"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Finished, sort of.

I'm home.

I'm working on a research summary paper, and will hopefully finish that within the week. If you are interested in reading this, email me and let me know and I will send you a copy.

Thanks for following along!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Santiago, Chile

Maybe not the best photo to represent my Chilean experience...but I thought it was a gem. That is actually the backside of the President's house in the background...but the best image from downtown Santiago was not the architecture, but five dogs taking a nap in one of the main plazas. I suppose there's a metaphor in there somewhere for how I feel at this stage of my trip. :)

My time here in Santiago has been special...it's felt like a sort of "epilogue" stage to my trip, and has been a good time of application, in ways...have had some fabulous conversations with people where I've found myself not merely sharing my learnings from the previous weeks, but challenged to articulate my calling and vision as a (future) pastor, my beliefs and understanding of the Christian story, the reasons I'm drawn to the Christian faith versus other faiths or ways of understanding Truth, life, and humankind's purpose.
Also interesting to observe, once again, the subtle shifts taking place in faith and culture...and to see how, despite a religious atmosphere that one might find troublesome, I feel a sense of momentum and hope for change that reflects new movements of God here and all over the portions of Latin America I've experienced.

$10 for whoever provides the best explanation for what's going through my head in this shot...not sure what my facial expression here is saying. Here I am with Miriam and Paulo, my host "parents." I've been at the house of Ornella, a girl who was a high-school classmate and exchange student in my hometown of Woodland. She was not here, sadly (at Oxford now), but her family was incredibly warm and hospitable to me. One of the highlights, perhaps on this whole trip, has been the opportunity to meet much of their extended family, through multiple all-afternoon lunch gatherings, involving, once again, indulging myself in a bit of over-eating (and maybe over-drinking).

This is Felipe and his mother Rosella...relatives of the family I'm with. Felipe has been a special connection...we've hung out quite a bit, much of our time spent discussing matters of spirituality. Being fairly relativistic and agnostic, as well as humble, gracious, intelligent, and curious, he has made a great conversation partner. We've discussed a variety of topics (he's fluent in English), from the knowability of Truth to the validity of the Biblical testimony of Jesus to how our spirituality informs our views on sex...you could almost make a book out of our discussions--two postmodern twenty-something intellectuals, one Christian and one not, discussing faith and life. (I think a guy named Jim Henderson already did something similar). Though not a Christian, Felipe is a good model of the kind of humility, warmth, open-mindedness, desire to understand another, and ability to respectfully challenge another's views, that I think should accompany the confidence and commitment Christians possess when in such dialogue with others.

A good shot, though poorly lit, of one of our family gatherings.

A shot of some protesters in one of the downtown plazas...as in Bolivia and Argentina, I've seen discontent with the government expressed in such public displays. This was, however, far less violent and much more theatrical...as maybe you can see by the facepaint and the guy (can you spot him?) dressed as Spiderman.

Interesting scene here...on one hand, a fabulous and beautiful glimpse of Santiago and its surroundings at sunset, with the Andes in the background, the moon above, the city below...on the other hand, though it may not be obvious here online, the smog is bad, which most Chileans will admit to, acknowledging the city's poor reputation for pollution.

So there it is...another stage of my trip filled with wonderful new relationships and some fabulous learning experiences. I've been so spoiled by this trip...and am grateful for all of it.

I'm wrapping up a full week here in Chile, and am heading up to Lima tomorrow morning (Monday) on a two-day bus trip, and will fly home late Thursday night.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Argentina: Buenos Aires & Rio Cuarto

Just wrapped up my time in Argentina last night. Eight wonderful days...four in Buenos Aires, four in Rio Cuarto...two very different experiences.

I'll let the pictures guide the story...
This picture provides a good example of the city, with a mix of modern and more historical architecture. Buenos Aires is a fascinating city--huge, diverse, chaotic, beautiful. Very fast-paced, a variety of quaint neighborhoods to visit and unending skyscrapers.

Not necessarily a great picture, but captures an interesting event. While in my hotel, I heard gunshots and people yelling...I walked out to my balcony (maybe I should have hid) to find hoards of people on the street below, running by, causing destruction as they went. Argentina is in a bit of a political crisis right now, with many furious with the government for a variety of economic-related reasons, which I can elaborate on later (it's actually fairly righteous anger considering the circumstances...though I don't quite agree with the violent reactions). But such riots are common, I guess. Anyway, a police barricade chased these people out of the main streets. But seriously...chaos...these protestors had everything from slingshots to nunchucks to molotov cocktails to sticks being used as swords (thought of you, Ian). Fascinating to watch.

