Graduations, Birthdays, Cake and more Cake …

It’s been a busy past week here in San Juan! I just got back tonight from the community center’s “graduation,” marking the culmination of the year’s classes and the start of a summer break. Everyone who teaches classes at the community center, whether it’s sewing, English, computer skills, art, or basketball, does it voluntarily. Most of them have full time jobs outside of their teaching responsibilities, so a small ceremony like this to honor not only the students who give of their time to learn, but also the teachers who make sacrifices weekly, is really important. I have been really touched from what I can see of the teachers’ humble hearts. Also, watching the kids in the computer class present their powerpoint projects with photos, animations, and special effects, really made me reevaluate skills that I have that I’ve taken for granted. Where I’m from, simply attending public school everyday, even with minimal effort, basically guarantees competence in Microsoft Office. If you didn’t take the computer classes offered, you likely figured things out in your own time on your home computer since essays, power-points, and projects assigned regularly required knowing these skills. Also, seeing how difficult it is to learn English, but also seeing the students’ eagerness and determination, makes me realize how lucky I am to have been raised in an English-speaking environment. Knowing English is something that I’ve always taken for granted, until I see others struggling to pronounce vowels or read the alphabet.

I also had an interesting experience today with a young boy named Jonathan, probably about seven or eight years old. He walked up to me and muttered under his breath, “Japonesa” … or “Japanese.” I’m used to the karate jokes, the questions about whether or not I speak Mandarin, and the squinting of the eyes. However, it is unsettling and continues to bother me slightly even though I hide it with a smile and polite giggles. I told Jonathan that I was Chinese, not Japanese, but that I was also American because I have lived my whole life in the states. He shrugged and continued to mutter, “Japonesa.” Every time he saw me throughout the night, he would squint his eyes and giggle, repeating “Japonesa” in the same childish tone. I didn’t quite know what to do, because I knew he was just playing and didn’t know any better, but his persistence still bothered me. No matter what I told him, he refused to listen or even try to understand. These kinds of experiences reinforce two ideas in my mind. One, it is crazy to me what young children notice and care about. They have no fear or shame in staring or pointing out differences in appearance. I guess I was once that way too; in fact, I know I was … but that’s a story for a different time. Anyway, it shocked me that Jonathan didn’t even care who I was, where I was really from, or that I was trying to communicate with him in his own language; all he could see was that I was different, and he wasn’t going to forget it. I love interacting with kids, which is why it saddens me a little when I want to talk with them and love on them but we can’t even move past differences in facial features. Going along with this, I realize not only how lucky I am to have grown up in a diverse area where people of all different backgrounds, religions, races, and ethnicities live and work together, but I also realize how important it is for other people to get this experience. We hear that the world is increasingly globalized and interconnected, but some people in San Juan have probably never seen a Chinese person before. I guess all I can do is smile and politely explain who I am and what I’m doing here, in hopes that my interactions with people may have a slight impact on their engrained world-views and maybe change the experience of the next Chinese person who visits … 🙂

But really, it has been an eye-opening first couple weeks here. I have learned a lot about missionary life and I’ve had the opportunity to meet lots of people and hear lots of different stories. I realize that the sense of adventure and excitement that drove me to short-term mission trips in the past is not synonymous with everyday missionary life or the reality of spreading the gospel. Missions is really just living life with the purpose of evangelism, making friends and disciples. But it is a long, challenging process and not constantly full of the thrill of short-term missions. However, at the same time, I am continually seeing ways that it is very rewarding and fulfilling.

The O’Brien’s and my host family threw me a wonderful mini surprise birthday celebration tonight! Here are a few photos from that!

My beautiful cake!
My beautiful cake!
So many candles!
So many candles!
The flames kept coming back!
The flames kept coming back!
Jazmin, Sarai, and me
Jazmin, Sarai, and me
All the girls :)
All the girls!

God’s Goodness.

It’s been a wonderful and eye-opening first week here in San Juan!

Yesterday, I spent the day with Ivonne, learning about her work for Obrero Fiel, a ministry that aims to equip church leaders, missionaries, and pastors in Spanish speaking countries with biblical resources. I sent some emails for her and helped do inventory in the bookstore.

I have been spending a lot of time with the O’Brien’s, a missionary family in San Juan, and especially their kids, who are cute, playful, and full of energy. They remind me how much fun it is to be a kid and I feel comfortable, youthful, and free to be my natural silly self whenever I am around them.

I also helped teach an English class on Tuesday and Wednesday evening at the local community center, Nueva Imagen. I was a bit nervous because I’ve never taught English before and I don’t have any experience. But, the class was learning about money and common household items, so I helped organize an activity based on buying and selling these common items with fake money so that the students could review vocabulary and practice using money. It was a lot of fun, but definitely an example of the flexibility that is necessary for ministry in Mexico, and teaching in general. It helped that I have been learning Chinese this year, and can relate to the struggles that the students are going through with memorizing new vocabulary and getting pronunciations right. I can more easily sympathize with how difficult it must be to say even seemingly basic things like numbers or directions, because I still struggle with those things in Chinese. It’s not just the words themselves that are different, but the ordering and structuring of sentences that makes it really tough.

On Monday, I got a tour of Queretaro, the capital of the state of Queretaro, and also the local city, San Juan. I spent the day with Yadhira, a young woman who also works for Obrero Fiel. I thought she was going to show me her work, but instead we ended up walking miles and miles around the city, trying to find cultural sites that she thought would be interesting. I was really up for anything, but she insisted that I get a taste for the history of the area. It was a tiring but exciting day. Definitely a stretch for my Spanish speaking abilities, but also a great opportunity for practice.

I have been doing two new devotions in the mornings using YouVersion on my computer, since my phone hasn’t been working. One is called “30 Ways in 30 Days” about evangelism and the other is called “God’s Goodness.” I will end with one of the passages from “God’s Goodness” this morning, also one of my favorites.

Romans 8:37-39
“No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

image: drawing of Mexico City, DF by artist Robert Birkenes

In Pursuit of Him.

This is my first attempt ever at writing a blog! Exciting stuff!

So, I’m heading out tomorrow morning for two months in Mexico with Camino Global! I am thrilled and overwhelmed by the opportunity to stay with a local family, teach English, observe missionary life, participate in church activities, and see a bit of the country, among other things. I know that I will meet so many new people and God will open my eyes to so many new, exciting and stretching experiences. I can’t wait! I will do my best through this blog to recount and reflect on events, places, people, thoughts and anything that strikes me during the next two months. Check in and keep me in your thoughts and prayers! All the glory to Him.