Thursday, November 21, 2019

We'll have to miss breakfast!

On our first day in Bogotá, we learned that at six the next morning, we’d take a taxi to Villavicencio, a three-hour trip through the legendary Andes Mountains. From there we’d take a thirty-minute flight to our new home, Lomalinda.

The snowcapped Andes Mountains (in public domain)
Loren and Laura Rush and their son, Doug, were to join us. When Loren heard we’d leave at six, he groaned. “We’ll have to miss breakfast!”

Laura shushed him with a smile. “None of us would want to eat breakfast anyway.”

Her words puzzled me. What does she mean? I never miss breakfast.

As they turned to leave, Laura called out to us, “Wear lots of layers tomorrow. It’ll be cold when we leave, but you’ll peel off layers as we get closer to Lomalinda.

“And don’t forget plastic bags.”

“Plastic bags?”

“Right. Most people get carsick on the drive through the mountains.”

Ah, that was a good reason to miss breakfast.

I fell into a cold, lumpy bed that night, wondering about the next day. All I knew was this: We had no idea what awaited us. (Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go, Chapter 4)

Thursday, November 14, 2019

“We never eat fish,” they told me

I made a big clumsy blunder on our very first day in Colombia.

Let me tell you about it. It happened after, as I told you last week, Dick Inlow offered to hail a taxi and send us to a restaurant for lunch. We were grateful for his help—we were hungry.

While we were climbing in, Dick said, “I gave the driver directions to Crem Helado—that means Ice Cream. It’s just like a hamburger joint in the U.S.”

Another couple joined us. I’ll call them Joe and Liz Johnson. We had met them in July at the pre-field orientation in Dallas and they, like our family, had arrived in Bogotá that morning.

And with that, the six of us very green, very gringo newcomers set out on our first adventure—on our own. It was comforting to have Joe and Liz with us.

Cars sped by spewing black exhaust. Some models brought back childhood memories—I spotted one like my grandfather had driven when I was a little kid.

Our taxi surged in and out of traffic and screeched around corners. We braced ourselves as cars pushed through traffic in every direction, and no one appeared to have the right-of-way.

When the driver halted in front of Crem Helado, he asked for more pesos than the meter registered but, since we couldn’t understand his explanation for the added charge, we shrugged and paid it.

Inside, the restaurant vaguely resembled a North American restaurant, as Dick had described it, but the six of us had no doubt we’d stepped into an alien culture. People spoke a foreign language. The furnishings didn’t look like those of any hamburger joint I’d ever seen—they looked foreign. The place even smelled foreign.

We sat down and picked up our menus, and then Liz gave a nervous little giggle. “We don’t speak Spanish,” she whispered. “Could you order for us?”

“Oh, sure,” I said, my stomach knotting at the thought. My mind went back to ninth grade Spanish class. How many times had my classmates and I acted out restaurant scenes? We’d ordered all kinds of food, but could I remember anything?

My eyes darted across the menu. I spotted a few familiar words—pescado, and jamón, and something about bif. “We have a choice of fish, ham, or beef,” I told the others.

“We never eat fish,” Liz said. “We’ll take the beef.” Dave, Matt, and Karen told me they wanted ham.

The time had come to place our order. In my best Spanish, I ordered bif for the Johnsons and jamón for the rest of us. Relief rushed over me when my job came to an end.

But—oh, no—I wasn’t finished! The waiter asked what we wanted to drink. I was tempted to say, "Agua, por favor," but we’d received a warning the water would make us sick. I skimmed the menu but didn’t recognize anything.

The waiter hovered.

My face burned, my heart throbbed in my ears—but then a familiar name jumped off the page: Ginger Ale. With a zeal the waiter couldn’t likely understand, I ordered six Ginger Ales. He sauntered away, laughing.

Despite the waiter’s taunting, I felt good about pushing through that challenge. I’d done it! “Whew!” I said.

