Here are several generations of Hanenbergs kicking off my mom’s birthday party!

After celebrating Christmas and New Year’s in Argentina, we are now back in the United States! We’ve received a warm welcome from our family, friends, and housemates, and are happy to be back. Thank you so much!


The snow was also waiting to welcome us back…

During the next couple of months, I am concluding my time with Global Ministries through reverse mission: I am visiting UCC and Disciples churches to share with them about the churches in Argentina and Paraguay and our experience there, as well as ways to get involved.


Here I am with my hosts in New Haven, Ian and Hillary Skoggard, along with friends Stefan, Paula, Fran, Bill and Hamid. Zoe is under the table.

As members of the congregations ask me provocative questions, I am reflecting a lot about what I learned in South America. I have come to realize that I have come away with some things grounded in deeper ways, some things switched around, and some things new altogether.

I plan to use this blog to work through some of this reflecting. I hope you will bear with me!


Here we are hacking our way across the glacier Perito Moreno in Patagonia.


The poet Dante Alighieri wrote the Divine Comedy in the 14th century. The Comedy’s three parts – the Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise – chronicle the poet’s mystical journey among the spirits. There is an introspective element of the Comedy as Dante examines his past and future, questions conventional truths, and explores mysteries of the faith.

I studied the Comedy during my final year of seminary with Professor Peter Hawkins, and was fortunate to have as peers a group of dedicated and accomplished literary scholars. Then, I came down to South America to serve as a missionary. Dante was waiting for me.


This bust of Dante sits in front of the Italian-Argentinian society on the next block. I pass by it most mornings.

One of the most engaging elements of the comedy is the emphasis on teaching and accompaniment. As Dante journeys through the Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise, he has a series of guides. Then, our reading of Dante’s experience is, in a sense, guided by Dante himself, as he catalogs what he saw and reflects on it. I have felt the importance of being guided as I’ve arrived in a new place with new customs, and have had things explained to me; and then I have sought to share what I’ve learned with people in the United States.


Here he is in Buenos Aires’ delightful Rosedal (Rose Garden).

A second resonance has been the foreignness of a new place. Dante spent the last 20 years of his life in exile on account of political struggle in his home town of Florence. He refers to this period in his Comedy: “You are to know the bitter taste 
of others’ bread, how salty it is, and know 
how hard a path it is for one who goes
 descending and ascending others’ stairs” (Mandelbaum translation). I have enjoyed the bread here (especially the Christmas sweet bread) but the gist of being in a land not my own rings true. There have been many terrific opportunities to learn and share here, but all of this has come with the price of leaving the familiar.


A Gargoyle in Buenos Aires’ Palacio Barolo. The Palacio, built in 1923, was inspired by the Comedy. It was the tallest building in South America at the time of its construction, with 100 meters – 1 meter for each of the chapters of the Comedy.

Finally, Dante often draws contrasts between the sorry state of the world and the radically different way of being that God desires. As a consultant for mission development, I have thought a lot about how the church engages with society, where we can connect, and where we must confront. Although each of us can only review our own spiritual commitment in a personal way, this commitment is ultimately lived out in how we treat other people and in what we are doing for the broader community.


Upside-down Buenos Aires, as seen in the mirror of the lighthouse in the tower of the Palacio Barolo.

I have appreciated all the more my time with Dante since it has served me well while I have been here. I also greatly appreciate the warmth and love of our sisters and brothers in Argentina and Paraguay, who, in their welcome of us and care for one another, embody God’s (and Dante’s) hopes for humanity.


Here we are with friends after our farewell worship service with the Disciples of Christ of Paraguay, wearing the new Paraguayan-style shirts that they gave us as a gift!

May 2013 be a year filled with learning, service, and good company. ¡Qué Dios les bendiga! God Bless!

Here in the Mercado Cuatro district of Asunción, craftsmen prepare pesebres (crêches) to celebrate the joy of Christmas. We wish you much happiness as once more the familiar cast of characters – shepherds, angels, kings, animals, parents, and child – comes to life in your home and faith community. Merry Christmas!


“For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.” Psalm 139:13-14

One of the gems associated with the Disciples of Christ in Paraguay and Argentina is the Primera Escuela Paraguaya de Sordos (First Paraguayan School of the Deaf).  The school began in 1962 as a series of classes at the Misión de Amistad, then under the direction of Rev. Ray and Betty Mills. Marcial Godoy, a young deaf Disciple, traveled to Buenos Aires and Montevideo to learn about the latest techniques in instruction for the deaf. Upon his return, he partnered with the Mills to secure a suitable facility and in 1964 the School was born.


In the following decades, the school has flourished, moving to a larger campus and increasing in class size. In the 1980’s a carpentry business took shape in the manualidades (trades) section of the school, through which the school served neighborhood businesses and homes.


Lucy Godoy address the assembly.

Today, under the capable leadership of Marcial’s widow, Lucy Rivas de Godoy, there are 150 students, a training program for special education specialists, athletic events, and various partnerships with the Department of Education. The school has even risen to such prominence that last week, the First Lady sponsored an official act in the national Congress to celebrate the school’s 50th anniversary!


Here, members of the Godoy family are arriving at the National Congress to participate in the event.

We join the Congress in congratulating the Godoy family and the entire school on this special occasion, and thank them for their dedicated ministry in the spirit of loving service. Here’s to 50 more years!


