Monday, June 14, 2010

Moving Day

I've moved my blog over to WordPress.  Check out the latest entry at  

Monday, June 07, 2010

God's Economy 101

So, we were starting our jewelry class in La Carpio...with practically no beads with which to make jewelry!  It's tempting to just spend my own money to buy supplies, but we've all committed to waiting for the proceeds from the sale of the jewelry we've already made to buy more beads.  It's a great exercise in patience and good money management, but it's hard to wait!!  (At some point we may look into micro-loans for these ladies, but we're a pretty humble enterprise at the moment.)

While the ladies worked on a few necklaces, trying out new varieties with the remaining meager collection, we ran into a snag of needing some basic supplies.  More to remember what to buy when we had the money than as an act of faith, we made a list: Scissors, hot glue guns, beads, earring "holders", ziplock bags...

Amanda went into the supply closet thinking she'd seen scissors in there at some point.  Right away she came back with a huge smile on her face!  A giant bag of scissors--and we could use them every week!

She headed back to the closet, and I don't even remember praying she'd find anything more for us.  In general, life in La Carpio is an adventure, and God works in surprising ways to bring things full circle for His glory.  I've kind of stopped wondering and started waiting -- one of my favorite things about how spending time in La Carpio has changed me.  

This time was no exception.  Five minutes and three trips to the previously mysterious supply closet, and we had a huge box of shell beads and necklace "fixings", hot glue guns and sticks, and various other jewelry items.  We all squealed with delight and I said a quick "Thank you" to God for providing!  

As we compared our list to the provision, we ALL thanked God!  We're still waiting on the funds to come in from the sale of the ladies' jewelry in the States, but now we have a little wiggle room...and another testimony of God's involvement in our lives!

Above: Sorting and taking inventory of our God-given supplies!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

How much can a weekend hold?

...driving to a Costa Rican tropical beach and finding a restaurant serving Hebrew National hotdogs (oh, my, yum!)
...doing crossword puzzles while facing the Pacific Ocean
...eating dinner in (or at least near) a downed U.S. plane
...finding the best hazelnut lattes in Costa Rica in the surfer-central city of Jaco (think Santa Cruz, Calif. meets Central America) sign exists for the next major town on the map, so we were driving out of our way, south, for an hour (and that, of course, is how long it also took to get back :>)
...but then stumbling upon another national park
...eating patacones (smashed & twice-fried plantains) the size of my head.  
....Finally, after a one-hour trip took three, walking, dripping wet and sandy, into THE Applebee's in the fanciest part of San José for dinner on the way home.  

Cheap beach trip with my roommie? = Not as spendy as the tourists do it.  
Nachos at one of very few U.S. restaurants loaded with more cheese than necessary (i.e., U.S. food when you most need it)? = Priceless!

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Day in the Life

I am honored that I am reviewing a 4-year plan for the Nahuatl-speaking people of México. Lives are being transformed!  I may not get to be there in person, but I'm blown away that I am in any way involved in the process of this people group's salvation.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Market Day

Every Saturday in Huánuco, the market came to ME.  Hundreds of mostly Quechua-speaking vendors traveled to the city, to the street I lived on, the Alameda, bringing their fresh (and sometimes organic) produce to sell.  Most of these fruits and vegetables I'd never seen before I moved to Perú.  A dozen or so of the 3,000 varieties of potatoes (including the fermented potato "delicacy", togosh).  The enormous sweet corn called choclo.  And my favorite flower, the calla lily--a handful of these cost about 17 cents here.  

I took pictures this time around, since I may never shop at the Alameda Saturday Market again.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Cutting Edge Music

My favorite music right now is Christian Reggaeton, which is kinda like hip-hop+reggae.  Hanging with the music group from my Huánuco, Perú church, we thought we could go one step further...and add the Quechua music sound (called "Huayno") into the mix.  Here is Julio demonstrating what we created:

La música que me gusta ahora es reggaeton cristiano, que es más o menos hip-hop+reggae.  Cuando yo estaba con el grupo de musicos de mi iglesia en Huánuco, Perú, hemos decido que podriamos ir un paso más adelante...y agregar el sonido de la música Quechua (que se llama "huayno") al mesclado.  Aquí es Julio mostrando lo que creamos:

