Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What's Small, Kind and Loves to Bond?

Carbon, the foundation of biology, is awesome because it is small (so it can bond and create beautiful shapes); it is kind (not greedy about electrons), and because it loves to bond.
I always thought that scientists trying to find life on other planets look for water because life as we know it requires water. Honestly I haven’t thought about it much at all, but I was still quite surprised to hear that finding water is important because it indicates the presence of carbon.

What, you may wonder, does carbon have to do with providing resources and training for youth leaders in Latin America? Besides the obvious that they’re all carbon based life forms, my recent forays into learning about biology give me a way to see what God is doing in the Youth Leadership Institute this year.

The school is in its fifth scholastic year and although the results in the lives and ministries of the students are sufficient for us to be pleased, another part of the reality is that the school isn’t economically self-sufficient as we have all along desired it to become. The student’s tuitions make up only half of the annual budget. The other half comes from a local argentine donor who has provided a sort of economic life support system, while the school has tried a variety of ventures to increase the cash flow. We’re like a carbon molecule in need of a few more electrons to have a full shield.

In 2014 the Youth Leadership Institute is forming new shapes, bonding in more ways with more partners. The directors have created extension programs in cities around the country so people who cannot move to Buenos Aires for a year can receive eight of the courses.

We taught our first extension course last weekend to 40 students in Santa Fe, Argentina, which is about six hours north of Buenos Aires. They came from a three state area with some travelling hours to be at the event at 8 AM on a Saturday morning. At another extension site 1300 miles/2250 km south in the Patagonia had a hundred and fifty participants. Two more extension partnerships will begin later this year, one of them in Uruguay.

Understanding the strengths of the carbon molecule encourages me because the Youth Leadership Institute has always been small, kind and eager to bond.

It’s fun to see new shapes emerging from new kinds of bonds. We hope these new shapes will help the school move towards economic sustainability, but meanwhile we know that it is spreading tools and encouragement to people who desperately need them both.

Friday, November 1, 2013

More Like This


Pancho from Cuba just sent us an email with this picture. It includes a few of the leaders we trained back in September and some of the 58 other youth leaders they just trained using the format and principles our team had taught them.

Another former participant, Angel Luis, is doing the same thing with youth leaders from his denomination.

Also this weekend, Pancho has a retreat for parents of teenagers in which he will be using some of the content we'd introduced them to.

It's not always this way but - wow! - it's great to invest time and effort and see it multiplied like this.
Hope this encourages you too.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Hot, Sticky and Worthwhile

“Communist” was used as synonym for “degenerate” or “idiot” when I was growing up. It was an acceptable sort of cuss word. So when we were invited to Cuba, my first experience in a communist country, I was intrigued.
As our host, Elio, drove us from the airport to his parents’ house in downtown Havana, he caught us up on current Cuban history: freedom to travel outside the country was granted early in 2013; the buying and selling of homes was recently made legal; permits for starting small private businesses are now available. As he spoke, what I was seeing outside the car window was a lively but crumbling city where the 1950’s Fords and Chevrolets ambled along the streets alongside Soviet-era Ladas and Moskvitch, Czechoslovakian sidecar motorcycles as well as rickshaw-style bicycle taxis and horse-drawn surreys.
Sixteen days later we finished up the last of three training events, hugged a dozen youth leaders goodbye and flew off the island. It was a relief to leave. Nearly every moment was hot, sweaty and the food – though generously shared by people with little to spare - never varied.  But it had also been encouraging and undeniably worthwhile.  The youth leaders we worked with were inspiring. Like Jesus with the two fish and five loaves, they take whatever youth ministry resources they can get their hands on and multiply it to the benefit of thousands of teenagers around the island.
For example eight years ago, Pancho, a veteran youth pastor in his early fifties, whose name came up nearly every time one of the others mentioned how they got into youth ministry, asked for help to publish the Raices (Roots) youth ministry textbook. Since it is impossible to import it into Cuba, your donations made it possible for them to have 1000 of them printed, hiring unemployed construction workers to organize and bind the 500+ pages together. With those text books they have trained leaders all over the island.
They were the most highly educated youth leaders we’d ever worked with – 153 with bachelor’s and 13 with master’s degrees in youth ministry. When we told them this they seemed to think we were just being complimentary.  But then something unexpected happened… Miguel – the same Miguel from two posts back – asked if any of them would consider accompanying him to Burma or Zimbabwe to train youth leaders there. One of the Cubans began to cry. Then nearly all of them.  It was a burst of emotion we hadn't seen in the previous 15 days. For a while neither they nor we fully understood what caused it. Then someone put it into words, and it went something like this:
We have been isolated for 50 years. We've gone without for so long, that we never imagined it was possible that we had anything to offer. We’re accustomed to thinking we can’t...we can’t leave; we can’t afford things, etcetera.
They began to realize that the barriers they had lived with for the last half century are now more in their minds than anywhere else.
In the week since we left, they have written telling about the fresh air they feel they are breathing and the sense that something new is happening. It is exciting for us to feel that we are all boats being carried along by the river of what God is doing.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Well that's a first

