Final Post in Argentina

I think I’ve subconsciously put off my blog because the end was coming so soon and I didn’t want to address it. But here it is…my final post in Argentina. A single blog cannot fully capture everything I’ve experienced these 8 months. I’ve gained so much. Family. Culture. Growth. Experience. Spanish. Independence. Boldness. Gratitude. And perhaps most importantly, 65 people I now call my best friends…mis hermanos y hermanas. I pray a prayer of praise to our Lord God Almighty, the Big Man Upstairs, the Beginning and the End. My blog was named “All Things Under the Sun” to remind me that there are the things of this world that we can enjoy and find pleasure in, but they’re only the things under the sun. Our God is the only thing that remains in the end, He’s the Creator and the Savior. He is the only thing that lasts for an eternity. I couldn’t praise Him enough for everything He’s done in me this year. I’m a changed man and a renewed man of God…but only by the grace of Jesus Christ. Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Argentina. Thank you to everyone I’ve considered a brother or sister. I love you all. Besos.

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My Bucket List

This is my bucket list before we all head out of Argentina. It’s something a few of us have decided to do to, in a way, force ourselves to fully take advantage of our remaining time here. Thinking back, I have certainly accomplished a lot. From spontaneously jumping into a fountain in the middle of the city to driving on the streets of Buenos Aires…I couldn’t even begin to list all that I’ve done. But here are some activities or commitments I want to make before I leave this place I’ve come to call home. For all of you in the BA program right now…make your list, post it somewhere, and make sure people keep you accountable to it.

1. Take out the Chinese couple who own a laundromat one block from mi casa. This couple works 12 hours a day every day, and it doesn’t seem like they have a very exciting life. With them, I’m able to practice my Chinese for at least 10 minutes every two weeks when I bring them my laundry. I know they have one daughter that lives in BA and that they immigrated from China, but that’s the extent of it. I plan to take them out to dinner one night after they’re done working and dive into their lives a little more than just handing them my dirty clothes.

2. Play music on the subte with some friends. We take the subte all the time, and if we’re lucky there’s someone playing music for us. This is one of those things that I want to do just for fun, but it’s a huge step for me to bring my instrument on a train and play music in a language that no one understands, even if it’s with my friends. I know this will be worth it and that it will be something we’ll all remember, we just gotta do it.

3. Have a beer with Rafa. Rafael de Sanzo is our Program Director down here, and he’s quite the character. I’ve learned a lot from him. Simply put…I wanna learn more.

That’s it. Short, simple, and fun. All of you who see me everyday, make sure I do these things or that I least have it planned. Let’s leave this place without being able to say, “I wish I had _________________.”

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Villa 31

Preface: Going into this experience, we had no idea exactly where we were going or what we would face. As a matter of fact, we were stoked about the idea of meeting new people in their element and were excited about this exploration. We knew nothing about reputation, rumors, or dangers of going where we went.

In light of having just three weeks left in Argentina, Matthew Hibbs and I have been steadily piecing together a project that will portray the lives and sights of Buenos Aires through video. We are working on going back to every familiar place and exploring new territories to capture shots of Buenos Aires that will clearly represent the poor, the rich, the good, the bad, and the diversity of the city.

Today, we went to the bad. Though we live in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in BA, an easy 7-minute train ride will take you to see the poorest slums Argentina has, or la villa. We’re talking tin houses that are 4 feet tall in the middle of sewage and packed away behind bus stations and commercial centers. Smack dab in the middle of the city is a mini-city that houses the poorest and most desperate people in BA. So we went there to get some footage of “the other side of Buenos Aires”.

Going into the hidden entrance of la villa (right next to the entrance to the largest bus terminal in BA), dozens of police vehicles lined the dirt road…prefacing mattresses and small tables under sticks with bed sheet roofs. People were building new houses with bricks while others hung out on the side with some beer. Bringing just ourselves and a camera, we immediately felt out-of-place and vulnerable. We knew it could be dangerous, but we were simply two foreigners interested in learning about the lives of poor Argentines. Ha…right.

