Ok Blog World: I am truly and deeply sorry that it has been more than a month since I last updated. I have opened up my blog and sat down to type updates on multiple occasions... only to shut my computer with nothing written down. Why can't I put into words what I am feeling here? How could I ever express my experiences in a short blog post? I am feeling limited by my own vocabulary and language. Words cannot describe how I feel about Jaco and the people that I am with here. No update would do justice to the changes in my heart and life, and I am struggling to communicate the depth of love in my heart for the people I have come to know. But I can try.
I'll run through my life here: Wake up and have breakfast around 7:30 - Cooking eggs or having a bowl of cereal and tea in my cute little apartment, looking outside to the sun shining in through the leaves of our mango tree. The team meets for prayer, worship or planning around 8, and it's off to the river for a 9:00 arrival.
My only mode of transportation here is my beautiful blue beach cruiser bike with a basket. While initially I wasn't looking forward to riding my bike every time I had to go somewhere, I am now really enjoying it. Traveling around town isn't all about the destination anymore - it's an adventure any time I need to run an errand, and the "getting there" process is now half the fun. So far I've almost been hit by cars on countless occasions, watched a man pee on the sidewalk, had to stop and wait for horses to cross the street, have carried a surfboard under my arm, and both ridden on the bike bar or had kids ride on it with me!
As I ride my bike down the street that leads into the river, I get more and more excited. The community feels strangely like home to me, and I almost daily wonder if I could live in a place like it long term. There is a unique feel to it that I cannot describe: women sitting on the porches of their homes, rocking babies and talking, chickens pecking among the rocks, children splashing in the dirty river that runs straight through their neighborhood, puppies romping on the banks of the water, teenagers coming and going on rusty bikes... it is nothing like where I come from and yet I am comfortable. On the outside, it doesn't seem appealing. But a closer look at this neighborhood reveals a sense of community that few are fortunate to know, especially in the individualistic society of America that I was raised in. Back home, I don't know my neighbors well. In the river, neighbors are family and care for each others' children, pets and needs. Relationship is a priority, and no one is ever too busy or private to share with the ones around them. Something about it draws me in and makes me wish I had a shack along the river where I could sit and visit with the people who come through every day, watching children and animals play while enjoying the simple yet invaluable pleasures of family and friendship.
As I am pulled into that community daily, I am greeted by children running full-speed, barefoot, across the rocky banks of the river and straight into my arms. I am greeted with "regalos" - gifts - from the kids we work with. They spend their time drawing me pictures and writing me letters, the younger ones sending flowers colored with love and the older ones letting me know with their words that I am special to them. Even after I've received about 13948 drawings from these kids, each one still makes my heart skip a beat as they hand it to me with sincerity and a loving eagerness that I can only hope to return in full.
Each day is different in the "classroom" - or outdoor shelter with tables and some supplies - that we work in every day. Some days it's flooded and we play in the puddles as we spend time sweeping water out and then sliding around on the slippery floor. Other days many kids have homework and we get right down to business on studying and tutoring. Often we'll read Bible stories together or sing songs to our beautiful God. Sometimes we color and draw for the better part of the day, or have an impromptu art lesson. Other times we play UNO and practice numbers, colors and counting. Math practice, English homework, Hangman, Bible verse studies, worship songs, Duck Duck Goose... it's a whirlwind of interactive learning, love and play that is as special to me as it is to the kids. It's hard to be organized sometimes, and difficult to get kids from 2 to 17 years old to all cooperate with one another. Some days I feel discouraged, asking myself how valuable playing really is. I feel driven and an external pressure to be "productive." Then I am reminded of my own childhood, and how the times that stand out are the ones when I was most loved, valued and cherished. I realize that these kids are not seeking productivity or achievement. They are most hungry for love: unconditional, raw, unceasing love that comes from something bigger than myself and that has the power to transform their life.
So instead of focusing on homework or how well the kids are learning what we are striving to teach them, I am relaxing and focusing on hugging the child that looks sad. I am not as much quizzing them on their multiplication tables, but instead on where their heart is at and what they're going through in their homes and families and lives at the moment. Lessons on character and integrity are currently more important than those on English and science.
As important as the kids' education is, and as excited as I am to see them succeeding in and passionate about school, the real value in our working with these kids is the time we get to spend with them and the fruits in both of our lives that I am seeing out of the relationships we've built!
So on with my day... after our time in the river, we come home and make lunch - that is, if the beach isn't looking too pretty to stop off at and admire on the way home. Or if the laundry doesn't need picked up at the strange laundromat, or if we don't need to bike a crate of eggs home from the grocery. The trip could be 5 minutes or 20 minutes, depending on whether or not I run into someone I know on the street and stop to chat for awhile - which happens nearly every day. Afternoons vary depending on whether or not we give in and let the kids come over for the afternoon to play and talk and enjoy cookies and tea. Sometimes errands need run, families need Skyped or naps demand our attention. Bible studies happen once a week, church is on Friday evenings and Sunday mornings, and an eclectic blend of activities and meetings fill the remaining time here.
There is never a dull moment. There are always things to be done – errands to be run, kids to be played with, food to be shared… ministry here is not confined to our schedules or locations, but has expanded to every aspect of our lives. Just this morning I woke up to my girls at the door, asking for water and a haircut. Shortly after, some of the boys stopped by to hang out and talk, turning our “day off” into a new opportunity to continue sharing Christ through our hospitality and relationships. My life here is not as I expected or anticipated. It is far better.