Being newer missionaries, we are constantly learning the dance, the rhythm. Arriving in Colombia we didn’t exactly see there was a jump rope swinging round and round to a beat unfamiliar to us. The beat of daily life foreign and unconnected to us, at first painful.
The key being to ask questions… many questions. Curiosity on our part invites people in and learning to easily laugh at oneself keeps anger and bitterness at bay.
What does it look like to enter into the rhythm of life in another country and culture? I will attempt to give a peek into what ministry looks like for us.
I awoke Saturday morning with anticipation to rest from our typical weekday. I linger on our patio longer than usual with my reading unrushed, enjoying the breeze as it comes. I smell toasted bread wafting up from our open kitchen which has no door or window to hold in the surprise of what breakfast is being prepared. The girls know to make their own desired breakfast on Saturdays. I make a mental note of the only planned event of the day, violin classes with Alfredo at 11 am. I wonder if he’d like to stay for lunch like last time.
I head down to the kitchen and see breakfast has already been eaten and enjoyed. I thank the girls for remembering to clean up their plates. Looking in the fridge I discovered I have almost everything I need to make a Chili from the leftover Thanksgiving turkey we enjoyed along with the large quantity of broth I made the day before. I take the beans out from soaking and begin cooking them in the Instant Pot to infuse flavor with a bay leaf and turkey broth.
I will need to hop over to the store to buy a practical yet pricey can of Hunt’s diced tomatoes ($4). I get a text from my vecina (neighbor) saying they are finishing up breakfast for the morning and anyone who would like to come over and play with her two-year-old daughter and the little inflatable pool is welcome. I remember that she had mentioned something earlier in the week about hanging out on Saturday. Joel reminds me as he heads out the door he has to get special paperwork for an emissions test on the car. We both know he is stepping into an “unknown” event that could be relatively quick however we now know from other unknown experiences to brace ourselves for an all-day event of patience.
Okay, I will drop off Reagan and McKinley to play and head over to the store to buy the diced tomatoes and a few vegetables.
I set it up with the vecina for 10 am. The girls put on their bathing suits excitedly. Taylor decides to practice before Alfredo comes and stay home (a more frequent occurrence as she practices being alone in the house). One hour of alone time is perfect, I think to myself.
After following the plan above quite uneventfully, as I am checking out at the grocery store (10:25) I get a text from Alfredo. Any chance I can arrive at 10:30 instead?
Oh boy… “Sure!”
When the cashier has rung me up she takes my card and swipes it quickly. Denied. After several different cards, she finds out the credit card line is dead. “Look, there is an ATM over there that you can take cash out from,” she says gesturing to the front of the store.
I manage to get back at 10:40 even with the confusion at the checkout. To my delight, Alfredo is running late. After setting the groceries in the kitchen, I hear the doorbell. Alfredo arrives and we exchange pleasantries. As I close the door behind him I notice a car pull up to our curb but I don’t recognize the car.
A few minutes later Alfredo goes up to the open split level of our house where I usually see and hear them practicing. I had planned to sit on the couch on their level and listen in so that I can understand their practice times better. However, the bell rings again.
The owner of our home’s agent is here with a mecánico (worker).
After about 5 minutes of pleasantries: “How is your family?” “How are the girls?” “Where are the girls, by the way?” I begin asking her how she is and her family she tells me she has had a very rough few weeks. We have shared many a conversation when our kids were taking rollerskating classes together and we watched from the lawn chairs I would bring. She had lived in Spain as a “foreigner” as well, and knew how difficult things could be. She now shared how a pregnant friend of hers had suddenly passed away from COVID. She was devastated for the husband and little girl left behind. I told her how devastated I was for her loss, and that I would be praying for the husband and family as they grieved.
About 10 minutes had passed and we began touring the house to see any work that needed to be done on the 30-year-old house. She pointed and made notes with the mecánico.
The doorbell rings again. I answer the door and see a worker standing with a weed wacker over his shoulder.
“Hi! I’m Nelson… Salvador’s nephew.”
I jog my memory with the sound of violins playing behind me. Yes yes yes… This is our 90-year-old gardener’s nephew. Our gardner sent him as he recovers from cataract surgery.
“Of course! Yes, let me call my husband to see how much he will pay you to cut the front patio. Wait a moment, please.”
I close the door and find my phone and start calling Joel when I hear the familiar sound of the car pulling up into our front driveway. Oh thank goodness! It was a quick car-thing this time.
While the agent and mecánico continue to tour the house and make notes of the materials they will need to fix a leak by the front window, I pop out front and introduce Joel to Nelson, Salvador’s nephew. They begin talking right away, and I suddenly realize… it is past 11 and Reagan and McKinley are still over at my vecina’s house. Thankfully my friend and her mecánico say they are all set and say goodbye as they head over to her car.
