Tag Archives: argentina

random learning and observations from argentina

i’ve just returned home from a 12 day trip to south america. it was wonderful, if not a bit long (i really missed my family!). my first weekend was spent at the EJ cumbre (YS summit) in montevideo, uruguay, which i posted about here. i spent most of the weekdays ensconced on a buenos aires hotel room, finishing writing a book for Simply Youth Ministry, called A Parents Guide to Teenage Brains. i also taught an evening course at the Instituto Especialidades Juveniles (YS institute), and had a few nice meals with friends, and a couple good walks around the city (this is my 10th time here, i think). and over the second weekend, i was in rosario, argentina, for the EJ cumbre for argentina.

here are a few totally random observations:

cultural differences. of course there are cultural differences between the U.S. and argentina. but what struck me this weekend was how strong the cultural differences were between uruguay and argentina. this was particularly interesting, as i’d been told the two countries don’t have cultural differences, or even accent differences. i think the differences, on reflection, are more about the differences in the church cultures of the two countries. the audience at the uruguayan event was wonderful, but they were substantially more subdued than the argentine audience. this crowd at the argentina event are wild, in a great way. dancing, singing, jumping around, cheering; whereas there was very little of that in uruguay. the church in uruguay, i’m told, is particularly conservative, so that might have something to do with it.

buenos aires is gorgeous. the economy is struggling, but it’s still a breathtaking city. and it feels decidedly more european than latin. i loved walking around, figuring out how to communicate with taxi drivers through my absurdly broken spanish, ordering food in restaurants (it was a little tough at the hotel’s buffet during the event in rosario, as all the entree stations were at a long counter with no menus, and i had to point and try spanglish). put buenos aires on your bucket list of cities you’d like to visit one day.

i feel a weird and wonderful connection to mike yaconelli here. when youth specialties was flirting with the idea of starting a spanish division, around 2000, it was something i was passionate about. i knew yac would have to feel something (that’s how he often made decisions). so i made sure he was present at the first event here, before we even hired lucas or officially launch (at the first convencion, we just provided the seed money, and covered our own costs to be there as speakers). yac was deeply moved by that first event, and we decided to hire lucas the day the convencion ended. in the years that followed, yac and i traveled to argentina together multiple times (5, i think). it was a very special time for me, as i got to spend extended time, just the two of us, having endless conversations and meals. mike and i found a great little cigar place off the main pedestrian shopping street, and started making daily trips there, sharing an afternoon smoke in the peaceful little courtyard behind the store. i realize not everyone who reads this will appreciate this (and might think it unwise of me to post), but it’s such a special memory for me, that i wanted to share it. jeannie (my wife) joined us on our last trip before yac died, and i later brought karla (mike’s wife), and then tic long, to that same courtyard. so, on this trip, i went there one afternoon, all by myself, and remembered what a privilege it was to have mike shape my life like he did. here in buenos aires, i don’t so much remember his wild, capricious and fiery side, as much as his gentle and warm side.

self-deprecation is appreciated around the world. america is so heavy in the global imagination, i often find that europeans aren’t very fond of america, but like americans. in latin america, they seem to be ok with the U.S. but in both places, i have found that a little self-deprecation goes a LONG ways. i really don’t speak spanish (even though i should, since i took it in college — my worst grades — and have been to various latin american countries dozens of times). in my seminars, i started by encouraging people to be very skeptical of everything i said, since i wasn’t from their cultural context. and before i went on stage for my main session talk, i briefly strung together, in my mind, the spanish words for a greeting. i said, “buenos tardes, amigos.” (good evening, friends.) lucas, my translater, said it in english! i continued, “yo soy un gringo gordo y estupido, y, lo siento, yo no hablo espanol.” (i’m a fat and stupid gringo, and, i’m sorry, i don’t speak spanish.) big laugh, and we were off to the races.

similarities and differences between NYWC or SYMC and these events. sitting in the back of the main session at the argentine event, with 1500 youth workers going crazy, it would be easy to assume i was at the national youth workers convention, or the simply youth ministry conference, in the states. the production is similar, the flow of the program is similar, the variation of elements is similar. but then, a band like this comes on, and i realize i’m not in kansas anymore, toto. (sorry the video is so blurry; but you can get a feel for some good argentine music!)

