Inside the Adventist Bubble: May 1, 2013

At around 10:20 p.m. Bjorn and I rolled into Libertador San Martin. The streets looked wide, clean, dark —and decidedly empty. We didn’t have a hotel room, didn’t know where the hotel was located and hadn’t eaten anything since before 2:30 p.m. except for some dry (albeit tasty) cookies and biscuits. We heaved a big sigh and trudged off the bus.


No sooner had we set foot on the sidewalk then what should appear to our wondering eyes but our friend, D! “Please come back to the house with me,” he said. “We’ve prepared dinner for you because we know food isn’t served on the bus.” We could have fallen upon his neck with kisses, but settled for his cheek (it’s the Argentine custom).


We were treated to a veritable feast (the first of many; Argentine hospitality is nearly peerless) of savory tarts, quiches, vegetables, a pear pie and a roll cake (all homemade, natch). After stuffing ourselves to the point where a stray poke to the belly would have meant instantaneous death, D said, “Because it’s so late and you haven’t booked a hotel room, we think you should stay here.” God does indeed work in mysterious ways and D & M prove that angels on earth don’t need to have wings.

The next day, we went to a smaller church to see the dedication of L, D & M’s son, but also toured the university church, which is large, impressive and thoroughly modern. (How’s this for a good idea: Each Sabbath School children’s classroom has its own bathroom.)


After an expansive and stomach-expanding lunch (with some of the best ice cream I’ve ever eaten — it’s made in town and my eyes are rolling back into my head just thinking about it), Dr. T and Pastor S picked us up for a tour of the Villa, (pronounced VEE-zha) as it is known, and the surrounding area.


An Adventist Bubble is more than just a location; it’s more a description of a way of life. Bubbles tend to include a church, a hospital and a school (at the least); that means it is possible for one to be born in, go to school at and work for an Adventist institution. In other words: live your entire life encapsulated in Adventism (hence the Bubble).

I’ve been to other Adventist Bubbles in the U.S. (mainly in California: Glendale, Loma Linda, Paradise) but none quite match up to the ones I’ve been to in other countries. Internationally, the Bubbles tend to be pockets of serene cleanliness and low crime in garden-like settings. The Villa is especially notable for its scope and history.


About 5,000 people live in the town and nearly 80 percent of the inhabitants are Adventist; that means by Friday sundown, all of the shops (save one) are closed. The shops remain closed throughout Saturday morning and afternoon, but to my surprise,  after sundown they open up again! (Adventists observe a Sabbath similar to the Jewish one: Friday sunset to Saturday sunset). The town, though small, has seven (yes, SEVEN) Adventist churches ensconced within it.

The history behind this area is equally impressive. According to our knowledgeable tour guides, the Adventist church in South America began through the efforts of a man named Jorge Riffel. (I’m almost positive I went to school with some of his descendants.) Riffel was an Argentine farmer who went to Kansas when locusts destroyed his crops repeatedly. While in Kansas, he converted to Adventism. He decided to come back to Argentina to tell people about it. His first convert: Reinhold Hetze, who is the forefather of none other than our friend, D. (Adventists in Argentina now number around 130,000 according to our guides.)


Besides the living history (the town is full of descendants of those first Argentine Adventists), the area abounds in historical sites and places. We went to the cemetery that holds the remains of Riffel and Hetze (appropriately, it began to rain tremendously while we were there.) Then we slip-slided our way down a mud road (dangerously fun) to the first Adventist church in South America — which is still standing and used for services. We also saw the sites of some of the homes of those South American Adventist pioneers, visited a museum and toured a new factory the university built to employ students and help with their tuition.

After this extensive tour, we headed to Dr. T’s house to spend the night and eat more than we could handle. Dr. T is a family friend of  Bjorn’s family, who knew him when they lived in another Adventist Bubble together (AIIAS, in the Philippines).We reminisced for a while, then fell asleep to the pattering rain. We awoke to a fresh and crisp morning. Mrs. T stuffed us with more food, we met up with Pastor N, another family friend from AIIAS, and then took another extensive tour, this time of the university campus.


After this tour, we had another meal (of course). Afterward, we waddled over to the bus terminal where we bade a fond farewell to our hosts and headed home. We were well-fed, adrift in the happy sea of good times with friends and had almost as much money in our pockets as we did when we first boarded the bus on Friday.

Now I’m not generally a fan of Adventist Bubbles; I think they tend to breed isolationism and all the other goodies that accompany it: close-mindedness, gossip, inability to socially interact with strangers. I grew up in an Adventist Bubble and I know how stifling they can be. I’m glad I went to an “outside” university and have an atypical career for an Adventist.


But now I see the merit in them, too. It does make a huge difference in quality of life to be surrounded by people who share the same background and culture, especially (if not only) when the community is supportive and kind to its members.


Right now, I don’t want to live in an Adventist Bubble. I firmly believe I should be in the world, interacting with and serving a diverse range of people. But I can no longer judge or disdain people who make that choice. After all, I wouldn’t call a senior citizen crazy for wanting to live in a retirement community. And who knows? Maybe one day I’ll find myself in the Bubble again (especially if that caliber of ice cream is still around).


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