La Iglesia (chapter 3)

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She constantly played with her long dark hair, stroking it and twirling it between her fingers over and over again. This was the leader of the church cell group that I had been assigned to.  This week there was only one other girl in the group for today's session. I must admit that this was a much more relaxed set up than it had been the previous week.

Last week when I had walked into the thursday nite church cell groups session for the first time, the scene before me was like India meets Argentina. Although I have never been to India, I know enough to know that India is a swarming mass of crowds and bodies. Argentina isn't that bad but compared to the spacious buildings we have in North America where the idea of personal space exists, a small room with crowded bodies can be overwhelming for a newcomer.

When I walked in, I quickly found somebody and explained in broken spanish that I was new and from North America and wanted to join. I was directed to another person who directed me to another person. After being passed from person to person a couple of times, I finally found myself with the lady who was in charge of administration and taking care of the new comers.

She had a form in her hand and was attempting to fill out the required information. She rapidly fired questions in spanish at me about my name, date of birth, address.  It took me a moment to comprehend what the question was but eventually she got all the information out of me that she wanted and after briefly praying with me, showed me to my "espiga" (cell group)

I had found it rather nerve-wracking to have a rapid succession of question fired at me by her in spanish but it was nothing compared to what happened that first nite when I sat down with my church cell group.  There was a group of about 10 women who never had an up close and personal encounter with an North America who wasn't a native spanish speaker in their entire lives.  My presence in the cell group was naturally met with curiosity and questions that the Argentine culture is known for.

All of them wanted to know more about me, like i was some kind of novelty. Unfortunately none of them knew a word of english. If i had thought that a single person surveying me about my life and writing it down on a piece of paper was bad, it was nothing compared to when a whole circle of girls posed a question to me and eagerly waited for the answer.

Now here is the catch.....everyone in the group understood what the question being posed to me was, except me. I had 10 eager eyes waiting for a response and my brain had to quickly kick in and figure out both what the question was and how to respond in spanish. This experience was the closest I've ever been to knowing what it is like to being blindfolded and put in front of a firing squad.

Not to mention having my cell phone number given away to about 30 different people. That is another thing I found out about Argentine culture, one's cell phone number is not  a private thing at all. it is not common for 10 people all at once is a church group to ask for your number casually and for you to have 5 SMS messages from people you've only seen or spoken to once. This type of conduct would be unthinkable in first world nations like North America and Europe where one's cell number is regarded as something extremely personal and private and requesting it should be approached with sensitivity and a level of diplomacy.

But this week things were vastly different. Instead of 10 girls there was only the three of us, another girl and the group leader with long dark hair and dark eyes who kept twirling her hair between her fingers as a matter of habit.  Between her chest and her left shoulder were a tattoo of cute little paw prints going up towards her if some adorable little animal had crawled up towards her shoulder and it's prints there.

"Classy....." I thought to myself. That's one I hadn't seen before. I quickly found out that the Argentine culture of church has absolutely nothing against tattoos or markings on one's body. In fact they like it and they think that body art is cool. In addition to that I would later find out that this church is one that loves Rock and Roll music and the pastor, Gulliermo Prein is actually a musician himself with his own band and often grabs his guitar out during the church services.

Speaking of rock & roll, the story of how I discovered the church is quite interesting and has to do with rock and roll.  Every year since 2005, this church has had an event in Buenos Aires called Rock & Vida (Rock and LIfe). It is a free rock and roll concert that is thrown in a public arena in the city where they invite several prominent Christian bands to plan. The theme of  Rock & Vida is to create awareness and fight against the spread of AIDS. The purpose of the event isn't to preach against sex, but it's to simply give people the right information so that they can stay safe in whatever activities or lifestyle they choose to participate in. 

One year the church had invited a popular British Christian rock group named "Delirious". After the concert, someone from the church did a write up on the concert and that write up eventually went on the delirious website. While planning my trip to Argentina, I check to see if they had ever played in Argentina when I stumbled upon this blog from one of the church members talking about the concert and giving the name of the church and event. The rest was history....

So that is how I ended up here in a converted theatre that is at the basement of a mall outlet with this woman with tattoo of paw-prints who keeps playing with her hair. Later I found out that the name of the cell group I was in was called "ABC" and it is the starter cell group that all newbies get assigned to. Later as they grow spiritually, they get reassigned to a new cell group that will become their permanent one. 

Unassumingly, the woman took out her leadership manual and got the session started like she does as part of her routine every single week. It may have all been in spanish but I understood enough to know that this was all the basics of Christianity. No fancy theology....that is way the cell group is called "ABC".  She would read out a point from the manual to me and the other girl in the group and ask us questions to make sure we understood what was being said.

Although I couldn't understand every single word but I knew enough spanish to keep up and know basically what was being talked about. Knowing tht the only way to truly learn a language was to participate, I took a brave step and began answering the questions and participating in the discussion with the very best spanish grammar I had in that moment.

A look of puzzlement and curiousity immediately crossed the woman's face. It was obvious that my ability to comprehend what was going on and answer on an intelligent level had caught her off guard completely. Looking back, I had not realized that with each other I gave, something deeper was happening inside of her that would not surface until much later.

After the session was done, I was just sitting there taking everything in when another leader came to follow up with her on the group session. Although I couldn't understand the entire conversation, I did catch a phrase during their conversation. 

"She (referring to me) understood everything." The woman with the long hair told the other group leader with an expression of utter amazement on her face. You would have thought that someone had given this leader an electric shock of some sort.  

At that moment, I had no thought much of the action or the body languages of this long dark haired woman. With so much happening in my life in that moment, it was difficult to see that her behavior was really the manifestation of something much deeper. Something so deep that it would take more than a year to understand what truly happened. It would be an unforgettable journey where two cultures, languages, and lives would converge together.

The woman with the long hair and the paw prints tattoo had a very distinct look and was unmistakable. I'm one of those people that is always good with faces but bad with names. Her in latin america, at times all the names sound the same to me, Maria, Julieta, Susanna etc. It would be a few weeks before I finally caught the name of this long haired leader....Marisa.

Back then the look in her eyes that she had given me was one that I had mistaken to be of simple curiousity.  But there was a subtle glint in her eye that manifested hints of something else that was happening in her soul in that moment....HUNGER.

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