funny pic from argentina

i was given a set of photos from our recent convention in argentina, and this one totally cracked me up. it’s from my main stage talk, and our guatemalan ys director, howard andrujal, is translating for me. it seems to be a moment of confusion.

here’s my best guess: i told an opening story about a time (some of you who were at a ys convention in the states a few years ago heard this story) when i was trying to break dance in front of a group of people to impress them. but i fell really hard on the floor, and knocked a huge fart out of myself, just as the music went totally silent.

i hadn’t briefed howard on this story, so he was caught off guard when i got to the punch line, and said the word “fart”. i was expecting howard to use the spanish word “pedo“, which, though i do not speak much spanish, i know to mean fart. but howard didn’t say “pedo”. he said something else. (i later found out that pedo is a bit more crude and fart is here in the u.s., and he wasn’t comfortable translating it that way in front of 3000 people.) so, i think this photo catches the moment when i paused, wondering why he didn’t translate the word i was expecting.

lucas did a claiborne/leap of faith mashup

our convention in argentina ended well sunday night. the spirit of the event was as joyous and electric as usual. youth workers in the states are often (certainly not always) a bit jaded and skeptical. but this is not the case here in latin america — they are, 100%, expectant and engaged. this makes every aspect of the event a total blast.

the event had a handful of behind-the-scenes problems this year — nothing the participants would have known about. but it had lucas and the organizers a bit stressed. earlier in the week, during a time of prayer, lucas had felt god impress on his heart that he should speak in the closing session, that he should have german ortiz (pronounced “herman”, or “hair-mon” in spanish) speak. german and lucas started a grass-roots youth organization called lagram when they were 17 years old, and german still leads this organization.

then there was the high maintanance worship leader.

a super-popular spanish worship leader was one of the “big deal” presenters this year. he was set to give a general session talk sunday morning, then lead worship sunday night. his people called early sunday and said he didn’t want to take the flight we’d arranged from buenos aires, and that someone had arranged to bring him and his band over to mendoza on a private jet. problem was: the jet wasn’t available exactly when we needed him there. we pushed back that we have the schedule all arranged, and we need him there on time. his people said he was really tired, and needed the private jet to rest. so we reshuffled things in that session a bit, and had a bus waiting for him and his band at the airport.

but the private jet was late. lucas went to plan b and had german give the talk sunday morning (on 10 minutes notice). german hit it out of the park, and all was good at the convention. but when the noted worship leader dude arrived, he and his band were ticked. then, some of his band members complained that they didn’t have enough sound check time in the afternoon, and refused to play. so the dude phoned in a time of worship leading with a partial band (and, a female singer who was supposed to do a few songs backed by his band refused to sing without his full band — geez!).

add all this up, and lucas had a quandry on his hands. german had already spoken in the morning session, and the worship leader dude wasn’t going to speak; and only did a reasonably short set or worship songs (with his eyes closed the entire time, i might add).

while the session was already in motion, lucas wasn’t sure what to do. he said to me, “i’m thinking of doing a shane claiborne.”

for those who don’t know… last fall at our national youth workers convention in atlanta, shane clairborne was to speak. and we all expected a great talk about justice and the poor. but shane took the stage, talked a bit about how he’d wondered what he could do that would match the production of the event, did some fire-breathing thing, then said he was going to bring “the best sermon ever given.” he proceeded to open a bible, and read the entire sermon on the mount. then he closed with a short prayer, and walked off the stage. it was stunning — the word of god, unencumbered. really, a very beautiful and memorable moment.

well, lucas played that card. he did the exact same thing (minus the fire-breathing). he said he wondered how he could close this event in a way that would really be powerful, say something that would really have an impact. then he said he’d decided to bring the best sermon ever given. and he read. and read. and read.

after he finished reading, though, he still had to close the event (it was the last 10 or 15 minutes of the whole thing). so he had two or three of the bands that had stuck around through the whole thing (not the noted worship dude – he’d already left, with bodyguards) come out on stage, and invited all of us who participated in some way (the organizers and speakers) on stage, and we all sang the hymn, “there is power in the blood.” i was the token gringo, so i was singing in english; but 3000 youth workers were singing their lungs out in spanish. the band kicked it into a total jam groove, and lucas — seriously, with some boost of the holy spirit or adrenaline or both — morphed into steve martin’s character from the movie “leap of faith”! lucas was leading the singing, but he was dancing around the front of the stage like the best pentecostal tent preacher ever. somehow it worked. maybe it was the context. but it didn’t seem like a show — it was a massive joyous praise fest to god. i could hardly supress my laughter (and didn’t more than once).

