Days 3 and 4 – At Sea – The Joy of Meeting New People

Ship at sea...

Ship at sea…

You may not like cruising. There are days when the ship is making way from one port city to another and you spend the whole day (or a number in a row) at sea.  Some people feel constrained, bored, or even listless on these days.  Of course, the cruise lines know this, and so they plan activities of all kinds to fill the hours.  We took dance lessons, exercised, read, and did much writing on our days “at sea.” But, the most enjoyable experience was meeting people from all over the world.  For example, we met Sandy and Fiona from a little town outside Edinburgh, Scotland.  (I wanted them to take me back home with them after the cruise because I love Scotland in general and Edinburgh in particular!)  Sandy retired from a lifetime of service with an Edinburgh Bank, and they now together operate a small bed and breakfast.  They were a delightful couple and they shared with us the drama of the recent Scottish vote for independence and how it had affected them and their country.  Then there was Jim and Sherry from the U.S. midwest.  Jim spent his life as a methodist pastor.  He had ministry scars, but joys as well.  We had stories to share, a connection that comes from knowing we have lived some of the same experiences.  Now they are active in campus ministry at a university in their city.

We also kept bumping into Frank and Nina from Toronto, Canada. They immigrated to Canada from Asia and Frank has an active practice as a doctor.  They love to travel. Frank is into heavy metal bands and action movies, and Nina balances him out with her mild manner and gentle spirit.  (I was grateful when I saw Frank and Nina appear on the dance floor because Frank makes me look like a good dancer!) They became fast friends as did the others that we met. Along the way, we asked them to tell us their stories, and listening to them was like opening window to new worlds. We talked politics and faith; we learned about the people of countries we have never visited, and we listen to dreams and tragedies.

rico milagros

Together with Rico and Milagros

One thing we love to do when cruising is to dine at the same time and place each evening.  That way we can get to know our waiter and servers.  We can slowly learn their stories and connect with them.  Our waiter, Rico was from the Philippines, and each night we asked him to teach us a new word from his native language, Tegali.   He started us off easy.  “Thank you.” “Please.” “Good evening.”  These lessons opened the door for him to tell us a little about his country and his people.  His assistant, Milagros, is from Peru.  She got her name, which means “miracle” in Spanish, because her parents wanted a daughter desperately after they had their first child, a boy.  More than ten years later, she showed up. She was their little miracle, hence the name.  Milagros was soft spoken and a perfect complement to Rico.  Together they made each evening a time of joy.

We are told that life is made up of people, places, and things.  I believe that the three are listed in the order of their importance.  Life is about people.  We met people who shared the good news of what God is doing in their part of the world, people who opened the door and allowed us into their lives, if even for a moment. Perhaps, these moments at sea were some of the best of our moments…because of the people God swept into our lives.  On board the ship, on the first sea day, it made me wonder who we might be missing when we are home!

Day 3 – The Surprises of Montevideo

Montevideo Riviera

Montevideo Riviera

When thinking about this trip, we were not especially looking forward to visiting Uruguay.  After all, it is a very small country. The population of the entire country is about the same as the combined population of Miami and Ft. Lauderdale.  Wednesday morning, the ship docked in Montevideo, the capital city.  We had arranged a city tour for the morning and once we left the ship we found our guide and got started. Montevideo surprised us.  We loved the beaches along the Rio de la Plata where some of the nicest neighborhoods were located.  Montevideo was the last of the major cities established by the Spanish just before the period of colonizing ended. The result? The city looks much more modern than the other capitals of Latin America.  The beauty of the beaches combined with the historical signature of the center city left us saying, “We would love to live here.”

Taranco Palace

Taranco Palace

There are many reasons to love this city.  First, the people were warm and inviting.  We found people helpful and interested in us. (Keep reading and you will hear how we discovered this!)  Many people who live in the large cities become weary of visitors. We did not find this to be the case in Montevideo.  Second, we pace of life and the vibe. No one was in a hurry. People were enjoying each other and the beauty around them.  Third, we were enchanted by the history.  In the city center, you could see the buildings of each generation of people who have lived there since the city was first established. For example, when walking in the old city, we stumbled upon Museo de Artes Decorativas also known as Palacio Taranco. The entrance was free into this renovated and restored mansion that briefly served as a hotel.  Beautifully restored, it was brimming with history of Montevideo along with decor and art from the late 19th century. This visit was such a treat for us giving us a feeling of what the city was like at that time as well as the awareness that the people want to keep their history alive.  Of course, the mention of Uruguay and history would be incomplete without a visit to the stadium where the first World Cup was hosted.   Centennial Stadium is holy ground for the sport.  Uruguay hosted and won the first World Cup competition in 1930, but you would think it was yesterday.

