Monday, August 4, 2014

The heroes in my life

When I was really small I used to name my hero as my uncle. Man, he was the coolest, but he was also the kindest and the most generous. With time I realized he had been my hero because he was so much like my grandfather. I always worshipped my grandpa, but it was not until I was older that I could see all that he truly was. One got to know my grandfather not only by talking with him, but by observing him and by listening to the stories of others. He was a humble man with no need to flaunt his good deeds, but you could see it in his actions towards others and heard it in the tales of compassion that others shared of things he had done for them. He did good, not for the glory of it, but silently, out of his love for others and for his Lord. He was the best man I knew and truly a saint here on earth. I will forever be inspired by him and call him my hero.
My grandfather passed away back in August, my first week in Argentina. Although it was very difficult to grieve so far from family, I was blessed to spend time with my grandfather and say my goodbyes before leaving, knowing he would soon go to the Lord.
One hero passed on this past year while in Argentina and another was born into my life. While these individuals are from two very distant places and born in two very different times, I see them both as heroes for similar reasons.
Paula runs the comedor at which I worked. In fact, the comedor is basically in the garage of her home. She is a small but fierce woman with a heart for others unlike anything I've ever seen. Paula works a full time job as a social worker, then returns home and puts the rest of her time and energy into the comedor and those in her community. She has a family of her own, all of whom also sacrifice for the cause for which Paula fights. She does it not for the glory, but out of love. I doubt many outside of La Plata know Paula's name, but let me tell you, almost everyone in her community does.
Every mother knows she can turn to Paula for help. Every family knows she will listen, judgment free and with understanding. Every worker at the comedor knows they can turn to her for guidance. Every school knows they can turn to her when a student needs additional help. Most importantly, every child knows she is there fighting in their corner and believing they have what it takes to succeed.
People like Paula and my grandfather are rocks to those around them. They are strong, sturdy, never-ending sources of love and support. Personally, they are deeply inspiring. I used to think I had to do something grand with my life. I wanted to make some huge difference in the world. I've grown up a bit and with some help from my heroes realized I don't need to save the world. By my goodness, if I can be the endless source of love, strength, and encouragement for those around me, if I can be for my community what Paula is for hers, if I can believe in those who have no one else in their corner, that will be enough.

Before I left, during a meeting I was asked if there was anything I’d like to say to Paula about my experience working at the comedor and working with her.  I immediately broke down in tears.  I couldn’t express in words what I felt inside and the ways Paula and the comedor have impacted my life.  Just as I couldn’t adequately express myself then, the words on this blog do no justice to Paula, the comedor, and the work they do.  She has given me insight in what I want to with my life and shown me the kind of life I want to lead.  For that and for so much more, I am eternally grateful and will forever see her as a hero alongside my grandfather.

Thanks to everyone for your love and support this year!  I could certainly use some prayers as I transition into life here in the US and figure out what’s next.  If we’re lucky, we might get one more blog out of me on some reflections over my time in the YAGM program…no promises thoughJ

A portion of the kids and workers of the comedor, Compartiendo un SueƱo, during an outing to the park! 

My grandfather and a couple years ago during a family picnic at the beach.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The weekend

For some reason I always think that something profound needs to happen for me to write a blog post.  So I wait, and I wait, and I wait.  Honestly, profound things aren't happening here everyday.  And while profound things often come with great joy, the small things often come with great joy as well.  Profound moments are momentary and usually scarce, so I might as well start sharing the abundance of joy I find in the everyday small moments.  Nothing grand happened this past weekend, it was rather ordinary, but a lot small things happened that made for a pretty wonderful few days.

It was a long weekend with Friday a holiday (Flag Day to be exact) so there was a lot of time for both relaxation and activity.  It was filled a night out dancing with good friends, watching of the World Cup, and lot's work on projects that I need to finish before I depart.  Watching the World Cup now means both supporting Argentina with the rest of the country and cheering on the US by myself.  My roommates take great pleasure in cheering on whatever team is against the US just to get me riled up and screaming at the TV. It also included a late night Bible study with a movie, pizza, strange youtube videos (look up Japanese commercials on youtube and you'll understand-or don't, they're rather scarring), and great community.

On Saturday, I also took a trip out to City Bell (the city of the comedor at which I volunteer) to watch the murga of the kids perform in the plaza.  The murga goes by the name "Rompiendo Palitos" and is made up of some of the older kids at the comedor.  It brings me great joy to see all they've accomplished since the group first started and to be able to support them as they take their talents outside the comedor walls.  Gosh, do I love those kids.  You can see a few weekend photos below...

