Step Week 1 – ARGENTINA
Hola for the first time from Argentina! The past seven days have been very eventful but at the same time very exciting as we have been introduced to our new home, church and family here in Tartagal. After a 12 hour bus journey across the Andes and into north Argentina, we were welcomed by Danni and Priscilla, our in-country coordinators for Latin Link in Salta. It was during dinner that evening we were told that in true Latin American style there had been a recent change of plans for the second half of our trip. The project that we were meant to be working on in Salta would not be ready for us for at least another month as the organisation had been slowed down in planning permission… It soon became clear to Danni and Priscilla that this project was not going to be a good use of our time in Argentina and that God wanted us somewhere else. We are now working on a new project with a different church further north in Argentina in a town called Tartagal, about half an hour from the Bolivian boarder. Although this is a new project, the task is primarily the same; to serve God in the church and the local community through both the construction of a new building, and building relationships with those near us.
Specifically, we will be helping to build a new Sunday Club hall for the 50-60 children that attend. Children are a central part of the Argentinian culture and are included in all of the church services. However, they are currently running a Sunday club in the street outside the main church building meaning that their time is dependent on weather and the rest of the public in that area. The church would like us to help with the construction of a new building close to the main church that can be used for children’s service and clubs. Similarly, to the project in Chile, our work here will be lead by local Maestro, Adelis, who has given up his time to work alongside our team on this project. The remainder of our time will be spent working in the church and building relationships with the youth group and children, talking to them about God and sharing how he has worked in our lives.
On Monday, six of us travelled up from Salta to Tartagal with Danni, his wife Flavia, and their daughter, Sophie, and Priscilla in their cars, whilst Nathanael, Hannah and Libby took a six-hour bus journey. We arrived at our new home at around 6 o’clock and were able to quickly clean up before heading to our new church. We were welcomed by about 40 members of the youth group who all introduced themselves and explained how they were very excited to have us with them. The remainder of the evening was spent getting to know one another over pizza and empanadas whilst also taking lots of photos and exchanging Facebook names! Later on, we also had the opportunity to sing ‘This is Amazing Grace’ in a mixture of both Spanish and English showing that God is the God of all nations and hears every language!
Tuesday began with the first round of orientation from Danni and Priscilla. We were able to learn more about the Argentine culture and the history of God’s church in this area. It was also a time to understand more about how we could serve in the church and the way in which the Argentinians place greater value on being with people as opposed to doing for people, and also the importance of relationships with people both in and out of the church. In the evening we went to our first church service which was a prayer meeting and had a congregation of about 100 people. We were introduced during the service by Danni and as a group sang ‘Blessed be your name’ with Ben playing amazingly on their keyboard. Libby was then extremely brave as she shared her testimony at the front and explained how God has worked and continues to work in her life! Following the service, we personally greeted all who were there (as is the custom in Argentina). This was a great time to get to know names and faces as well as holding some babies and playing with the children! By the end of the day the whole team was very tired with the service finishing around 11pm. However, the night ended on a high as for dinner Danni and Priscilla bought us traditional beef sandwiches called ‘Lomitos’ which as a team we concluded were both the greasiest yet most delicious sandwiches we had ever eaten!
Orientation continued into Wednesday until around 4 o’clock after which we were driven to the local feeding programme in a particularly poor part of town. We all had an absolutely amazing time with the children and the young people there! The team spent the majority of the evening running around with the kids whilst carrying the younger ones on our backs and shoulders (quite often more than one). We felt extremely blessed to be there and felt as though it was a real highlight of the week. The main church that we attend here in Tartagal also has a number of daughter churches one of which we were able to attend in the evening. There we introduced ourselves and sang ‘Happy day’, feeling truly blessed to be there and enjoyed getting to know more of the community during the time of fellowship after the service. Even when it was time to go back to our home some members of the team joined in a spontaneous game of football in the street outside the church during which we proved once again that South Americans are a lot better at football than the British!
Thursday was our final day of orientation during which Danni and Priscilla explained more about the history of the Catholic church and its relationship to the Evangelical church here in Argentina. We also learnt about how the people view different denominations within God’s church and the way in which they are trying to encourage a greater level of tolerance and interaction between churches. The afternoon was spent exploring the local area and the main square in the town. Hannah, Eleanor, Alice and Mo were also able to go into some of the local clothes shops and talk to the people that worked there about what they thought of the church and whether they knew about the Gospel. This was a really interesting time as we learnt more about the views of the public and were able to invite them along to church.
On Friday the whole team were meant to be starting work on the new Sunday club building however due to ‘bad weather’ any construction work was pushed back to the following Monday. We have been told that is normal for anything that involves going outside to be called off at the first sign of rain here in Argentina, which being English we find quite funny considering if we did the same nothing would ever get done. However, it is not really a problem here when the majority of the time they have glorious sunshine! Therefore, we took some time on Friday to relax after an eventful few days and continued with our group devotionals studying the book of Acts. In the evening we were asked to go the main church building to rehearse the song ‘This is amazing grace’ in Spanish with the youth group that we would then perform (with Ben playing piano and Benjamin from their youth group on drums) in front of the entire church during their main service on Sunday. Although we were only practising one song we did not get back to our house until around 11 o’clock, yet the entire team stayed strong as we sang ‘Gracias sublime es…’ approximately 56 times.