I rush over to the vecina with only my mask and a phone. After about 10 minutes of getting the fun report from my kids and enjoying a lovely strawberry smoothie, I explain that Reagan has her class next. She asks if McKinley can stay. I say Of course. As she gets something for her daughter Joel calls me. Shoot! I think. I didn’t have time to tell him where I was going.
“Hey there! We have guests!” he says. “Yes,” I say, “I know Taylor and Reagan have violin classes.” “No, actually we have a mom and daughter who came to visit from a pueblo (little village).”
“Okay, don’t worry, I’m saying goodbye right now with the vecina.”
Reagan and I walk home several houses down the street. As we walk through the door, I notice our visitors sitting in the living room with Joel and the sound of violin scales still going strong right above us. I welcome them with warm wishes and smile behind my mask.
We finally remember that an acquaintance from the States had mailed some books for the girl she sponsors through Compassion.
I smile and nod and Joel continue to ask questions and get to know them, meanwhile, I am thinking and trying to wrap my head around how our day has taken on legs of its own. I start to think about what time it is and wonder how long our guests will be with us. Its 11:45 now… so most likely they will stay for lunch and probably longer… I need to add more broth and take out the frozen sandwich rolls.
After sitting and visiting with them for a while, I excuse myself to check on the violin lessons and then to pick up McKinley, finally. Sensing my neighbor would like to talk, I linger for as long as I can answering some of her many questions about what it is like to homeschool the three girls. Previously she had spiritedly told me she had decided to educate her only daughter at home. I tell her we need to sit over coffee sometime and chat unhurriedly about what our days look like and any curiosities she has. We say our goodbyes for the third time today and walk home officially with everyone under one roof.
While Reagan is in her lesson, I get Taylor and McKinley to take Milagros, who is 12 and likes volleyball, outside to play. I busy myself in the kitchen to set up our impromptu lunch gathering expecting Alfredo to stay as well.
The day went on this way. Every moment an opportunity to let go and allow the new plan to unfurl. It is so much better when you don’t fight it, I remind myself. Lord, this is your day.
I smile in the kitchen as I recall how we had been praying for an opportunity to gift an extra laptop to someone in need. The day after I had begun praying I got the email from the acquaintance asking if they could mail books to their Compassion child and also if I knew of any safe way she could get them a computer. God is good. He gives such good gifts. It truly is a spectacular thing to be a part of His generosity.
After a wonderful lunch around the table, a trip to the mall for ice cream with our new friends, we exchange WhatsApp numbers and plan to see each other again soon. The daughter’s eyes had sparkled as she looked at the enormous tree lit up in the mall. Her mom explained that their village was very small. In fact, they hadn’t eaten at an ice cream store before. Another great gift we were a part of His generosity.
While we were gone, Joel received one more unexpected visitor. A woman taking a survey and needing a male between the ages of 24-39. He accepted and began the 45-minute survey in Spanish. Because on a day like this, who can start to say “no” to the unexpected.
JP, our vecino further down the street, who has become part of our Colombian family had arrived and plucked my guitar as he waited for Joel to finish the survey. They decide to go for ice cream since they had missed out.
I go upstairs to our patio that overlooks our front street and begins working on a puzzle while Reagan begins her final violin practice serenading me with the songs she already knows. As she leans over close to the front of the patio she stops playing and says “No! Perdon, es mio!” I get up and see she is talking to a trash collector that typically comes by to gather plastic bottles for recycling. He had her skateboard in his hands and was removing it from his bag and extending it in her direction. Reagan put down her violin and ran downstairs to accept her one-week-old birthday gift back from the man. She thanked him profusely and closed the door again. We sighed in relief that she happened to be gazing over the edge at that exact moment to see the skateboard she had left from playing outside. She hugged me and we giggled as she explained how she was thinking about serenading the recycler-man and then noticed he was putting her skateboard in his bag.
As Joel and I sat together that evening we laughed at the crazy turn of events throughout the day. Oh how this type of living has changed us. Being here, and being ready to serve is a big part of our job. We don’t really know when our day is going to change, but acceptance is something we have learned from observing others here.
I distinctly remember being in one line at the grocery store watching as the cashier slowly picked up each item and stared at it and then scanned it. The process was gritting on my nerves. How long does it take to check out?! I remember thinking impatiently. I look around for someone to gripe to. Suddenly I realize something… I am the only one in the line who is flustered and irritated. What a humbling moment. Everyone else stood patiently waiting their turn. Not a foot-tapping or folded arms insight. You need to learn to be like them.
The rhythm of life here is distinct. It is a patient life. No one seems to be in a hurry. And almost everyone you meet has all the time in the world for you. As I reflect on how invited this makes me feel like a stranger here, I long to be more like that. I want to be present with the people I bump into. I want the ministry to look less like a calendar of “to do’s”. Practically every day Joel and I and our girls are invited into this rhythm. We can join in, or we can remain on the outside and miss out on the beautiful jump rope exercise.