This is Dr. Pablo Deiros, a seminary professor I met with. Seems to be very connected to what is going on here and in the Church...also seems to be a very "important" man, if I can use that description. I'm talking, like, Paris Hilton or Jose Canseco or Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen important. Okay, those probably aren't great examples of legitimately important people. But...he's important.

Wonderful interview, maybe one of the most important of my trip. Our time sort of felt like a climax or summary or maybe confirmation of all I'd been seeing and learning these past weeks. And Pablo is filled with such warmth and wisdom and understanding...the kind of man I'd want to follow around and say "teach me, form me." Hopefully this is a relationship that will continue, as both of us seem willing to stay in touch.

Anybody recognize these ladies? This is Valerie and Natalia. No, I didn't PAY them to hang out with me. Sheesh...give me some credit! It's a small world...for those who saw my pictures from my Europe trip last year, these are the two Argentinians with whom I shared a tiny hostel room in Prague. We had exchanged contact info last summer, so we were able to coordinate some time to hang out a bit, and Natalia (right) was helpful in getting me acquainted with the city.

The "La Boca" neighborhood...beautiful, artsy, quirky, historically radical neighborhood...also the origin of Argentinian tango, I believe.

This is a group of twenty-something Christians (several more not in the picture) with whom I spent one afternoon. We are making ravioli here. This was a great experience of Christian community...in ways, this is a perfect example of the kind of young Christian groups I was hoping to discover in Latin America...a very warm, welcoming, kind, joyful, intimate group, in which all seem connected and participating and contributing, all very much valued by one another. Very special time with these people.

I'll stop there for Buenos Aires, and just offer a couple pictures from Rio Cuarto. I spent several days on a farm, mostly relaxing and reflecting. An older couple, Humberto and Graciela, friends of a friend from Woodland, hosted me, and spoiled me with their hospitality. I spent my time reading and writing, eating a lot, hiking in some beautiful country, learning a bit more about the political situation of the country from Graciela (very politically active woman) and taking on a sort of unoffical mentor-relationship with her teenage grandson Juan for a couple days.

Here are a couple pics...one of me, um, parting the waters I guess...and one of me with Graciela, my host.

Great time in Argentina, though brief. I just arrived today (Monday) in Santiago, Chile, my last stop on this journey before heading back to Lima and flying home (in 11 days). I'm staying with the family of Ornella, an exchange student with whom I went to high school (though she's in England). Continuing to have a wonderful time, though all the friends and family I miss have made me about ready to come home.

Friday, July 11, 2008


No time to post much, but for the sake of keeping my whereabouts current...I spent a few days earlier in the week in Buenos Aires, a huge and fascinating and diverse city...and had some great moments, including one of the most important interviews I´ve had on this journey, a neat experience of Christian community with some twenty-somethings, and a special reunion with a couple friends.

And now, I´m staying on a farm near Rio Cuarto, the complete opposite of Buenos Aires, mostly resting, eating way too much, and catching up on some of my notes and processing of this trip.

All for now...more elaboration and some pics in a few days. Adios.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Santa Cruz, mi amigos y familia

Okay, blog is working again. Figured out and fixed the problem.

So the past week spent in Santa Cruz was marvelous. The city itself did not necessarily blow me away as far as the touristy-stuff, but out of all the cities I've visited, here, more than anywhere else in South America, I have formed the most meaningful relationships and had the most fruitful conversations.

The people, the friendships I've made here, the way I've got to experience Latin American "life" better here than anywhere else...this has made my time here incredibly special. The pictures below are of many of the people who've made my time here what it is.

This was a blast. One of the pastors I talked to, Jorge, runs a care center for children, most of whom have rough family situations. I had the chance to spend some time here, playing with the kids and offering encouragement to them in different ways. So much fun...it's amazing how welcoming and warm they are, how enthused they are to have someone like me join them. This was after our an "intense" soccer game.

This is Sergio, the night his family and I went out for dinner. He is the dean of a grad school here, a huge help and a great friend to me in my time in Santa Cruz. Very insightful and compassionate man.

Here I am with Felix and Joel...Felix (left) is a pastor, director at the local Christian university, and wears a number of other hats and is very connected to the Christian Church here. Joel (right) was a stud. He volunteered for me all week (save the occasional meal and coffee I provided him) doing translation work. He did a superb job, was very available, and also offered a good perspective from the youth side of things here. We developed a good friendship over the week.