Centenial stadiumFootball pride continues just as strong today as ever.

Following the city tour we were deposited in Independence Plaza so that we could walk down the pedestrian street Sarandi.  There we found a glorious bookstore filling a glorious historic building.  Sandy had a hard time dragging me out of there for the walk back to the ship.  As we walked Columbus Street toward the dock, we passed through a neighborhood filled with late 19th century buildings.  The street fronts were long abandoned, but as we looked up, the facades remained, giving us a hint of the beauty of the street before it was abandoned.  People had given up on this neighborhood two generations before.  It struck us how culture and history in all its beauty can be easily lost. It takes only a generation to let it go…and it is gone forever.

gate at old cityAs we gazed upward at the facades, a man came and tapped me on the shoulder.  His name was Jesper, and he had noticed our interest in the buildings.  He had walked away from his desk to come and speak with us. He could tell we were tourists, and he explained that he and his wife had begun an urban restoration project.  They had purchased an abandoned building, renovated it and were now renting the upper floor apartments.  They also created a store front downstairs.  Jesper and his wife showed us some of the buildings they were brokering and then they gave us a tour of the building they had restored.  The apartments were beautiful.  We were so grateful for their dedication to this neighborhood and to injecting life into the community through their work.  Of course, Sandy and I were more than surprised that they approached us (and didn’t want to sell us anything!), and that they shared their story with us! When we keep history and culture alive, it means more than honoring the past.  It means giving a gift to the future, a gift of rootedness and meaning. We thank God for this experience and for the lessons learned in Montevideo.

2nd Day – Buenos Aires

ba hotel breakfastWe awakened on day two to a nice breakfast in our hotel. The meal was set in the dance studio downstairs; the artwork added to the ambiance of the whole place.  We hated to say goodbye to this beautiful place and to the staff. Soon Eduardo and Martin arrived at the hotel to take us out for the day.  Eduardo is a Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor and the cousin of Gaby Viggiani, my assistant.  Martin is a member of Eduardo’s church who had the day off and wanted to spend it with us.  Though they live a hour from the city center, they came into town and gave us the day to show us around.  They were great tour guides.

Our first stop was in the leather district.  Most of the shops were closed but we managed to find a few that were not. Leather goods are extremely inexpensive in Argentina, and the craftsmanship is excellent.  We weren’t exciting about shopping, but Sandy managed to find a nice leather coat.

eduardo martin rosedel

Martin and Eduardo at Rosedel

Much of the rest of our time we spent exploring Bosques de Palermo.  This is a large green space close to the center of town.  It hosts everything from museums to the zoo and the botanical gardens.  It is teeming with life–people running or biking for exercise, riding paddle boats, or simply taking a stroll. We especially enjoyed our visit to Rosedel, Argentina’s national rose garden. There were varieties from all over the world, and the whole spectrum of colors were represented–such a beautiful place and so very well kept.

It would be easy to spend the whole day in the park, and enjoy each of the different venues. Soon Eduardo and Martin were hungry.  Eduardo suggested taking us for Argentinian BBQ! It is called “asado.” In short, it is a feast with all kinds of meat cooked on the grill and served with salad, dessert, drinks… You get the idea. Sirloin steak. Strip steak. Skirt steaks. Pork. Chicken. Sweet breads—yes, we actually gave that a try! In Miami, if you come to visit, we want to take you to the beach. In Argentina, they will invite you for barbecue!

mealYou have to love people who want to spend the day sharing their lives with each other over such a meal as this!  When we sat down, Eduardo asked that we wait until we start eating.  He wanted to share about his church, his ministry, and some missions work his church has gotten involved in.  This took an hour.  Eduardo is a trained veterinarian who spent most of his life working with large animals.  God called him into ministry later in life.  He has been pastoring his current church for only a few years. In the last year, his church has begun serving a very poor and isolated community in the northern part of Argentina, in the small town of Chumbicha.  They discovered that the people living there had never heard the gospel before.  It seemed the community was influenced by a form of animism that has led the people astray and brought many ills on the people and the community.  When the church first began visiting these people, they were surprised at how quickly the people responded to the message of the gospel and the love of Christ.  Eduardo shared that doing this ministry has been transformative for him and his church.  After an hour talking, Eduardo said:

Let’s eat!

