Tag Archives: especialidades juveniles

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!)

random learning and observations from uruguay

last weekend, i was in uruguay for especialidades juveniles’ (spanish YS) youth ministry summit. it was my first time in uruguay, and i deeply enjoyed my time with my brothers and sisters. here are a handful of things i noticed and/or learned:

– uruguay is a small country. and, i’ve learned (this was a surprise to me) it’s the most secular of all latin countries. so, tiny church in a small country = small number of youth workers. a missions agency did a comprehensive study of the church in uruguay a couple years ago (i’m told); one of their findings was that there are a total of 700 youth workers in the entire country (remember: youth workers in latin america are rarely paid, so this number includes pretty much all volunteers). yet, the youth worker event i was a part of had 500 youth workers attending. that’s why lucas leys told me it’s especialidades juveniles’ smallest and largest summit.

– traveling alone and not knowing the local language is humbling and isolating. i’ve been to latin america dozens of times, but have often had other gringos with me. on this trip, i was the sole americano. at meals, i would sit with a crew of people who were friendly to me, and occasionally one of them would translate something, or engage me in a bit of english (usually lucas leys); but more often than not, i was in my own little deaf and mute world. i kept having an urge to say something, so people didn’t interpret my silence as stand-off-ish-ness, or a lack of interest. but my attempts to engage were more often than not interruptive.

– you can learn a ton about good and bad communication by watching speakers when you don’t understand the language. rather than sitting in the backstage green room, surrounded by VIPs speaking spanish, i figured i might as well sit in the audience and listen to speakers and bands speaking spanish. but that put me in an interesting space, when the main speakers were on. a 40-minute talk, when you only catch (if you’re really concentrating) about one in twenty words quickly becomes a lab of gibberish, where you can pay attention to vocal tone, volume, body language, eye contact, facial expressions, pauses and audience response. the guy who spoke the opening night was a master communicator, whose variations, whispers, shouts, pacing and crouching, dramatic pauses and character voices was an unintended and natural master class in communication. then, in the closing session, lucas leys offered master class, part 2. in between was a fat old gringo who at least had a beard worth watching.

– drinking uruguayan mate (say that “mah-tay”) is a social behavior, not a solo activity. it’s very strong and tea-like, but tasty. i’d had mate in other countries, but thought i remembered it having sugar in it. i asked my mate pusher if they ever put sugar in it, and he responded, “only argentinians and women put sugar in it.” (yeah, there’s a little rivalry between uruguayans and argentinians – some argentinians told me, “uruguay is really an extension of argentina, but they won’t admit it.”) by the way, doesn’t this pic make me look like i’m smoking a large bavarian pipe?

off to south america

yesterday, i left the U.S. of A. for 12 days. in fact, as this hits my blog, i should be about to land in buenos aires, argentina. from there, i’ll catch a short flight to montevideo, uruguay (a new country for me!). and i’m pumped.

long-time readers of this blog will know my affection for latin american youth workers. ever since youth specialties started partnering with lucas leys around 1999 (because we like to party like it’s 1999), i’ve had the chance to work alongside lucas and what became the spanish division of youth specialties — especialidades juveniles. i’ve been to argentina and guatemala with him many times, as well as peru, costa rica, cuba, and puerto rico.

it’s been a few years since i’ve been to argentina, so i’m really looking forward to being there again.

my schedule:
friday – sunday, i’ll be in uruguay at the “cumbre” (summit) for EJ there.

next monday – thursday we’ll be in buenos aires. i’m teaching a course at the instituto especialidades juveniles; but i’ll mostly be holed up finishing a book manuscript that’s due when i return.

then, that friday – sunday (june 8 – 10), we’ll be in rosario, argentina, for the EJ cumbre there.

pray for the amazing youth workers of uruguay and argentina! (and for me, please)

youth ministry 3.0 in spanish

i received the covers for the spanish version of youth ministry 3.0 the other day. it’s at the press right now, and should be available in a few weeks (both in paperback and kindle versions). pretty exciting! i’m sure lucas (the spanish ys dude) and his team did a good job of not merely translating the book, but contextualizing it.

