Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pillar of Fire

Lake in Bariloche, Argentina

"The Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to lead them on their way during the day and in a pillar of fire to give them light at night, so that they could travel day or night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night never left its place in front of the people". Exodus 13:21,22

To My Most Amiable Readers...

I find that God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. In particular, He still likes to lead. And not just by making a decision and telling us what to do and when. But He likes to take our hands and bring us along. He likes to point out things along the way, and when we are unsure which way to go, what to do, He delights to be asked...He delights in providing. For the Israelites, he sent manna, quail, and water from a rock. He shaded them by day and warmed them by night.

That God of then is my God of now, and He led me and some friends into a unique experiment of faith. Imagine traveling to one of the largest cities in the world, not knowing where you'd stay, if you'd find the right transportation, expecting at any moment to have your belongings stolen or lost, with no one expecting you, and all sorts of mishaps ready at your arrival. Would you go?

This past week I set off with my friends Felipe and Mike to travel to the Sudamericano (South American Rowing Championship) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Felipe is my club's rowing trainer and Mike is a co-missionary with EMM whose son, Jordan, was competing. We were going to cheer on Carmen Gloria (my rowing double and good friend) and Jordan as they competed at an unprecedented level for our club. We wrestled for weeks with whether we should go and how, but God kept arranging every detail (money came in, Felipe's profs let him off, etc). Up to the day before we were still in prayer, putting it before the Lord. He gave us the go-ahead.

After 30 hours of traveling in bus, we arrived safely in Buenos Aires...

Arriving at the bus station we wove our way through three blocks of chaos; people everywhere, hawkers calling out their wares, cars beeping. One just had to join the human tide and keep walking. We caught a train and with wide eyes watched as the city zoomed past us for 45 minutes, arriving at the end of the line, Tigre. We knew only that the races would be held in Tigre, not where the teams were staying, where the race canal Arriving in Tigre we circled up and prayed, seeking God's direction; where should we go? would You help us find the team?

Leaving the station with hearts full of peace, we crossed over a bridge and heard our names being yelled! There was Yoya jumping up and down and then weaving through the traffic, and embracing us with shouts of joy! In a city of 13 million people, God led us right to the one we were looking for! She showed us where they were staying (only a few blocks away) and I got to pray with her and the girls in their quadruple about their race in the morning. Yoya told me later that God really comforted them and they felt much peace and slept well.

At the hostel we got to see Jordan and pray with him too; and the hostel owners looked on us with favor (thanks Lord!) and arranged for a taxi (free!) to take us to another hostel that had room. Arriving there was like arriving at a relative's home; Pilar, the proprietress, treated us with such hospitality and kindness that we were nearly shocked. The hostel was an old German home with lots of personality and we settled gratefully into our beds after 30 hours of traveling. Pilar even gave us her personal laptop to use in our rooms!

The next morning, after soon good cafe con leche and pastries we set off walking to the Pista Nacional (National Raceway). It was a long, hot walk, but so interesting; we discovered new fruits growing over walls, admired the architecture and flowers, and had good discussions about the Apostle Paul and how much hot, dusty walking he did!

The sign says "Way of the Rowers" : )! As each Chilean single, double, quad, or 8-man boat was competing we ran alongside them, cheering them by name and taking pictures for them. This was nice for the team, as we were the ONLY people there cheering for Chile! The rowers would visibly pick up their stroke rate when they heard their names called, very cool. Then it was time for Yoya to, a gal from our humble club racing in the South American Championship...amazing and unprecedented!

And....THEY WON GOLD!!! It was a fight with Argentina (the strongest South American country in rowing) to the end, but they pulled through!!! Felipe and I were smiling so wide that our faces would be in pain in the days to come : D. We shouted, we cheered, I attempted to take pictures as we raced about in a frenzy; what a moment! As Yoya and her team walked to the awards podium, Yoya hugged me so hard and wept on my shoulder; such joy.

Chile pulling ahead of Argentina in the last 200 meters!

Aren't they great??!! Wanting to talk with them further we decided to try to bum a ride with someone to the end of the Rower's Way so that we could meet where the boats go in and out. We saw a guy about my age and waved him down. He cheerfully let us in and as we sped along I nearly asked him, "And do you row?" but decided it might be nosy. As we were leaving the car, Mike asked him, and what's your name? He answered that it was Santiago Fernandez. Felipe's eyes got wide and he stood in shock as our chauffeur drove off. He said, "That was El Pollo (lit. "the chicken"). Seeing blank looks on our faces, he exclaimed, "HE'S THE WORLD CHAMPION ROWER!!! OLYMPIAN!!!". My voice choked with laughter I told them what I'd almost asked him...much roaring laughter ensued. So God gave us the world champion rower as chauffeur; you've got to admire his sense of humor ; ).

