Love Showed Up- An Argentine Easter

Heather Caliri is a new friend but her words are so rich and needed. I’m glad to share her story of hospitality with you today. I hope her experience with a generous Argentinian man leaves you smiling and determined to do something similar. 

red_blue_easter_eggs

By the very first hour of his invitation, Topo had already changed my life.

And I didn’t even know his last name.

It started on Palm Sunday. At the Presbyterian church I’d been attending for a few months in Buenos Aires, Topo stopped me outside the sanctuary. I had no idea who he was, but he clearly knew me: the lone American exchange student giving shy smiles to people, my mouth firmly shut for fear of using the wrong Spanish verb tense. Most people, if they talked to me at all, would pat me on the head and cluck kindly. This was better than nothing, but it made me feel a bit like everyone’s favorite zoo animal.

Topo, however, was all business. He greeted me with a typical Argentine kiss on the cheek, then introduced himself with a big smile. “Topo,” he said. “You have plans for Easter?”

He’s a big man, with a shock of white hair, still thick. He was maybe sixty, his eyes tilted down at the corners in perpetual amusement. He is known for cooking. He has been a leader in the church for decades. Also, the man can talk. Fast. Even now that my Spanish is fluent, I have trouble keeping up; back then, he had to repeat every question three times.

 “Easter plans?” he repeated. He didn’t wait for me to answer, but started talking again. I struggled to follow him. Pick me up, group at the Puerta Abierta Church, Saturday night, his daughter, spend the night, very late, home too far, would I like to come?

I blinked a few times. Was the man inviting me places? I desperately wanted to say yes, even though I didn’t quite know what I was agreeing to. Several kind people had invited me to outings, but even so, I could go weeks at a time without talking. I’d moved a lot growing up; I knew what it was like to start from scratch, but being a foreigner was another level altogether. I was so terribly lonely.

Also, the idea of spending my first holiday in Buenos Aires alone had already been sending icy needles into my stomach.

“Me gustaría. Muchas gracias.” I said. “I would love to. Thank you so much.”

I don’t ride roller coasters because I hate careening through space without any way of stopping. But in Buenos Aires, I was getting over it. Anytime something interesting happened to me, I had that same whooshing feeling in the bottom of my stomach. I never understood anyone well enough to control what happened.

So it was with Topo. I thought I was signing up for Easter services at a different church—but I was really signing up for an entire weekend. Saturday night, he and his daughter Florencia, a medical student, picked me up. We drove to the Puerta Abierta—an evangelical church in the middle of the city with a giant youth group. The event started at nine and went on after midnigh. There were at least two hundred kids there, from junior high to post-college. And the kids from the Presbyterian church that had been greeting me politely—and nothing more–for weeks? They were there too.

“What are you doing here?” a girl named Cami asked me. A cluster of kids around her all stared at me, smiling. Cami was a leader at the Presbyterian church, tall, with pale skin and dark hair. She wore red Converse, and her low, vivacious laugh was always rising up above the chatter of the group.

“Topo invited me,” I said.

Everyone nodded; of course he had.

And just like that, a door opened. I had been looking in at all of the kids at the Presbyterian church behind some sort of barrier. I was outside, with no hope of joining in.

But after Topo, I belonged. The people who hadn’t really noticed me before? They all became my friends. Fifteen years after Topo’s invitation, I count the people I met that night among my brothers and sisters.

Recently, on a trip back to Argentina, I asked Cami about it. “Do you remember when I started coming to the Presbyterian church?” 

Cami shook her head no. “But you showed up one day at the Puerta Abierta, and then suddenly, you were always there.”

I still wonder: does Topo know that he was Jesus to me that weekend? Does he realize how big of a difference he made in my life? I saw him on my most recent trip back to Argentina, and wished I could explain, but with my slow Spanish and his quick wit, I have never been able to get out the words.

I realized, after meeting Topo, that sometimes love is even simpler than we realize. Sometimes, it doesn’t take much to show up in a gigantic way for someone else. Surely Topo couldn’t have known how his intentional, generous, but short-term invitation would bless me.

