“Eres muy amable,” she said, smiling at me as we walked through the parking lot to her car. “Vienes aquí todas las semanas?… Do you come here every week?” Yes, I smiled back. Every Monday. “I’ll see you, then.” She replied. “Te veo.”
Another volunteer loaded her groceries into the car, and I asked her if there was anything I could pray for her. “Sí — mi mamá. Y mi hijo.”
I began to pray with her in my broken Spanish, and as we stood side-by-side, she pressed into me.
I’d been doing the same thing with different families for over an hour. Personal Shopping, which meant taking them through the four aisles of the food pantry as their “personal shopper”, weilding my clipboard and counting off their points, then sending their groceries through bagging before bringing their cart out to their car and praying with them.
I’ve volunteered with the food pantry twice now, and each time it’s my job to help as many of the Spanish-speaking families as possible, since there’s only one other girl who speaks Spanish. Normally I help in functional ways, avoiding confusion with how many of each item they can take, trying to entertain their children, and keeping them updated how many points they have left. They are grateful, and I feel useful.
But Catalina was a totally different story. As we walked through the aisles, she actually answered my questions. With a smile, and a full, understandable answer. Then she’d ask me some questions. We found out we really weren’t that far apart in age. She had a great sense of humor. She made sure I was tracking several times: “Comprendes?” she’d ask. I found out she had one son, but her lack of English seemed to make working in the US difficult. Within five minutes, I felt like I’d made a new friend. I was so incredibly grateful to actually be able to get into a real conversation with someone, and I thought, surely she’s just like this with everyone.
But then as we were in the diaper aisle, we came across the subject of language. She told me that she felt embarrassed sometimes at her poor English, and rarely tried. She said most English-speakers thought she was quiet and nervous. That comment took me by complete surprise. “Que? No eres nerviosa!” I exclaimed. She had come across to me as completely confident, kind, and bubbly. I was suddenly struck with my complete sympathy and understanding of how she must feel here in America. After all, I just got back from being in her exact position. I was so glad I got to see her true personality because of my ability to speak her language, and I knew she was too.
After we prayed, she smiled at me again and told me it was nice to meet me…. I got the impression she truly meant it. I told her I’d see her the next week as she climbed into her car. “Sí, te veo!”
Later as we circled up as a volunteer team, the leader asked what the Holy Spirit had shown us over the course of the night. I thought over my experience… all the Spanish and feeble prayers. In a moment, I knew so clearly what the Spirit wanted to show me that I was brought to tears. It suddenly all made sense.
Six months before, I made the final decision almost reluctantly to go ahead and study abroad in Spain. I was conflicted because I knew it could be great, but I didn’t want to leave my friends and stability. However, I’d prayed about it and I knew God wanted me on the trip. So I went.
The trip itself was never comfortable. It had highs and lows like any other season, but I struggled with the culture shock more than I thought I would, and tried to have a good attitude. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything truly significant, eternally speaking. I kept asking God, “Umm. So why did you want me here?…” I left knowing I’d learned a great deal, but still felt kind of lost after five months of a completely different life where I never found a pattern, rhyme or reason.
Now six months later, I am brought to my knees. God so clearly led me to volunteering at the food pantry after a short, one-line prayer that He would give me an opportunity to use my Spanish to help people (I love when he answers quickly!). I so am humbled by the experiences I’ve had during my mere two shifts there. I am humbled by how useful the ability to speak Spanish is during those two and a half hours, but I was especially blessed by my experience with Catalina. It felt so cool to be a person who could see her clearly for who she is, when she feels misunderstood so much of the time. I know how much those people meant to me during my time in Spain.
I got to share my insight with the group, and as I laid out my story I saw even more clearly that God had a plan all along. I knew I would get to use my Spanish again after being in Spain, but I never knew it would feel so meaningful. Every time I get that deer-in-headlights look… usually from another volunteer trying to speak to someone who doesn’t understand English, I have the opportunity to translate, and suddenly everyone understands each other. I get to be a person who creates connections where there is misunderstanding, which makes me feel like a healer. I love that more than anything, because Jesus is a healer, a connector, a restorer, and a comforter. So standing there thinking over my experience, I realized that ultimately, by taking me to Spain, God equipped me with a tangible skill which means I can model Jesus more. What?? Did not see that coming!
Guys. God is so cool. He revives and restores, He builds skills into weak people and pushes them to do things they never thought they could (like pray in Spanish!). A life with Him is an adventure because He is faithful, He answers prayers, He is trustworthy, He is GOOD! And — most meaningful right now to my control-freak self — He always has a plan. 🙂
Oh yeah, just as a shameless plug here at the end: The food pantry is really running low on food as church attendance lessens during the summer, and the need gets more intense since kids aren’t in school. If you live in Indy and feel led to drop off some goods, contact me and I’ll let you know where to go and what is needed. Or you could just pray that they would be provided for. That would be cool, too. 🙂