Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Mi Hermana

Hello! It’s been quite a long time since I’ve written on here. As usual, I’ll claim the busyness excuse, and it’s fairly accurate. When I say I’ve been busy, I really mean it. This has been a crazy whirlwind of a semester, full of awesome times of spiritual growth, fun times, and impactful relationships. Then, in just a few short days, I transitioned from the craziness of school to the craziness of summer. I am blessed to be spending my summer as a youth intern at Tomball Bible Church in Tomball, Texas. Alongside my fantastic co-intern, Casey, I will be hanging out with high school kids all summer, teaching lessons, playing games, worshipping the Lord, and having tons of fun. This opportunity was straight from God and is much more preferable to the office job I was supposed to be doing this summer. I just couldn’t lick any more envelopes after all the hours I spent doing that over Christmas break. I will try my best to update you as to what’s going on with me and the youth group over the summer, much in the same way as last summer in Africa. But first I’d like to start off with a story from this past weekend.

The youth group will be going on a mission trip to Honduras this summer and the kids have been working to raise funds all semester. One of the fundraisers was a garage sale that took place last Saturday. Some of the kids, parents, Casey, and I spent the week before driving all over Tomball picking up donations and organizing them in the church’s gym. It was a massive garage sale and we attracted plenty of customers. We also wanted the garage sale to function as an outreach to the community, so the kids were encouraged to talk to customers and to offer to pray with them. They did great, and they all had plenty of opportunities to pray. I didn’t spend as much time with the customers, so I wasn’t expecting many chances to talk to people, but God surprised me, as He usually does, by offering me a chance to use my Spanish.

I studied Spanish for four years in high school. That, combined with mission trips to Latin America, conversations with bilingual friends, and two years working at a restaurant where the cooks spoke only Spanish, resulted in fairly a proficient Spanish-speaking ability. I was verging on fluent when I went to college, where almost no one I knew spoke Spanish and I had no opportunity to use it. Due to my own laziness, I began to lose my Spanish vocabulary until it was almost entirely gone. When one of the customers at the garage sale couldn’t understand, “Would you like a bag for your clothes?” in English, I was stumped. Somehow, I managed to remember a few words, and then they gradually began flowing back. I was incredibly grateful, as it meant I could translate for other customers as well. I helped the woman and her mother carry their purchases to their car and offered to pray with them, which they accepted gratefully.

As awesome as that opportunity was, it was nothing compared to the woman I spoke to a few hours later. One of the adults helping out had asked me to translate some purchasing information. It was just a few sentences and the woman seemed nonresponsive, even perturbed that I was talking to her, so I was surprised when she came up to me later and asked, “Espanol?” She wanted to know where we were taking the leftover items after the garage sale. I explained to her that they would be donated and then proceeded to talk about why the youth group was doing this. The woman, whose name was Elizabeth, listened intently and then suddenly let loose a flood of rapid Spanish. I spent the next hour listening to her talk about her family. She told me about how her husband was a victim in a terrible car accident, and the miracle of how he survived, and the difficulties that had brought to her family. She told me about her fears for the souls of her children and their apparent lack of interest in Christianity. She told me details of her family’s life that are usually only shared within the family. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe she was sharing all of this with me, a complete and total stranger. She began to cry, and her Spanish was stifled as she struggled to hold back her tears. I tried to offer words of comfort and encouragement, but even in Spanish they sounded weak.

I stood there, listening to her talk, and wondered how I could help her. I could invite her kids to our youth group events. I could help her navigate the garage sale. I could suggest organizations in the area that might be able to help her family. But ultimately, I realized, there was nothing I could do but listen. So I stood, and listened, and nodded, and agreed, and grieved with her for her children, and shared her fears and her hopes. At the end, I asked if I could pray with her, and she said, “Yes, yes, please.” I don’t know what I said, or if it made any sense grammatically, but I don’t think God cares about whether my tenses were correct or if I accidentally misplaced the word for sin with the word for fish (“pecado” is sin and “pescado” is fish.) He knew what was in my heart for this woman, and He knew what her life was like. And hopefully, she knew that I loved her. I hope, very much, that by listening to her, and by praying with her, Elizabeth knew how much I cared and how much I hurt for her, and how much I wanted her to know our Father’s love.

Her husband then arrived to take her home. She wiped her eyes and we collected her bags, bikes, and chairs. As she browsed for a few more minutes, her husband began talking to me in broken English. He had officially become a U.S. citizen last week and proudly showed me his certificate of citizenship. The joy in his voice was almost tangible. Casey and I finished loading the bed of their pickup truck with the myriad of items they’d purchased, and then we said goodbye. It was time to close down the sale, and I hadn’t helped with the cleanup process at all. As I turned to leave, Elizabeth reached for a hug and held my hand. “Mi hermana,” she said. My sister. I smiled.

Elizabeth is my sister. We share a Father who loves us both. And He loves her children, whose lives are completely in His hands, and her husband, whose life He saved through a medical miracle. These thoughts comfort me. I will probably never see her again, but it is good to know she’s out there, and that she’s taken care of. Elizabeth was a wonderful reminder of the potential for ministry in my own community. I’ve spent the last several years flying out of the country every summer to do “ministry.” I am by no means indicting the work of international missions, but I also want to avoid the idea that missions and ministry are something you need a passport to do. I don’t need to travel to Africa or Latin America or Asia to find people to pray for. They’re here, all around me, down the street from my house, or inside Tomball Bible Church, or at Wal-Mart. Honestly, it’s uncomfortable to talk to strangers. Its awkward and weird and not at all in keeping with my culture. But when you think about it, they’re not really strangers. They’re family and friends who are just as desperate for the Lord as the strangers I find it so easy to talk to in foreign countries.

I want to encourage you to try this out. There are people all around you whose names you don’t know who desperately need someone to listen to what’s on their heart and to share yours with them. I suspect that if you ask Him, God will give you a chance to minister to someone. It is not always fun, and it is not always effective. But if we walk around with our eyes closed to the needs of those in our immediate presence, we will miss a whole lot of opportunities to love.

Elizabeth will continue to be on my heart. I hope she will be on yours. When I pray for her, I will try to do it in Spanish. I won’t think of her as a customer at a garage sale, or as a Mexican immigrant struggling to learn my language, because she isn’t any of those things.

Elizabeth is just my sister.