Monday, July 29, 2013

Without Nationality

Without Nationality

"Don't forget about us"

For past two weeks sadness, concern and hope were the feelings that the Kenyans were showing and sharing with me. They knew that the time for me to leave would come, but for some reason nobody expected it to come so soon … not even me! We were very intentional in not saying goodbye; a "see you later" sounded more appropriate. I have to say that I had not really expected such an abundant demonstration of love, brotherhood and hospitality.
Concerns and hope were raised mostly because. because of the job that I was doing here: collecting data/information from the schools, allowing them the opportunity to create a solution to the water problem and receiving proposals on how to deal with that and, in addition, proposals on income generating activities. So, then the main questions became: What is going to happen now? When is it going to happen? And is it really going to be possible? Well dear reader, I am not going to lie to you, some proposal were extremely ambitious, others not enough so, also only 9 out of the 18 schools accomplished the goal of getting the completed proposals to me. I must admit that part of the problem was the strike, but if some schools were able to make it happen, that means it was entirely possible.
But something that I heard from every single person that was seeing me for the last time was: Don't forget about us! I didn’t know how to respond to that in a way that would make them understand that I could never forget about them. How is it possible to forget about the people that showed me there is so much more to see beyond the Americas. I have learned many things here, but probably one of the most important has been about hospitality (like that of Pastor Charles’ family who gave me the master bedroom of the house to stay in).
I am awaiting my plane to go back to the New World, but something strange is happening inside of me. I am asking myself: Who am I?... I don't really feel I necessarily “belong” anywhere anymore. As far as nationality goes, I feel that I have lost pieces of the Argentinian in me, although I am definitely not a Gringo, but for some reason I felt that I fit so perfectly here (the only thing missing was my wife). I came to realize that in my family life, being a child of God means that we don't belong to any country, but that we are citizens of God's kingdom. That being said, our place in this world is where we can do something to show God's love, mercy and desire for humanity. The scriptural reference regarding service to the orphan and the widow has been played out in my daily life over the past eight weeks. Let me tell you, right up there with the day I married Roni, being in Kenya I felt sure I was in the place where God wanted me to be.
Even though, here I have been a msungu (white man/traveler) to the Kenyans, in the end, we all were able to see and understand that there was no difference between us and we were able to talk at the same level, respectfully forgetting about our color and recognizing in each other the One who lives in our hearts. When we did that, we realized that nationality was not the primary concern, but the fact that we are a big family spread out all around the world.
Kenya will always have a special place in my heart, but this is not a goodbye, this is just a break until I can return to them...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Lost in Translation

Ben, Meredith and I have been in El Salvador for almost a month now. Our main work here in El Salvador has been working with the different mission teams who come each week. The Methodist Church here has connections with UMC churches in the United States, and these churches raise money to come to El Salvador and work. Some churches send teams more than once a year, but I think most come for one week. In 2013, 30 teams will have taken trips here to Ahuachapan. It costs each person about $1600 to come. If I remember right, that’s about double what I had to raise when I did a one week mission trip to El Salvador eight years ago. So not only are groups of 10-20 people coming down to do mission work each week, but each person is being supported by many many other people. Lots of prayers, money, time, and work are being put into the church here, and they are doing good work.

In the mornings, Ben, Meredith and I take Spanish classes, and in the afternoon we help these groups with whatever work they are doing. Most of the work consists of construction, vacation Bible schools, medical clinics, and (this week) food ministry. We act as translators most of the time.

Let me tell you this- translating is hard. I have the utmost respect for our two full-time translators, William and Gaby. 
William, making a party hat at VBS in La Gloria

Gaby and I before VBS at Nueva Jerusalen

They are both Salvadoreño and speak English very well. I admire their abilities. I constantly have to remind myself that I am in fact doing a good job for someone who has only been learning Spanish for 8 weeks. But I’ll say it again- translation is hard.

Very few team members speak Spanish. I completely understand- when I came in high school, I knew no Spanish. I relied on our translator for everything, much like the groups coming in rely on us. It’s a lot of pressure, but I really enjoy it. Being able to communicate with people in their native language is really exciting.

I’ve worked as a translator at various Bible schools each week. I enjoy working with children, I always have, and trying to communicate in Spanish with kids is actually pretty fun. The little ones are my favorite because we have about the same vocabulary level, haha. But really, I am getting the hang of how to tell children directions in Spanish (color this, glue this here, cut this here), and when we’re doing the crafts we just chat. I like getting to know them, learning about their families, how old they are, if they go to school. Just like children in the U.S., when you show an interest, they feel appreciated.