i’m not well suited to be a rock star

this weekend, at our convention in argentina, i’ve been reminded of my love/hate relationship with being known by people i don’t know.

in my normal, everyday, walking about town life, no one knows who i am. the people i work with are anything but impressed by me — they know me. they know what a dork i am.

at our conventions in the states, in our tiny little world of youth ministry, there’s a certain amount of “hey, you’re marko” that comes with the turf of being on stage and such.

but here in latin america, where celebrity culture is taken to a much higher level, i’m treated like a bit of a rock star. i can’t walk ten feet through the convention center without someone (or a group of people) asking me to pose for a photo, or sign their convention handbooks. it’s downright weird. i try to “counter” it by being extra accessible. it’s my attempt to “de-mystify” the whole thing (whereas, many of the hipper artists are only seen in passing, as they bolt by in the hipster gear). but making myself accessible only increases the amount of photos i’m asked to be in, or autographs i’m asked to provide. it’s exactly the opposite of the message we want to communicate at these events: the youth workers are the heroes, not the people on the stage. i can say that in my seminars, but they still line up afterward with cameras in hand (along with a few who have great questions). i suspect half of them get home, see the photo they took, and think, “i have no clue who that guy was.”

really, it’s so weird to me: i’m a goofy dork of a guy who happens to have a role that puts me on stage for a general session. and i’m the token american here, which i think adds to the thing.

if i’m really honest (ooh, this hurts, but it’s true), there’s a part of it i like. it’s nice to feel special. but i know it’s really a false accolade, a fleeting “popularity” that has nothing to do with my character or the real me. i’m just “that guy”.

i’ve thought about not taking pictures or signing autographs; but that feels like it would be rude, and would imply (especially with the language barrier, since i can’t do more than smile and say “hola!”) that i’m too good for their silly pictures.

my friends here tease me about it; and i’m not sure i’m handling it well. but i’m not sure what else i should do. as i write this (sunday evening), i’m off to the final general session. it’s been an absolutely wonderful event, as usual. time to put on my goofy grin.

monday morning update

the weekend that was: ys spanish convention, in mendoza, argentina. i did a super seminar (2 1/2 hours long — which i found out i was doing the night before i flew here!), a general session, and a regular seminar. i did various version of youth ministry 3.0 in each of the settings. the super seminar was on rethinking our assumptions about youth ministry; the general session was on belonging; and the seminar was the closest to the content of the book, on how youth ministry needs to change in light of changes in youth culture. i ate enormous steaks (argentina has this cut of beef called ‘bife de chorizo’ that is the most amazing thing ever to come from a cow) and wonderful malbecs. i spent time with friends i only see once or twice a year. and i enjoyed the beauty of western argentina — i have a stunning panoramic view of the snow-capped andes from my hotel room.

where i am at the moment: still in argentina, but flying to buenos aires this morning. i’ll spend today and tomorrow in BA, visiting our office there, debriefing the convention with lucas (our spanish vp), and shopping for some gifts for my family. i fly home overnight on tuesday.

on my to-do list this week: oof, hard week, once i’m home. we’re in a bit of a financial crunch at ys, and i have three execs from zondervan flying in for all day meetings on thursday (i arrive home wednesday). i’m hopeful about what we can accomplish, but it will be long and challenging. friday is a catch up day, with a bunch of meetings. saturday is walk their walk, the walkathon my family is a part of to try to raise money for clean water wells in zambia.

procrastinating about: i finished the CORE re-writes i had on my plate while in argentina. so now i’m truly back to procrastinating about the middle school ministry book scott rubin and i are supposed to be writing. we got our deadline moved from late august to the beginning of january, but i really have to start carving out time to work on it. wish it could write itself!

book i’m in the midst of: after a few weeks of not reading, i finished phyllis tickle’s amazing book, the great emergence, which comes out in october. i’ll post a review in the next week or two. i’m now reading rob bell’s next book, jesus wants to save christians.

music that seemed to catch my attention this past week: listened to john legend a lot this past weekend. great music to write and work to. nice grooves.

next trip: i fly to nyc next week for a gathering of business leaders and ministry peeps who want to learn and stategize about the disparity between the educational realities of urban kids and suburban kids. could be interesting.

how i’m feeling about this week: stressed.