Our sandals clop methodically as we saunter down the clean, reflecting tiles of the massive Viva! Centro Comercial. The sea of tan, brown, beige, and dark brown heads turn and take notice of our two bobbing blondes. Little beacons this Momma is thankful for when we walk in the crowded streets.
The stores are modern with hanging ferns, urban fonts, and warm twinkling lights. The girls squeal when they spot a fancy Italian ice cream shop. I smile when I see they have cappuccinos. We practice our new tongue. The girls ask for a prueba, and smile as the clerk reaches in to retrieve the sample of creamy goodness. There are some constants in our lives in every country we have visited. Our girls are grateful for the common language of helado in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and now Colombia.
How is it possible to feel at home, yet lost in this intimidating place? As we eat our sweet treats we people watch. The women walking by are wearing brightly colored prints. Their long flowing locks sway back and forth. Their skin glows, and they look as though they walked straight off the page of an In Style magazine. I look down at my chipped nail polish. Some things are going to have to become more of a priority.
The men walk tall, cleanly shaven or the occasionally tidy beard. They wear trendy tshirts and polos, with equally trendy ironed colored shorts or jeans with expensive leather shoes. Not a wrinkle in sight.
The children are mini-versions of their carefully groomed parents.
I look at my husband, who is also people watching. I was suddenly overwhelmed with a question rising up within me threatening to choke my words.
"What do we have to offer these people?"
The enormity of "something new" settles in. You realize that this learning process is going to take a lifetime.
It's a valid question. When you become a missionary you are filled with a longing to do good. To help people that are in desperate need of water, food, shelter. These basic necessities that are lacking in a majority of our world.
Our language school is full of missionaries poised to "go forth" and give of themselves, their families, their time. But do you know what nagging question permeates us all as we strive to integrate? "Who am I?"
You see, being plucked from a familiar culture and placed in a new venue does something to your sense of identity when you least expect it. It comes at you from every angle. Do I have something on my face, or did I just accidentally say breast when I meant to say mother? An accent on the wrong syllable can make all the difference in a new language. And if you are not purposeful or aware of every word, the translation is lost within seconds. When you learn something new, there is a phase where you start to gain confidence. You start to think, I can do this! And then someone who has been learning that same thing for decades appears, and suddenly you realize: Maybe I am not quite as good at this as I thought I was.... I didn't realize there were more layers! The enormity of "something new" settles in. You realize that this learning process is going to take a lifetime.
So naturally, the question of identity comes up. Here we face it every day. Humor. Am I funny in Spanish too? Awkward silence. Apparently not yet.
As we reflect on our upcoming graduation from language school, we are excited to be moving on to Colombia. Our egos have been battered, shredded, and by Christ's standards hopefully left lifeless right next to the accumulating ash of the hundreds of volcanoes in Costa Rica. We continually come back to a foundational truth that permeates our core. Our identity is found in the Identity Maker. He weaves our stories into the fabric of a bright new yet foreign culture.
What do we have to offer? Nothing and everything. The nothing comes from the realization that the culture existed, thrived, influenced, and evolved before our tiny footprints landed in Barranquilla. The everything comes from a Light within that brings hope, joy, love, forgiveness, and peace. We are called to walk alongside people and love them much the same as we loved in the US.
The needs will come. They are camouflaged under the smooth, polished exterior of the people we see. We know this camouflage. We wore our own disguises well. In sharing our sins, being transparent, the Truth sets us all free.
Who am I? I am a child of God. I am learning this identity every day. My skin, tallness, and not-quite-so-polished exterior are simply external clothes my soul happens to be wearing. My true identity shines past these clothes when I live in light of eternity.