Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Birthday Parties and Ministry

Children's birthdays are a big deal in Chile.

Between Saturday and Sunday, our kids were invited to four separate birthday parties. It got a little tricky because not only were the kids busy with their commitments, but Pedro and I had also agreed that our home could be the gathering place for the men's ministry to enjoy their year-end cookout! Yet with a little organization (and a lot of running around) we managed to be in more than one place at once.

Now I've talked to some moms here who don't bother with attending birthday parties, and when we first arrived I was rather that same way. However, I soon discovered that if I wanted to form "redemptive relationships" with people, I had to actually be around them! And birthday parties seemed the ideal place to start.

I've begun to notice some common denominators at the parties: separate food and drinks are always provided for the adults present, as it is expected that at least one parent will stay for the entire event. Usually, the drinks offered to the adults are an alcoholic variety (although soda is always available as well.) For the children, plates piled with candy and chocolates and chips and snacks are prepared. In addition, the kids scramble to stuff bags full of candy from the pi├▒ata and are given yet another box of candies to take home as well. (Yikes, talk about sugar overload!) Often, the birthday cake is cut only to be sent home in styrofoam containers and eaten later.

It is obvious that a lot of money goes into the planning and preparation of birthdays here in Chile. Most birthdays are either held at a special events location like Happyland (think Chuck E. Cheese, sort of) or shows are hired to appear at the parties. This weekend, for instance, the first of the four birthdays hired DJ's complete with their own sound system and colored lights and steam machine. The second birthday (for one of Owen's pre-school classmates) hired a show which included DJ's and the main characters from LazyTown. The third birthday hired a clown, a face painter, and a fun guy who coordinated games with the kids. Only the fourth birthday was actually held in someone's home and was a little more low-key; the kids entertained one another while the adults sat, talked and ate choripanes and homemade pizzas.

Expectations are high when it comes to birthday parties. I joke that we bring home more money in candy than what we spend for the child's present in the first place (and if you saw our 37-cup Tupperware container stuffed to the brim with goodies after this weekend, you might agree!) But these high expectations make me hesitant to host a birthday party for my own children. We definitely can't "compete with the Joneses!"

However, with an eternal perspective we can use a simple birthday party to get to know the "Joneses" and have them into our home, little by little beginning to develop a friendship relationship with them. It is why we are here, and why even a birthday party (or four of them in one weekend!) can be true ministry, too.

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