 The government building decorated for Flag Day, or Dia de la Bandera

Watched a few games on the big screen in the plaza with picnic food and mate. This was Argentina vs. Iran.  I just love seeing the the big screen with the gigantic, beautiful cathedral shadowing behind.
 This picture does a poor job depicting how full the plaza was, but you get the idea...

Crowd dispersing happily after the game!

Mora cheering on Argentina in the bow I forced her to wear. 

 These are "lucky Argentina" bracelets that my dad sent me.  I made them with my roommates and with the kids at the comedor.  Everyone loved them and are now demanding more be sent.  This is my special shout-out to my awesome father to say THANK YOU!

Me watching the first US game with all my friends here who are also US fans.  
HINT: there are none...

Tell me this is not the cutest picture.  The poor child couldn't see anything the whole time he was waving the banner so he kept wandering further and further away from the group and would have to be  guided back. 

"Rompiendo Palitos" performing!

And to end, sometimes my computer like to make gifs with my pictures....

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The beauty of my home

I've realized recently that since settling in here in La Plata and making it my home, I've begun to take for granted the beauty that is all around me in this city as often happens when people get comfortable. So this past week I decided I was going to really notice what was all around me and it's amazing what I discovered.  I found gorgeous, old buildings that I pass everyday without even a glance, colorful flowers, and hidden, ornate details.  It's truly amazing the beauty that can be found when you take the time and attention to look for it.  

There are a so many beautiful old buildings in La Plata, with intricate details.  The thing is, they are often hidden behind layers of paint and grafitti.  There is A LOT of grafitti here in Argentina.  Almost every building you pass has been painted on, even the government buildings.  I've come to realize that no, the graffiti is not all that beautiful, but a lot of the beautiful street art that comes along with the graffiti makes up for it.  So after a few pictures of buildings, flora, etc, I've included the collection of photos I've snapped of the murals that cover the walls here. This is only a sample as there is so much more than what I've posted  throughout La Plata and Buenos Aires. I find it all incredibly beautiful. 

It's been over a year and a half since I've experienced the changing colors of fall, so this was a welcome sight!
My bus wait when traveling home from the comedor.  
Despite the cool weather, colorful flowers remain in bloom!

This Ohio girl will never get used to the seeing palm trees while bundled in a coat and scarf.  I thought palm trees signified that you were in a place that never got cold??  It's getting pretty chilly here...

These are two of my favorite old buildings that I pass when I walk.  One stands next to a large apartment being built and just doesn't seem to belong anymore, the other is covered in graffiti. When you look close the old details are incredible.

STREET MURALS... Unless marked otherwise, all photos were taken in my city of La Plata
Technically not on the street, this is on a church wall in Buenos Aires that children of the congregation painted.  I just can't get over the fact that they included Spongebob and Patrick in the Noah's ark story.

Buenos Aires

"Take care of our environment!"

Montevideo, Uruguay

I love this one and don't judge me for that.  Or you can, whatever.  I just love that she seems to have thrown off all limitations, expecations and quite obviously clothing.  She just looks so free and content. She found harmony or "armonia".

This is actually the art on the wall of the church.  You can't see it so well but it shows Jesus at a table with people of all types and from all places.  He sits with open arms, welcoming all. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

The beauty of a small church community

I was slightly worried when I first attended the church service here at San Timoteo with a total of six other individuals, on a good day.  I was accustomed to large services with rows and rows of seats, where I could slip in late into one of the back rows without being noticed, and if I was feeling unsociable could quickly slip out right after service without a word to anyone.  I liked my voice being lost in the chorus of loud instruments and more than a hundred other voices when songs were sung and prayers said aloud.  I liked choosing my level of commitment and participation in the church.  I liked not truly being needed.  Sure, the church appreciated my time, but let’s be honest, if I had not participated in what I did, someone else would have in my place.  This is not criticizing my past churches, but I doubt I am truly missed.  I doubt anyone is saying, “Wow, I really miss Kristyn Zollos.”  And that’s good, I’m okay with that.  That’s part of attending a large church.  You are one of many.

However, I’ve come to see a lot of beauty in a small church.  Recently I decided to spend my bus ride home from the comedor writing down the reasons I love San Timoteo and the feeling of a small church community.  I’ve decided to share them with you below…

1.)  I am not one of many.  I am one of few and my presence matters greatly to the others in the community.    In return, the presence of all the others in the community matters greatly to me.  There is one wonderful older man in the church who just has this big personality.   He has made it his job to close the service with the Spanish form of, “Go in peace,” and he always does it with the biggest smile on his face.  After service, he loves sharing pictures and reciting poems for everyone in attendance.  When he didn’t show up a few weeks in row I found myself feeling like a part of Sunday community was greatly missing and feeling worried that something was wrong.  Of course, others had checked in on him, knowing the cause of his absence, and we prayed for him all the while he was away.  At San Timoteo, no one is lost in the crowd, no absence goes unnoticed, no voice is unheard. 