After walking about 30 meters past the police vehicles, two girls of about 25-years old turned around from in front of us. “What are you doing entering this place?” they whispered urgently in Spanish. “We heard you speaking English and we’re telling you to leave. You need to get out of here right now. These people will rob you. Get out. Go!” They were graciously begging us to leave their territory, and anxiously repeated those points over and over again. We exchanged some awkward dialogue before Hibbs and I got the full sense of urgency to leave la villa before something terrible happened.

Disturbed and confused, we became more interested in what laid behind the tin houses and dirt roads. We spent the next two hours trying to find a good shot of la villa without actually entering it, and we came across the outskirts of the neighborhood where there was a small market and fútbol courts. Following an innocent group of kids, we began taking some shots in the market. After about 20 seconds of being there, two shop owners motioned frantically at us to get out and stop filming. From there, we got further and further from la villa while still trying to get quality shots. From the other side of the street, an older woman with her baby in her hands yelled at us to leave the area before someone hurt us, and as we filmed from the other side of a large fence, a police officer told us to get out of there before our camera was stolen through the fence. Of course we knew what we were doing was dangerous, but with each encounter we felt more and more out-of-place and uncomfortable with the people and culture we have been learning so much about. It was the most uncomfortable I have felt in any situation in South America, and I became paranoid about every person I walked by.

Thinking back to those warnings, I’m not sure if I can fully capture the fear I felt through words alone. When we finally returned to our safe neighborhood, we were informed by Pepperdine staff that the area we stumbled into is called Villa 31, the most dangerous slum in all of Argentina. We were scolded for being so ignorant and stupid to enter a place where we could have easily been robbed, stripped, raped, and killed. Villa 31 is home to the most dangerous people in Buenos Aires and is the subject of much governmental enforcement (hence the cop cars). Any outsiders who enter without knowing someone who lives in la villa are more likely to get robbed or hurt than to have a simple conversation. Luckily, those two girls stopped us before getting deeper into la villa, or we could be telling a completely different story right now.

There are times in life that completely rock you and you’re in a state of shock before you actually figure things out. Yes, we were stupid. We should have informed ourselves before letting our artistic dreams lead us into an ugly situation. I’m really not sure what to gather from this experience just yet. These people we encountered live in constant fear of their neighbors. They know the bad things that go on in there but they have no choice but to live through it. They may even be forced to participate in it all. Who knows. We understand that our ignorance could have gotten us severely hurt, and I’m incredibly thankful for the series of events that took place. I just figured I would share this experience with you all because it was one of those things that completely rocked me, and I can’t figure out what to think of it all quite yet. Maybe I should just know and accept that there’s a completely different side to Argentina. So we’ll just leave it at that.

*Update: Here’s an in-depth look at Villa 31 from an independent filmmaker who made friends with the people in there and is making a film about misconceptions of Villa 31. I encourage you to check it out here.

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23 days left.

…it feels so strange. Take advantage of every single day that’s left, every single moment. I’m in video-makin mode right now. Expect some good stuff to be coming out in the next month or so. Below is a little thingy I put together with some extra footage. Yes, it’s awkward…but I love it because it shows how much we love and accept each other.

23 days…

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Road Trip!

The Route.

What an epic trip. Seven of us packed into a tiny van/car and loaded our stuff on top and headed as for north as we could go. We drove from cities through deserts to nothingness up forested mountains between vineyards alongside red cliffs under sun, rain, lightning, and fog. We had great conversations about anything you can think of, from God to family to relationships to poop to music to sports. We challenged each other, grew together, and slept on top of one another. We camped at the salt flats, on a random mountain, and drove through the night to hostels and bed&breakfasts. It was the most diverse trip, and it all came with the freedom of our stick shift Renault Kangoo named Tito. Enjoy the pictures and video that sum up how epic our journey of 3,082km and 50 hours of driving was.

...from Córdoba to Tucumán.

camping at the salt flats

the group at the salt flats

We drove through this forest.

Tafí del Valle...mountain pass valley.

Las Ruinas de Quilmes...Incan ruins.

in the mountains of Cafayate.