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Infamous Garage Door Restaurant

When I moved to Huánuco, Perú, a few years ago,

I immediately latched on to this cute spot as my favorite restaurant in town.  It honestly reminded me of the cool restaurants on the Portland, Oregon, street I used to live on, Alberta, with it's garage door entrance, mismatched, chipped dishes, and excellent food.  Let's just say it's MORE like a cool Alberta St. restaurant than the other joints in Huánuco. :)

How could you not love this awesome food (skewers of chicken & veggies or cow heart).  Seriously, this is the most well-seasoned meat I've ever had:

And all cooked on the grill inside the open-roofed restaurant by this awesome dad and his family:

Unable to remember it's name, I dubbed it The Garage Door Restaurant, and I wish I'd brought some back to Costa Rica with me!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

How cool is Quechua!

As the announcements were being shared in Spanish in my Huánuco, Perú church today, 5-year old Dayana leaned over and kid-whispered to me, "I speak Quechua too!"

"I have a Bible in Quechua, and my mom can speak Quechua!"

And then she flew through some Quechua phrases that were way over my head.

I can't tell you how exciting it is to hear a little kid be so proud of her mother tongue!!!

When I lived here for two years, I experienced many more instances of people telling me they didn't speak ANY Quechua...but would then turn and talk to their other neighbor in Quechua.  For generations (and I mean since the Conquistadors in the 1500's), Quechua has been looked down on.  Friends of mine were beaten in school if they spoke the Quechua that their parents used in the home.  Church services I went to in the Quechua towns, where Quechua was still being used in the markets, would hold church services in Spanish because "God speaks Spanish"...even when they even had the New Testament in their Quechua language (and the Old Testament in process).  

Language death and social injustice happens, but there is often no reason for it if there is cultural approval of being bilingual and rejoicing in the culture and language God places us in from birth.  

I pray that, here in Huánuco, where there are over a million people who speak 5 different Quechua languages, the feeling of pride for mother tongues will grow like wildfire.  And with it the spread of the use of the Bible in those languages.  How much more do I get out of reading Scripture in my heart language--English!  It speaks to my soul much clearer than even the Spanish Bible I can now understand. 

What can YOU do to encourage and bless people who have more languages than you?  Especially if you speak a language with more social "weight" and "power", you CAN make a difference by using that supposed "power" for good and affirming the other languages and cultures around you.

Smiling and asking questions about a person's culture and mother tongue can be good starting point (as long as it's culturally appropriate to do so).  Usually learning "hello", "goodbye" and "thank you" will show people you really care.  

Next time you run into someone who has a mother tongue they're not speaking with you, ask them about it!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Shepherding in 2010

Location: Huánuco, Perú

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fire Hazard

Flying into Huánuco, I think the tips of the airplane's wings are going to touch the mountains we are descending into.  There's a valley, with seemingly just enough space for us to land.  To get back up, we'll be flying in circles until we can clear these foothills of the Andes.  As we touch down, brakes on FULL, I look to my right and see the green fire engine on the side of the runway, engine on, lights flashing, waiting just in case one of the two planes that lands here each day bursts into flames.  Welcome to Huánuco!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Amy's from Oregon but she lived in Peru for 2 years and now lives in Costa Rica. Jenny's from Costa Rica but she got some training in Peru before moving back to Costa Rica last year.  Amy and Jenny had a happy and loud reunion outside of a university in Lima, Peru, a few days ago, as Amy swung by to bring a bit of Costa Rica to Jenny, who is back in Lima for a few years.  Chess pieces in the hands of One who knows how it all plays together?!!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Traveling in Class

For my trip to Peru, my AWESOME online travel agency, Compete 4 Your Seat, found a free upgrade for me to Business Class, otherwise known as Clase ejecutiva!  The gourmet meal on the way down was worth the...wait, it was FREE!

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Coolest signage at the SIL headquarters: "Every Language Matters", and every language is listed...currently at 6,909.  For more info on world languages, maps, stats and audio recordings, go to the Ethnologue.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Alice in Quantumland

...should have been about the string theory physics that were clearly present in the real book Alice in Wonderland...instead it was a made-up, new narrative explaining Quantum Physics...not as exciting but still a great way to learn physics.