"At the last minute, the travel agency called to say that the day we need to fly is the start the Santeria festival dedicated to Ochún, a pagan deity - may the Lord rebuke her - and all the flights are full. I will try and find someone with a car to drive us across the island. If that doesn't work out, that last option is the bus. That takes 14 hours."

We received that message last week from one of the organizers of the youth leadership event that we've been invited to in Cuba.  The following emails confirmed we will indeed be taking the bus from Havana to Santiago. Thanks to Google Maps I now know that is 541 miles, nearly the full length of the island. Who knew Cuba was so long!?

Seventeen years working in Latin American and we continue to be surprised by new experiences and challenges. Travelling by bus in Cuba for 14 hours with people going to celebrate a fertility, love and wealth goddess with a "horrific temper" (Wikipedia.org/Oshun) will definitely be one of those.

We will be on the bus after leading a week-long retreat for veteran youth leaders. When we get off the bus we begin another week of teaching and consulting along with partners from Youth Hope and the Cuban Baptist association. We have heard only good things about youth ministry in Cuba, but the context cultural and spiritual context is significantly different than anywhere else we've worked.

So when Friday the 13th of September appears on your calendar, please remember to pray that God would give us His wisdom, strength and Spirit to be of use to the Cuban youth leaders. We would also appreciate you prayers for health, endurance and spiritual protection.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Was It Worth It?

Miguel sought us out at the international youth leaders’ convention to introduce us to his fiancée, Paulina. We've known Miguel for years as he was co-director of Youth Specialties, Chile. During our conversation they talked about the challenges they were anticipating as they created their new life together. In addition to the normal adjustments of marriage, Paulina would leave her home in Chile and her profession as a lawyer to join Miguel in the U.S. where he’d accepted the role of director of training for Youth Hope. And he would have to adjust his work-centric lifestyle.

We invited them to participate in a leadership training and relational evangelism program we co-facilitate called Encaminar. It combines being a pilgrim on the St. James Way in northern Spain with teaching times and serving pilgrims at a hostel in Ligonde, a small town that nearly a thousand pilgrims a day pass through. Miguel and Paulina decided to set aside the two weeks to participate.


Miguel said he knew they needed to come when he came across a story in the reading assignments where I tell about a time that I got upset with Tim. He explained, “When I read that story I knew it was going to be a place where Paulina and I could be real, not like so many ministry settings where people pretend to be perfect and judge anyone who isn’t.”

They entered into this transparency by being very honest as they shared their life map with Tim and me during the first days of the training. As Miguel finished he said, “Now that you know us better, what advice can you give us to help us create a five or ten year plan.” Knowing that there were 12 more days of life-on-life training relieved me from having to come up with some sort of answer. We encouraged them to be alert to what God was saying to them throughout the whole event, “I know that He will be showing you things that will be like individual pieces to the puzzle. If you keep your eyes open for them and pick them up you’ll have a much clearer picture of what He is saying by the end of our time together.”

Miguel found one of those puzzle pieces on our “desert day” during the pilgrimage part of Encaminar. The participants were to walk the eighteen miles in silence. Miguel and Paulina chose to walk apart and he found himself going as fast as he could. Suddenly he realized that the walk wasn’t a race. There was no benefit to getting to the destination faster so he sat down to read his Bible and pray. He realized that he lives his life the same way, pushing himself to do more and go faster, and he saw clearly that life, like the pilgrimage, isn’t a race.

With this in mind, he saw a girl from our group pass by who was struggling with blisters. Miguel went up to her and said, “I’m sorry to break our vow of silence but God told me to carry your backpack for a while so you can have a break.” She was touched and surprised by God’s care for her and he was thrilled to have heard and obeyed God’s voice.

Miguel was the last person to arrive that day. We were worried because generally when someone takes that long to finish a stage they are discouraged and in pain. But Miguel was as radiant as you can be after walking eighteen miles up and down hills. That afternoon we were pleased to see him and Paulina interacting with a notable closeness.