With our baby, Tito, in front of the red cliffs of Cafayate.

The boys in front of our final destination...El Obelisco.

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Something Bigger Than Myself

I’ve had a very recent thought, one that excites me and also frightens me. It’s a conviction that will put me outside of my comfort zone more than anything else I’ve done this year, but it has been very prevalent in my thoughts and interactions in the past few days. The thought is this: I’m actually living here in Buenos Aires for something that’s bigger than myself.

Upon arriving in South America for the first time, there was an idea that was just pounded into our heads. We came into this year trained to think about all the different places we were going to see, all the new things we would experience, and how much we would change as people after a year in an unfamiliar place. All I thought about was me, myself, and I. Even traveling South America for 7 weeks, everything I did was for myself and no one else.

But I’m here for something bigger than myself. As much as I’ve discovered about God and myself, His plan for me has to be something bigger than just me. This conviction that I’ve had reaches further than my own selfish desires and even the people in our program. It reaches to the people of Buenos Aires.

Like I said, this idea is exciting but also frightening. It would mean reaching out to the people I see in the city every day, like the Chinese couple that does my laundry and works from 8:30am to 8:30pm seven days a week, having no time to do anything else but work and sleep. I think about the security guard in front of the Casa who works 16 hours a day to support his family even though he never gets to see them. Even my homestay family, who are too caught up in their own lives to care about much more outside of their own apartment, can use something more. So many people in this city are deeper than we can even imagine, and to get through just one street in Buenos Aires to hear everyone’s story would take a year in itself.

I’m not sure how this conviction will manifest itself from here on out, but it’s something that I have to actively address before it just goes away like free peanut butter at the Casa. It would probably mean sacrificing my time, energy, and pride for these people…but I know that the love of the Lord will provide them with a different hope than the fragile flow of cash they receive every week, and I’m sure it will provide me with something even greater.

Matthew 25:31-46

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these my brothers, you did for me.”

Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”

They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?”

He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.

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Before Adulam, I thought God’s presence was strongest in America. The passion I felt was so strong growing up in American Christianity that I wanted to model all of my spiritual experiences after what I had in the States. My prayer for a while was that I would experience God in an international way so that I could see for myself that Christianity wasn’t just another aspect of American culture. But I just couldn’t find that same type of passion in South America. American Christianity just seemed too good to be completely true. It was so comfortable and so easy, but that’s exactly what the problem may be. American Christianity is so comfortable that churches can spend millions of dollars on a new facility without even considering how far that money can go for those in need. American life is so easy that people have to come up with other things to worry about that really don’t matter, like the look-good-smell-good Christians.

At Adulam, things are different. They rely on God for things only He can provide. Sometimes they may feel helpless with the kids who lived their first 7 years witnessing firsthand the prostitution of their mentally-ill mother; or having to fend for themselves at home alone with no parents, food, or money; adults here don’t make nearly enough money to sufficiently feed the 50 children who live with them; the stories range from bad to worse. But above all is the love of God’s children. Despite the circumstances, despite the setting…His children love. Never have I felt a love as strong as this, whether it be the kids hanging all over you and hugging you with no end or the parents giving you the best portions of their food. Love is immediately present.

Maybe that’s what the American church is missing. Sure, people are nice. But above all…love is sacrificial. The single moms here sacrifice their lives to not only care for their own children, but also take on the lives of so many other orphans. The men sacrifice so much time and energy working endless hours and constructing and fixing parts of Adulam to ensure stability for the rest of the community. Their sacrifices are endless.

Our example is Jesus, the most sacrificial love there is, that He came and died for all those who didn’t and don’t deserve it one bit. Who do we love? The ones who are hardest to love are the people who need it most. How do we love? Truly loving someone is sacrificing anything or everything for them. And why do we love? Well, to answer that question takes a relationship with God and a desire to glorify the Name that deserves it the most.

They definitely don’t have much here. Not enough money, resources, or manpower. On the other hand, they have enough love to go around the entire world and back, and that is what’s most important.

Axel, Rocio, y Luciana


The people of Adulam!

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