(*I apologize for the geek post.  I'll get back to missions in a minute.)

My ride

 ...has this license plate for one more day:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Perfect Teaching Outfit

One of the practice teachers at the adult learning workshop had the perfect shirt on today.  

"Stop me when I start making sense!"

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Home for Dinner!

The neighborhood:

The drive-through:

The heartstrings:

New Language Discovery

Should we add this to the list of over 2,000 languages still with no Bible?

On the Road Again

"Wide Open Spaces" keeps playing through my mind.  Being in Texas always feels like coming home, but that doesn't mean I don't get culture shock coming back here!  I wonder how much adjustment my taxi driver, Joseph, went through when he first got here.  After talking with him for a few minutes as we left the airport, he paused and said, "I don't understand it, but I've never had anyone ask about my family before."  For a man from an African culture that is very family-oriented, similar to those in Latin America, that was a shock.  

We talked at length about the minority language he grew up speaking and the story of how his family fled his hometown because of violence.  "Driving a taxi is better than pumping gas," he said about the job he's had for 10 years.  At the end, he refused my tip, saying I'd already blessed him enough.  Did Texas feel a little more like Africa & Latin America for a few minutes?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Oh Happy Day

God knows what we need.  I needed a bath.  No, I don't have bad hygiene, I just LOVE taking baths.  If I had to chose between a bath and a shower...or a bath and would be a tough decision.  At the hotel we are staying at all week for our Wycliffe Americas meetings, I found THIS in my bathroom and took a picture it was so exciting.  This is a very uncommon sight in Latin America, and a big present for me from God.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Room with a View

My view at the Wycliffe International Americas Area meetings in Heredia, Costa Rica

Saturday, March 06, 2010

An answer in the desert

Photo: Mexican mountains from the air

A friend recommended these daily meditation emails from Richard Rohr and I’m really enjoying them.  Today’s remind me of the 3 1/2 years of my life when it felt like I was walking the Desert.  During those years I came face-to-face with myself and God in a way that I had never experienced before.  In “regular” life, I’m sometimes tempted to fill up every moment with busyness...and have wondered if what I’m really doing is trying to avoid being alone.  Here are a couple of Richard’s comments on this topic:
Do you know what the answer for deep loneliness is?  Solitude!  No one would have ever imagined it, but I promise you it is true.
In solitude, we are able to let Reality/God define us from the inside out.  We stop looking outside of ourselves for diversions, entertainment, or real satisfaction.  It is the birth of the soul. When we keep looking outside of ourselves, we always and forever need another and then another diversion.
....If we’ve never lived in the realm of pure presence without any need for achieving and performing, we don’t know how to breathe there at first.  It is like living on a different planet.  But eventually, we allow ourselves to be defined by relationship itself instead of by the good or bad—or even the holy—things we’ve done.  And now it is relationship with everything, the rocks at our feet, the air that we breathe consciously, the little animals and birds, the God who is now obvious and praiseworthy in all things.  Solitude, ironically and surprisingly, can connect us to everything else.  Who would have thought?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Talking with your feet

At the beginning of the workshop I'm helping teach this week, we ask everyone to share how they feel about the subject we're learning. We place signs around the room that symbolize different emotions and thoughts about the planning and administration of projects.  (See the photo.)  Then each mission agency leader moves to stand by the sign that best describes how they feel about the topic.  Many end up with me under the sign: "What's this all about?" :)  Others choose "I love it".  Still others, "Convince me!", etc.  Then at the end of the workshop we do this again only to find that many people have found a new location.  Our goal as we teach is to allow everyone to actually practice and implement what they are learning, so it's hard not to be more excited about this stuff by the end of the week!

What happens if you disagree with me while I'm teaching:

Some of the faces of southern missions

Greetings from the workshop for leaders of Central American missions agencies!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Learning that Lasts

It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry. ~Albert Einstein

Instead of information overload, our teaching style is to provide people the opportunity to connect with and learn new information, and to be challenged to apply it and change.  At least that's the goal!  

Drawing it out

How to get from here to there, Tico style.  Final destination?  The beach of course!!

My view at the workshop

I'm surrounded by the best: pastor, director, member care and partner relations for one of the awesome missions agencies here in Central America.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

God Loves Cows.