I thought I’d ordered lunch in a rather admirable manner for the six of us, but when our orders came, I discovered life had thrown me a curveball. The Johnsons got pescado—fish. The waiter hadn’t understood my Spanish.

But Liz and Joe ate their fish without grumbling. Bless their hearts.

Flustered, I concentrated on my lunch, muttering silently, You sure messed up the Johnsons’ lunch. Bewildered, I thought about how hard I’d tried—but failed. The experience was humbling—bruising.

Despite my hunger, unusual odors and flavors made my stomach lurch. I downed my strange-smelling ham anyway, and the fries, lettuce, tomato, and Ginger Ale.

Wendy L. Macdonald’s words offer perspective for such days, learned as she drove through dense fog one evening, stressed and scared. Dark, dense fog is an apt illustration for what I felt myself in at that restaurant in that foreign culture.

Wendy reminds us that when we’re doing God’s will—like, in my family’s case, moving to South America—God “places us in a position of provision. . . . As long as we . . . trust His path for us, He makes a way for us in the foggy wilderness He asked us to wander through.

“Where God guides us is where God provides for us. . . . Because where we’re led is where we’re fed.”

She reminds us of God’s bracing words in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness” (The Message).

There in that foreign restaurant,
I had just experienced those very words, 
and God’s grace, and His provision.

Wendy also reminds us that “the faith journey requires us to slow down and be still before God. We’ll crash if we drive too fast.”

She continues, “I’m to simply inch forward, to trust Him to give me what I need when I need it. Of course I don’t feel strong enough—I’m not. But He is, and He is faithful to lead and feed. . . .”

And somewhere deep in my wobbly heart
and my dazed, jet-lagged brain,
I recognized I’d just experienced a learning opportunity.

I could give myself permission 
to slow down in my quest to adjust to a new culture 
and a foreign language.

I could give myself permission 
to look forward to another day 
when I’d have another chance to do a better job—
with God’s help.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

I was a stranger and you welcomed me

Our new colleagues welcomed us to Colombia in such lovely ways—not in showy ways but in sincere, generous, thoughtful ways. To this day I’m still touched by their welcome and the ways God blessed, provided, and protected us through them.

It started with Bill Nyman’s welcome on the morning our jet began its descent toward the Bogotá airport. I wrote this in Chapter 3:

My stomach knotted. What would happen when we went through customs? I’d studied Spanish for three years, but Dave knew little more than adiós. I’d have the job of listening, comprehending, and communicating. Would I understand the officials? Could I speak back to them? 
The Aerocondor touched down and, as we taxied toward the terminal, I spotted a man in a suit standing outside the building and watching the plane. Something made him look like an American. My heart skipped a little beat at the possibility. 
With Karen’s hand in mine and Matt’s hand in Dave’s, we headed toward the door, clunked down the steps, and followed the crowd toward the terminal entrance—and our future. The man in the suit stepped forward, smiling. “You must be Dave and Linda Thomas.” 
“Yes!” I answered with excessive enthusiasm. At that moment he looked like an angel. I’ll forever be grateful to Bill Nyman for helping us navigate through a crowd of officials in customs and immigration. He knew what to do and where to go, guiding us to the right places at the right times, speaking fluent Spanish.
Along the way, he cautioned Dave, “Carry your wallet in your front pocket. We have lots of pickpockets. Actually, I don’t use a wallet at all. I just put cash in my front pocket.” He paused. “And push your watch under your sleeve. If you don’t, thieves will snatch it off your wrist.”  
We lugged suitcases, footlocker, duffle bag, and carry-ons through airport doors and into bright sunshine while Bill scanned a selection of taxis—various colors and makes and years, and the drivers as diverse as their vehicles. “That,” he motioned toward a dilapidated microbus, “will be good for you, considering all the luggage you have.”  
He spoke to boys nearby and they tossed our bags on top of the van. From somewhere they produced straps and ropes. Wrapping and tossing and tugging and knotting, they fastened the load.  
Bill told us how many pesos to tip each boy and gave the address to our driver. We piled into the rickety van and began our journey. Bill followed in [his] Volkswagen Beetle, waving to us. . . . We waved back.  
My grasp of Spanish had been miserably inadequate in the airport. Colombians spoke so fast that I couldn’t understand them. I shuddered to think what that experience would’ve been like without Bill. (Chapter 3, Please, God, Don’t MakeMe Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir)

Let me repeat that. I shuddered to think what that experience would have been like without Bill. It could have been a nightmare. God bless him! We were strangers and Bill welcomed us.