2.)  Everyone is involved.  When we meet after church we discuss church events and plans for the future.  Everyone is invited, everyone has a say, everyone is listened to.  Generally, if an individual attends the church, they are involved in the church past solely showing up the hours of Sunday service. We are currently working on an event for this next month and we have a paper posted on the church door with everyone’s name from both the house and the church and the role they will play, whether that be cooking, serving food, decorating, or cleaning up the next day.  Everyone’s name is on that door.  We truly need the entire community to give a hand to make things successful and I think that it’s beautiful that the skills of each individual are needed and appreciated in that way.

3.)  Circle’s work.  During service we sit in a circle of benches.  During prayer we stand, holding hands with one another in a circle.  After service we sit in a circle in the church office, drinking mate and discussing the church, events, and general life.  In my previous churches, forming a circle within the church is pretty much impossible.  But when I worship at San Timoteo, I am not just worshipping with those sitting beside me and those leading the worship, I am worshipping with every individual in the room. After service when we have time to chat and plan for the future, I am chatting and planning with everyone in the congregation.  I hear the words every individual speaks and sings and they all hear mine. 

4.)  We truly pray together and for one another.  As I mentioned, at San Timoteo we pray in a circle, joining hands with one another.  Every individual has the opportunity to pray aloud.  It’s beautiful to hear both the joys and thanksgivings, as well the concerns of the others in the community.  We are truly able to prayerfully support what is going on in the hearts of one another. At my church back home, the best they can do is take time every church service to pray for about 10 families every week.  I’m not criticizing this, in fact I think it’s great they still try to pray for specific families and it’s the best they can do as a church of that size. But here at San Timoteo, every week I get to pray for and with each individual of my church community and that is a very beautiful opportunity.

5.)  I personally know the pastor and the pastor personally knows me. Yes, I’ve known the pastors at my other churches and they have all been incredible.  However, when they have so many people within their congregations it’s an impossible job for them to keep up on what’s going on in every individual’s life.  And knowing they have such a large “flock” to care for, I never feel completely comfortable taking up more of their time to ask questions and bring up things I need guidance on, so I turn to others instead.  While the vicar here and other pastors of the IELU church in Argentina still work extremely hard and are still extremely busy, I find that the smallness of the church community has allowed me to get to know the vicar and several other pastors of IELU on a comfortable, friendship level.  I think that it also might be part of a culture that focuses less on time and more on relationships.  We can sit for several hours after service in our small group talking with the pastor or vicar, asking questions, making plans for the church and sharing what is going on in one another’s lives. 

6.)  No one is missed.  I don’t mean this in the, “He’s not here, but we don’t miss him,” kind of way.  I mean that when someone walks in the door, they are noticed.  It’s impossible slip in and out without acknowledging anyone.  It’s impossible to be missed, to be lost in the crowd.  When someone is new, it is noted immediately and they are welcomed.  They are invited to join discussion after service, Bible study on the weekend and youth group on Fridays if they are the right age.  They will probably meet every individual in attendance and find it impossible to make a quick escape.  In fact it’s probably overwhelming all the greetings, but I think the greatest type of overwhelming is an overwhelming sense of welcome, don’t you?

7.)  I feel obligated.  That’s sounds like a bad thing, doesn’t it?  Yeah, I would initially think so too.  However, I find that’s its not.  I can’t just miss service or meetings because I’m tired, don’t feel like it, or have something better to do.  If I do, people will notice and will ask where I am.  What’s my excuse? “Kristyn thought it was a nice day and decided she would go to the park instead.”  Yeah, I can’t do that and I don’t want to do that.  The problem is that sometimes I think I want to do that, but once the sense of obligation kicks in and I’m sitting in the church or church office, I am so glad I am there and with the others in the community.  I am grateful for feeling like I have to be there because if I didn’t I would miss out on a lot of good stuff, as I am sure I have at my churches in the past.  Sometimes I just need a little jolt of obligation to get me going, ya know? 

I don’t think it’s impossible for a large church to achieve this small church feel by creating opportunities for smaller communities to be created.  In fact, my previous church at Purdue, Campus House, did an exceptional job at this through church housing, and small, weekly bible study groups.  However, I feel as if it’s impossible for a larger church to do all of the above despite their efforts.  I also feel that there are many things that larger churches accomplish that smaller churches, like San Timoteo, are unable to.  That’s life and reality and the way things have to be.  I’ve just enjoyed seeing the beauty in my current reality within my small and loving community at San Timoteo.