On one of the final Miguel and Paulina worked on their long term plan during a personalized coaching session. But what they learned about themselves throughout the various experiences of the event will be the most significant contribution to next decade of their marriage and ministry.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Unexpected Feedback

Was the youth leadership institute useful to you?
This was one of the questions we asked some of the Instituto Especialidades Juveniles graduates and professors. Here's a bit of their feedback:

Annette says that Mauricio is one of the best writers
and thinkers to come through the institute
Mauricio Constantino: Chiapas, México
I have grown in every area of my life as a result of my time at the E.J. Institute but if I had to highlight one thing it would be the project-based learning. This has fostered a wide variety of positive habits and is the thing I have most incorporated into my way of doing youth ministry as it has provided me with the opportunity to reflect, investigate, analyze, project, execute and evaluate what youth groups need. The courses included in the degree plan have all improved my ministry as they give me a holistic view of youth culture and help me engage with it better.

Ricardo y Jimena González: Santiago, Chile
The experience-based learning alone is worth the investment. Above and beyond the information we’ve gained, the experiences in life and ministry that we share with our fellow students by helping each other are priceless. Furthermore, knowledge and the years of ministry and life experience of our professors further enriched our stay in E.J. Institute. Now our big beautiful challenge is to transmit this experience to the young people we work with. 

Gustavo Pavón: Buenos Aires, Argentina
I can describe the E.J. Institute in five words: excellence, projects, friendship, commitment and guidance. There is no amount of money which can buy the times shared in class and the relationships forged with my fellow students and professors.
 
Sofía Hernández: Toluca, México
The IEJ wasn’t what I expected. It exceeded my expectations in every area:  classes, teachers, community, activities, and friendships. Every single thing is part of an amazing community with the beautiful desire of transmitting the love and grace of God to the lives of young people. Today I can see in our youth groups how this involvement in the lives of teenagers makes a huge difference, inspiring them to get closer to God in a free and confident way.

Gisela Noemí Rodríguez: Mendoza, Argentina
Far beyond professors or classmates, at the E.J. Institute I met friends, people who love me, value me and take for me. It is not a mere intellectual training, but training for life.

Marcelo Gallardo: Audiovisual Engineer, entrepreneur, artist, specialist in new media and applied technology, and volunteer youth worker. Professor of Media & Design.
I love helping youth leaders improve their work and the EJ Institute focuses on the deep aspects of youth work, not on the superficial elements. Since I also work with teenagers,  the learning that goes on in the classroom is not limited to the students… I learn a lot from them. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Bad News

Flooding in Buenos Aires (BBC News: 4/3/2012)
In the last few hours we were contacted by three friends here in Buenos Aires each with difficult news:
  • A youth pastor and his wife who work in a tough drug riddled neighborhood had their car trashed, their church building smashed up and the church warden's house burned down by some drug dealing neighbors who hours earlier had put guns to the pastors head and verbally threatened them to stop meeting. It seems that many of the 30 or so youth in the church are getting clean and therefore buying less drugs from these thugs. The police say the won't do anything because the perpetrators are "narcos" and too powerful to touch.
  • A close friend and youth leader who is also Annette's teachers aid at the Institute, texted us to say that their house was seriously flooded yesterday on her father's birthday (he is a pastor). They had nearly 2 ft. of water in their home. This was on top of their car getting totaled last year when a horse jumped thru their windshield, 3 violent robberies, and other misfortunes in the last few years.
  • Another youth worker and lawyer, who invests her life helping kids from destitute barrios of Buenos Aires told us that yesterday's torrential flooding (www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-22023196) destroyed most everything these people had. She wrote asking if we had blankets, bedding or even mattresses to give to these kids who she works with.
Please pray for these friends who are struggling to love those around them in Jesus' name... but who are paying a heavy price.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Upstairs, Downstairs


Our current office (aka: the guest bedroom)
In case you’re wondering what we’re up to, our life is pretty routine. Here’s a glimpse of the excitement of it all.
Get up. Go downstairs.

     Have breakfast, coffee and prayer with Roger and Joy (Tim’s parents)

Go upstairs to our “office.”

     Work.

Go downstairs to make:

     Tea, lunch, coffee, dinner.

Go upstairs.

     Work.

Go to bed to do it all again the next day.
Sometimes we even go outside but our range of activities stays pretty narrow then too. We hike or run or have a meal with friends or worship with Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church.