(click the image to see it larger)

monday morning update, jan 19, 2009

the weekend that was: it was a nice, fairly relaxing weekend at home. i sure do like those! jeannie went to a seminar kind of thingy friday night and most of saturday, so the kids and i got a chance to hang. friday night, i took liesl and max to see bride wars. i didn’t really expect to like it, but i didn’t expect it to be as relentlessly boring as it was. the few nominally funny bits were all in the trailer. otherwise, it was attempt to be sweet. of course, i am not the target audience, and liesl (almost 15) really liked it. saturday, i slept in a bit, got caught up on a bunch of tv shows i had on the dvr (including 24), and chilled. then max and i went out to see his movie pick: mall cop. this one was actually pretty funny. sure, it’s no oscar contender, and totally formulaic as movies go; but kevin james is funny, the whole segway thing works, and max and i both laughed out loud a lot. then we went shopping for books (max HAD to get the new “diary of a wimpy kid” book), and to rent a wii game he wanted to try (mario strikers charged — a soccer game), and we played that a bit, until my thumb couldn’t take it anymore (and because max was creaming me).

sunday morning, we signed loan docs (we refinanced our house with the great low rates right now, and dropped our monthly payment an additional $200!), then went to church. had a fun middle school ministry volunteer staff meeting in the early afternoon. then, in the late afternoon, i had a fun visit with a guy who was a middle schooler at the church i grew up at when i was an intern there. a few years later, in the first church i worked in as a junior high pastor (in wheaton, il), he was on my volunteer team while in college. since then, we’ve had occasional contact (every few years, it seems), and he’s been a youth pastor for a bunch of years. funny thing is: i still think of him as a kid from my middle school group, but he’s something like 38 years-old! i’m just an old fart!

sunday evening, we worked on getting our christmas decorations down. jeannie’s rule is: everything has to be down by the end of january. the lights got off the house yesterday, and the tree is down. just a few more things to pack up tonite. this is my last chance this month, so we’re committed to having it done by tonite (monday night).

where i am at the moment: home. yeah! and, not just home like, home-in-san-diego-but-in-the-office. i’m home as in at my house! (today is a holiday for ys)

on my to-do list this week: busy day tomorrow, with meetings and prep for my trip to puerto rico this week.

procrastinating about: preparing for my trip to puerto rico! i’m doing a general session, a seminar, and a super-seminar; and i haven’t prepared a thing yet.

book i’m in the midst of: two of ’em. i’m still reading the know it all. and i picked up jack handy’s new book the other day — what i’d say to the martians — and am halfway through it. funny, funny stuff.

music that seemed to catch my attention this past week: newly appreciated ysmarko commenter, cal, commented on my monday morning update last week that i should check out the sufjan stevens’ produced jewel, welcome to the welcome wagon, by the band the welcome wagon (seriously, three uses of “welcome” in one album title!). such a cool album. almost more like a collection of hymns than anything else, but with a quirky sufjan-y sensibility (both lyrically, and sonically).

next trip: i leave for san juan, puerto rico, on wednesday, for our spanish ys summit (the country event for puerto rico). here’s the online event brochure.

how i’m feeling about this week: really looking forward to puerto rico. lucas, our spanish director, and i will spend 36 hours together on the front end, prior to the event. i really love lucas, and always have fun with him dreaming about the future of our spanish stuff. then, the event should be a kick also.

monday morning update, january 12, 2009

the weekend that was: i’ve been in san antonio, texas, for our ys one day premiere. our process of developing the content for ys one day (previously ‘the core’) is rigorous, messy, and time consuming. but i think it’s a big part of what sets this training apart: it’s not just one person’s seminar thoughts. ys one day is collaboratively developed by a team of writers and presenters, and goes through multiple stages of writing, testing, and refinement. when we get to this final test (the premiere), we hope to have it finalized, but find there are still, always, lots of changes to make. this time around, we made tweaks and modifications to three of the four sessions, and completely scrapped one and re-wrote it. we tested the day, with a different presenter for each of the four sessions, in front of the volunteer team from the youth ministry of a large church here in san antonio. all of our team who are here (about 15 of us) sat in the audience and took copious notes. then we met saturday afternoon and much of sunday, giving input and reworking. now, there is a smaller team of us (4) who will stay on a couple more days to complete all the final rewrites, getting the day into its final form.

i love the people on this team, and we have a ton of fun together also; but we work really hard. i’m exhasted and brain dead.

