This past summer, I volunteered with my church’s Vacation Bible School for 5th and 6th graders. My family and I do this every year; everyone who is too old to attend as a student teaches a class. I had always worked with smaller kids, second grade and younger, but this year I was ready for a change. I wanted to get deeper into the Bible with kids who could understand more.
They kept up, all right. The boys were rowdy and mostly refused to respect me or the other leaders, but the girls in my little group of ten were almost exactly what I had pictured—fun but ready to listen and learn… except for one. She came with her older sister, who served as her translator—she didn’t speak much English. Quickly figuring that their mother wanted the girl (we’ll call her “Mia”) to learn English by being around people who spoke the language, I went on about my business, welcoming the girls and shepherding them over to the rest of the group for recreation time. They stuck tightly together, interacting with the other kids as little as possible. Between them and the gaggle of restless boys, after just two days, I was starting to wonder how I was going to make it to the end of the week.
Then, Wednesday dawned, hot and sunny as you’d expect from a June day in Texas. I had to lead my biggest group yet, and they, like their peers, all wanted snacks halfway through the morning. As the leaders were preparing the day’s offerings, I overheard someone ask Mia if she spoke Spanish, to which she replied a simple, “Yes.” That caught my attention; she hadn’t spoken enough for me to discern her accent before, but now I knew we had a connection that no one else in the group had. I had finished the last of four semesters of college-level Spanish just a few weeks before; I could speak her language, however minimally.
Shortly after this, as I was wrestling to keep the bowl of Goldfish crackers from being inhaled by the boys before the girls got any, one of the ladies in charge of snacks for the smaller kids came in with more food. The youth pastor came up to me a few minutes later and asked if the woman was my mother. “No,” I said, explaining that my mom was home with my baby brother. Then, as the pastor walked away, just to see what happened, I muttered quietly, “Mi madre está en mi casa.”
Mia’s head snapped up, her dark brown eyes wide as the Gulf of Mexico, and she said, “What?!”
Suddenly, I wondered if I had said something wrong; just because I had finished four semesters doesn’t mean I was very good at Spanish. I hesitantly repeated myself and then asked, in English, “Did I say it right?” After translation, Mia’s face lit up in a huge smile, and she nodded with an excited, “Yes!” I made a show out of how glad I was that I had spoken a sentence in Spanish without help, and she just kept smiling and laughing.
When small-group time rolled around, my instructions were to go over the Roman Road with the kids, and I decided to let them look up the verses in their own Bibles. Mia’s Bible was written in Spanish, of course. I asked her to read her Spanish version of Romans 6:23 after the English version had been read. She was hesitant, but she agreed. By the time she was done, even the boys had stopped roughhousing to listen, and she was smiling. She later volunteered to read a longer passage (Romans 5:8-11). It was the quietest and most attentive moment my group had all week; they even applauded when she was done. Mia spent the rest of the week trying to join the others and talking to me as well as she could. My sister, who was in another group, said she could see a drastic change in Mia’s behavior.
I tell this story because it taught me two big things.
One: those two years of Spanish seemed awfully pointless when I was in the midst of them (I was working on an English degree at the time), but if that week was the only reason I was in those two years of classes, then I am satisfied. The most “pointless” part of my degree plan has already made a potentially huge difference in someone’s life. That is as good a reminder as any that nothing we do is pointless; every step that we take is part of a greater plan, and the results of that plan are greater than we sometimes realize.
Two: Mia and I, as two completely different people—child and adult, American and Hispanic—were both willing to step out of our comfort zones that day, and we both grew from that experience. When we follow the Holy Spirit’s leading, no matter where it takes us or how much we might potentially embarrass ourselves, we will be better off in the end.
Those Spanish classes were out of my comfort zone and beyond what I thought was the scope of my life plan, yet I was able to use it to help an out-of-place, intimidated little girl find her way a little closer to Jesus. The value in shattering cultural barriers like that is something that can be not only felt, but sometimes counted.
So, next time you’re faced with something you don’t want to do, whether it seems pointless or impossible, go for it. You never know how the Lord might use you.
Written by Catherine
Image credit: Catherine Anderson. “A sketch of me done by one of my other students. Yes, she was drawing during Bible study time, but can you blame me for being flattered?“