Dinner with Kara and Xavier
(He did the programming for www.ParaLideres.org website for 10 years)
This narrow scope of activities is exactly what we need right now. From late May 2012 till after New Year’s our calendar had been so full of training events around Latin America and Spain that we hadn't been able to make much progress on some of our other objectives like the teaching videos that were filmed in July and October, writing the curriculum that will accompany those videos, developing the courses we teach at the youth leadership institute, coaching and mentoring over Skype, and guiding the design process of the Agape-Spain conference we’ll be facilitating in April.

weekly Skype mtgs with colleagues in Spain
We have four more weeks before we start traveling again. In mid-February we go back to Argentina to teach for a trimester, in the middle of which we go to Spain for the Agape conference. Before then we need to have the videos and the curriculum ready to go... a tall order, especially the 10 week curriculum. But our local church in Argentina is going to be using it in their small groups come March so ... upstairs....

Friday, December 14, 2012

Outcomes 2012

For those who just want the bottom line - no emotional stories, no smiling faces - the following tells what we were a part of during 2012.
click image to BIGGIE-size it
The infographic above should give you a idea of the keys areas of our involvement and impact. Not reflected are some extra projects that your donations have allowed us to fund, for example:
  • Partial salary for a director of an online youth ministry school
  • Scholarships for 2 students at the EJ Institute in Buenos Aires
  • Scholarships for 47 youth workers and pastors to attend Life-on-Life training events
  • Scholarships for 17 Colombian missionaries to get coaching skills training
  • Hundreds of hours of web programming and design that allowed us to finished the new version of the ParaLideres.org website and blog making it easier for youth workers to find what they need among the tens of thousands of resources.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Month of Premieres


Líderes Posmo isn’t Annette’s first published book, but it is mine  It is a curriculum for youth groups, including nearly everything a youth leaders needs for camps, retreats, one-on-one discipleship, small and large groups, which we wrote in the spring of 2012 together with our Spanish colleague, Felix Ortiz.

It is published by a division of Harper-Collins, and debuted at the International Youth Leaders Convention (www.convencionliderazgo.com) in October where the three of us led a seminar on how to present the gospel to and disciple youth who have grown up in a postmodern, post-Christian culture.

We also launched at the convention the series of eight teaching videos we recently filmed as well as the new version of the ParaLideres.org youth ministry website, which continues to serve around 9,000 visitors per day.

Please pray: That our investment of time, energy and money in the video series, book and accompanying website will – like the loaves and fishes offered to Jesus – be taken by God and used to nourish his people making them more able as his agents in this world.

Coming Attractions: We are leading workshops for youth leaders and pastors in Bogota, Colombia for most of November. Please pray with us that God would guide us as to how to best serve those involved in these events so that will have increased capacity to to advance God’s kingdom and build up others in Christ.

Thank you for your prayers, love and encouragement.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Sleeping on Gym Floors

Filming at Fisterra, Spain, which during the Roman Erawas known as the end of the earth
The training time on the "Camino de Santiago de Compostela" in Spain was excellent. This year we did training with the 21 participant during the daily 15 to 20 mile hikes as well as afterwards. Walking, talking, carrying a big backpack and sleeping on gymnasium floors is fun but exhausting. We walked 6 days for a total of 140 kms/86 miles.
A matt on a gym floor... this is how we slept most nights
celebration dinner at Santiago de Compostela
after finishing the 140 km walk
The 21 participants of the discipleship training gave us great feedback and we felt it was a worthwhile investement of time, energy and funds. These photos plus the ones you can see on our "Spain 2012" album on Facebook will give you a sense of our experience walking, training and eating in and around the city of Santiago de Compostela and Spain in general. As you will see in the pics, we were also filming a series of 8 videos during and after the training event. It was something new for us and we got to enjoy lots of beautiful scenery and great fellowship.

Part of the training was something called "Life Maps"
that we did individually with all 21 participants
Filming a video about the effects of the Fall
on our relationship with God
there were blackberries all over Galicia, but
not so much now that I ate most of them
In 24 hours we leave Spain, where we are currently with our team director and his wife, and fly to Buenos Aires for the month of September where we will be helping the Argentine film maker, Sebastian Pasquet, do post-production work on the videos. Annette will also be doing some writing, and we hope to finish the latest version of the ParaLideres.org website that a team of us has been working on for over 2 years. 


Staff, trainees and pilgrims at the "Fuente del Peregrino"
hostel which is run by Agapé-Spain
In October we go to California for our twice annual team retreat plus the 60th anniversary celebration of our organization, OC International. Then we're in Orlando, Florida for the Internationl Youth Ministry Convention where we will be teaching and working as chaplains for the 1500 youth leaders who will be participate. We will also be launching the video series we just filmed during the convention as well as the book Annette, Felix Ortiz and I wrote
.

Thank you for your prayers, love and encouragement.