i did catch two movies this weekend, after the evening broke up. both were excellent: gran torino really surprised me. i thought it would be a good tough movie about a scrappy old dude confronting gangs in his neighborhood. what i didn’t expect was how funny it was, how 3-dimensional the characters would be, and how much stunning christian imagery would be in the film. it’s really a film about forgiveness and redemption. i also saw valkyrie, which was better than i expected. it was intense, despite generally knowing the outcome. i loved learning about a true story i hadn’t really heard before.

finally, a few of us took a mental break sunday afternoon to watch the san diego chargers pittsburgh steelers.

where i am at the moment: still in san antonio, working on the rewrites for ys one day. we’re scheduled to fly home on wednesday, but i’m hoping we’ll be able to leave tuesday evening.

on my to-do list this week: first half of the week is ys one day work; second half of the week is catching up on stuff in the office.

procrastinating about: as i write this, i’m procrastinating on the writing work i have to immediately get to for ys one day. i think i can acknowledge that i’m also in a procrastinating phase when it comes to reading. normally, i’m jazzed to have some time to grab whatever book (or books) i’m in the middle of. but for the last month or so i’ve been very unmotivated to read, and find myself playing solitaire on my ipod during flights, while my book sits in my seat back pocket.

book i’m in the midst of: a.j. jacobs’ the know it all. fun book.

music that seemed to catch my attention this past week: not sure anything particularly caught my attention, but i’m diggin’ on some mellow, vibey bebel gilberto remixed as a write this.

next trip: a week from thursday i fly to san juan, puerto rico, for the especialidades juveniles (spanish ys) cumbre (summit). in latin america, we have 6 or 7 “regional youth specialties” that are ys for their country (we have these in chile, argentina, paraguay, peru, costa rica, guatemala, and puerto rico — which is the newest. i think uruguay is just now coming online also). each of these host their own national event for youth workers each year. i’ve never been to puerto rico, and am really looking forward to being with our team there.

how i’m feeling about this week: mostly good. i a bit too tired and weary (physically, emotionally, mentally) to say i’m pumped up or anything like that.

convention weekend update

i got up at 4:30am saturday and grabbed a taxi to the sacramento airport. it was really surreal to leave the sacramento nywc, and to leave my family in the hotel there. i slept in fits, with my head bobbing around, for most of the flight to dallas.

after i landed, i was picked up by a great volunteer from our spanish convention, who drove me to the hotel/convention center. i had one hour to check in and get over to the general session i was speaking in. i did a modified version of the talk i’m working on for monday’s closing session in sacramento — talking about belonging. my friend howard andruejal, from guatemala, was my translator again (he translated for my general session talk in argentina just a month ago), and he did a fantastic job, as usual. having a good translator makes all the difference in the world — a good one is more than just getting words right, they have to be good at keeping the meter well, and getting inflections, and stuff like that. howard and i work well together, and i’m able to keep the flow without losing my concentration too much.

it’s interesting, we’ve been doing these spanish conventions in argentina and guatemala for a number of years now; and i almost forgot how revolutionary they are to people who have never been to something like this. people are totally buzzing about how they never had any idea that they would find training like this, encouragement like this, fun like this, diversity like this. all the things i’ve always loved about ys conventions.

i can’t tell how necessary the translation was. the convention is totally in spanish; but most of the people here are bi-lingual. when i speak at our other spanish conventions, i can tell they’re waiting for the translation (like, laughter at a joke doesn’t come until after the translation; nods of agreement come after the translation). but here, the laughter and body language came with my english, with only a small additional “bump” following the translation. i know there are people here who only speak spanish, but i don’t have a sense what that percentage is: it’s certainly different than our other spanish events. another difference this creates is that i can actually talk in the hallways with most of the attendees, which is nice (and a change from only posing for photos and signatures).

i’m totally wiped out. i spent the afternoon working on stuff for my return to sacramento. after the evening general session, i’ll try to get to bed early (like, 10 or 10:30), as i have to go leave the hotel for the airport at 4:30am (which means getting up at 4, which is 2am to my body), for my two-leg flight back to sac. i’ll land in sac just in time to get back during the morning general session, where — if i’m on time — i’ll close. then i have a seminar in the afternoon, and my general session talk on monday. oof.

but i love it. and i feel so frickin’ blessed to get to be a part of this amazing stuff. there’s nothing quite like encouraging youth workers.

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.

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.