I am a child of God who is an ambassador for Christ. Born in Texas, my birthplace was a significant part of my identity when I was young. When I moved back to Texas as an adult after living in eight states and traveling to eight countries I realized that my heart had grown in a way that I felt most at home around people who lived in Texas but were from other cultures. I had developed a multicultural heart full of all of the cultures of people I had grown to love. I related best to people who understood a connection to more than one culture. For example, when visiting a local Spanish-speaking church in Texas, I found connection with a group of prayer warriors who prayed each Wednesday evening.
Spanish is my second language and when given the opportunity to speak it with native speakers it unlocks a joy within me, especially when speaking about the Word of God, singing praises, praying with others to God. It accesses a part of me that is tied to memories of travel and people who have shown me kindness and care who I love with the love of Jesus.
From 2002 to 2008, I had the opportunity to travel to Honduras, Chile, Spain, Peru, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Honduras and Mexico by plane, and I have "traveled" to many other countries from around the world such as Turkmenistan, Japan and Iran within my own neighborhood as I get to know my neighbors one conversation at a time.
My first few trips out of the country were to Honduras. There, I visited colorful schoolrooms with windows that opened to the outside. Children were well-behaved and "cariñosos," caring. They often walked to school from their homes, met by their teacher on the way up the hill to their classroom. Inside, there were smiles and eager minds to learn; however, there were limited supplies in the schools for reading and writing. Few children had books in their own homes to read. My prayer is that the books that I write will be a resource that mission groups can take to children as a gift and as a way to connect with children there, learning words in Spanish and teaching them a few words in English as together they seek the heart of God.
During my first trip to Honduras, I also walked with local evangelists outside homes that were just a one room shack with several family members sitting outside. The evangelists would greet the family and ask them if they would like to study the Bible. I soaked in this new experience of how laid back and open these families were to stopping what they were doing and having a conversation or study about the Word of God. I also loved worshipi
ng with the church in Honduras and discovered for the first time the joy of worshiping the Lord in Spanish. One big cultural observation I made was that church members greeted every person there, looking one another in the eyes. Women greeted with a kiss to the side of cheek and men typically greeted with a handshake.
On one of my trips to Honduras, I stayed with a family from a church in Honduras. The daughter of the family turned six while I was there. At one point I remember we were sitting in the church before service and a group walked in from the U.S. that had just arrived. My little Honduran sister said, "¡Mira, gringos!"- "Look, gringos (respectful term for foreigners with light skin)." A "gringa" myself, I smiled and realized she was talking to me like family rather than considering me a part of this group from the U.S. I had formed a connection in a way that I felt grafted in and part "hondureña" that week.
Another part of my heart is "venezolana." I traveled to Venezuela in 2004 during college. To prepare for this trip, I took a class on how to share the gospel in Spanish. It was also a joy that semester to join with other students from Mexico, Central America and the United State for worship in Spanish. I learned many worship songs in Spanish that I still sing today and a few of which I included in my first devotional book, Sing with Creation-Canta con la Creación.
The trip to Venezuela was one of the most formative of my life in giving me opportunity to learn how to speak in Spanish and share my faith. There, we would meet people on the streets of Barinas, Venezuela who were selling items like jewelry or cell phones or in a park spending time with friends, and they would allow us to set up a time to study the Bible in Spanish with them. One of the people we met was Deissy (far right in the photo above).
Deissy was 17 when we met her, and she was eager to study the Word and come to the worship with us. My most memorable time in Venezuela was singing "He decidido seguir a Cristo," "I have decided to follow Jesus," beside a river where Deissy gave her life to Christ in baptism. Fast forward over a decade, there have been so many times when I hear from Deissy via Facebook messenger when I believe God knew I needed to be reminded of His goodness, His faithfulness and His purpose for my life. I am so thankful for Deissy's friendship. Today she continues serving in the church in Venezuela with her husband and two children. Her oldest son recorded a verse in my audiobook, and I illustrated him on the front cover with the national bird of Venezuela over him. They are definitely a part of my multicultural heart!
In 2004 in the fall, I traveled to Chile for a semester abroad in Chile with students from Harding University. The diverse landscape in Chile of mountains, desert, ocean, glaciers
and lakes is amazing and spending time in nature felt like walking into God's greatest masterpieces.
We had the opportunity to be a part of the Chilean independence day festivities and see some of the traditional outfits, such as the huaso, or cowboy that this young boy is wearing.
