July 4, 2010

San Juan and Open Doors

June 23rd is the designated day of the Festival of San Juan (St. John), but it is celebrated throughout the month of June. Our neighborhood got a little behind, I guess, because I heard a ruckus on the front porch and found a party getting started on the street in front of our house tonight, July 3. I posted about our first San Juan party last year at this link.

San Juan is the patron saint of Paraguay. The festivals resemble our fall festivals, with pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, bobbing for apples, and a blindfolded guy trying to break a hanging ceramic pot and release the candy (think piƱata). The flaming bull is popular, with a guy underneath a bull's skull, running through the crowd to scare folks. This wouldn't be so bad if they didn't wrap the horns in cloth and set them on fire. What's with the fire?

Another common part of the fiesta is hanging Judas. They stuff some clothes with straw and hang the "man" from a noose, then, you guessed it, set him on fire. At some point, the fireworks inside his straw ignite and he explodes, similar to the Biblical account. This is followed by much applause and cheering.

Our neighborhood was light on the activities, though, with only a few typical Paraguayan foods and a large group of guys in front of our house playing soccer with a fiery ball. They make it by balling up cloth, wrapping it in wire, and dipping it in kerosene. Then they light it, kick it around to each other, get the dogs all in a tizzy, and laugh about the black spots all over their pants legs and tennis shoes.

A few doors down from us is the Capilla (Catholic chapel), which is the hub of our neighborhood and where the food was being cooked and sold. Actually, our house is sort of the hub, because the chapel is down a little dirt road and our house is on the corner. So we get lots of traffic. We try to take advantage of it, and tonight it was a benefit. The kids were kicking around the ball, I was snapping photos and getting explanations from all the folks that are proud of their traditions and want to share with the local foreigner.

Since we have a stoop area (I call it a porch), lots of folks ended up sitting there. In that group were several teens who keep their distance from us. Most of the people who come to the youth events we hold here aren't from our actual neighborhood. There is a sort of socioeconomic prejudice here that is sometimes real, sometimes perceived, and in this case, perceived. Because the folks who do come here are from, literally, just a few blocks closer to the "city," it makes these local kids nervous. So they stand across the road and watch but it's like pulling teeth to get them involved in anything. Very standoffish, even when we try to visit them or get together on neutral ground. Tonight seemed to break down some walls, though, and that's an answer to prayer. Many hung around to talk after the flames died out, and one in particular had lots of questions. He said he'd never known how to take us but was drawn to us, and wanted to come see what goes on here. A long conversation ensued about his life, our beliefs, and why we'd think the eternal state of his soul was worth moving a continent away.

It's one of the differences we've learned between short-term and long-term missions. You go on a two-week trip and take the country like a whirlwind, handing out tracts, holding tent revivals, witnessing on the street, throwing out the Gospel and hoping it takes root. In "we live here" situations, it's more of a process, where you really have to get in and LIVE with the people, letting them learn to trust you and hoping they see Jesus shine through. Then the door opens to bigger things, and relationships are built that hopefully lead to salvation and discipleship. It's a matter of taking every opportunity we can to be among the people and keep praying that God opens their hearts to know Him, and opens our eyes to recognize our part in it. I can't imagine a better way to live. Thanks again, God!

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