Don’t judge a book

I have another preaching invitation for this Sunday, although this time from a different church in town.  So far we haven’t made too many forays into other churches, so we thought we should make an advance trip and spy out the land as it were.  We were given the “government health warning” from a member of our own congregation whose parents are members of the other one: “It’s small, elderly and very traditional.  Expect hymns and an organ”.   Yep, got the drift, we’ll be fine with that. 

Sure enough, we pulled up outside what could have been an old-fashioned little Methodist-style chapel.  Two banks of pews are visible through the open door, symmetrically arranged on either side of a central aisle.  Milling around the back, we could see a small gaggle of predictably salt-and-pepper headed parishioners.  So far, so unremarkable, we might have been in any of thousands of little churches on any regular Sunday across Europe or the Americas. 

I was both pleased and surprised to discover two of our neighbours among the ranks of the salt and peppered.  One is our favourite grandmotherly neighbour who always detours across the plaza to say hello when she sees us, and to let me know how wonderful it is that Joni is given the freedom to enjoy playing in the mud, so it made me happy to find out that she was a Christian…. maybe I should have guessed.  The other lady I knew to be a Christian, but I thought she attended a larger church across town.  “No, I have been there, but they have loads of people doing things, so I came here because they need people who are able to serve”.  I loved that; I think in five years here that’s probably the first time I have ever heard from someone actively swimming against the prevalent current of consumerist and thrill-seeking spirituality. 

We were warmly greeted, took our places, armed ourselves with hymn books and were pretty much settling into a familiar “doing church” groove albeit amongst strangers, when the guy leading the service burst into song.  A traditional hymn it might have been, but set to a raucous folklore accompaniment on his backing CD.  I’m not entirely sure how well it worked as a piece of music, but the concept was novel, and it certainly woke us out of the groove, as well as setting the tone for the sermon where a lady came to the front and screamed down a microphone for twenty minutes, also followed by bursting into song.  Never judge a book by its cover.  So here I am today flicking through the gospels seeking divine inspiration or even some human imagination as to what I might do on Sunday.  So far the only decision I have definitely taken is that I will not be singing from the front.  The congregation will be grateful for this, even though they may never know it. 

Energy Boost

Reasons to be tired

  • It is officially supposed to be Autumn, having passed the equinox the other day, but thus far the temperature has stubbornly refused to dip below 30 degrees.
  • I am seven months pregnant (Martin reckons this is the main reason, only I keep forgetting, which is quite impressive given that I look and feel like a juggernaut).
  • The thunder and lightening woke us up at six this morning, and Joni arrived in our bed shortly after.
  • Life is quite busy, between the project at Quebracho Herrado (me), and prison (him), and working with the family from Luis Sauce (me), and teaching English (him), and the special school (me), and Scouts, and church, and… and…
  • Every time I think I’m about to have a clear morning while Joni’s at nursery, something else happens.  Today I had to detour round town to buy a replacement bit for the bike pump which died while I was trying to put air in my tyres prior to leaving the house.   
  • I am still trying to have my qualifications recognised here.  It is turning out to be the most grinding bureaucratic process of my life so far, and we’ve been through a few of those in the five years since we arrived. 
  • We are the registered keepers of a three year old… no explanation needed. 

Reasons to be cheerful

  • Today the weather finally broke and it has been raining most of the day.
  • The lady from Quebracho Herrado phoned at midday to say don’t try and come this afternoon as it has rained 80 mm’s during the morning and the village is under a sea of muddy water.
  • Joni and I made the most of an unexpectedly free afternoon playing in the puddles in the plaza (including one beautifully muddy one strategically located at the bottom of the slide which he practised landing in at speed from various angles).
  • Being soaked and filthy lent itself nicely to him not objecting to an early bath.
  • Hence he was asleep before nine o’clock for the first time in ages. 
  • We are blessed with a ridiculous number of bank holidays, the next of which is tomorrow.  The “registered keepers of three year old” thing makes lie-ins unlikely, but some slow coffee drinking time may be negotiated in between plaza trips. 

First Love?

“How can someone give up on their little boy?” asked Martin.  It’s a poignant question as we both instinctively glance across at our own little boy playing with his train track on the dining room floor.  We’re a long long way from being perfect parents and God knows we’re still going to hurt him and each other many more times yet as we muddle through towards adult-hood (both his and ours!). 