Have you ever ended a story with a question?  I think that means the storyteller is looking for a reaction from the audience.  Maybe it's even an invitation into the story.  I've been thinking about a story that ends that way about a missionary who only went a third of the way that God told him to go.

This guy was called by God (as in God actually talked to him) to go to a city on "the other side of the world" to tell them that God loves them and wanted to save them from the destruction they were facing.  The only problem being that this guy's nation was practically a sworn enemy with this people group, and so he wasn't too excited to go.  Once he finally got there, he showed up, did only one day of travel instead of the 3 that God asked him to do in order to reach everybody, and then sulked in the desert outside the city while they all converted.  Yes, he was so opposed to these guys that he got mad that they didn't die.

Then God asks the question which ends the story: "...Ninevah has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well.  Should I not be concerned about that great city?"

Maybe the biggest point in this story is about God's compassion, especially in comparison to Jonah's ethnocentric bad attitude.  But I also think it's about cows.

A while ago, I was reading in the local newspaper about the evacuation of the area around an erupting volcano here in Costa Rica: Turrialba.  The story mentioned that about 300 cows were also being evacuated (photo left).  Of course the reason for this was that livestock are the livelihood of many people living in that rural community.  So evacuating people but letting the families' incomes be destroyed made no sense.

Caring about what the people you love care about is natural.  At least it seems like it would be.  But we sometimes get caught up in the theological chicken-or-the-egg question: Do we meet people's needs or tell them about Jesus?  A friend reminded me this week of one of my favorite St. Francis of Assisi quotes: "Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words."

A bunch of Quechua Bible translators also reminded me of this when we were writing out their plans for the next 5 years and they reminded me that as well as finishing the Old Testament translation, they wanted to help reduce the percentage of the kids in their state who were dying before they were 5 years old (at that point it was about 40%).

God loves cows because they are life sustaining to the people He loves (and there's nothing better than fresh cow's milk, let me tell you).  One of my prayers is that I'll have that same all-encompassing love for the people He puts in my life.

(Continuing on the cow theme, here's a photo of me gesturing wildly at a small herd of cows outside Coronado, Costa Rica.  I have a thing for cows, after falling in love in Peru with Shumaq, the nicest dairy cow you'll ever meet.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Help Haiti

You have probably already heard that a massive 7.3 earthquake hit Haiti yesterday.  Because of the types of structures people live and work in as well as a general lack of access to medical care, thousands are expected to die.  There is also high risk for infections and water contaminations leading to more deaths.  You CAN help in several ways:

1. Pray.  One suggestion is to pray on the hour, every hour, for the rescue efforts and for healing.  Pray for God to open doors for every salvation, both physical and spiritual.

2. Give.  I recommend giving through any reputable agency, but personally know that Medical Teams International (where I used to work) has experience in Haiti and has 2 teams ready to go and provide emergency medical care to the wounded.  I have even met two of the doctors that leave tomorrow.  MTI will responsibly use your dollars as only 3% of donations are used for overhead. The rest goes directly to the field.  In a situation like this $10, 20 or $50 will make an impact.

CLICK HERE for pictures or to GIVE.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Day One in Moravia

Today I start working out of the central Wycliffe office for the Americas, located in Moravia, a suburb of San José, Costa Rica.  Even though it was not named for the Moravia in the Czech Republic, I'm always reminded of those Moravian missionaries famous for their uninterrupted, round-the-clock prayer service that lasted for 100 years.

Here's a bit from Wikipedia on these guys: The first missionaries were sent out when there were only 300 inhabitants in Herrnhut. Within 30 years of their beginning, the [Moravian] church sent hundreds of Christian missionaries to many parts of the world, including the Caribbean, North and South America, the Arctic, Africa, and the Far East. They were also the first to send lay people (rather than clergy) as missionaries, the first Protestant denomination to minister to slaves, and the first Protestant presence in many countries.

The current motto of the Moravian church is: "In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, love". That's what I was thinking about as I was driving to work today, where a bunch of people from a bunch of cultures, traditions and languages are working together to see that everyone has access to the Words of God in their language and an opportunity to receive His love for them.