After the races we had lunch, relaxed, and then Felipe, Yoya, and I walked around the city as the day drew to an end. Tigre is so beautiful, with cooling rivers snaking through it to keep the heat down. Then our hosts again surprised us by offering their Mercedes for us to use to go out to eat! After some excellent Argentine steak we fell exhausted into our beds, thankful, so thankful for an amazing day!

Awakening the next day we had good talks and times of prayer with Pilar and her son Manuel who have been going through enormously difficult times. God certainly sent us to the right house at the right time. They then offered that we take their car to use all day at the races! What? God you are so good! You love to surprise us! So we zipped off in the peppy Mercedez and were ready to see Jordan compete!!

It was a really tough category, but the guys pulled through to win BRONZE!! Yay! Argentina took first, Peru second, and Chile third. We were so happy for the guys; Jordan especially had rowed really strong. How special!

Right after the races, we zipped back to the hostel and reserved bus tickets over the phone while we talked with Pilar and Manuel and prayed. It was such a neat time, and they even made us lunch while refusing payment! We then packed up, gave hugs good-bye to Pilar, and Manuel drove us to the train. What a time we'd had!

We took a bus overnight to the small town of Eduardo Castex, where Mike's jeep was being repaired from a previous trip where it had broken down. Turned out that it wasn't quite ready yet so we spent the day swimming in a hotel pool and walking the hot dusty streets back and forth, waiting for news. We did not miss that God was blessing us in the interim...what a great pool!

The next day we were all getting a bit despondant; the jeep still wasn't ready, so we went to prayer again; again leaving it all in God's capable hands. We'd need to leave that day in order to make the 19 hours back to Puerto Montt in time for Sophia's ballet presentation, something I did not want to miss! I kept entregandolo (such a good spanish verb, means like entrusting, laying it down) before the Lord, acknowledging that He has a good plan and a good reason for it. As Felipe and I sat in swings in the hot sun, we prayed again, and when we opened our eyes there was Mike, driving up in the fixed jeep!! Yay!

We started off right away across the desolate, flat beautiful Argentine Pampa. God was still into leading us by the hand and made sure we had a show in the meantime. In Puerto Montt it never thunders nor is there lightning, but on the Pampa that night the heavens broke loose with quite a show!! I drove through it, laughing at how the Jeep seemed to have a mind and will of its own; like a strong horse tossing its head it would suddenly jerk to the left or the right, especially while navigating sharp curves and while passing 18-wheelers on the skinny roads! That we did smash into anything was miracle #675.

The jeep was running great, but like all good vehicles, needed some diesel to keep the party going. The service station we were counting on was oddly deserted! We NEEDED diesel; we couldn't attempt the next 2-hour jaunt across vacant pampa without it. Again we prayed. Again He provided. A guy nearby agreed to sell us some diesel from his personal stash. We were overjoyed. Through the night we drove, at times passing armadillos, skunks, hostile carloads of drunk Argentinians, all under a bright starry sky. We arrived without incident at the border the next day and prayed for a swift passage through the normally slow crossings.

It must have been some sort of record for speed! We crossed both borders in less than 45 minutes, amazing!! That can take HOURS, which indeed we did not have; our expected arrival time in Puerto Montt put us at only an hour before the ballet gala. Cutting it close! And then....the truck died. What???

Well, we prayed again, and a mechanic (of course!) came over and told us he'd just happened to be working nearby, and he towed us to a safe place to leave the vehicle and offered to take us to a nearby resort where we could catch a bus to Osorno. Thanking the Lord for this man's kindness, we waited only 5 minutes at the resort, when low and behold the bus for Osorno came (which can delay an hour between routes!) And this bus FLEW! We zipped along at high velocity, arrived in Osorno and right away were able to board a bus for Puerto Montt and were zipping out of there in less than 7 minutes! We made it to Puerto Montt, Dustin picked me up, rushed me home where I showered and dressed in 10 minutes tops, we raced downtown, parked, and slid into our seats with only minutes to spare to watch our little girl dance. WOOHOO!!! Thanks Lord! You are so faithful!!! So that's my amazing adventure; an adventure of faith, prayer, and fun...thanks Lord.