You can’t give something away if you never had it in the first place.  We were raised and shaped in humanly flawed but loving environments.  We have been educated by people who believed in us, both formally and informally.  We have enjoyed (and endured) rich and varied life experiences.  We have chosen to have our little boy(s) and we want to give him (them) the best that we have to offer, far from perfect though it will certainly be.  I have no idea whether she has ever experienced love, and I do know that as far as “choosing” to have a child is concerned, she is little more than a repository of sperm for someone else’s gratification.  With no support structure, we should maybe be more surprised that she has dedicated herself to her burden for nine years, rather than wondering why she seizes her chance to escape when the door opens in front of her.

And true to form, the axe-wielding system cludges into action.  The social worker lays down the law; “That’s abandonment of a child.  The police will bring her back and then we can enforce a program of visits”.  Yes, that’s bound to work; the shot-gun between the shoulder blades method of mentoring the needy mother towards a mature and loving relationship with her little boy.  You can’t give something away if you never had it in the first place. 

For two pins I’d adopt him myself, but apart from not being on the cards, it is probably better to support the extended family who are looking after him, complicated though those relationships are going to be.  It was his birthday on Tuesday, so we showed up with a cake and a present.  “Oh, yes, we’d forgotten…” Birthdays are a big deal in Argentina.  People have alarms set in their mobile phones to remind them to send a text greeting even the most minor of acquaintances in their agendas.  But you can’t give something away if you never had it in the first place. 

How can someone give up on their little boy?  Because even those who have experienced love will fail every day to live it, so for someone who is still living in Egypt…?  Which is why God brought Israel out of Egypt before he asked them to love him.  And even then they still didn’t manage it.  Paul says to the Corinthians that God comforts us in our troubles in order that we can comfort with the comfort with which we have been comforted.  And we still don’t manage it. 

Thinking around all this, I was reminded of an old Petra number from the eighties, “First love”.  So I went looking for it.  (The video’s not great if you’re lip-reading so I’ve added the lyrics underneath).  Personally I’m not sure about affirming Jesus as my “first love”; if I’m honest there are various contenders for that title in my life, not least the little boy playing trains on the dining room floor, but, I think it is a powerful song; I’m weak, I’m flawed, but I know that you loved me first, and because of that, I keep coming back. 

Sometimes I feel I’m pulled in so
many wrong directions
Sometimes I feel the world
seducing my affections
It’s not that I don’t know the way
It’s just a heart that’s prone
to stray
But with my weaknesses admitted
You will keep all that I’ve committed
So I commit my heart to you
My first love.

First love, first love
My soul longs after you.
First love, my first love
I want my heart to stay so true.
Because you first loved me,
Jesus, you will always be
You will always be
my first love.

It’s taken me some time to try to
A love that doesn’t change
A love without an end.
A love that keeps forgiving
A love of sacrifice and giving
I delight myself in you
My first love.

If I ever lack endurance
I remember you assurance
That your only banner over me
is love
If my heart begins to waiver
Woo me back, my loving saviour
Woo me back till I return to
My first love.

Rio Primero

Rio Primero means “First River”. It is a town with the river of the same name running through it, or else it is a river with a town of the same name running along the bank. The province of Cordoba hosts Rios Primero, Segundo, Tercero and Cuarto amongst our collection of imaginative place names. Fortunately both the town and the river of Rio Primero are more picturesque than their utilitarian monikers would suggest. So we met up there with some friends from Cordoba for a long weekend’s camping (Monday and Tuesday were bank holidays here, apparently celebrating “Carnival”; if you can’t find a national excuse for a bank holiday, borrow one from Brazil; maybe someone should suggest that as an plan to the bank-holiday-starved folk back in the UK). We found a sweet little municipal-run campsite, where we spent most of the daylight hours in the river, punctuated by a couple of excursions to the local plaza after it cooled down in the evenings.
Joni and CandelaPlaying on the river bank

Children at play…

Joni and Sergio in riverJoni and Sergio in river

Big boys play cars…
jump starting our car

… yet another flat battery.

Giant locust
Giant locust wants to play too.


Hazel Joni and watermelon
We’re still looking for the zebra, but the ayes have it as far as the watermelon is concerned.  Unfortunately we were too keen and picked it prematurely; I looked up watermelons on the internet and discovered several zillion sites carrying the information that it is very difficult to tell when watermelons are ripe enough to pick… which was the one thing I’d already managed to figure out for myself, hence the internet search in the first place.  I then found several others suggesting that I picked two or three “as a sample” to test… could be a good idea if you’re a farmer, but I only have three in the first place.  So now we’re doing a little home experiment to see if it will ripen in a cool shady corner of the garage (which is where I usually store the butternut squash and I reckon they’re probably of a similar family).  It’s looking pinker inside today than it did yesterday, so I’m hoping that progress will continue over another few days and it might even turn out to be edible after all.