So I think I am going to do a couple of blogs to recap our week in Panama with the Church of Eleven22. Otherwise, this would be one crazy, long blog and everyone would stop reading a third of the way through. We had a phenomenal week serving alongside of this team and are so grateful we had the opportunity to do so. We met awesome people and have many new friends as a result!
I’m going to kick this off with a little story that epitomizes what it means to wing it. We had a huge list of things to get done at the mission this past week. In addition to tackling that list, people could also sign up to go on the feeding program and a few other activities outside the mission. One night, I raised my hand to go to the soup kitchen the following day. I thought it’d be cool to serve children lunch and play with them a bit. There is a church that picks kids up from school and serves them a lunch. When we first got to the church, no one was there except the pastor and a few ladies. The pastor said the kids would be there shortly and to expect about fifty of them. He went on to say we’d all do some singing and dancing before we served the food to the children. Cool. So Gary and the pastor go to start collecting the children in the trucks. I walked around back to check if the ladies needed help preparing the food. They didn’t, but we did talk for several minutes. One of the ladies I was talking with about life said my Spanish was really good. I was feeling pretty good about that. Always nice to get those compliments rather than confused looking people staring blankly back at you when you speak their language.
When the kids start to arrive, me and the four people from the team start mingling with the kids. I always love asking kids how their day at school went. Maybe they have someone at home to ask them that, maybe they don’t. My mom asked me how school went almost every single day of my school going days so it just feels like I should ask kids when I have the chance in case no one ever does ask them. Gary and the pastor had already gone to pick up the next group of kids. The woman in charge comes out and asks what we are going to do. As the only Spanish speaker in the group, I step up and begin to talk to her. I say we are going to dance and sing with them. She says “great, what are you going to sing?” I’m a little taken aback at this point. When we signed up to do the soup kitchen, we thought we were just serving food and hanging out with the kids. The pastor made it seem like we would just join in whatever dancing and singing they were going to do with the kids. So I explain that we don’t have anything prepared. We thought we were singing along with whatever they normally do with the kids. I told her I only know two or three children’s church songs in Spanish and the other Gringos with me don’t know any. By saying that, I was hoping she would realize that we weren’t really equipped for this and they should probably do what they would have done without us there. She actually went the opposite direction with that and said “OK, sing those songs with the kids.”
I need to be really honest and up front with you all right now. My number one fear in life is singing solo in front of people. Forget spiders or heights. I don’t even mind speaking in front of large groups. But singing by myself is utterly terrifying to me. I need at minimum four or five other people to be singing with me. As I said, the other Gringos didn’t know the song I was about to sing. I asked them if they wanted me to try and teach it to them real fast while the woman was explaining who we were to the kids. As a last ditch effort, they said sure. I flew through the verses and motions all the while knowing there wasn’t a prayers chance that they would have actually been able to pick up a song in a foreign language that fast. Again, on my own here in front of 60+ kids and adults waiting for me to start doing something. The woman tries to hand me the mic. Ha. I said no thanks, I don’t like using the mic. It seemed as though the mic might have made it more real that I was about to start singing by myself in front of all these people. There was no bailing out at this point. I feel like this might have been the moment where God just busted out laughing watching this situation unfold. If anyone had said beforehand that when you sign up for soup kitchen, you need to prepare some songs, skits, or something to do in front of the kids, I would have been slightly hesitant. And then knowing I was one of very few Spanish speakers in this group who would be put on the spot to perform relatively solo, I would have been like heck no, see ya later! I’ll go put the millionth coat of primer on the casita instead, have fun! Sometimes, it turns out really interesting when God doesn’t give you the chance to bail.
After I finished singing an old VBS song that I knew with them, I notice Gary and the pastor are back. I walk over and tell him that we were supposed to have something prepared so what should we do next. Gary suggests we act out David and Goliath for the kids in Spanish. Oh man. Ain’t no way that is about to happen when we didn’t bring anything with us to do such a thing. Finally, Gary explains to the pastor that we didn’t know that we were supposed to prepare something and that we’d come back tomorrow prepared. The pastor and women in charge then went on to sing a few songs with the children.
We get ready to start serving the food and I am thinking, thank God… absolutely no more singing on anyone’s part. My part because of the risk of passing out. The woman in charge’s part because screaming into the mic probably isn’t a good thing for everyone’s future ability to hear. Make a joyful noise, yes I know, but it was better for everyone that we went onto the serving of the food. But first, Gary calls me up front where he is standing there with the pastor and a mic in his hand. I’m thinking the pastor is about to bless the food or something. Instead, Gary tells me that the pastor would like him to say a few words and he needs me to translate. Alright people, here’s my second greatest fear… translating into Spanish in front of large groups of people. One on one is no big deal, even translating for a small crowd. But there is nothing worse (besides singing solo) than facing a room full of people who speak Spanish and knowing you are probably about to butcher the language significantly in front of them all. I told Gary he better use simple words and that I would let him know if he needed to reword what he was trying to say. Apparently simple words somehow means multiple verb tenses and what not, but it turns out that the translating part went fine. They got the gist of what I was saying.
In any event, they had prepared arroz con pollo for the kids. As fast as they could scoop it onto plates, we were passing it out. For the drinks, they had a fair amount of cups but then started using old yogurt containers when they ran out. Finally, there were about a dozen kids who had yet to be served. The woman makes an announcement that when they finished their food, bring the plate back up so the next kids in line could eat. Afterwards, we stuck around for a bit to kick a soccer ball around and play some.
Sometimes, events like this take time before you look back and think about how funny it actually was. Luckily, I found the humor in all this that same day. I came back to the mission that afternoon and was telling Andrew about it, laughing the whole way through the story. I actually was thinking later on about the movie Wedding Crashers where Vince Vaughn’s character is talking about his dancing skills. He says “Why’d I have to go showin’ off like that? Now I’m all over his radar. Stupid.” It makes me laugh out loud when I liken it to my Spanish skills that day. I was feeling really good about myself when that woman told me my Spanish was so good. And man, did it put me on the radar to be the one to get up in front of everybody like that! Occasionally, it’s worth facing your fears… like your two biggest fears within a 30 minute time period. But it’s all good!