This is a drawing made from the description of a Moravian missionary in order to document the indigenous culture in which they were living in Newfoundland.  I love the kid popping out of the boot. Source here.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

The last sunset of the decade:

More fotos from celebrating the New Year with Costa Rican chicharron HERE

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A little Spanglish humor for Navidad

On December 11, I graduated from language school!  (There I am with the Costa Rican flag.)  I am grateful for having had the chance to improve my Spanish before jumping into more hands-on training of ministry leaders.  I feel more confident...even though I'm even more aware of the mistakes I still make. :)  God did so much more in my life in the past 8 months than teach me Spanish.  Doesn't He always makes the journey more interesting than the destination?

Probably because of the "bad luck" of being classmates with the president of the student body, I was asked to give the student speech at graduation.  I won't print the whole thing here, but I ended with this poem (which I modified from the internet).  This sounds a bit like what's in my head these days--a big mess of Spanglish!


‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the casa
Not a creature was stirring. I wondered, “Que pasa?”
I was hanging the stockings with mucho cuidado
In hopes that old Santa would feel muy obligado
To bring all the children, both buenos y malos,
A nice batch of dulces and other regalos.
The children and I were asleep in our camas,
Some in long underwear, some in pijamas

When out in the yard, there arose such a grito
That I jumped to my feet like a frightened cabrito.
I ran to the window and looked out afuera,
And who in the world do you think that it era?
Saint Nick on a sleigh and a big red sombrero
Came dashing along, like a crazy bombero.
And pulling his sleigh, instead of venados,
Were eight little burros, approaching volados.
I watched as they came, and this quaint little hombre
Was shouting and whistling and calling by nombre:
"Ay, Pancho! Ay, Pepe! Ay, Cuca! Ay, Beto!
Ay, Chato! Ay, Chopo! Maruca y Nieto!"

Then, standing erect with his hand on his pecho,
He flew to the top of our very own techo.
With his round little belly like a bowl of jalea
He struggled to squeeze down our old chimenea.
Then, huffing and puffing, and a little cansado
He picked up a bag that looked so pesado.
He filled all the stockings with lovely regalos,
For none of the niños had been very malos.
Then chuckling along, seeming very contento,
He turned like a flash and was gone like the viento.
And I heard him exclaim -- and this is verdad --
"Merry Christmas to all! y Feliz Navidad!" 

Sunday, December 27, 2009

¡Feliz Navidad!

Christmas Greetings from La Carpio!  For the past few months, I've been spending Thursday afternoons in a part of San José called La Carpio with a pile of awesome kids between 1-18? years old.  Every year there is a Christmas party and we planned this year's party expecting 150 kids.  Around 500 showed up!  Here's the link to pictures of the party and the children I'm loving more every week:


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bad Habits (Spanglish 101, Class #1)

Learning to laugh at myself was a big part of my time in Peru...and it continues!  Language errors can be embarrassing, even harmful, but most of all they are forgivable, and often hysterical!  I thought I'd share a few of the funny ones here on my blog.

Last week in class, we learned how to describe when someone picks up a habit.  I had to come up with a sentence in Spanish and then translate it into English.  "Mi hermano le ha dado por fumar," was fine (and not actually true), but when I tried to translate it into English, I made everyone laugh.  Fumar is "smoking" in Spanish and my brain couldn't quite jump to English entirely.  So I somehow kept a half-Spanish accent on the last word and said, "My brother started 'fooming'."  If I had pronounced it "fyuming" I could have said, all in proper English, "My brother started fuming," but that would have meant something different entirely.

The verb "fumar" always makes me smile because of a story my friends tell about one of the former SIL Peru directors.  Police often stop foreigners in Peru and sometimes it's hard to get out of the situation without losing a little cash.  But in order for the transaction to occur, the foreigner has to at least speak a little Spanish.  My friend used that last bit to to his advantage when he was stopped by a cop (for doing nothing wrong).  When the cop asked him to roll down the window and started to question him, my friend (who is fluent in Spanish) looked up at him quizzically and said, " fumar español."  No, my friend didn't smoke Spanish. :)  The cop just waived him away.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A More Ominous Good

Running around the muddy yard, the 10 or so kids didn't seem to mind playing tag eternally, until one kid said, "This time you're 'La Llorona'!" I didn't understand what he meant and had never heard the term, so I asked him to explain it to me. 