AsadoI was relieved since my stomach had been growling in the presence of some many delicious smells!  Plates were filled with salads, pasta, bread. Wine was served. Yes, plates of meat. We ate until we were pretty stuffed and Eduardo said,

That was a good start. Let’s talk and then we can go back for more.

We spent three hours together. He was sharing his life with us and inviting us to do the same with him. I won’t tell you how many trips we made for food! But, this is what ancient meals were like. They were not simply refueling opportunities. This is where life took place. Where community was built. In Spanish, the word friend is:

Compañero = con (with) pan (bread)

Yes, friends are those who share table fellowship and break bread together.  Having Martin with us was an immense help.  He added color to the conversation, shared about his family and the city, and provided translation for Eduardo when help was needed.  Of course, we enjoyed this special time with these men, and we were grateful that they invited us into their lives.  We also marveled to hear what God is doing in other places in the world, and how the gospel is growing. Before we finished lunch, we had a rich time of prayer.  Eduardo asked that we pray for them, their families, and their church and also for the community of Chumbicha!

Following lunch, Martin drove us past the regional airport and to the port where our ship was docked.  We left wishing for more time to see this beautiful city.  I certainly hope we will be able to return!

Meeting the ship in Buenos Aires

Meeting the ship in Buenos Aires

Evening of the First Day

We remember Mauro like this! (With our son Andrew and Matt Hedinger)

We remember Mauro like this! (With our son Andrew and Matt Hedinger)

The evening of our first day in Buenos Aires allowed us the opportunity to catch up with an old friend.  We made contact with Mauro Zaltron before arriving in Argentina with the hope we would be able to visit with him and perhaps other members of his family.  Mauro’s dad, Omar Zaltron, began Spanish ministry at Granada.  It was such a privilege to know the Zaltron’s and to share time together at Granada.  It just so happened that though the family lives miles from the center of town, Mauro and his brother Julian worked nearby.  We arranged to meet at our hotel to visit for a few minutes. Mauro is about the same age as our son Andrew, and he is doing IT work in the city.  We were so pleased to see him thriving and to get news about his family.  Meeting together reminded us of the connection we have with our spiritual family and our church family. I am grateful for the work Omar did laying the foundation for the new Spanish ministry at Granada.  As you can see from the pictures, Mauro has grown up!

mauro2

Our visit with Mauro.

He was able to catch us up on the news of his family and also to share with us about his work and life in Buenos Aires.  We were so thankful to be able to visit with him.  He travels well over an hour each way going to and from work so it was a sacrifice for him to come and see us!

After our time with Mauro, we took a taxi to a restaurant in San Telmo that combines a steak dinner with a traditional Tango Show. The food was excellent and the show was a treat.  There were three components to the show.  First, the tango dancers were accompanied by a band that included piano, violin, two accordions, and percussion. They were terrific and provided additional music between the dances and before and after the show.  Second, there was the tango dancers.  They performed a number of traditional dances and reminded me why I will never be able to do the tango!  We loved watching the dancers glide across the dancer floor intertwined, enjoying their craft.

Tango dancers

Tango dancers in San Telmo

Finally, there was a native musical group with guitar, panpipe, percussion, and mandolin.  This group was clearly the star of the show.  Two members of this band looked like they had walked out of the woods that day.  The other two looked like they had just changed from their business suits! The whole evening was great fun.  We retired to the hotel at about 11pm ready for a good night’s sleep.

The day was exhilarating because of the people we met, the culture we enjoyed and the art.  It made us long for a growth of the arts in our city, and to thank God that he has woven the arts into who we are.

