Several months ago, I began a journey to unlock the multicultural heart. I seek to find these new insights through conversations with friends, family and neighbors whose hearts reflect a love for many cultures from their own multicultural backgrounds and experiences and their love for Christ.
I was grateful to get to interview Artur and Francesca Plett, who I met and came to know through a Hispanic ministry at church in Indianapolis. Artur and Francesca Plett along with their children have been an integral part of the Hispanic ministry for many years, teaching ESL classes, leading worship in Spanish, helping with the children and more. They reflect Christ’s heart of serving others and loving people from all different backgrounds. As I interviewed them, I discovered the amazing multicultural background represented within this one family: Belgium, Germany, Paraguay and the United States.
Francesca was born in Europe in the country of Belgium. For geographic reference, Belgium borders several countries, including France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. In Belgium, children learn the Flemish language in school and French in the home. Francesca said that she spoke the Flemish language in kindergarten at school and French in her home and then learned English when she moved to the United States with her family after kindergarten. Her parents continued speaking French at home, so she still knows French.
Artur grew up in a German Mennonite community in Paraguay on the border of Paraguay and Argentina in South America. His parents were German Mennonite missionaries in Paraguay. His mother was born in Poland, moved to Germany and then to Paraguay from Germany during WWII when ships were organized to help Mennonites flee Germany. Artur’s father is part German and part Russian. His grandparents on his father’s side lived in Russia during the Communist Revolution when the government was taking away farms. A Canadian Mennonite organized ships to help bring Mennonites to Paraguay, and his grandparents came with this group to Paraguay.
Growing up, Artur spoke German at home, Spanish in the city and at church and a mixture of German and Spanish at school. He also learned English from his Canadian friends in the colony where he lived. As a preteen, he took a course in English at an American cultural center. Later in high school he had the opportunity to be an exchange student to the States where he continued to practice his English. Now he lives in the United States with his wife and children and speaks English, Spanish and German fluently.
Spanish expressions (in Paraguay)
Gracias- Thank you
¡Qué genial!/¡Qué cheto! (Colombian influence)/”Qué chévere! (Venezuelan influence)- “Cool!”
Merci- thank you
"Bedankt"- thank you
Francesca shared that Belgium is known for its old buildings, castles and chocolate. I remember that she brought Belgium chocolate over to my family’s home after one of their visits to Europe. It was delicious! Other foods you will find in Belgium are beef stew and soups and of course the famous Belgium waffles (with yeast). If you are looking for a fun multicultural tradition, you might choose this one for Three Kings Day: similar to putting out stockings at Christmas time, on Three Kings Day, children in Belgium place their shoes by the fireplace with hay for the camels. The next morning children wake up to discover that the camels have eaten the hay and that there are gold chocolate coins all over the presents under the tree!
Artur said that a typical food they eat in Paraguay is mandioca, which is comparable to a potato as a staple and is used in many dishes, such as empanadas de mandioca, which have lots of meat in them and chipa. Paraguay is probably most known for mate, the most common drink in Paraguay. Artur carries his mate drink in a gourd (in the picture to the left) as is tradition in his home country of Paraguay.
Mate is a strong tea made from different kinds of herbs like mint. It is called "mate" when made using hot water and "tevere" when made using cold water. They drink mate in the morning and in the daytime in the winter months. They drink tevere anytime they have a coffee break. It is s a social drink, so in Paraguay they pass around one cup and keep refilling the cup. He shared that German Paraguayans have candy or cookies to go with the mate. However, Latin Paraguayans do not like to eat cookies or candy. Interesting!
Francesca shared that most of all she desires that all would come to know Christ and prays often for her family in Belgium to know Christ. She shared that Jesus found her at a Mennonite church in North Carolina that she attended with Artur in college. Since then, her life has been centered on Christ, bringing up her children to know the Lord and sharing the love of Christ with the people she meets.
Artur and Francesca are intentional in building their identity around faith and family. In describing the role of faith in his life today, he said, “It’s a very big role, a very dominant role. Our mornings start with prayer. We try to have devotionals at home. Faith is a big motivator also for the contributions with the ministries. It’s because of Christ.” Artur’s life perspective was greatly influenced by his parents’ example and teaching. “Mom and Dad were missionaries- the most important thing was faith and having a church community and dedicating your life to Christ.”
Just after becoming a Christian, Francesca had the opportunity to be a missionary for a few months in Canada, expanding her multicultural lens even further. In addition to Canada, Belgium and the U.S., Francesca has visited Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, Germany and France. She encourages people to be open-minded to new cultures and incorporate something that they learn into their own lives.
She also wants all people she meets to know they are welcome and valued no matter their background. Speaking about people in her neighborhood, she states, “I just want them to know that they are not alone. I am a block lead on our street. We have black people, Asian people and Hispanics. I like to talk to everyone so that everyone knows that they are valued. I want them to know that if there is a need we are here to help each other out.”
Thank you to Artur and Francesca for sharing their hearts and for being an example of Christ’s love toward all people. As I reflect on their insights, I wonder, what if we sat down with a cup of mate with our neighbors to dig deeper into conversation? Would we begin to unpack the heart of those around us? Would this begin to change our own hearts and perspectives? How can you begin a conversation with your neighbor, coworker or classmate? What impact could this have on you and the community around you? May God bless you in your journey around the world one conversation at a time!