Sunday, 14 April 2013

En Casa?

Currently sitting outside in the evening sunshine, scribbling a few notes for the blog and enjoying the last few rays. This is the life!

Having now been here a month (a whole month!! I can hardly believe it), this week has been what I see as the reward for those three weeks of slogging when I first came here. Each day has given me something new and exciting, and while it's still been exhausting and at times frustrating, I feel that I can now begin to call this place 'home'.

A brief summary of my activities:

• A couple of stints working at different second-hand shops run by Betel - this is good fun, as you can go through the donations before anyone else gets their hands on them and grab any items that catch your eye! I've picked up a couple of treats already.

• Lots of driving, including up to Aguas Vivas, one of the men's houses (or casas de chicos), which is up in the mountains and has buildings that are used as a holiday/retreat centre for groups that want to rent it out. It's beautiful up there, and a fun old drive, despite the ridiculously pot-holed and bumpy track you have to take to get up there! Look left to see a photo of the (rather cloudy) view from outside the house.

• A rather sudden introduction into the worship team (they don't really 'do' giving you much notice here). I was waiting for the evening meeting to start at the church on Wednesday, and the musicians were rehearsing their final songs for the beginning of the service. Suddenly, one of the leaders came up to me and said 'I heard you play guitar. Why don't you have a go?' (but in Spanish, obviously...), and handed me his guitar! Luckily, I didn't have to play for the worship there and then, but we had a quick jam and I helped to lead at our morning devotional the next day. Yay :D

• The arrival of a new American girl has meant that I have an English-speaking companion in the house, which is rather nice. Although I have to say, my friendships with the other girls are developing well - we had a mad evening the other day, where several of them were jumping on/tickling me, while others tried to mess up my hair, and yet more had already tried to hide my shoes. All in the name of love, of course. And my Spanish continues to improve, gradually reaching that level where I can have some quite serious conversations and actually understand what's being said/have a positive input, which is a big step foreward. I look forward to more of these chats :)

• Finally, my pace of life has adjusted to fit in with the Betel routine! I still get hungry at 12 and 7, when food isn't for another two hours, but I've got myself a reputation as 'the girl who likes to eat', and it is, in fact, quite common to have a 'pincho' (snack) at these times anyway. On another topic, the pure fact that I have nowhere else to be/nothing else to be getting on with means that I have had no choice but to slow down, chill out and relax a bit - for example, there's no point cleaning an entire church in a morning, if that then means you've got no work left for the afternoon. It's quite nice, this slowed-down pace -definitely a lot less stressful than rushing for Uni deadlines (oh, final year!).

So, that'll be it for this week - keep those letters/prayers coming!
Adios amigos xxx

Monday, 8 April 2013

In at the deep end!

Well, this week's certainly been different to the last one. I had a bit of a moment on Monday where I was, quite frankly, fed up and wanted to leave. But after that, things turned around and there were plenty of new things to keep me distracted! I went out driving for the first time on the other side of the road, which was an experience in itself. Add to that the fact that I've not driven for about half a year, I've never properly driven on a motorway, I was driving in a van and in a city where the citizens are renowned for being bad drivers, well, you can imagine! We survived, though. And I've been practising - I'll be a pro by the time I come back (just like volleyball...).

However, the main thing I wanted to talk about this week was my trip to Valdemingonez, otherwise known as La Cañada (narrow pass/ravine), or 'El Vertedero' (the rubbish dump). I went with a girl from my dorm (Patrizia) and a couple of guys from church, and headed out with a van full of supplies - sandwiches, drinks, etc. - ready to hand them out to the people we met there. Let me just add that this spot is a well-known area for drug taking and trafficking. I knew what I was coming up against, having read about it in books about Betel, but I still wasn't quite prepared for what met me.

We arrived at our destination and parked the van in a mud-covered patch of ground in the middle of nowhere, next to an abandoned church (the irony struck me, too). There were cars packed around the edges, and an open-sided square of vans set up by the Drug Awareness Agency, also giving out drinks and sandwiches as well as information. I saw a policy car drive in, turn round and drive out again at least twice. There were tents set up at the sides of the field and a shackle type of living abode that was obviously being used as temporary housing/a drug den by the more desolate people in the area.

It was quite a sight to see those mud-encrusted figures, mostly men, stumble across the uneven ground and hold their hands out for what little we could give. Some of them weren't so far down the line - a few even looked fairly normal: trendy glasses, leather jacket - but they were mostly dirty, smelly and truly pitiful characters. A few conversations were sparked off - Manolo, one of the men from church, knows a lot of the guys that go there regularly, so they knew what we were about. Some of them wanted to chat, listening to Manolo's reasoning but always giving excuses for why they couldn't come with us - 'I'm feeling better, I only do 2g a day now', or 'I've got to sort things out with my family, I'll come with you another day'. Some didn't stick around, just grabbed the food and left. Others were more vocal in their aversion to our message, calling God a 'cabrón' (bastard) and berating Him as being nothing but a rule-maker who likes to punish us. What was most heart-breaking was to see the men and women who came into this place with their children, dragging them into this mess of a world with them. One man had his son of about 10 waiting in the car for him. One woman even came up to us wheeling a pram. My heart goes out to that little boy.

Towards the end, however, came along a man who had obviously come before, and he told us about a problem he had with his lungs. Manolo offered to pray for him, and the man started to cry, telling us of his family, his wish to be free of drugs and his wish to join Betel. Manolo and Carlos, the other man from church, were ready to go there and then, but he said he had some things to sort out, and he would come tomorrow, he promised. I pray to God that he does. And so with this, we left that dark and desolate place behind and headed back home - to church - for lunch.

It took me a while to process all of this, and I'm sure it'll still be sinking in during the next few days, but it did one thing straight away - it made me much more aware of where many of the girls in this house have come from, how much they need God's grace and how much He is living with us today. This is what allows the works we do to be done by faith, as the people I saw in Torrejon wouldn't have been capable of cooking a meal, let alone running an international organisation. Praise God.

I'll write again soon.
God bless,
Nat xxx

p.s. I'd just like to add a quick thank you for your letters, those who sent them - much appreciated!