The chorus of the school performed several well-known Paraguayan songs. Some of the signs they used were similar to the ones I studied in my two years of American Sign Language (ASL) classes. I learned that Spanish sign language is not only distinct from ASL, but that there are even different dialects among Spanish-speaking countries.


The three lenses of adapting, grafting, and transforming can help us understand the relationship between Christianity and culture. Yet, I would also suggest two additional possibilities: link and respond.

At the beginning, Christianity linked Jewish and Greek culture, and quickly expanded to include others as well. In the meeting of cultures through Christian praxis, we grow in unity and share in Christ.

Students cross over the water at a camp run by Mary Martínez, who served as a missionary in the Congo.

This intercultural intersection allows the church a vantage point a little removed from the host culture. From here, we may respond to the culture. When a church responds to culture, we listen to what the culture is saying, treating it as a serious dialogue partner- there might well be some truth in what the culture says. Having listened, we then respond with our Christian perspective.

Some examples: in Argentina, we are fond of singing the important South African hymn, “Siyahamba”, which is “We are walking in the light of God”, and in Spanish, “caminemos a la luz de Dios”. By singing this song of freedom from another country, we link cultures in a way that emphasizes solidarity and justice.

The cancionero of the church in Barranqueras.

In Paraguay, a very common expression is, “Así no más”, which means basically, “just leave it.” It’s a way of saying something isn’t worth doing or it’s not important or it doesn’t matter. To “Así no más”, the church in Paraguay is responding, “Sí se puede” – “yes we can”, or, “let’s do it!” In this way, we convey that we understand the factors that lead people to say “así no más” yet we as the church have something more to add.

Church members are imagining the layout of a new city during a leadership workshop in Ciudad del Este.

I would summarize these perspectives:

Adapt:    X  – > X   (The church takes what the culture offers)

Graft:       X – > HOLY (The church ignores, even shuns, what the culture offers)

Transform:   X – > t  (The church turns the cultural attribute into a sign of the Cross)

Link:     X – > cx    (Do you see the Jesus fish when we join the two cultures?)

Respond:         X – > in place of X, Y

What other possibilities are out there?

Dora Imfeld died this morning in Resistencia, after several months of treatment and operations related to her cancer. Funeral services were held this evening in Vedia, her home town, where she was the pastor of the Disciples of Christ congregation. The church was filled to capacity with family, friends, neighbors, well-wishers, and church members.

Dora inspired many of us with her energy, her sense of humor, her deep commitment to the Gospel, her care, and her patience. We have been especially moved by her leadership in the construction of a new church building, after the old one was leveled by a tornado. Thanks to her sacrifice and dedication, the building is now usable as a church and work continues to progress.

We request your thoughts and prayers for her family and for the church in Vedia.

My goodbye party in Resistencia in August. Dulce de leche cake makes sad farewells a little sweeter. (It was also James’ birthday.)

Happy belated Thanksgiving! I (Marian) am sitting in my brother’s apartment in Atlanta, watching the dessert plates pile up in the sink as my family and I wander between the couch and the refrigerator to scavenge leftovers. Though I am surrounded by family, I do feel a little adrift without my spouse; I returned to the US in August to begin an anthropology graduate program while James stayed behind to finish our year-long mission appointment. Thankfully, he wraps up his time in Argentina and Paraguay in just one month. Our phone conversations now alternate between the logistical details of his move back to the US—saying goodbye to friends, settling into a new house, looking for a job—and our reflections on what mission work has taught us.

Separated from my mission experience by a bit of distance and time, my impressions have had the chance to crystallize and sink a little deeper into my being. And I find that so many of these lessons gel in the presence of difference: contrast, it seems, enables clarity. For example, I think about my first week back in New York, when every aspect of life in the US sparkled with freshness before my South Americanized eyes. I marveled at the ease with which the taxi driver chatted with me on the ride from the airport, the racial diversity of my fellow subway riders, the chains of cyclists drafting through Central Park. After seven months away, each detail seemed new and yet so comfortably familiar. The contrasts to life in the Southern Cone helped me realize that I had at last come home.

Fall in Central Park

Three months later, Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast and home suddenly became foreign. The abrupt break with normal life elicited unexpected comparisons to life back in South America. Images of tide-tossed rail cars evoked memories of February’s Once train disaster in Buenos Aires, and TV footage of displaced Staten Island families reminded me of the despairing wives and children left behind after the June altercation between farmers and police left 17 people dead in eastern Paraguay.

Hurricane Sandy deposited a shipping container on railroad tracks in NJ. Photo source: CBS

A commuter train crashed in Buenos Aires’ Once station in February. Photo source: Daily Mail

The New York Times recently published a photo of a well-dressed woman picking her way through the blackened bones of the Breezy Point, NY, neighborhood. The strangeness of her stylish clothes amidst the smoldering devastation remind the viewer that disaster is not supposed to happen here – life in the US is supposed to be secure, comfortable, and follow an ever-upward trajectory. With Hurricane Sandy, we were suddenly connected to Argentine train riders, Paraguayan farmers, and billions of others around the world whose lives are marked by uncertainty and instability.

Homes destroyed by fire in Breezy Point, NY. Photo source: New York Times

The contrasts and comparisons of the past three months have brought home for me the sense that we are deeply and inextricably connected to one another. Our vulnerability links us to so many others who have felt the desperation of watching life spin out of control due to weather, economic circumstances, or political instability. May our humanity in the face of disaster also bind us together, giving us the strength rise from the tears and the ashes.