Here I am with another wonderful person, Maria. She is a worship leader and youth worker at one of the churches I visited. Here we are enjoying some ice cream downtown. Very kind and caring person, seems to be the "big sister" as Joel put it, of their group of friends. Also laughs a lot, at the most random things. Gosh...now I know how obnoxious yet endearing it is for my friends when I do that.

My wonderful family. They were so good to me. David especially (center, in blue), the father of the family, was amazing. First of all, they did not really speak any English, so my Spanish improved greatly during the week...we really had little trouble communicating. But David, a pastor and director of several different ministries in Santa Cruz, was so supportive of me, frequently adjusting his schedule so he could be with me, or help me find my way around to my various interviews. A great godly man...patient, generous, selfless. I can't say enough great things about him.

And some traditional Bolivian dancing. This was at a YWAM send-off for David's daughter, Ani, before she left on a mission trip to China.

So...now I am in Argentina, currently in Buenos Aires for a few days before I head west toward another part of the country. Whole different world here, for sure. Been strange and interesting so far in a day and a half, but positive. More explanation on that in a few days.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


Blogspot is not working right...can't get pictures up.

And that's important. I don't want to say much, but have many pictures of wonderful people to share.

So...bummer. The itinerary update is that I am leaving Santa Cruz tomorrow (with mixed emotions) and flying to Buenos Aires to begin the Argentina phase of my trip.

Will post pics as soon as I figure out the problem.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Bolivia and mid-trip reflections (warning, long post)

So I'm now officially in the second half of my trip (day 27 of 52).

So, mission being accomplished? I'd say yes. My primary, personal mission on this trip was to experience the beauty and goodness of God in the people and places I'd encounter. That has happened, without a doubt. You've seen a small sample of pictures of some of those places and people. It has been an enriching trip, in which I have felt very alive. As I mentioned to some of you, this feels like a trip that is designed for me on so many levels.

My secondary mission has been the academic one...the mission that logistically and financially has made the first mission possible. :) I came here to discover the "emerging" Church in this part of the world...the ways the Church is seeking to be relevant to its culture and the new trends in its methods, practices, language, and values that reflect such efforts by the church. I wanted to know of it, celebrate it, learn from it, and share it with others.

Well...I'm finding it everywhere, having talked with numerous pastors and with several young Christian leaders. Certaintly, like in the U.S., not all of the churches see the need for such re-invention, and maybe even consider that to be a dangerous road to travel down, for many reasons. With much still to observe, the mid-trip conclusion and opinion is this: there is in fact an emerging church here, but its primary values are relational and humanitarian.

It seems to me that many churches in the U.S. understand relevancy in terms of being cool, or hip, or attractive. To make a generalization, the Church here in Peru & Bolivia thinks of being relevant as partially about offering relationship and community to a generation that wants connection, wants to be known, and maybe even needs to know they can be authentic and be loved for who they are, in light of a lot of brokenness here (much of it family-related, it seems).

The other half of relevancy seems to be humanitarian...to be "relevant" is to be in tune with the needs and hurts of the culture--both individuals as well as the greater social, economic, political systems--and to seek as churches to assist with such needs. These churches have what many in the U.S would call a "missional" understanding of themselves--they exist to better their communities by expressing the love of Christ in practical, tangible ways.

So is there an "emerging church" here? Yes. On a small scale, but gaining momentum. Is it identical to the U.S.? I don't think so. It will be interesting to explore in more depth why this is. Maybe it is as simple as the fact that the needs are different here, because this is a completely different world. Maybe because poverty and broken relationships are more visible here, a relevant church works to meet such needs, rather than worrying about things like worship music style, or trying to show that being Christian is "cool."

The invitation to live for God's kingdom and mission transcends "coolness." I believe God loves creation deeply, and invites us to anticipate with our lives the ways God will one day fully heal and restore the world. There is so much brokenness in the world--whether that means large-scale systemic issues that need the masses to unite to bring God's justice and goodness in a widespread way, or more individual brokenness, like the way your neighbor is broken because he or she has experienced abandonment, belittling, abuse, and as a result lives imprisoned by fear, self-hatred, loneliness, or just boredom from not having a greater mission of which to be a part. A relevant church seeks to join in how God is setting things right, here and now. Are our communities better off because churches are in them? Yikes...what a convincting question.

All that to say...I'm learning a lot, and still have much more to learn and process, as I think more deeply about what all these conversations and observations mean and more practically as to the "so what" of all this. I'm learning a lot...but where do I go from here?