The Trip of a Lifetime

Recently, we returned from the trip you (our Granada Church family) sent us on to South America. What an adventure this was! Sandy and I traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina on January 5th, stayed two days in the city. Then we boarded a ship with stops in Uruguay, the Falkland Islands (Malvinas); the ship rounded Cape Horn, and then made two stops in Tierra del Fuego before traveling to Valparaiso, Chile. We also spent two days in Santiago before returning to Miami. This was the trip of a lifetime for us! We enjoyed the experience tremendously. It broadened our perspective of South America, gave us a chance to connect with churches there, and provided a time of renewal and refreshment. We are grateful beyond words for you, our church family, and for thinking of us and planning this special time away. What an amazing adventure!

benWhat you have before you is an invitation to go with Sandy and me on this journey.  We are not inviting you just to see where we have gone, but in a sense, we are inviting you to share it with us.  You can do this by following the blog posts and by posting comments of your own that can be added. During our trip, I journaled about our experiences.  This is what I want to share with you.  Prior to our departure in Miami, Sandy and I were in St. Louis visiting with our daughter Rachel and her husband Joseph. Our mission was to hold our first grandbaby, “Ben.”  This little guy was born in the early morning hours of December 14th, and we were eager to welcome him into the family.

I flew out late Christmas day with our sons Andrew and Nathan to meet Sandy, and we celebrated Christmas together a day late. What a special time it was to share with them. Ben looks a lot like his dad. We took turns holding this little boy and becoming acquainted. They were doing so well adjusting to their new life with Ben.  We are proud of them.

We flew back to Miami on January 1st and shared worship and the Lord’s Super on January 4th at Granada.  This was the first week in our series on experiencing God with all our senses called:  Taste and See.  In the late afternoon we caught an overnight flight to Buenos Aires. The flight is about 9 hours and Buenos Aires is two time zones ahead of Miami.  We arrived to a busy airport in a city larger than New York.   The international airport is quite a distance from the center of town so we arranged in advance for transportation into the city center.  This was Monday morning at the height of rush hour traffic.  Our taxi driver knew almost no English.  Here was our opportunity to use our survival Spanish.  We had great fun learning about the city, getting to know our taxi driver, and getting his impression of a great many things.  His name was Rubens. He explained that he is married with a young daughter. (At this point, he was turning his head for so long to talk with us, I wondered if he was watching the road!)

Day 1 – Buenos Aires

San Telmo Corner

San Telmo Corner

We had met his wife since she was the dispatcher of taxis at the airport.  He explained that he could maintain peace in his home by forbidding the discussion of three topics:  Religion, politics and football (soccer)! Nonetheless, we talked about all three on the way into the city. First, religion.  Rubens told us that he did not have time for church, and that pastors are not respected in Argentina. (Note to self: keep a low profile!)  He explained that almost everyone will claim to be Catholic, but that few participate in church life.  Second, politics.  Rubens grumbled about the state of the economy and the political leadership of Argentina.  Here he was most guarded with his comments.  He did tell us that inflation is quite high and that the Argentinian peso has lost a lot of value in the last few years.  We found this to be true during our staff.  The official exchange rate was about 8.5 pesos to the dollar, but on the street the rate was over 13 pesos to the dollar! They have seen inflation of 40% in the last few years.  Rubens got us to our hotel before he got started about football and his team!

We stayed in the barrio called San Telmo.  This is an older section of town going through revitalization. We saw many buildings we loved…so much character, and we tried to imagine life in San Telmo “in the day.” Our hotel was a completely restored mansion with beautiful wood and marble throughout.  The basement level doubles as a dance studio and dance hall.  The theme of Argentinian Tango is carried through the hotel.  The rooms were nice, the street was quiet, and the staff were very helpful.  Having gotten little sleep on the plane, Sandy napped, and I read and journaled.  Then we took a walk through the streets of San Telmo.   Our favorite part of this barrio was along Defensa, a section of the city lined with antique stores and quaint shops.

San Telmo along Defensa - Antiques

San Telmo along Defensa – Antiques

Palermo street

Palermo street

Of Killer Whales and Alligators

“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.
“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the Lion.
“May I—could I—would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl.  And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to—do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.
“I make no promise,” said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
“Do you eat girls?” she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion.
“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer.  “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion. 
    ~C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair

This summer we are working through the life of Joshua. We are continually brought face to face with the majesty and holiness of God.  This is a God we do not know today, One who is the mighty warrior of Israel, One who requires complete devotion, One who brings down walls and removes nations at his will. Yes, He is the One who swallows up whole realms.

Tillikum at Seaworld Show

Tillikum at Seaworld Show

Moses was warned that no one could see the Lord and live. He was permitted to gaze upon God’s backside, protected by God from seeing His face. I am reminded of the man who hid at SeaWorld in Orlando when the park closed one day in July of 1999. Apparently, this man had seen one of the shows during the day and thought it would be fun to swim with the killer whales that night. No surprise, the next morning he was found at the bottom of the pool.  A marine biologist remarked:

Killer whales play. They are often seen tossing prey around for no apparent reason other than play.