"While we are sleeping, the bad, old lady comes to steal us out of our beds!" 

"She lives down there!" another one added, pointing to the basement, gated off with iron. 

I'm really into in-the-moment teaching opportunities and realized this was one of them.  I needed God's help.  I looked into the wide eyes of the kids staring up at me, equally hopeful of and terrified at the prospect of me chasing them, pretending to be La Llorona.

"Is there anyone who can stop La Llorona? Anyone stronger?" 

The kids were unanimous: "No way!" 

I looked puzzled. "Are you sure?" 

One sturdy, young kid with a penchant for biting me instead of hugging me shouted, "God is!!"

I looked up and out at the rest of the kids. "Really?" I asked. "Is God stronger than La Llorona?"

By this time they had caught on: "YES!!" They shouted in unison.

"If the bad, old lady shows up, do you know how to ask God to help you?"  My eyes panned the small crowd.

No one had an answer.

I shouted mine: "En el nombre de Dios, vayase!"

Heads perked up.

"Say it together!"

"In the name of God, get out of here!", the kids shouted in unison.  (Okay, I realized later I should have taught them "In the name of JESUS, get out of here!" so I'll make that adjustment the next time we play!)

We were ready to test it out. I backed into the far corner of the yard and waited.  They scattered...a few brave ones tiptoeing as close as they dared in the few seconds just before I...started moving toward them...lifting my hands as if to grab someone...but before I could take more than two steps, the kids shouted, almost in unison: 


I clapped my hands over my ears and shrank back in horror. I fled back to my corner and looked up, shocked, at the kids. "You stopped me! How did you do that??"

They were thrilled to explain that now they all knew how to stop La Llorona!

A few turns later (and no one got tired of this game!), someone said, "We should all be laying down, because she only comes at night, to grab us out of our beds." There was something awfully sweet and sad about how truly scared those kids were as they lay down on the ground and peeked up at me, probably wondering if their short prayer was really going to work when they were in a more vulnerable position. And it did!  You should have seen their faces as they realized that calling on Jesus to save them could stop the scariest person they could think of.

I know kids all around the world have stories of the "bogeyman" who is coming to get them.  How awesome to be reminded that it only takes a few words to banish the strongest negative force we might encounter. 

One Halloween we had a all-night vigil at a liturgical church I was attending. (Basically, we prayed and sang all night.) I left my shift around 10.30pm and as I walked down the steps to a lower parking area, I looked up at the small but towering church. There were sparse, autumn-shorn branches breaking across the building's vertical lines. It was a cloudy night with an almost-full moon. The scene was painted with every shade of gray and black. At the top of the church, spike-like crosses soared, looking even more menacing than that imposing sky--but in a strong, True way. I wondered: Do we worship a more ominous Good?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Escape from San José

Three friends and I decided it was about time I took my "new" wheels for a ride.  It was a new experience for me to be able to just jump in the car in a foreign country and go where I wanted.  (I haven't owned a car in 3 years!)  We spent a Saturday in a neighboring city, Cartago, driving through fields and herds of cattle to also reach the nearby volcano.  Here are a few pics (most of them mine, but I give props to Ryan M. for the good ones).

Sunday, September 20, 2009

School Daze

It's pretty hard to get studying done in class...

...when the other students are so crazy!!

Thank goodness there's more to life than studying!

Most of these students in my first trimester have moved on to the mission field.  Only the Sears and I have stayed for a second trimester: Seth is in a blue shirt in the back and Andrea is sitting on the left.

Our school (The Spanish Language Institute) is dedicated to training people heading to serve God in Spanish-speaking countries, so there are a lot of joyful goodbyes throughout the year.  Goodbye to friends who are leaving...
...and holding on to those that are staying a while longer!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Russian

After 90 days my tourist visa was set to run out, so my friends Seth and Andrea and I planned a morning at the immigration office. I was in business mode at 7am, needing to do a few things before we met up at the park by my house to head downtown.

I walked down the hill from my house to the park, which is practically empty that early in the morning. As I turned away from my normal route to school, I noticed a kid in a black hoodie. He stood out in my mind since there had been a series of robberies around the school by someone dressed the same.

