living room.  It would be nice to have some comfortable seating for evenings when we are home and feel like watching something on the computer.

Now the table has been made a bit smaller and moved to one side of the room. This makes room for something comfortable in the main part of the room where the computer is.

* * * * * * *

In doing this project the last two weeks, I've spent a lot of time thinking about how it has affected me.  I've noticed three things.

Created in God's Image  I believe that the joy we experience from making something ugly into something beautiful is a direct result of being created in God's image.  The Bible begins with creation, and with God stepping back and enjoying it, and proclaiming it good.  At this point in the process, when mostly what is left is the stepping back and enjoying it, well, it is nice...

It is the same as planting a garden, or baking a beautiful loaf of bread, making up an amazing lesson plan, working on a photo album, writing a poem or working out the pattern for a sweater.  Creating is programmed into us.  It lightens our hearts.  I want to remember this when my heart needs some lightening up.

I think this desire to create something beautiful also is a part of what can drive materialism, because it in some ways fulfills that need to create.  Each time we buy new clothes we have a sense of creating a look, making something new and fresh.  And clothes are only a part of it.  Things are made to break, and innovations happen so rapidly that even when things aren't broken, we wish for newer, better.  The joy of creating is a bit addictive, and it is easy to slip into 'retail therapy' to lighten a mood, rather than cooking, gardening, knitting.  And so...

Materialism  There are things we needed for this room, or at least we thought we needed.  Since we were moving the table away from the ceiling fan/light, we needed a light over the new table location.  Since we were moving some casual seating into the room, we needed an area rug.  Our current curtains were over 20 years old and could no longer be washed without also disintegrating, so we needed some curtains.  But how do you decide what to buy, how much to spend, when to make do?   We didn't already have any of the things I've mentioned above, so we did buy those, and we found reasonably priced items.  But what about furniture?  What about a place to put the toaster close to the new table location?  What would be the comfortable things to sit on.

When fighting materialism, comparison can be deadly.  I can justify buying more because friends I respect have better stuff than I have, or I can refuse to buy anything at all because there are people who have less than me.  I can evaluate myself as being 'good' or 'bad' based on the people I choose to compare with.  It's a false method of evaluation.

When we started buying a few things for this room, suddenly it became my mindset to fill the room with new things.  It wasn't a goal that I was making so much as it became an assumption that just evolved with each purchase.  I hardly knew it was happening until I heard myself telling Chuck what kinds of things I was thinking about buying, and until I realized what I was looking for online.

It is so so easy to be swept away with buying new things.

Selfishness.  Materialism is usually accompanied by a focus on the self.  But even if I didn't buy lots of stuff, redecorating involves a lot of emphasis on me.  What do I like, what do I want, how would I like this to be---all of these are important questions to ask as we make a space more usable in our home.  The problem for me was that I noticed that kind of thinking needing to be prevalent for a large percentage of the day as I worked on the room.  It was crowding out the other thoughts I wanted to nurture, like maybe; how can we be likely to use this room to further the kingdom and will of God?  During the decorating process it was easy to forget to ask kingdom questions with my focus so frequently on self.  Which leads to...

Ability to hear God's voice.  In an earlier post I wrote about needing three things in order to make it easier to hear the voice of God in my life.  I need to be in touch with the brokenness of the world.  I need stillness in which to listen to God.  I need contact with others who are also trying to hear the voice of God.  During this two weeks of interior decorating, those things were pushed to the background.  They didn't have to be.  There would have been ways to be less intense about the room and more intentional about making space for those things I have chosen.  But I got a little bit obsessive about the room and lost some of my perspective.

the attempt to rectify this:
Materialism.  When I recognized how much I was focused on new things, I was able to step back a bit.  I began to take trips through the house to look at what we already have that could be an asset to this room.  That is how Aunt Joanna's metal drawer cabinet was found.  We also brought down a rocking chair that had been upstairs that was the exact shade of turquoise as the curtains.  Chuck looked at our two person glider that had some loose joints and found them easy to fix, so the worn out and stained upholstery may be updated instead of buying new furniture.

