A letter from Dennis and Maribel Smith in Argentina
Buenos Aires is not Guatemala City. This town has about it something of the brusk arrogance of New York City. Also, local folks speak very quickly, with a strong accent and lots of idioms; it can take a bit of getting used to! Here, Maribel tells a story of what it’s been like adjusting to life here:
One day I went to an office that receives payments for everything from your utilities to property taxes. I needed to pay our phone bill. Dennis was away, and we certainly didn’t want to risk being without our phones.
When I got to the payment window, I said, “Good morning!” No response. The teller made a sharp gesture indicating where I should place the bills I wanted to pay. She rattled off the amount due without looking at me. I told her to wait just a second and I’d give her exact change. “Don't bother,” she barked and shoved my change across the counter.
I turned around and walked out, asking God for the patience to be able to understand such cold and harsh people.
I began to walk toward our apartment at a relaxed pace and noticed an older woman, perhaps 70, approaching. As she came closer I could see that she looked a bit confused. Clearly, she was talking to herself. She touched my shoulder and asked, “Excuse me. Is today Friday or Saturday?”
Surprised, I responded: “Friday.”
“What a beautiful accent you have,” she smiled. “Are you in a hurry?”
“Not at all,” I replied.
“Let me ask you a question, but please answer frankly.”
“How have we Argentinians been treating you?”
“Do you really want to know?” I smiled.
“Indeed I do.”
I shared with her the experience I’d just had paying the phone bill. She listened carefully, then replied: “Please forgive us, but often that’s what we are like. But when we treat you like that, you must stand your ground. Confront us with dignity. Ask us, ‘Why do you treat me like this if I am being courteous and treating you with respect?’”
Then she asked me, “What is your name?”
“Maribel,” I replied.
“A beautiful name,” she observed. “My name is Mari Rosa. Do you have a cell phone?”
When I replied affirmatively, she began to root around in her bag and stated, “You like butterflies.”
“Yes,” I replied. “They are my favorite creatures!”
She placed in my hand a butterfly bookmark and said, “They are my favorites, too. They are free! They can fly wherever and whenever they wish. Keep this, and promise me you will never forget me.”
So angels do exist in Buenos Aires. How could I ever forget Mari Rosa?
As people here go about their daily business, we are constantly reminded that wherever we find God’s children, God is present. In their faces we see etched the stories that are common to us all: hope and despair, joy and pain.
When we take the time to look around us, we find ourselves welcomed daily by warm and friendly neighbors: the supermarket clerk who takes time to show us how things are done here, and by the way, they will gladly deliver the groceries right to our apartment; the immigration official who takes time to ask, with genuine interest, what life is like in Guatemala.
Most of all, we've been welcomed warmly by our mission partners in the Southern Cone and Brazil. You’ll hear more about them in future letters! We’ll also share stories celebrating the ministry of the Presbyterian mission co-workers with whom we work and of the U.S. churches and presbyteries that accompany our mission partners here. In each setting, with commitment and creativity, faithful people are discerning daily the challenge of living out the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Thank you for your continued, prayerful support for our ministry! We can serve in South America because you give. Our work budget number is E052106. Our salary support account number is E200481. [You can always give online. See the Give box in the left column of every page. —Ed.] Please send your gifts, marked with the proper account number in the memo line, to:
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Pittsburgh, PA. 15264-3700
Under the Mercy,
Dennis & Maribel Smith
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 280
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, Argentina, p. 303