Yesterday I attended a conference in Glasgow called “Making Scotland the First ACE-Aware Nation”.

ACEs, if you are not yet ACE-aware, are Adverse Childhood Experiences and if you have four or more, you run a greater risk of a range of health conditions as well as certain addictions and incarceration. I learned a lot and was left with more to think about.

But that’s not what I wanted to blog about.

I was alone in an audience of 2000 people which gave me plenty of scope to observe how the mainly Scottish crowd interacted. This is my reflection:

I talked to several people at different stages and everybody was perfectly friendly. I smiled at people and they smiled back. I watched over someone’s bag while she was at the toilet, for somene else, I found out at which table we were meant to register. I chatted to my neighbour in the auditorium and helped someone find her way on the train. To me, these interactions ended a little abruptly. There was no effusive ending, as would always be the case in Colombia.  The people for whom I had done little favours thanked me and returned to their concerns.

The interactions were transactions not micro-relationships. I felt a little pang.

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Banco de la República

Here is a funny “only in Colombia” moment that happened a few weeks ago.

Some time ago I inherited a bag-full of small Colombian coins, 10 and 20 pesos pieces, which are no longer in circulation, a couple of old 50 peso pieces (worth about 1p) and an old coin that I couldn’t identify.

In the interests of wrapping up neatly everything in Colombia, I set off on a quest to find out if I could get these old coins exchanged. First, I asked in the bank in which most of my friends have their accounts and they told me that coins could only be exchanged in the Banco de la República. I asked there and was told that I could come between 8am and 10.30am. When I returned at the appointed hour, the guard looked dubiously at my little bag of coins and told me to go upstairs.

There I joined a queue of people with huge sacks of coins to exchange for notes.

When it was my turn, the clerk counted out my little pile of 20 peso pieces without blinking an eye and noted what they came to. He exchanged my old 50 pesos. He identified the old coin as “centavos”, in such a shocked voice that I understood he couldn’t do anything with it.

And then, he counted out my 10 peso pieces and  discovered that there were only 9. He rummaged in a drawer, retrieved one 10-peso piece from his stash, added it to my pile, and added 100 pesos to my gains.

It all came to about a thousand pesos and my reward for all perseverance was a rarely seen, new, thousand-peso note.

Next time, the man said, please separate out the older and newer 20 peso pieces.

Alas, there will probably not be a next time, but thank you, anonymous clerk in the Banco de la República, for attending to my ludicrous request so graciously and allowing me to wrap up that piece of unfinished business.

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For a few weeks last year, I posted the flags of countries that had been affected by terrorist violence as my Facebook profile picture in an attempt to remind us that the countries that are suffering most grievously are not in Europe or North America. I appreciated the response I got in comments, likes and tearful faces.

But this week, I realized that outrages were happening everywhere and I just couldn’t keep up.

There were the attacks on the Intercontinental Hotel and Save the Children in Afghanistan, car bombings in Libya, and, closer to home, the massacre by unknown assailants, of seven people in Yuramal, a town 75 miles away from Medellin.

So, I am going to leave the flags to one side for now, but hopefully not my heart.

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I’m back in the second-happiest country in the world, after a short break in the 37th.

Yes, Colombia has again performed strongly in the happiness stakes, with an “overall net happiness index” of +87, second only to Fiji  (+92) in a poll conducted by Gallup.

The UK is mid-table, at +42, one point behind Afghanistan.

The question asked is: “In general, do you personally feel very happy, happy, neither happy nor unhappy, unhappyor very unhappy about your life.”

Here is a fascinating explication of the phenomenon of Colombian happiness from a professor in political communication at a Bogotá University called Carlos Arias, This explains that when human beings find something in reality that generates imbalance, we look for a counterweight. In this case, faced with gaps and economic, political and social uncertainties, Colombians seek to mitigate the despair that reality produces with a positive attitude. It’s a brain mechanism.

In other words, it’s a way to cope.

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Cast of characters

I’m sorry if I’ve given you the impression that this was all Simon and Leo’s work with a bit of help from me.

In fact, scores of people have volunteered their time to the Vive Foundation and the Funky Frog Clubs. We have received missionaries from Europe and  employed several local people. At the moment there are three full-time and four part-time members of staff between the Medellín and Coast offices and we employ an illustrator and two finance people part time, too.

Here are some of the key people from the story of Vive:

Yubelly volunteered with the project during her time as a seminary student and then worked for us once she graduated. Committed, loyal and highly organised, we have Yubelly to thank for the fact that everything that belongs to the Foundation is neatly labelled.

José Francisco (aka Panky) was another student volunteer who worked with us after he graduated. Theologian and graphic artist, he made a huge difference to the design of our materials and many of his suggestions are now part of the ways things are done.

Mark, a fellow Latin Link missionary, has not long returned to the UK and his ability to instantly connect with the people on the Coast and his unfailing willingness to help will be missed!

Donate here or pre-order here to help keep us paying those salaries.

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My task for my first few years in Vive was to manage the development of the curriculum for the teaching slot in the Sunday meeting. The challenge was to tell the story of the Bible in six episodes (Creation, Fall, Israel, Jesus, the Church and the New Creation) in a year. Which stories to tell, which to leave out, which to tell every year, which only once, how to recruit and train writers, and how to link the stories together with some sort of narrative thread, these were the questions that preoccupied me all the time I was in charge.

