2 weeks ago, I had a blank passport filled with nothing but my signature and an unflattering headshot.
2 weeks ago, I was running around town gathering last minute details for an adventure I knew very little about.
2 weeks ago, I had never been in a place where I didn’t speak the language, had little communication with my family at home, or couldn’t flush the toilet paper (yeah, that was definitely a new one.)
2 weeks ago, although everything in front of me was unknown and a little uncertain, the anxiety and worry I expected to wash over me was held at bay. I waited and I waited and as the day of departure arrived, still, it didn’t come. I woke up at 2 a.m. on an early Friday morning, I rode in a bus to the airport, I caught a plane, sat for a 6 hour layover, caught another plane and suddenly I was in a land completely foreign to me.
So, I could give you a play-by-play of everything we did and saw and experienced in the 9 days to come, but as you can expect that would be incredibly lengthy, so if you’d like to hear that version, I’d love to tell you about it another time.
But for now, I want to share with you my biggest struggle in Ecuador which also proved to be my greatest lesson and richest take-away. It’s nothing profound, it’s nothing you wouldn’t expect, but it’s real, so here you go:
Language barriers are real and frustrating and not always easily overcome
As I’m sure you know, Spanish is the language spoken in Ecuador and it is very much not the language spoken by me. Even in high school, the two years of a foreign language that I trudged through was French… so the extent of my Spanish knowledge comes from about the third or fourth grade and the translations on various warning labels you usually ignore.
So, as you can imagine, there were a lot of conversations in which I was very lost. Luckily, our leaders and interns were always ready to translate whenever we needed it, but I realized there’s nothing more frustrating than wanting so badly to speak to someone you’re trying to get to know and having to do it through someone else. Where I found the most difficulty in this was in the afternoons when we would have vacation bible school with the children in communities around Santo Domingo. These little ones were the CUTEST and honestly all week I felt the most at home playing and laughing with them. The smiles on their faces were absolutely contagious and I could’ve spent all day every day with them.
There was one little girl in particular that I met Tuesday afternoon that I so wish I could have said more to than I did. Luckily, I knew enough to find out that her name is Karen and that she’s 5 years old. Without being able to communicate with her beyond that, I was left to hand gestures, quizzical looks and lots of smiles and laughs.
My favorite memory that afternoon was when we were sitting during VBS. She was sitting in my lap and anytime she had a question or wanted to tell me something, she’d look up at me and I’m sure could see that I had no idea what she was saying (or even if I did, I had no idea how to respond.) But that didn’t bother her even a little bit. She would smile and giggle and give me a big hug. every. single. time.
She wasn’t disturbed or distracted at all by the fact that I very clearly didn’t understand her language. She just wanted to sit and laugh and be together. So that’s what we did. We sat together during the Bible story, we colored, ran around and took lots of pictures. It was so fun and the perfect example of the point of this post:
God doesn’t speak English
He doesn’t speak Spanish or Dutch or Chinese or anything else. God’s language is love and it is best shown through a smile and a hug and deep understanding that we don’t always have to have the right thing to say. As it was said many time throughout the week, there is one true God and he reigns over all of us.
There is no American God and no Ecuadorian God. There is one God who rules the earth. My God, your God. The God who put every star in the sky, the God who taught the fish to swim and the breeze to blow. There is one God who brought 15 people from the Florida panhandle to Santo Domingo, Ecuador and showed them that loving people has no conditions. There is no standard that must be met, no test to be taken. There’s just people. People who welcomed us with arms wide open, people as ready to love us as we were to love them. And all of this transcends language – as fundamental as it seems to the foundation of relationships – it wasn’t necessary.
So for 9 days we smiled and they smiled back.
For 9 days we asked for help when we didn’t understand, and often got a giggle as we tried our best to repeat the words translated for us.
For 9 days we met and connected with people, some who live on an entirely different continent and some who live only 90 minutes away.
For 9 days we saw Jesus in the faces of those around us and did our best to emulate it in the moments we were together.
It was 9 days I wouldn’t trade for anything. It was an experience completely different from anything I’ve ever done, and one I would gladly do again. It was incredible to see so many people so wholly reliant on the power of Jesus. It was moving to hear stories of healing and redemption and salvation.
It was the best thing I’ve ever done, and to think I couldn’t even understand the words… and it was perfectly okay.
El amor de Jesús está en todas partes // the love of Jesus is everywhere