We also had the opportunity to worship with the church in Viña del Mar a few Sundays when we were not traveling. My favorite memory was learning the song "Da una Sonrisa" from young girls from the church who
sang this song with such joy. The song is included in my book Sing with Creation/Canta con la Creación. The devotional with this song was inspired by this photo I took during this semester in the mountains of Peru. During our trip to Chile, we flew to Cuzco, Peru and drove through the Andes mountains. We stopped along the road to buy items mostly made out of an alpaca's coat. There I took this picture of children helping to sell items. The young girl in the photo had a far off look of concern. Ever since I took that picture I have thought of wanting to bring joy to this child and see a smile on her face. So, one day the Lord gave me an idea, and I drew her with joy singing, "Da una Sonrisa," or "Smile!" Click on her picture or here to see a preview of this devotional in my book!
One semester in college, I lived with students from Panama, Mexico and Costa Rica. They are some of the hardest working students and most organized people I have ever met who were full of laughter and fun. My roommate from Costa Rica taught me about Costa Rican expressions and dialect. I picked up on the Costa Rican way of saying the "ll"/"y" so I still sometimes pronounce it that way. Rather than pronouncing the "ll" like a "y" like in many countries, the Costa Ricans, or "ticos" make a sound like a vibrating "j/z" sound. I also love their expression, "pura vida" for describing something as "cool, beautiful, amazing, etc."
Costa Rica is a place in my heart's memories of adventure of going ziplining with "monos," or monkeys in the trees around us and horseback riding on the beach with my friend pictured here who grew up in Mexico and also loves to travel.
In 2006, I visited my friend from Mexico from college with another friend. I was grateful for the opportunity to travel to D.F. (Distrito Federal-the capital of Mexico) and Toluca, Mexico to experience the culture there for a week. My friend from college helped us to get to know the capital and her hometown of Toluca. She is someone who helped me a lot with improving my speaking in Spanish. I started studying Spanish in 7th grade and majored in it in college, but the speaking came through practice with native speakers who were gracious and patient with me. I have found that my friends were kind enough to laugh along with me if I said something wrong that sounded funny. I was eager to learn and grow, and I am grateful for people in the U.S. and abroad who have helped me to grow in my speaking.
My heart is full of care for many friends from Mexico, most of whom I met in the U.S. I have wonderful memories of spending time with families from Mexico studying the Bible, worshiping in Spanish, teaching English as a second language at church, being a part of family birthday parties, New Year's Eve celebration, celebrating las Posadas and la Navidad with pozole and ponche, making arroz con vegetales and more.
Over the years, I also have had the blessing of living with a few friends from Mexico and getting to know their love for family, amazing organization, and most notably their joy and laughter.
Another experience that helped me grow in my speaking in Spanish was a 5 week study in Spain taking graduate classes at
La Universidad de Salamanca. My professors were kind, and I learned so much from them about Spanish grammar, history and literature. Listening to native Spaniards teach and being immersed in the language all day for a month grew my comprehension and speaking significantly. A couple of expressions that I love using that I learned in Spain are "¡Qué guay!" for "How cool!" and "Vale" for "okay."
Family is very important in Spain, and I loved that they had a day set aside for Grandparents' Day when I saw so many children out with their grandparents on a stroll in the plaza. Check out a Spanish culture lesson that I created about this here.
One of my most memorable experiences in Spain was eating paella in Cordoba, and
watching Spain win a game in the Eurocup, after which cars drove by honking and flying the Spanish flag outside of their cars. Spain won the Eurocup that year. (2008)
A few years ago I lived in Florida, where many of my students and coworkers were from Puerto Rico. I also had students whose families were from La Republica Dominicana, Honduras, Argentina, Cuba and Colombia. These students have a special place in my heart. I taught math, science and Spanish to 2nd and 5th grade students. These amazing students' hearts of love and compassion blessed me so much, and I learned a lot from them as well. The families of my students were so supportive and kind. I admired their love for their children and way that they supported them in their education. I believe these students will be forerunners in the next generation with their ability to speak, read and write in Spanish and English from a young age.
In Florida, it was also a blessing to get to know
neighbors from Venezuela, who welcomed me like family. My favorite Venezuelan expression is "Chévere, or "cool." It is used often by Venezuelans and is a fun word to say. It was fun to help teach them a few English phrases, and they were gracious with me in helping me with my speaking in Spanish. I also enjoyed teaching the children a few English expressions.
Most recently, I have been grateful to get to know my neighbors from India, whose kindness has been such an encouragement to me. I love learning about their culture- the foods they love and the holidays they celebrate.
There are many more countries that are a part of my heart, and I look forward to sharing stories of these in my blog and about new people that I meet.
What experiences and people have influenced you the most?
Who do you know whose story you have not yet heard?
I encourage you to travel the world one conversation at a time! There is much of the world to explore in your own city that will grow your heart and mind to see the world and understand it in new ways!