Silence descends

We are off to Chile for the next little while, starting on Wednesday. Apart from that, we had our house broken into on Friday so we are currently without internet. That’s not strictly true, we are without anything to plug into the internet. And even that’s not quite true, because the idiots managed to leave behind the cable when they took my laptop. Only thing worse than a thief has got to be a stupid one. Our old desktop is currently on long term loan in the prison in Cordoba, so we need to organise borrowing it back after we return from Chile; in the meantime, ironically, it will be safer left in the prison!
Back at the beginning of February sometime.

Christian conferences

I started writing this last August and it has sat on my desk-top not writing itself ever since, so this is me finishing it by hand. Technology huh!
This cartoon appeared on the Asbo Jesus blog on the 4th of August.
Christian conference carbon footprint

Which generated quite a lot of discussion on the site, including this comment; “I am getting pretty sick of all these progressive/emerging conferences that say want to reflect the kingdom of God and yet you go to the gathering and it’s like a college reunion…”

Then a couple of weeks later in August, some USA friends in Bolivia wrote in their news update; “X went to Cochabamba last weekend to be part of a Christian Education Conference. He was scheduled to teach two seminars and we wondered if this was good stewardship to go that far and only speak twice…” Now to be honest, I have followed the progress of this family for the last fourteen years or so, and I have lots of respect for what they are doing in Bolivia, but the impression I had of their lifestyle is pretty much “corn-fed USA”, so it kind of surprised me, in a positive way, that they were thinking more widely (sorry if I have underestimated you, guys), and it also made me ask a few questions of my own.

Some time around then, the first advertising mailshots started arriving for our own Latin Link “Inspire” conference held in the UK. My attention was grabbed by the one that highlighted how many missionaries we are flying in from Latin America to contribute to the weekend. I had kind of thought that in times of increasing carbon awareness, it might be considered anachronistic to measure the importance of ones event according to the number of air-miles clocked up by the speakers; but apparently we haven’t yet got that far in our thinking.

Also around the same time I was reading an article on “vulnerable mission” on the Oscar website where the author was also publicising his forthcoming seminars on “vulnerable mission” to be held in three different countries. Which made me think that if we are prepared to spend thousands of dollars jetting around the globe in order to discuss how to make ourselves more vulnerable to the people we are working among, without even blinking at the irony inherent, surely surely we have lost the plot completely.

We receive monthly updates from the Oscar website, (which incidentally is a fine source of information and resources). The last section of the monthly update is a gazetteer of upcoming events. There are zillions of them. I could spend my entire life cruising from Christian event to Christian event. What are they all for? What do they achieve?

I imagine that at least some of it is about scratching backs and boosting egos, hence the “college reunion” quote above. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; heck we can all use a bit of ego boosting from time to time. But I suspect that there might not be entirely 100% correlation between “doing things that make me feel busy/useful/important” and “building the Kingdom of God”, and that it might be a good idea once in a while to stop and be honest about the real reasons why we are doing some things, and not doing others.

Christian events enable us to opt out of real life, which let’s face it, is difficult and tiring and we all need a break from it from time to time. And we are also able to pretend that “back there” somewhere else in our real lives, we are doing better than we are because Christian events don’t require us to prove that we are walking the talk outside of the cosy walls. The 3D people I work with are much more complicated than the 2D powerpoint presentation I put together about them. They also don’t applaud me in the same way as the audience of the powerpoint presentation. It is much easier to be loving to the people who speak my jargon over the coffee that someone else made, than to the kid whinging around my legs or the beggar at my door while I am trying to cook dinner and mop the floor. Take me out of my environment and I can do the image thing; look like I am getting it all right for two, three, even four days at a time. I can also fail to mention to my fellow conference goers that I too am unable to sustain this for more than two minutes in my real relationships back in my real life.

Here in Argentina there are a million self important little ministries who measure their own significance according to the number of international conferences the pastors / leaders attend. How childish, we say, how mickey mouse. Absolutely. Which is why it is hard to know how to respond when those very leaders say of our mission members “(Person) must spend their entire life on board a bus or a plane”. And of course our temptation here is just as high to fill our time with things that make us feel busy/useful/important, as we flit in and out of the meetings we have organised, and just in passing don’t quite have time to allow too many people into our lives in any real or sustained way. Is the observation true? Maybe or maybe not. Are all the miles travelled justifiable? Maybe or maybe not. Actually I don’t think those questions are too relevant. What I think is more relevant, is that this is the impression people have of us. This is the image we have created. This is the Christian life and ministry that our mission (and probably lots of others) has been modelling. So are we going to be OK about this, or do we need to start dealing with it?