And I’ve always remembered the sweet, unexpected welcome Dave and the kids and I received when we first stepped out of the taxi in front of the Bogotá guest house. I wrote:

The front door burst open and grinning strangers poured out in a line, their greetings so warm that I thought they’d mistaken us for someone they already knew. But I was wrong—they knew our names, and they were expecting us. When I realized their sincerity, I fought tears. (Chapter 3)

I especially remember Lynne and Lee Henriksen’s big smiles and friendly conversation. I’m pretty sure Mel Grant was there, too, and some of the Kindberg family. We were strangers and they welcomed us.

Our new colleagues . . . ushered us inside the guest house. . . . Someone led us to a small room upstairs. Only later did we hear Richard and Gladys Janssen had moved out to let us use their bedroom. They’d also moved in a bed for Matt and Karen and, knowing how tired we must have been, they urged us to take a nap. (Chapter 4).

I’ve always wondered where (and on what) Rich and Gladys slept that night. The guest house was full. Did they sleep on a sofa? In a chair? I hope not. Bless their hearts for the sacrifices they made. We were strangers and Rich and Gladys welcomed us.

After our naps, the guest house manager, Dick Inlow, suggested we . . . go out for lunch. Outside on the sidewalk, Dick hailed a taxi. He spoke briefly to the driver in Spanish, but I couldn’t catch enough to understand. 
While we were climbing in, Dick said, “Sorry I can’t join you. I have a dental appointment.” What? “Don’t worry,” he said. “I gave the driver directions to Crem Helado—that means Ice Cream. It’s just like a hamburger joint in the U.S.”

After we'd eaten our lunch,

Dick stepped into the restaurant, helped us pay our bill, and then suggested we walk around the neighborhood. . . . Strolling toward a corner in a quiet area, I stepped into the crosswalk, vaguely aware of an approaching car half a block away. I was taking my time sauntering across when, from behind, Dick grabbed my arm and pushed me across the street. As the car sped by, he warned, “Remember—in Colombia, pedestrians have no rights!” I’d never heard of such a thing. (Chapter 4)

Knowing we needed lunch, Dick had hailed a taxi for us, helped us pay our bill, introduced us to a Bogotá neighborhood, and prevented me from getting hit by a car! We were hungry and he helped us find food. We were strangers and Dick welcomed us.

But our new colleagues were not yet finished with their kindnesses.

Around five in the afternoon, one of our morning welcoming committee, Lee Henriksen, asked if we had food for supper. We didn’t, but we were getting hungry. He smiled and said, “I know where to get fresh sandwiches.” He led us down the sidewalk, around the corner, and then he ducked into a space smaller than an undersized bedroom. 
Hundreds of items sat wedged on shelves and in cubby holes. The store was so small that Lee, Dave, and I couldn’t stand inside at the same time. Lee, serving as our translator, gave our order to the little man behind the counter. He even helped Dave count his pesos. That evening, our family enjoyed ham and cheese sandwiches on delicious fresh rolls. (Chapter 4, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir)

How thoughtful and helpful Lee was. We were hungry and he helped us find food. We were strangers and Lee welcomed us.

“I was hungry and you gave me food. . . .
I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
Matthew 25:35, RSV

Noticing the good stuff, finding the joy

I began to notice more good stuff going on in Lomalinda .     God was offeri ng me new opportunities. He was offering me a new perspectiv...