Today was the day. Our first day of the convention. Today's session was only a half day in the afternoon, but I had to get up early because I had a lot to do. I had to wash out some pants for tomorrow, and get my gifts ready for the convention. I made little bags of jolly ranchers with my cards with my information on them to hand out. I'm rationing my gifts. I took a third today and reserved the rest for the other days. We had a really nice breakfast at the hotel, then we all met down in the lobby to leave. I think there are about 300 brothers and sisters staying here at my hotel. We were all in the lobby at the same time, grouping together by bus numbers. The lobby staff were all smiles watching all of us laugh and get to know each other. It was really impressive. There were two young (non-witness) dancers there staying at the hotel, and they were so happy to see all of us. They said that the city has been talking about us coming for weeks, so they were glad they got to meet some of us. It was also impressive how organized everything was and how smoothly everything went. For example, they needed to make an announcement, and it took the brother about 5 seconds to get us all quieted down, listening, and moving. Everybody clapped as each bus load walked out for their bus.
It took us about 20 minutes to get to the stadium. There are three convention sights. For all of you googlers, I am assigned to El Estadio Monumental David Arellano. It is a huge outside soccer stadium with the Andes Mountains in the background. When we got there they had a huge banner across the outside of the stadium that said, "Welcome, International Convention of Jehovah's Witnesses" (in Spanish). We got off the bus, and walking in was so overwhelming. Definitely a lump in the throat. Everyone was so nice, greeting us as we went in. We tried to stay together, but that didn't last long. A few of us managed to stay together, but I had to ditch them. Rheya and Shawna (the to black sisters) where having flashbacks from Poland. Everyone bypassed us to touch their hair and get their picture made with them. When they caught back up to us, I told them that I know how that third girl in Destiny's Child feels; nobody even knows her name or cares what she is doing or wants her picture :-) After ditching them, I got to meet more people, especially when they found out I could speak Spanish. One sister told me that they hate that they can't welcome the delegates like they want to because of the language barrier. I told her that everyone understood, and appreciated all their hospitality. Many of the locals were handing out little gifts to everyone. I didn't get a single gift that wasn't at least in part hand made. Even those that you could tell had little money, did what they could. One sister had dried leaves and written scriptures on them. The best thing I got this morning was this little hand made bag from a little Chilean Parker. He had cut out a little paper necktie and glued it on the front. When I got to my seat I opened it, and he had put two pieces of candy in it with a hand written note with his name, age, and address. The note said that he is a publisher, and with Jehovah's help his goal is to get baptized. Lump in the throat getting bigger at this point.
When you walk into the stadium, you can see the snow capped Andes Mountains in the background. It was so beautiful. We managed to get seats in the shade. There is a section that is shaded in the afternoon, and they have reserved it for the international delegates. I feel guilty sitting up there. All of the ones in the sun came prepared, you couldn't even see hardly anyone down below. It was a sea of umbrellas and tent structures to block the sun. Today was a beautiful day. I think it was about 80 with low humidity. When their wasn't a breeze, it was warm, but there was a very cool breeze that came through every few minutes that would give you a chill. Most of today's session was the normal Friday morning session with the exception of the last talk. Brother Garrett Losch gave the final talk which was the release of the DVD about creation. It was interesting to hear his Spanish with a hint of a German-like accent. There were almost 38,000 at our convention site.
I saved all of my gifts to give out until after the convention so maybe I wouldn't get lost in the sea of gifts. They were a hit. The kids loved them. They all want their picture with you. I managed to get a few with my camera. There was this one little boy about Claire's age with a Yankee's cap on, and I gave him one of the bags and talked to his parents for a while. They wanted my picture, so the dad picked up the son for the picture. Before she snapped the one with my camera, he put his arm around my neck, and pulled me in close. Another lump.
I tried to pick out kids who didn't have much stuff given to them or looked like they didn't have much materially in life period. If I had thought about it, I would have had my sister make some bows and picked up some little ties at TJ Maxx; idea for next time. How little the brothers have down her materially is a stark contrast to my experience in meeting the friends in Sydney. Its a little overwhelming. Especially considering how happy they are. Definitely a life lesson. Their love shown to us is surely a lesson I will take back and try to display in my own area for brothers and sisters I meet. They were so happy to see us. I can't explain the way some of the friends looked at me today when I met them. The would grab your face, kiss you on the cheek, and look you right in the eye, deeply and sincerely, and tell you how glad they are that we came so far to be with them. Especially the older ones. I've kissed more people today that in the past 5 years. Needless to say, I didn't make it to the bus by 5:20. They can wait; it's worth it.
Some of us when out to eat after. Our waiter tried to stiff us, but you don't do that with three accountants, and insurance agent, and a bunch of pioneers in the group. Two local brothers saw our badges and talked to us for a while. They look about my age. There is a really nice area where we wanted to visit on our day off on Monday. They are going to go with us and work it out where we can spend the night Sunday night with some local brothers and sisters. (Ruthie brokered that deal) I can't wait. I have a feeling that is going to be a nice highlight of this trip.
A couple of side points. I finally met somebody from TN. I don't know their names, but I think they are in Brownsville Spanish. I recognized her from working with her at the chair factory in Henderson when we were making the chairs for the Assembly Hall in Memphis. For all you Minnesotans and MN trip buddies, I saw Kylie. I couldn't believe it. She said she has been down there for six months preaching in English.
Well I guess that's all for today. Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but I have a feeling it will just be more good experiences.