Some pictures of the past week in Bolivia below, which by the way, I had some small issues getting into the country. Bolivia is upset with the U.S. right now, something regarding the refuge we've given to an ex-president of Bolivia who is in trouble here. So I had to buy a Visa for $100 to get in...something only Americans have to do.

This is a shot of Lake Titicaca...I spent most of Wednesday driving through the countryside of Bolivia, the shores of this HUGE lake, and through the charming little lake town of Copacabana. This picture does not do the scene justice. This is some of the most beautiful countryside I've ever seen, with the lake, the mountains, and the countless small farms along the way.

I was in La Paz Wednesday to Friday...breathtaking city as you drive in...it's all layed out in a canyon, with the entire city being on steep hills, save the main drag through town at the bottom. Nice time here...from the quaint markets in the streets that would drive Wal-Mart and Safeway lovers crazy, to waitresses wanting pictures with me (I'm a hottie down here, it seems), to random acts of kindness, like Jorge buying me some indigenous fruit and walking with me for several blocks and sharing some insights about the local culture.

This is in an old Franciscan monestary, next to the city's main square and cathedral.

Here are Raul and Damaris, a couple I spent the afternoon with discussing matters relevant to my exploration. They work at a seminary here and are also youth workers in their church.

So now I'm in Santa Cruz, in the tropical section of Bolivia (been in the mountains most of my trip) having arrived on Saturday, and having a great time. Through the wonder of networking, I've already made some great connections, attended a pretty special church on Sunday (more on that at a later time), and even played some soccer yesterday....finally...the return of "Sneaky Matthew" (for those that know that reference).

This is Joanna, my new "little sister." She is even more adorable in person. I'm staying with an incredible family here, who speaks basically no English. Yet it's amazing how much my Spanish is improving and has improved over the last month...the language barrier continues to lessen.

That's all for now...will be in Santa Cruz for the next few days.

Peace and farewell.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Cusco and Machu Picchu

Cusco has been nice...Machu Picchu was glorious. Probably one of the most spectacular scenes I´ve ever viewed...with the surrounding landscape, the beauty of the architecture, the llamas and plant life, the glimpse into another world and time, and the innovation it took to build this city in its 15th century setting...this is the most incredible combination of Divine and human beauty and creativity. The Dalai Lama says it is one of the places on earth with the most energy...I can see why...the whole scene is just sublime, surreal, ¨charged with the grandeur of God,¨ to steal a line.

Here are some shots:
A great overview, and ¨proof¨ I was there.

I like the lone tree in the center of this one.

Everything is big here...big mountains, big canyons, big rocks. Part of what makes this place a wonder is that hoards of people probably did move and shape rocks like this.

Many more beautiful pics of this place when I return.

As for Cusco (Machu Picchu was a day trip from here), I arrived at a good time. The city is having its annual winter solstice celebration, beginning Friday and ending today, Tuesday. This involved a DAILY parade (which was timely, since I missed my hometown of Woodland, WA´s annual festival and parade this weekend), lots of music, and absolute chaos with the crowds. The climax of the festival involved several dances and marches in the main plaza of the city, traditions going back centuries to Inca times. I´ve never experienced such a celebratory atmosphere on this large of scale.

This is of one of the final dances in the Plaza de Armas.

Here they are carrying what I assume represents a tribal leader of some sort...they will march him through the city streets, up to the hill above the city that has some old ruins called Sacsayhuaman (pronounced ¨Sexy Woman¨).

Here is a church I attended on Sunday of one of the pastors I met with, Pastor Willie, barely there on the left. It´s a fairly large and progressive church for this city (the rest of the band is off to the side, and the rest of the congregation is out of the shot.
Many more photos to show of Cusco when I return home. I leave Peru tonight, after nearly three weeks, though I may get the chance to go visit a church in the jungle city of Iquitos when I return to Peru around the 20th of July or so for the final few days of my trip.
But for now, it´s on to Bolivia...taking an overnight bus to La Paz. Thanks for following along!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Lima & Arequipa

Hi from Cusco, my last stop in Peru.

Here are a couple final shots from Lima. The first is of a worship service I attended, led by a pastor I interviewed, Juan Puppi. (like excrement-laden, not like young dog). I was asked to play a song during the service, so I sang one I´d written, along with their worship team...with the help of Paul (a guy I´ve gotten to know here) translating some of it. Neat opportunity!

And a look at the Pacific, southern-hemisphere style...

And Arequipa...I left Lima on Sunday night (overnight bus), and was in Arequipa Monday through Thursday, before leaving for Cusco on another overnight bus. Arequipa is lovely...has a neat feel to it. I would consider living here for a few months.