I am still amazed at the amazing grace one gesture of hospitality can be. How generosity can take someone out of a pit of aloneness and fill their life with good things. After meeting Topo, I am hoping that someday, God willing, I’m able to be Topo to someone else.

h bio picHeather Caliri is a writer and mom from San Diego. Two years ago, she started saying little yeses to faith, art, and life. The results shocked her. Get my free e-book, Dancing Back to Jesus: Post-perfectionist Faith in Five Easy Verbs, on her blog

 

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Praying over the scraps

Things were feeling a little backed up, so today we will do Church Plant Update Saturday on Sunday… Hope you don’t mind. 

Scraps

I get easily overwhelmed by big projects, it’s my personality type. When I get overwhelmed I focus on minutia, because it’s controllable and I can see measurable progress there.

Like when we moved into our new house, I ignored the basics and became obsessed with sewing curtains. Kel found it annoying charming at the time, I’m sure.

Right now I’m obsessed with painting murals at the church so, odds are I’m overwhelmed. But in my defense they’re gonna be awesome! 

I can’t think of any project we’ve ever tackled that’s bigger than replanting this church.

Right now the church is in the planning and people-gathering stage. We are sussing out building design and reaching out to the community. Kel spent the week delivering buckets of salt (the ice melting-sort) to our neighbors as a way of saying: “hello, we’re here, what can we do for this neighborhood?”

Everyone has slick walkways… so we went with salt because it’s practical, non-edible and a good conversation starter. Plus we can offer to refill the buckets and build relationships.

So that’s been Kel’s job this week, handing out buckets of Salt.

And to be honest? As everything else in church-planting it’s slow-going.

We’ve met with our design team twice now and I love and adore the direction we’re heading.

We’ve met with a few launch team members and those have been beautiful gatherings, I’m excited meet all those God has in mind to launch the church with us.

We’ve hashed out some vision statements and scriptures that will guide the church… but we’re not close to being “done.” I feel like we need to do that with a group of people, not just us…

Then there’s logo design, worship leader hiring, children ministry plotting, praying through how to foster diversity and the fact that I’m feeling increasingly white, waspy and hopelessly ill-equipped for urban ministry.

What we have right now is this: Hope and Scraps.

We have ideas and plans and vision and thoughts and budgets and meetings and chats and estimates and none of it is composed.

Everything is in-process.

It’s easy to get discouraged when you’re on the long haul for church planting or any other big project. We are a people who desire things now, or faster, and there is nothing fast or easy about starting a church from scratch.

But we’re almost always in-between and in-process.

This requires tsunamis of faith and patience, two tenants of faith I’m historically not great at.

I had a revelation a few days ago as I walked through the church, starting down the pink and mauve sponge-painted hallway. I will probably not paint this hallway and I have not yet met the person who will.

This thought washed over me like a wave, God has plans and people that I am not privy to.

He knows. I do not.

All I can do is wait and pray over scraps.
I am unable to speed time
I am unable to get the house we want to buy on the market
But I am able to pray over these scraps and hopes of the church that will be.

And this is No. Small. Thing. This prayer, this faith, this daily practice of giving the mess over to God.

Because when we pray over that which is beyond our control we acknowledge our smallness and find comfort there.

As such I have taken to the habit of laying down all the scraps I’m grasping at and praying over them, of walking through the church and believing that in the ghosts of what will be will materialize under the provision of a God who has all in mind before Kel or I were born.

Who operates outside of time and money alike.

Who is in love with His bride, His church, His people.

So when I work myself into a frenzy over the church (which is approximately every 47 minutes and twice in the middle of the night) I lay down all the pieces and pray for another dose of faith and patience.

Will we work hard? Of course, faith ≠ laziness.

But there is deep peace in the basic truth that we don’t have to figure this all out, God has people in mind, miracles yet to be birthed that will bring about tears I can’t wait to shed.

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