The Purpose

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?

“Around the World in 80 Days” in One Afternoon

One of the best ways to relax after a long day of class is to read a good book, and Around the World in 80 Days is a delightful way to see the world from the comfort of your own home. Written by Jules Verne, this work has been beloved by many ever since its original publication in 1873. So here are a few quick reasons why you should definitely check it out:

Nostalgia. If reading Around the World doesn’t bring you back to your childhood love of adventure and imagination, I don’t know what will. Follow the stuffy, indubitably British Phileas Fogg as he bets his club members that he can travel all the way around the world within precisely eighty days. Joining Mr. Fogg are his French manservant, Passepartout, and a dogged but at times misguided agent of Scotland Yard.

It’s short. Clocking in at 159 pages, Verne portrays an infinitely charming and intriguing story without overwhelming the reader. You can knock it out in an evening or two!

Adventure. Duh. How can you say no to travel, especially on such glorious sources of transportation such as elephants and wind-powered sledges, or merry chases involving Sioux Indians, India Indians, angry Japanese circus masters, and a stuffy British detective? You can’t, I tell you.

Jules Verne’s one-liners. “Moreover, it is safe to say that, when Americans, so casual as a rule, show signs of caution, it would be the height of folly not to be cautious too.” Or “Passepartout stuck on the animal’s back and, receiving directly the full force of every jolt, was all the time trying to remember his master’s recommendation and to keep his tongue from getting between his teeth, as in that position it would have been bitten in two.”  Verne’s dry sense of humor gets better and better.

Delightful stereotypes. The antics of a certain hot-blooded Frenchman contrasted with cool, calm, and collected Phileas Fogg are incredibly entertaining, and the ensuing chaos from such a decided clash of cultures is hilarious. (Sidenote: is there anything Passepartout can’t do?)

Also: how do you pronounce “Passepartout,” you ask?

…Good question.

Phileas Fogg’s thought processes. “Oh, you don’t believe I can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days, old chap? Allow me to bet my entire fortune on the fact that I can, and knowing you have nothing better to do with your life and your money, you’ll take my bet.” He is literally surprised at nothing; unless of course his latest manservant in a long line of manservants brings his shaving water to him at 82 degrees instead of 84 – truly shocking.

Finally, Verne’s love for travel, technology, and other cultures comes to life in such a delightful and humorous way that one can’t help but laugh, smile, and go along for the ride. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Written by Carilee

Image credit: Featured Image, Middle Image

Goldfish and Sea Turtles

Today, I want to tell you about one of the most wonderful weeks of my life; but first, you’ll need a little background. As a child, I grew up a missionary kid (MK) in the country of Brazil. If this sounds awesome to you, congratulations. You are correct; it was. Nonetheless, my family and I moved back to America when I was in the eighth grade, right in the middle of Justin Beiber’s heyday. As you might imagine, it was a really tough transition and I’ve never been the same. To this day, I struggle fitting in with American culture. Consequently, I jump at any opportunity to visit Brazil and did just that last November. I was thrilled to help lead a camp for some of the MKs currently residing in Brazil, and it was an absolute blast. Camp was in the city of Florianópolis, Santa Catarina, which is a beautiful island off the southeastern coast. It was fun, exciting, and nostalgic for me because I remember participating in the very same camp over eight years ago. I led camp for the teenagers, along with some help from a few college students who were short term missionaries. In the morning we had Bible lessons, activities, and crafts, and in the afternoon we went swimming, went to the beach, or played games outside. Since November is summertime in Brazil, we spent a lot of time outdoors at the beach and at the pool.  During the Bible lessons, I created some challenges for the kids where they could win prizes from a snack box, and let me tell you – they were very competitive! One of my favorite things about the trip was bringing them American gifts and snacks that they missed. Some of the most requested items were Snickers candy bars, Cheeze-Its, Goldfish, fruit snacks, Kit Kats, Reeses, and Rice Krispy Treats. It’s amazing how simple things that Americans often take for granted bring so much joy to MKs.

One of the hardest things about being a missionary kid is the tremendous amount of responsibility you are faced with at very early age. Being constantly concerned about safety, not attracting too much attention as a foreigner (even though you may not feel like a foreigner because of how well you’ve adjusted), and experiencing firsthand the kind of sacrifice that Jesus asks of us to “go and make disciples of all nations” are just a few of the challenges missionary kids face. Having a week of relaxation at camp where you get to be a kid again and also speak English is really important to MKs.  Our main goal was to encourage and bless them, and I think we succeeded. They had a whole lot of fun and went home encouraged and refreshed. Their joyful attitudes were convicting and yet encouraging to me, and I’m confident that I learned more from them than they did from me! I was reminded once again how blessed I am, not only to live in a country like America, but to have been an MK in Brazil. I really miss living in Brazil, and so it was absolutely wonderful for me to return and serve.

After the first week, my friends showed me around Florianópolis. Since the city is on an island, I got to participate in typical beach culture activities. I went sand boarding for the first time (essentially snowboarding down a sand dune bigger than a two-story house), which was totally awesome but terrifying. And you can bet your life that I spent many, many hours at the beach swimming, riding the waves, and hanging out with friends. Also, I now have a great, albeit humiliating, story about falling flat on my face right in front a super attractive Brazilian lifeguard. Then, I played this game called how-much-seafood-is-it-humanly-possible-to-eat-before-I-have-to-leave. (Side note: I think I won.)  Although I didn’t get to hike through the jungle-covered mountains, I did get a lot of good pictures of monkeys and sea turtles. There is an incredible wildlife organization in Florianópolis called Projeto Tamar that helps protect endangered sea turtles, and visiting it was possibly one of the neatest things I have ever experienced.

SEA TURTLE OMG

I know that traveling is hard as a college student because, hello, college students usually don’t have an overabundance of cash. But really, if you get a chance, step outside your comfort zone. Go somewhere new. Experience different cultures. Take lots of photos. There is no better time to explore the world than right now, because the quantity and quality of responsibility usually grows exponentially with age. I hope you take advantage of opportunities to see the world through a new cultural lens. I promise you will be a better person for it, and you’ll have those memories for the rest of your life.

Written by Carilee

Photo credits: Carilee Fore