This is the town square...

These are a couple pastors I connected with...Javier, on my right, who was also helpful for translation during my time in Arequipa...and Willie and his wife, on my left, who I met at a pastor´s breakfast earlier that morning.

And this last shot is of the inside of Santa Catalina, a convent that is practially a minature city inside of Arequipa...was the home and workplace of sisters for centuries. Gorgeous architecture, all throughout this city.

It continues to be a rich trip...meeting some neat people, seeing some incredible stuff!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Lima, Part Two

Buenas Tardes!

Wrapping up my time in Lima, heading south in a couple days. Been an interesting week, a good lesson in being flexible. I got really sick on Monday, in response probably to the food I ate the night before...was throwing up, and experiencing other unpleasant food-related sickness (enough said). Fortunately I had meds appropriate for the situation, and I moved into a hotel for a couple days and rested.

So, kind of a glitch...but I can't say I have any regrets about the past week. Been thinking a lot about the nature of providence...as much as I'm coordinating things, it feels like I'm along for the ride most of the time on this trip. In light of the timing of several happenings this week and the people I've had a chance to meet, it's hard not to acknowledge the goodness and rightness of everything that's happened. All that to say...it's been a wonderful and blessed week!

A view of the other, less upscale side of Lima...a good example of the kind of shack-lack communities that develop in some places, especially on hillsides like this. Can you spot the two dogs a ways up the hillside?

This is a shot of the church "Camina De Vida." The service was all in Spanish, but I think I got the heart of the sermon. Large church...the service had kind of a Hillsong feel to it. But what impressed me, after spending some time learning about the church from some of the staff and members, is the depth and breadth of their outward ministry, especially through some neat humanitarian work and a high involvement in such ministry by the congregation. They have a pretty incredible vision and self-understanding as a church...very outward focused. Pretty inspiring to learn about, actually. Through this church, I've connected with Jordan, the head of a non-profit, and a great source of insight and networking for me while I've been here.

This is a picture of Juan, Betty, and Ruth, some people I have interviewed. Juan and I have had some good conversations, and he has been helpful in making some other connections, such as Betty and Ruth, who have known him since he was a little boy. Betty now pastors a church that is fairly progressive and different from traditonal churches here.

Part of the "Inca Market," with a wealth of handcrafts from Peru. A woman tried to sell me a vase she supposedly "stayed up all night last night to make." Hmm. Not sure I believe it...I think most people at this market buy these products from elsewhere and sell them here. Oh well...I acted like I believed her, which led to some good conversation.

My local coffee shop, where they know my drink. Not all of my lifestyle habits change when I'm in a different country.


Saturday, June 7, 2008

Initial experiences in Lima...

That´s me, on the table...this was part of my initial welcome to Peru. Guess I´m not ¨fitting in¨ very well.

Sorry, couldn´t resist. :) This is actually from a tour of an old political building in the capitol area of downtown, with several scenes recreated from 18th century Peru, including the one above of an underground torture chamber below one of the these buildings. This shot below is of me in a heated debate at a congressional meeting. (I guess that´s my ¨statue pose.¨)

Below are a couple shots of the capitol area, with beautiful, old, colonial-style buildings.

Been a wonderful few days thus far, all spent in Lima, mostly getting oriented, exploring, reading some literature relevant to my ¨quest,¨ setting up meetings with contacts, gaining a stronger vision for my time here, and meeting a lot of people. Already been a meaningful learning experience in many ways.

The family below has been amazingly helpful...VERY hospitable. I´ve been staying with Carlos, on the left (with his wife Megan); he has been educating me about life, culture, and religion here, and quickly has become a friend. His parents, on the right, who speak little English, took me around old town Lima (pics above), giving me a great tour and helping me practice Spanish. At dinner last night, his parents shared some incredible stories I´ll recount later, involving rescuing orphans out of the jungle at the height of communist terrorism about twenty years ago.

All for now...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Leaving tomorrow...

Welcome! Not much to say at the moment...

The CCI gang...

This picture is from my last day at CCI (Center for Continuous Improvement), the group home for mentally handicapped men at which I worked part-time this past school year. I don't think any of you have met any of these people, so hopefully this post provides an image to my stories and references. The back row are my co-workers, Fabiola, Juan Diego, and Patricia. The front row are my clients, (names edited and omitted for privacy). We took the guys to OMSI this day. Wonderful group of people, both co-workers and clients, like family to me.