The stars were so close, brought down from heaven and painted on the domed ceiling—and yet they were so far, the mazelike cathedral a world in and of itself. You could stretch your arms up, fingertips extended, and not feel a hair closer to the dusky blue sky with pinpoints of painted light. From the ceiling, arches of stone swept downward like ribs. They looked like curtains, like they’d been hung from the sky rather than built up from the ground. And in between them, everything was stained glass and gold.

In the center of the cathedral stood Callie Adams, and she was crying. She was crying because it was beautiful, and she was crying because it was worshiped. “They’re missing everything,” Callie thought as she watched the worshipers who were either admiring the cathedral for its architectural beauty or offering prayers and money to the statues of saints niched in alcoves along the outer walls. “You can be religious and devoted, but get to heaven and still hear Jesus say, ‘Who are you?’”

Callie was in Córdoba, Argentina, standing in the Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús de los Padres Capuchinos. She would soon walk out of the golden dusk of the cathedral into the harsh sunlight of Córdoba, and from there enter the small building used by the Iglesia Bíblica Bautista Centro Crecer. It seemed that, whether Catholic or Baptist, the churches in Córdoba agreed it was advantageous to have a long name.

Adorned with People

The Iglesia Centro Crecer had neither stone arches nor domed ceiling. It had neither statues of saints nor stained glass windows. The walls were white, and mostly bare. A podium on the stage and a functional baptismal were among the few adornments. Instead, it was adorned with people. One of them, Carlos Cañete, the missionary who had first spoken in Callie’s parents’ church and invited volunteers to travel to Argentina over the summer, greeted her and leaned in for a kiss on the cheek. Callie had become accustomed to this greeting over the last few weeks, although she’d been a little shocked the first time someone grabbed her shoulder and pulled her in for a kiss. By now she not only tolerated the intimate custom—she embraced it.

But Callie’s main purpose in traveling to Argentina wasn’t to enjoy the community in Córdoba—it was to join the team from Centro Crecer that would soon be driving 14 hours north, leaving the cathedrals, shopping centers, and running water of Córdoba for the dirt floors, tin roofs, and mountain beauty of Cachí and Alumbre. This far north, the word “Christianity” pretty much meant “Catholicism” (with varying degrees of Jesus, saint worship, and native gods thrown in), and evangelical churches were almost unheard of.

Image by Callie Adams

Faith through Pictures

“And Callie, you can pray in English.” Thank goodness, Callie thought. She was sitting in a circle with the youth group they’d been hosting every evening in Cachí. After long days of prayer walking, handing out flyers with the Gospel message, putting on puppet shows, eating chocolate wafers with the kids, and doing craft projects with the women—all in Spanish—she was exhausted, and the words “Let’s go around in a circle and pray” meant she had to cull together enough vocabulary and verb conjugations to say something coherent. “I had this prayer worked out in my head in case anyone called on me,” she remembers. It would have gone something like, Padre del cielo (Father in Heaven), gracias por su gracia, y amor, y . . . “It was just going to go on until I ran out of adjectives!”

But often, the ways the team from Centro Crecer shared the love of Jesus had little to do with language. In the afternoons, women from the town joined them for workshops on party planning and DIY projects: folding decorative paper into little boxes for treats, adorning glass bottles so they looked like little people, and other tips and tricks to plan a cute birthday party on a budget. Each day, more women came. In the evenings, the men of the town, hesitant though they were about the word iglesia, came for a mechanics workshop. (“They would never have come to church—Heavens!” laughs Callie.) Not until the end of the week did Carlos share the Gospel with them.

While Callie did her best to share her faith in Spanish, she finally felt useful when she was able to share her faith through pictures. She’d done photography in the past and, having brought her camera, offered to take family photos for the families they met. Another team would be coming in a few months, she explained, to bring the prints. For many families, this would be the only photo they owned.

Hotdogs and Yerba Mate

The week spent cultivating relationships and showing the love of Christ in practical ways ended with a final bonfire with hotdogs. “All the Americans were like, Yes! Hotdogs!” Callie exclaims. It was close to the Fourth of July, and roasting hotdogs around a fire sounded like heaven. But the Americans soon discovered that what their hosts meant by “having hotdogs in front of a bonfire” was “cooking the hotdogs separately, and then carrying them over to the bonfire to eat.” This was unacceptable. Callie and the other Americans on the team hurried to the store, found ketchup (“which is rare here”), sharpened some sticks, and taught their friends how to roast hotdogs over the fire. “This is the most American thing I’ve ever done,” laughed one of the girls from Córdoba. Meanwhile, they passed around a little gourd-shaped cup of mate (pronounced “MAH-tay”), a traditional herbal beverage similar to tea, and took turns sipping it through a silver straw.

Someone pulled out a guitar and began to sing a worship song. The words were in Spanish, but the chords were familiar, and Callie found herself singing along in English. As she sang, she realized, “This is what heaven’s going to be like: we’re around a campfire, in creation, worshiping the Creator in our own heart language.”

Callie’s God had just grown bigger: bigger than the language barrier she’d struggled with all week, bigger than the list of adjectives she’d memorized for her prayer, bigger than the cathedral ceilings she’d craned her neck to see. She looked up now, and she knew the stars were far away, but they felt so close in the cool mountain air, the light-polluted cities miles and miles away. If she raised her hand toward the stars, she felt she could brush them like a low ceiling. But she didn’t need to. She closed her eyes and began to sing a song she knew in Spanish.

Callie is studying Elementary Education at Corban and will graduate in the spring of 2018. She’s currently student-teaching a third grade class.