Now my successor and neighbour in the office, María del Mar, has to wrestle with them!

Probably no task of my life has stretched me more but how satisfying when the leaders started reporting that the children were enjoying their classes as never before and responding to what they were learning.

Here’s a report from a leader at one of last year’s camps:

“The mum of one of the boys in the class came up to me and asked what we were teaching the children and when I asked why, she said:

“My little boy came home from his class and said, ‘Mummy, read the Bible to me,'” and when I asked why, he said:

“Because I want to be WISE.”

Donate here to keep the children of Colombia supplied with dynamic, culturally-appropriate, beautifully-designed and theologically rigorous Bible lessons and click here to pre-order my short story, also in support of the Vive Foundation and the Funky Frog Clubs.

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After the first Club was established and the Club’s activities defined, the next step was to start three more pilot projects in churches on the Coast.

Meanwhile, I had completed my two-year commitment teaching English in the Bible Seminary of Colombia and was back in Scotland, convinced I would return to Colombia one day but not quite sure as to what my role there should be. It was at this point that Simon got in touch to ask if I would consider managing the development of a curriculum for the Bible teaching segment of the Sunday meetings in the Funky Frog Clubs and I said yes. (This is a very simplified version of what felt like a very drawn-out 16-month process!)

I arrived back in Colombia in May 2011 and after a month’s mission trip, I started work in what we were then calling Vive Kids. My first task was to visit the existing Clubs to get a feel for the project.

Today there are 40 Funky Frog Clubs, not including what we call “Pirate Clubs”, Clubs run by  leaders who have learned the model informally from an official Funky Frog Club nearby (every so often the Pirate Clubs are “demobilized”, receive the official training and formally become part of the programme). Most Clubs are on the Coast but we are experimenting with the model in Medellín and dozens of churches around the country use our Bible curriculum.

Donate to Foundation Vive.
Pre-order my short story about a little girl growing up in a Funky Frog Club.
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Last weekend I was away on one of the Funky Frog camps for leaders.

As the first Funky Frog Clubs were established back in 2011/12, we realised that the leaders could use ongoing training and support both to expand their knowledge and skills but also to encourage them to persevere in their work with the children. We came up with the idea of an annual camp for the leaders and the first camps were held in 2013. At first there were two, then three and now there are four, held in all the areas where we have clusters of Clubs.

This weekend’s camp was in an area called La Mojana, a region of outstanding natural beauty and biodiversity (one of the most biodiverse areas in Colombia, which makes it one of the most biodiverse on the planet).

The theme was Returning Home, encouraging the leaders to experience and enjoy their relationship as sons and daughters (not servants!) in their heavenly Father’s house. We also held workshops on keeping children safe on the internet, making resources out of easily obtained materials, being constructors of peace and working with children aged 9 to 11, the oldest children in the Club.

Apart from two huge thunderstorms with associated powercuts, all went well.

A big thank you to everyone who has pre-ordered The First Colombian in Space, my short story imagining the life of a child in a Funky Frog Club, and donated to the work of Vive. With the pound strengthening against the peso, every donation has just that litte more value!

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The other two thirds

The Extreme Afternoon is a key element of a Funky Frog Club but of course, there’s more.

On Sundays there is the Sunday Meeting (not School!) in which the the leaders and children worship God together (this part is called Todos Adorando or All worshipping).

They then divide into three groups (for children aged 3 to 5, 6 to 8 and 9 to 11) to learn the Bible (called Caminando con Jesús or Walking with Jesus).

And how do they learn the Bible? Following the Funky Frog curriculum, of course! More about this tomorrow.

The final and crucial activity of a Funky Frog Club is the Leaders’ Prayer Meeting in which the leaders pray for each other, for the activities of the Club and for the children’s needs.

Think about all this commitment for a moment: Running around in the blazing heat for a couple of hours on a Saturday, participating in the worship and teaching time on a Sunday, the hour of prayer, possibly on another week night PLUS any preparation required for the Sunday lesson…being a Funky Frog Club leader is a serious thing. But then, our Funky Frog Club leaders are seriously committed!

Click here to support the Vive Foundation and the committed leaders of the Funky Frog Clubs.

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A games afternoon?

A key part of the Funky Frog Club is the games afternoon (called the Extreme Afternoon or Tarde Extrema, in Spanish) in which the leaders play alongside the children, preferably games that are energetic and entertaining. The Extreme Afternoon also has space for other activities, like science experiments, kite-making/flying and art projects.

Why play?

You may not have reflected about the importance of play in your childhood but imagine what your life as a child would have been like if you had rarely played and if you had never played alongside adults.

In fact, the games afternoon is the perfect place to build the relationships on which all the activities of the Club depend.

In one place, the leaders instituted a small addition to the activity, gathering the children in small groups after the games and asking for their prayer petitions, an innovation which became part of the training for new Clubs.

Somewhere else, the concept of play was so novel that the leaders took time out of the training weekend to play by themselves. They had never played in their lives!

Click here to support the work of the Funky Frog Clubs.

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