Sometimes there’s too much real life going on to do it justice by writing about, and sometimes the most interesting things can’t really be aired on a publicly accessible website. Sometimes other peoples Real Lives make mine seem too insignificant to write about. I wonder if Balfour ever regretted his declaration.
Anyway. Saturday Martin went to the prison in Cordoba, taking with him a guy from here who was visiting for the first time, always a nerve wracking experience, although apparently he was spared the worst of the security checks (I won’t go into details, it’s not pleasant). Meanwhile I had a phone call from one of our team members who is normally in Buenos Aires, to say that he was in Cordoba, and was going to pop over and see us in the evening; (three hours drive constitutes “popping” around here, Argentina is a big country). So in the evening Martin and Rafa arrived back from Cordoba, shortly followed by Dany and Flavia. As soon as they arrived we had an appointment with a notary to sort out the papers for our car (Dany was the previous owner and the car is still in his name), so we spent a happy two hours sitting in the notary’s office (notorious office?) while the lady shuffled papers around us. Then we picked up Marisa (member of our church who is involved in the project in the village of Quebracho Herrado), and went out to see the village with her, picking up a couple of roasted chickens on the way back for dinner.

Sunday we went to church, entertained a bunch of neighbourhood kids, waved Dany and Flavia off to Villa Maria, their next destination, picked up Marisa again, and went to another church, out in a different village of Porteña, 40 kms away, where there is a guy who is involved in the prison ministry which Martin is hoping to hook up with here in San Francisco. Arrived home at 2300 hours, and a family from church came round to share food (evening meal happens late around here, midnight is quite normal). At 2 in the morning I remembered that I was supposed to have written an email to someone, and decided that I didn’t have enough braincells left to put a sentence together (sorry Viv!)

Today and for the next while, I am helping in the mornings at a summer play scheme for kids with learning disabilities. Which is how I got into this whole silly game in the first place, working on a play scheme for disabled kids when I was 15 years old. Full circle. In about an hour or so, someone is coming round to talk to Martin about prisons, we’re not sure exactly who it is, he just phoned up, but we think it might be a guy who Martin met the other day who has a son inside.

Meanwhile, there are some slightly bizarre (to us anyway) military maneovres happening in the upper echelons of the church, causing political rumblings in the rank and file. Luckily this one isn’t being funded by the USA, so there is hope that the outcome might not be quite so bloody. We are trying to provide a space for the wounded and the offended to sound off (partly because we agree at least with some of them), but we’re trying to do that in a way that might enable people to build bridges and move forward in relationship rather than to bed into their trenches or resort to guerrilla tactics.


It’s silly season in Argentina, post-Christmas, summer holidays, everything official stops till March. By April things are just about getting into the swing of the year. By October people start saying “can’t start anything new, it’s nearly the end of the year”.
We’ve been taking the car out to discover the back of beyond around here. Main roads are asphalted, minor roads come in a range of potential surfaces. Martin downloaded some GPS software from the internet, so he with his toys, and I, armed with my binoculars, have been enjoying discovering a whole new world in the bush, spotting birds, iguanas, and the odd hare.

Today we went out to the village in Quebracho Herrado with a couple of church folk, found somewhere which might be suitable to rent for activities there, a couple of rooms at the back of the bar, and a large patio area attached. It needs a bit of restoring, and we need to find out how much they would want for it, but it feels like we might have taken another step forward.


The post Christmas trough started early, not helped by the fact that it rained nearly incessantly from Wednesday to Friday. New Years eve went OK, there were fifteen of us around the table for barbecued cow. Some of our guests couldn’t get transport, so I played taxi-driver. Dodging the fireworks being set off by small children in the middle of the main roads helped me to realise why sensible taxi-drivers take the night off. New Years day, we spent the whole day trying unsuccessfully to decide what we were going to do with it, and yesterday didn’t fare much better either. So now we’re all worn out from arguing about doing nothing. Luckily it’s sunny today, there’s hope for 2009 yet.
And a merry bloomin’ New Year to you too.