Monday, April 02, 2007

I am far from being fluent in speaking Spanish. I have found that I understand more than I can speak, but not always enough to get by. Perhaps it is normal to be able to comprehend more at times than others, but I have found that for me to be able to speak and understand the best, it is better if I am one on one.

There are many opportunities to try and speak the language when you are in a Latin-American country. Sometimes the pressure is greater than others. When you are trying to tell the store clerk what you want and there is a line behind you, it can be intimidating. Suddenly, your amazing (self-perceived) ability to speak and understand Spanish goes out the window. The words don't make any sense, and it's like they're speaking a foreign language. The incredible accent you have developed suddenly gets stepped on by clumsy teeth, and they look at you with an embarrassed posture, and begin to say words you've never heard before.

Confidence is the first thing to go. The phrase "stupid American" is the first phrase to come (at least in my mind). I really want to be able to talk to these people. I took two years of the language way back in high school. I should be better.

One of my problems, according to my friend Sam, is that in school I was taught not to mess up. If I said something wrong, I was penalized for it. This is not true in Spanish speaking countries. The people are very willing to help you with mis-pronounced words, or poor grammar. They may laugh at you, and think you are pretty funny, but they help you. The help I got in school was a letter grade lower if I didn't enunciate properly. It made me not want to try.

When I was right out of college, I moved to Houston for my first job. I was in the landscaping field, and all of my crew were from Mexico. They did not know any English. Those two years of groaning in school about never using these language skills after graduation went right out the window.

My (lack of) skill was immediately pressed into service. Unfortunately, my crew thought it was funny to teach me words that didn't mean what they told me. I ended up with my size 10 American foot in my mouth on more than one occasion. I had to be careful.

I learned when I said things to them at what should have been appropriate times for what they taught me, but would quickly see their posture stiffen and realize I had insulted them. It was never intentional. I was trying to follow what they taught...they stopped doing that. They didn't think it was funny after I used my new words on them.

The church where we stayed, La Primera Iglesia Bautista (in Nuevo Laredo) has a black wrought iron fence in front of it with a flat edge on top. It is not unusual to find church members standing at the fence leaning on it looking out into the community. Some talk, some pray, some just spend time alone.

I took advantage of this time to get alone with Pastor Sergio, or Sirvando or one of the other nationals who were patient with me and my amazing linguistic skills.

The sidewalks near the church are always busy. People coming and going. People set up a small businesses nearby from vendor carts they could roll back home at the end of the day. It is a busy area. The smell of meat, cheese, tortillas and jalapenos fill the air

For some reason, this is a place of peace for me. I can stand against that rail and speak the best Spanish of my life. I am understood, and I can also understand what is being said to me. If I slip up or have a question, I am quickly given encouragement, not rebuke. You don't lose letter grades in life for trying to communicate with the people the Lord uses to break your heart.

When I stood at that fence, I felt like I knew the language. I felt like I understood every word spoken to me. It was an incredible feeling. I started trying to figure out how to take that black wrought iron blockade with me, so I could talk to everyone the Lord moved in my heart to share with.

I knew it was foolish to think that way, but for some reason it seemed to make sense. Trying to talk when the pressure was off, when others weren't listening, when the days activities were mostly done, that was the time I could really engage and understand. I made real progress at that place.

It is very apparent to me that sometimes I need that fence to be able to talk to my Savior as well. I have trouble hearing from Him when things are so crazy and loud. I find myself not comprehending from His Word what He wants me to get.

I'm in too big of a hurry, and feel too much pressure from the upcoming day or events. He just wants me to slow down, meet Him at the fence and visit with Him. No pressure, just two friends sharing ideas, and extending love.

I used to watch my son do that back in Carmel (Indiana). He would stand at the fence and carry on long conversations with the neighbor girl. We teased them about solving life's problems. In some respects, they did. They learned to share with each other when things were tough, or when things were amazing.

Their relationship was not taxed by time, or the push of schedules. They just invested in each other. They made an effort to share.

That is what the Lord wants from us. We need to meet Him at the fence, and have a conversation, engage in a time of sharing that is mutually beneficial. There won't be any letter grade reductions here either. Just the unconditional love of the truest of Friends.

He might even teach us something. Of course, we'll have to get off of the fence to apply it.



At 9:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I reember Sergio so very clearly. It was at his church that he had someone from the congregation pray over each of us on the Christmas team. His daughter prayed for me and he called Philipito a great, great man. Which he is, of course.
Oh, how I am ready to go.

At 5:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey there, I know how intimidating it can be to speak a foreign language. i've been there a thousand times in English but it gets way better in time. I'm quite fluent but i still understand way way more than i can say. Keep working on it and it'll get better!


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