June 17, 2013

Bridge Week -- Where and Why?

This is the San Roque International Bridge.  It spans the Parana River, uniting the cities of Encarnación and Posadas.  Did I mention that Posadas is in another country?  So standing at the base of the San Roque Bridge, you're looking across the water at Argentina, which is no longer considered a third-world country.  Crossing over the top edge of Argentina, you can be in Brazil within less than 100 miles.

This bridge has become the symbol that represents Encarnación, much like the Statue of Liberty might make you think of New York, or the Gateway Arch bringing St. Louis to mind.  

In many ways, this giant landmark is not only a physical representation of the city of Encarnación, but also symbolic of what's happening here.  Many young people leave their rural homes to come to this city for higher education, either choosing a high school with a certain specialty or coming for one of the 16 colleges and universities here.  In that way, Encarnación bridges the span between the poverty cycle and a different kind of future.

Because of its proximity with Argentina and Brazil, residents of Encarnación are exposed to culture, technology, and lifestyles that stand in stark contrast to the traditional Paraguayan culture.  Paraguay spent a lot of years closed off to the outside world during the time of dictatorship, so these influences from other countries are a relatively new thing.  This can lead to some strange idiosyncrasies.   

I liken it to placing a 16-year-old who's just gotten his driver's license in the Indy 500.  Sure, this kid knows how the gadgets inside his car work, he knows how to accelerate and brake, he knows where to put gas in when the needle points too low and how to navigate around curves.  But when you throw him into a mix of men who have spent years practicing and experiencing both normal driving and laps around the racetrack, it can be intimidating, overwhelming, and quite plainly, dangerous.  In that same way, some of these outside influences have a dangerous way of being too much, too fast for the Paraguayans--especially the younger generations.

Encarnación has a population of 125,000 with one-third of them falling into the 14-29 year old demographic. 
They move here alone and find themselves disoriented and in need of a friend.   Most of these young people have no experience with God outside of the rituals of mass and ceremonies, so they don’t have a relationship with Him or with spiritual companions to fall back on. 

Many get terribly lost in the common vices of Paraguay, the negative influences of more modern cultures, and the poverty and desperation of living in a developing nation.   Drug addiction, crime, pornography, alcohol addiction, and gangs are just some of the traps they fall into, most of the time feeling they are hopeless to break away from these snares.  

Is there a way to bridge the gap between this God-sized hole many haven't filled and the Savior who came to rescue them and show them a better way?  Can He use us to help build this bridge?  

The vision God's given us for this city is exactly that--to build a Bridge.  Not only a spiritual bridge, but a literal one.  As Bridge Week continues, I'll be sharing exactly how we plan to do that, and how you can get involved!

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