I wasn't paying much attention to him until I realized he was walking in a trajectory that would cross his path with mine, and he would get there before me. I sped up because it felt a little weird...and so did he.

So I sped up a little more (and so did he) and soon I was sprinting down the sidewalk, my wheeled backpack swinging behind me, a few feet off the ground. I was approaching a cross street with cars that careen down the hill without regard, but I didn't
care. At that point, I would probably have told you I'd rather be hit by a car than be robbed--as a matter of principle. :) Without looking, I charged into the street. The drivers are pretty gracious here so no one hit me. (Maybe the chase that was going on made them want to help me?)

While running through oncoming traffic (just 2 lanes--not that exciting), I started praying: "Lord, where should I go, especially if this guy DOES have bad intentions?"

I headed straight for the 24-hr mini-mart. I was probably out of breath when I got to the checkout stand and told the clerk I was feeling a little nervous. Maybe that's why she didn't understand me. :) I was hoping someone who knew the neighborhood would scope out the situation for me and make sure everything was cool.

Finally, she says that her manager will meet me outside. A few minutes later, a burly tank of a guy is at the store opening, gesturing with his finger that I should join him outside. Could this be the manager?

I cautiously obey him, noticing again that the kid in the hoodie is still hanging out just across the street from the store, watching us. The man explains he owns the store and asks me if there's anyway he can be of assistance.

I use vague, non-accusatory terms to describe the situation since I really can't guarantee that this kid really was trying to rob me, since he never caught up with me(!).

The man glances at me and asks, "Why did you pick my store to run into for safety?" I start to say something about asking God for help (why not be honest and share?), and he quickly looks disappointed.

In a few seconds, he rallies and
with his chest thrust a little more forward says, "Obviously, everyone has told you about me. Why else would you come to ME for help?"

I fumble around a bit and come up with, "I hear your store is wonderful and I've been shopping there a few times!"

This is NOT what he is after, so he leans in and continues, "Everyone knows who I am. During the guerrita (little war), I saved this neighborhood. Now everyone knows that it stays safe because I scare the bad guys away. Do you REALLY not know who I am?"

All I can do is repeat that I'm glad to meet him so he continues, "They all know who I am, the good guys and the bad guys. I am...(I swear there was a pause)...The Russian."

Feeling like I may have just met a superhero or a character from The Godfather, I say, "Nice to meet you."

"My name is Alex."

"Great to meet you Alex, I'm Amy."

"I'm from Russia originally."

Thinking quickly, I respond, "My grandmother was from Czechoslovakia."

Alex beams. "Prague is beautiful! We are practically neighbors!"

Now that we have bonded, he tells me the story (As if I had a choice. My eye is still on the hooded teen, leaning against a tree across the street, reading a newspaper!?):

"There was a war here. Bullet holes in every store front." He gestures broadly with his thick, muscular, hairy arms--not an exaggeration.

Alex tells me how 8 years ago this place was overrun with gangs, shooting matches, and generally un-safe conditions. He owned a business and the gangs were making life difficult, so he and his son took matters into their own hands.

As he describes the artillery they used, the attack on their store and the shoot-out that fol
lowed, he raises an imaginary gun and takes aim at, you guessed it, the hooded teen across the street, still watching us. Ha!!

The Russian had to go to court because he was guilty of killing 3 people, but he was acquitted since it was in self-defense.

It didn't end there. There were other gun battles, knife fights, and he shoves up his sleeves and a pant-leg to show me the scars.

He tells me, "You are safe now because you know The Russian. I am always here and I always have mi amiguita (my little girlfriend) with me." And he reaches down and pats his pants pocket where I now see the outline of a gun.

I thank him and tell him we are all grateful he's around. My friends show up, wondering who this guy is. We are ready to leave for immigration, but he has one more request. He wants me to memorize his phone number so I can always call him if something happens. He'll show up and take care of it.

The kid with the hooded sweatshirt is gone by the time I leave.

I doubt I'll be calling The Russian, but I think meeting him made my month.

Sidenote: I just had to look up The Russian on wikipedia, because I knew I'd heard the term before. If an artist drew a dramatic version of MY Russian, it wouldn't look much different from this one of the Marvel Comics supervillain from The Punisher: