I spent almost 11 months working my butt off to make my dream of moving to San Salvador a reality. Five of those months were spent having meeting after meeting with friends, loved ones and even strangers inviting them to share in my dream and be a part of the imperative crew of people sending me to San Salvador. One of those months was spent at Missionary Training International, learning how to learn Spanish and how to adjust to a new culture (#DifferentIsntWrong). Another one of those months was spent grieving the loss of Plan A – moving to San Salvador on December 23, 2015. The following three months were spent making lemonade (“When life gives you lemons…”) and learning everything I could about Youth Ministry and being in leadership. And the last month was spent trying (and failing) not to cry when I said goodbye to my favorite people and figuring out how to fit nine years of adulthood into three, 70 lbs or less, suitcases.
And now Here I am, in San Salvador, literally living the dream. But this weird thing happened about a week after I got here – living the dream got HARD! I expected learning Spanish to be challenging, but it is one thing to know something will be difficult and it is a completely other thing to walk out that challenge and not give up.
I landed in San Salvador with what I would call “Kitchen Spanish.” Hola amigo! Que tal? Tengo treinta-un años! Donde estas mi pizza? But I figured what everyone told me was true – the best and fastest way to learn any language is by full immersion. And my Salvadoran friends have been super eager to assist in my full immersion program! But from Day One, that was the challenge – being fully immersed in a language I barely know. When I am one-on-one with my bilingual friends, our conversation is easy because we mostly speak in English. But add even one more person, and I feel like I’m living in my own telenovela! This is actually really beneficial though because a large part of learning a new language is simply listening.
But I can only listen for so long before trying to understand every word becomes not only exhausting but impossible. There is definitely a part of myself that has gotten lost in the language. I don’t feel like myself when I am in a group of people. I can’t share my opinion, spit out a funny one liner or contribute to the conversation topic (most likely, I have no clue what the topic of conversation actually is.)
I would guess that 98% of my life in San Salvador is spent in confusion. Just last week, I was in the car with Silvia (the wife of the family I am living with) after our work day at the Children’s Center. Just like every day, we drove to pick up her kids from school. When we got to school, she informed me that we would have to wait about an hour for her son, Victor Raul, to get tutoring. Fine! No hay problema! I can nap in the car! After about an hour, Silvia and I walked into the school to retrieve Victor. He walked back to the car with us, but we didn’t leave right away. Curious… A few minutes later, his teacher joined us in the car! Ooookaaaay….maybe they invited her over for dinner as a thank you! About 10 minutes later, we were in a neighborhood I didn’t recognize. Turns out, we were taking Victor’s teacher home because she lives only a few minutes from our house! This is just one of about 10 days that have included journeys and adventures I had no clue were about to happen!
Not being able to participate in Spanish conversations with a group of people has also had the effect of making me feel really dumb. Thoughts run through my mind like I’m so stupid! I will never learn Spanish! Why can’t I do this?? I have a college degree AND a Master’s degree! I should be able to learn Spanish! It’s like the easiest language in the world! But possibly, and most crushing to my spirit, I feel like everyone around me thinks I’m an idiot too.
Even so, not by my own strength, but by the strength of God, every day, I wake up and tell the family “Buenos días!” During the week, I go to the Children’s Center and ask my new friend, Kevin, “Ya comes? No? Quieres huevos? Siiiii! Y cuántos tortillas? Café con azúcar??” And some days, I even help with math homework! (math AND Spanish?? Si se puede! Yes, we can!) And with God’s Holy Spirit within me, I am learning. Words that escaped my memory, no matter how many times someone told me, are finally sticking. Thanks to the patience of my friends, their willingness to speak slowly, (and hand gestures) I am understanding way more than I can speak.
I am also appreciating this season of listening. In the States, I am so quick to speak and slow to listen. I try really hard to empathize with what people share with me, but many times, how I can relate, and how I feel about their problem and what I am going to say next are the thoughts running through my mind as people open up their hearts to me. So perhaps God has purposely placed me in this challenge as a way to teach me to listen to understand, not to listen and respond.
I also recently found a Spanish teacher! Sarah is one of Victor Raul’s teachers at school, and she was eager to help me learn! We had our first lesson last weekend and it went really well! I am finally learning the alphabet, I learned that English “-tion” words are “-ción” words in Spanish, and I began reading the classic, El Gato con Botas (Puss in Boots)! Sarah is super friendly and willing to help however she can. Just today she messaged me reminding me she is only a text away if I have any questions “sobre español!”
My most important lesson in language learning isn’t that “perrito” is a completely different word from “pedito” (the tongue-roll on those R’s is suuuper important), or that although mostly harmless in English, “estúpido” is really pretty offensive in San Salvador. The most important thing I can learn and must remember is that God has called me to this place and He will give me the tools and abilities to bring glory to His Kingdom. He IS going to use me here. In Spanish. And you know how I know? Because Satan is working overtime to convince me He won’t.
There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.
Philippians 1v6 The Message
This is why I want to learn Spanish. Two days ago, two sweet girls, Lorena and Claudia, called on the name of Christ and trusted Him with their lives! And now what? These girls need someone to walk beside them as they begin to figure out just what it means to walk with Jesus. I believe God has called me to be that person someday soon.