Worshipping in a circle.  This day was a church event so there was a very large turnout.  Sadly, I can't exactly remember what we were celebrating this particular day.

Worshipping outside on a beautiful Sunday.  Even Mora (our dog) joins us sometimes:)

The community on Reformation Day.

The temple of the church.  I'm not even sure if we say temple in english, but it's referred to as the "templo" in spanish so that's the only word for this space my mind can think of.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Blog Revival

Recently a friend here made the comment, “So, you’ve abandoned your blog, huh?”.  And I replied, “No!  Well, yes, in a way….but no!”.   At the beginning I thought that blogging would be easy for me.  I enjoy writing and enjoy taking some personal time to write.  However, between writing newsletters, trying to keep my own personal journal of this experience, and the amount of free time (in which I have writing energy) that I find I have, keeping up a blog is a lot more difficult than I expected.  So if you are an individual who enjoys following my experience through my blog, my apologies for my lack of blog discipline.

Since it has been so long, I think it’s time for a bit of a life update. However, I'm going to try and use photos for the majority of it since many of you may have already read my newsletter.  I like words, but someone once said a photo is worth a thousand of them:) 

To begin, I believe that I have to stretch way back to the beginning of February to our YAGM retreat in the southern town of Bariloche.  Our time here was filled with wonderful community with the other YAGM as well as the local Lutheran church, delicious in-apartment cooking, a night with the family of Ignacio (Krystle, our coordinator's husband), reflection on our experiences, and spectacular hikes and times of exploration.  Amazing week!

The town of Bariloche.

View from the town.

View from the top on hike day #1!

Some members of the local Lutheran church were kind enough to join us on our walk.  

The group starting the trek down.

The family of Ignacio, our coordinator's husband, lives in Bariloche and we were lucky enough to be invited for a delicious chicken and veggie dinner cooked over the fire by his father.

The group stood around the fire, listening to Ignacio's father share wonderfully entertaining stories.

The view before starting one of our hikes.
View at the top with Elizabeth and Katie.  From this point we at lunch, and created skits to reflect on our experiences.  It was a pretty great backdrop.

A morning devotional on the shore of the beach.  Not too many better ways to feel God's presence in nature.

Immediately after the retreat, I met up with my sister who was waiting in Buenos Aires, and we left to meet up with the rest of the family who had flown into Chile.  We traveled a bit to some southern areas of the country where we enjoyed hikes, bike rides, great food, and some spectacular surroundings. This is truly a beautiful country!  At the end of the trip, we returned to the also beautiful but much more chaotic city of Buenos Aires.  We were able to explore the city a bit and also take a trip to La Plata.  It was so great to have my family meet my friends, Mora, and see the place that I call home.

Momma, Brad, Katelyn, and dad on a hike!

My love for dogs is genetic.  We took a REALLY HARD uphill bike ride to this viewpoint and to a tea house at the top.  But when we got to the teahouse we found out it was closed until later in the day. So we decided to take this REALLY HARD bike ride twice.  I don't know if I've ever been so exhausted in my life.  This dog was so sweet accompanied us the entire trek down.  

Katelyn and I from the viewpoint.  Notice the shirt?  "Yeah, I'm from CLE."  A little Christmas gift from the parents.

My other gift....think their trying to convince me of something??

Mama and me.

A little beach we took our bikes to.

The colors are pretty amazing, huh?

An awesome older couple demonstrating tango in the streets of Buenos Aires.

Katelyn stayed a few extra days with me in Buenos Aires and La Plata.  We had the opportunity to explore a huge street fair that takes place every Sunday in Buenos Aires.  For two girls who like hand-made goods, it was amazing!

Along the street bands played.  The one above had so much energy and were so fun to watch.  They knew how to draw a crowd.

Two of my favorite gals:)  This is Kate in La Plata just before she left.

At the comedor we are still waiting for school to begin.  Many of the teachers are on strike, so while they were supposed to start school weeks ago, we are still waiting.  But while waiting we are prepping for when school starts with small assignments and practices of everyday.  Throughout the summer we did small projects such as origami as shown below...

(photo courtesy of Nay Morales)

(photo courtesy of Nay Morales)

As for the church, everything this new year has been really great.  I plan to share more on the following blog post so I'm not going to discuss it too much.  Key words, "I plan."  I think this post is about long enough anyways.  

Thank you so much for following along with my life this year!  Sorry I've been doing so poorly with sharing more of it!  Much love to you all!