As for comparison, I worked hard to remind myself that our choices had to be right for us, based on our walk with God.  They could not be about the choices anyone else has made.  It was helpful to turn my mind away from who has what and how I compare, and to turn my mind toward what my values are and how those values will be reflected in the space we create.

Selfishness.  I'm not sure how well I did at changing this, but it was good for me to recognize it.  One thing that helped was to be more intentional about praying for others, and I took time to make up a new prayer journal for that purpose.  But then I wasn't so good at actually using the journal every day, so yeah, not a stunning success story here.

Ability to hear God's voice.  On Saturday, March 2, there was a training for allies in the local Circles of Hope initiative.  When I realized how insulated I'd allowed myself to become, I registered for the training.  The Circles initiative was something Cookie was instrumental in starting in our area.  I've been drawn to it, but my other commitments did not allow participation.  They still probably don't, but the training was excellent.  I learned a lot.  My focus changed.  And maybe someday soon I can be involved in a more regular and concrete way.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Paraguay 1

 We went to Paraguay to see Tim during the last week in January and the first week in February.  Since then I've been pretty busy, but it's time to get this recorded.  We took this picture while we were still fresh.  Our first flight was delayed because of bad weather at our first landing point, which was also our place to transfer to our overnight flight to South America.  We were very glad for the long layovers our travel agent planned into the trip, because we ran from one plane to the other and the second flight was already boarding, so we didn't have much extra time at all.

Overnight flying is harder than I anticipated, at least as far as being able to sleep sitting up in a small space.  But because of the aforementioned bad weather, many people missed their flights and our overnight flight was empty.  Halfway through the night Chuck moved to another seat, giving me two and I could curl up.  That was enough to let me sleep.

The rest of the pictures in this post are from the hotel where we stayed.  The hotel belongs to Alto Refugio, which is the organization where Tim is working.  I'll say more about that in a future post.  This hotel was donated to them for their work, and they are waiting on permits in order to use it for their ministry.  In the meantime, it was a very pleasant and beautiful and comfortable place for us to enjoy Tim.

Dawn from the balcony.  This balcony was wonderful for early morning devotions or late evening relaxing, but much too hot when the sun was above the trees.
Dawn, facing the back wall of the hotel grounds. 
If you stand on the picnic table and look over the back wall, this is what you see in the mornings.
Another view of the balcony.  Almost everywhere you go, the floors are tile.  It is easier to clean with the fine red soil of Paraguay, and you don't need a carpet to keep your feet warm there.

This is where people could park when they use the hotel.  That vehicle belongs to David and Judy, the founders of Alto Refugio.  This side of the hotel has the windows for a large gathering room for groups, and above, the balconies for the hotel rooms.
This is the view from our balcony.  Beyond the wall is the neighbor's property.
Another view of that side of the building.  There are window air conditioners in the rooms, which we used after the first couple of nights.  It was warm, but reasonable when we got there.  After a couple of days it got pretty hot.  Most homes do not use air conditioning much, if at all.

This is facing the front gate of the hotel.  Locked gates, iron fences, etc., are important for security.  Places to sit outside are important for managing the heat and for social interaction.  This would be part of the parking lot, but it is also a gathering place, a place to drink terere' (I can't get accent marks right with my American keyboard), a place to eat where there is a breeze and some shade.
The same view during the one rain we had while we were there.
The street side of the gate.
Looking across the pool from the back wall at the hotel.  We spent quite a bit of time under that thatched roof.
Looking toward the pool from the other side.  David, Tim, and Andrew (another Radical Journey participant) planted those little sprigs of grass in the days before we arrived.  In Paraguay they will soon be well established.
This is a shower head, pretty typical for all of Paraguay.  The shower runs cold unless you flip a switch to change the water to hot through the wiring you can see.  We've been told not to touch the shower head while using the shower!
A gecko was there one morning when I showered.  I saw him, or a friend of his, a couple of other times in other parts of the hotel while we were there.

flowers on the balcony

hibiscus growing in the hotel grounds