Translating at the medical clinic was a touch more difficult. The first time I translated for a medical clinic I had Gabby right by my side, and she filled in the things I either didn’t understand or didn’t know how to say. However the second time I translated, it was all me. Luckily, I worked really well with the doctor I was paired with, we had a good rhythm, and I felt much more confident. Sadly, that was the same week a parasite ate me, and I was out of commission for a few days. Well darn.

I think by far the hardest thing for me to translate is prayers. This is for two reasons- the first is that I don’t feel like I’m truly praying when I pray in Spanish. It’s still too new, and I don’t understand enough of it to feel like I’m praying. I’m too nervous. The second reason translating prayers is hard is because I don’t quite know the vocabulary yet. For example, when we say in English “We give you thanks for this day,” I would off the top of my head translate this as “Gracias por este día,” when the more correct language (and the language of prayer) is “Te damos gracias por este día.” It’s small things like this that I don’t know yet that make my translated prayers sound uber choppy. Also, prayers can use really complicated language, language that I don’t know, so often my translated prayers are a bit simpler. Luckily, God probably doesn’t care how eloquent my prayers are. God knows what’s up without me saying it out loud, but I still want to get it right for the sake of the people I’m translating to. When we did home visits/ food ministry this week (giving out big bags of food to people in a very poor area), I felt perfectly comfortable translating questions and answers of the people we visited, but when it came time to pray I asked Gaby to help. She said to me today that she felt the Holy Spirit moving through her as she prayed today, and she said she loves translating prayers. That’s a beautiful thing.

Definitely part of my hesitation in translating prayers is because I’m translating from English into Spanish. If it were the other way around, I would be more comfortable. My comprehension skills in Spanish are way better than my speaking skills (which is normal). Also, translating on the spot is difficult not matter what it is! But I look forward to improving my translating/speaking/comprehension skills during my last 2 weeks here.

Peace, Love,and Smiles,

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


“Shaymus!  Shaaaaymus,” the four or five African children kept yelling at me.  Some of them whispered it quickly.  Others shot me accusing glances.  I’d catch them looking at me and they’d just smile, their bright eyes lighting up at me.  Then one or two would ask to be picked up as we were walking down the dusty roads of Tembesia.  Whose Shaymus, I wondered. 

Recently I visited an orphanage in the Tembesia township.  The kids here were absolutely amazing.  I spent most of my time playing with four or five boys between eight and ten years old.  They kept climbing on me, hollering at me, and playing ball.  Occasionally a little hand would dart out and rub my beard.  Odd, I thought. 

That afternoon we went walking through Tembesia.  After hearing them call out Shaymus for some time, I realized they meant me.  “Hey,” I asked, “what does that mean?”  “The wrestler,” they replied.  They thought that I, with my beard, looked like one of their favorite wrestlers.   Two thoughts went through my mind.  First, I’m not often mistaken for a wrestler.  I must cherish this moment.  Second, these kids really like Shaymus.    While they clearly knew I wasn’t  the wrestler, I obviously represented a beloved figure in their lives.  They were so excited to have their wrestler spend the day with them.  So I accepted it, climbing and name calling included.  And they kept trying to touch my beard.  I was Shaymus. 

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about being a provisional elder next year.  How strange is it to assume this new role and be a pastor?  Occasionally here in South Africa I’m treated as a minister, either by title or expectation.  This is shocking.  “Don’t you people realize I haven’t graduated yet?  What would the DComm say?”  But these technicalities don’t matter.  People want someone who can serve God.  They want someone who can love them. 

As I think about my minor pastoral role now and the role I’ll fill next year, I’m reminded of that day in Tembesia.  Just like being called Shaymus, I didn’t ask to be called into ministry.  The call just came.  While I'm willing to fill it, I keep thinking about how I'm not a pastor yet.  I'm not quite there.  Yet despite my inclination to defer to older wisdom, people keep looking at me.  As clumsy and as awkward as I feel at times, I like to imagine myself as strong and mighty Shaymus. Or better yet I imagine myself living into the role of Shaymus, where I can embrace this new identity and hopefully flourish.  I'm sure over the next year the 'name calling' and 'congregational expectations' will continue.  Yet as caught off guard as I may be from time to time (pastor, who me?), it'll help me grow as a minister.  I'm happy to embrace these awkward identity moments for the sake of answering the call.  (But no more beard touching, please.)