Tuesday, October 16, 2007

How much can you do in a year?

People write and ask, "Are you still in Costa Rica or are you in Peru? We’re still in Costa Rica, learning Spanish and practicing ministry in a "latin" context. We are scheduled to leave here on December 17. We’ll be in Cincinnati and Cleveland for the Christmas holidays and to ship our belongings to Peru. We fly out on January 5. We flew here on January 3, last year. So, it’s almost exactly one year from our departure from Cincinnati, to our arrival in Peru. I’m not sure why that’s significant, but it feels somehow significant. Whether a year is a long time or a short time depends on your context. To Americans, a year sounds like a significant chunk of time. To cultures outside the states, North Americans appear to be overly aware of (some would say obsessed with) calenders and clocks. If your having fun, a year goes by really fast. If your studying for a Spanish test, a year seems like a long time. We've been hear for 9 1/2 months. Since we're eager to fulfill our call to Peru, being in Costa Rica has (at times) felt like waiting in an airport for a connecting flight. When you're eager, waiting is hard. Sometimes, like when you're waiting in an airport, it feels like nothing significant is taking place. When you're learning a language and a new culture, changes come painfully slowly. But, over time, little changes add up to a lot. Consequently, in the midst of my own feelings of frustration, I’m also aware of many changes that are taking place; e.g., the ability to speak Spanish. There are plenty of days (most of them, to be honest) when I’m exhausted by all the work and I wonder when the process of metamorphosis will end (or at least slow down).

So, what does 9 1/2 months of language and missions training produce? Well, if you're Lena, you come out sounding like a native. If you're a 46 year old white guy, people say things like, "Don't worry--lots of guys your age struggle!" I’m able to have long conversations in Spanish, go to the store without problems and even have a "firm discussion" with the manager of a store over why he's not allowed to charge me twice for the same purchase. So, I can do a lot, but I can't function as well in Spanish as I can in English--or even Pig Latin. I’m not yet able to understand the evening news in Spanish or to read a book any more difficult than First Grade.

One of the greatest strains of being here is leaving a vocation where you were confident and appreciated, to come to a place where you are incompetent and unknown. But I am well aware of the fact that no one is unknown to God, nor incompetent; and, as Paul said, these light and momentary troubles are nothing compared to the glory that awaits us. (2 Corinthians 4:17) For us, that means both heaven and a glorious work in Peru “which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) All in all, I feel like one of the most blessed people alive. I get the chance to go on an adventure with Jesus, wait in the airport for a year, learn a new language, feel like a nobody and carry the Gospel to a whole new people group. Que Bueno!


Denny said...

I can really identify with your leaving a vocation where you were confident and appreciated, to a place where you are incompetent and unknown.
Coming home from Iraq and going back to school was a lot like that for me.
Hang in there. We are all praying for you guys.

Anonymous said...


We left Costa Rica with a similar feeling. When would we feel competent? When would we be able to answer the question, "Qué hora tiene?" without stumbling all over ourselves? At our graduation, I was happy with my progress but still unsatisfied. And where are we one year later? Well, I'm wrapping up my third class that I've taught solo, and I've even been able from time to time to speak extemporaneously. Kelly as well has progressed by leaps and bounds in this context. Nevertheless, "Qué hora tiene?" still trips us up from time to time.

One year isn't enough to achieve fluency, although some TV language learning tools may claim otherwise. Still, you'll find that your one year will have given you the foundation you needed to function and grow into a competent and confident Spanish speaker.