The 12,000lb whale Tillikum mistook the man for a play toy. There is a reason they are called killer whales.  (By the way, the name Tillikum means “Friend” in the Chinook language! This animal killed one of its trainers in 2010.)

In the same, we trivialize encounters with God. We speak of him as our buddy with the familiarity we would speak of the chap next door. Tamed in our imagination, we then wonder why we find it difficult to worship God. We wonder why we do not enjoy and glorify Him. We are the ones missing out

Ask Isaiah. He will tell you that you cannot stand in the presence of God without trembling. The burning angels announced God’s holiness and Isaiah felt the impurity of his sin.  Jeremiah learned that the Lord does with the nations as he pleases.  Paul praised:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.
  — Romans 11

It is from the observation tower of God’s holiness that we experience the terror of being out of our league, over our heads, and in the clouds.  It is also the best vantage point from which to see the wonder of God’s grace.  Here we stand awestruck at the wonder of God’s patience, His mercy, and yes, His love.

Alligator on the Peace River

Alligator on the Peace River

When I was a teenager, my mom took my two brothers and me on an adventure to the west coast of Florida.  We had heard reports that the Peace River was an extraordinary place to find fossils and we were, at the time, collectors.  We found a spot along the river to go into the water with masks and search the bottom. No sooner did we hit the water that we discovered a significant problem with our plan.  Alligators were in residence there.  “Mom, will you keep your eye on the alligators on the bank while we swim?”  This is a question that a mom wants to answer both “yes” and “no.”  Yes, I will watch the gators. But, no, you need to get out of the water. In other words, you need a degree of reverence in keeping with this situation.  None of our explanations (They don’t look hungry. They are not in the water. We can get to shore before they can get to us. They are on the other side.) were acceptable, of course.  The book of Hebrews says it this plainly:

It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:31

Yes. It is.  It is when we glimpse God in his holiness that we begin to understand the marvel of grace…that God has come to us in Christ, and that he has come for us.

Daily Grace

The moment you understand that people are not as free as they think they are… you are able to have compassion.  Instead of judging them for doing wrong when they should be doing right, you start developing some sympathy. –Paul Zahl

One of the pillars of grace is the teaching that people do not have free will.  Of course, this sounds blasphemous in a culture that trumpets the utter freedom of the individual, that says, “I am the captain of my fate.” You see, if the will is free, we should not need someone to save us. But, clearly we do.

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. Romans 7:15, 18

WGThe Apostle Paul confesses the inability to live the life he wants, as hard as he may try. He says, “I can’t bring it about.” Our “un-free” will explains our addictions, our compulsions, and the brokenness that gets the best of us each day.

We hear that our will is not free and our collective roar insists: “If we do not have free will, then we are puppets. We cannot be responsible for our actions.” We need to know that God has not made us puppets. We can’t lay the blame with him. What Paul says is that we do precisely what we want to do.  That is the problem. Our wills are corrupt, unable to choose the good, unable to execute on what often are noble wishes.  Or, as Gerhard Forde says,

We have no remaining choice, not because we are supposedly forced into something, but because we have already made it.

In a sense, our choice was made long ago, and we are simply living out of it every day.  For me, this leads to three implications.  First, there is no room for pride in me (or any of us for that matter). Whatever good we may have results from grace. “Nothing good lives in me.” (Romans 7:18)  Second, this makes room for compassion for others.  It shows us that other people need grace just as we do. How often do we judge others for their weaknesses and criticize them in our hearts? The truth reveals this perspective as the unhealthy and dishonest pride that it is. Third, it changes how we speak to people. Here is Jonathan Wong’s perspective:

The people that fill our pews are in desperate need. They have come because they are “weary and heavy laden” (Matt. 11:28). Yet instead of rest they receive an additional burden of what they ought to do, or be, or become. This is because the preacher assumes that their wills are free, and they assume that the must exercise their free will to help themselves, of course with the help of grace… The reality, however, is that they are sinners whose wills are bound, and they cannot act on the exhortation, because they will not… Therefore the hearers need deliverance, not a helper merely, but a savior.

Are we asking others to do what they cannot do? Are we frustrating and discouraging them rather than sharing the liberating grace of Jesus?  Are we ourselves frustrated for the same reason? Grace is not something we need once. We need grace day in and day out.

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