Have you ever attended a party where you didn't know anyone?
Tonight I took Isaiah to a classmate's birthday party. I fully intended to drop him off and read a book in the car, but the girl's mom insisted that I come in and attend the party. I didn't know a single person! You may know that personally this would be hard for me in the US. Believe me, it's even harder for me in a new culture and language. As a missionary, and as a Christian, when someone invites me into their home and into their life, I enter in faith and pray that I'll be a blessing (even if I'd rather hide in a book).
Everyone was seated in a long outdoor patio, wide enough for a row of chairs on each side and a small walkway in the center. The parrilla was in the corner with a pile of burning wood stacked in the iron basket. The coals were just starting to fall through the basket, down onto the brick base. Soon the coals would be scraped underneath the grill.
By now, these are familiar sights and sounds. It also helped that everyone was inviting and gracious. They were curious, too, but in a friendly way. One guest asked me if I was from Germany. Nope! Guess again. Great Britain? Nope! My Spanish was a little sluggish because every time I opened my mouth to speak, I could feel everyone's eyes on me. (That's how Julia feels in her classroom, so she opted to sit in the front row so she can't see everyone turning around in their desks to look at her when she talks).
The girl's grandmom offered me plates of cheese, fainá, and alfajores, the girl's Mom refilled my drink and brought me a piece of cake, and her dad made me a grilled hamburger just the way I like it (with ketchup, lettuce and tomato). They were serving 40 people with the same attention and keeping the kids entertained with a bounce house and piñata. It was amazing. And their family and other guests kept refilling my Coke, talking with me, and making me feel welcome.
For me, the hardest part was leaving. Remember how I didn't know anyone? Well, if I wanted to leave the party gracefully, I would have to give everyone a cheek kiss. This is difficult for a quiet, reserved person. Since no one had left yet, I didn't have any examples to follow (I spend most of my life here playing follow the leader to learn how to do stuff). But I figured I could remember the rules. Skipping someone or kissing someone twice by mistake would be rude, so I would have to keep track of everyone. "Vamos," I thought, as I drank the rest of my Coke, shoved my napkin into the plastic cup and set it on the brick flower border behind my chair.
The girl's dad saw my empty cup right away and offered me another drink. "Gracias, pero me voy" I replied. Without another word, he left his post at the parrilla and darted inside to get his wife so she could say goodbye to me.
All the bending over, cheek kissing, saying "mucho gusto, que pase lindo, encantada," and turning around to repeat it again and again in the long narrow patio made me dizzy, but thankfully I wasn't wearing skinny heels or I would have landed in someone's lap. I left feeling loved and accepted despite my funny Spanish.
What a lovely family! I hope to offer this kindness to each person who walks into our church. I know I need to improve in this area as I often get sidetracked by serving in the background (like packing up the AV equipment or cleaning up the Sunday School classroom). I realize now that this could be considered quite rude. All the new greetings and farewells, new rules about entertaining, and the new variety of foods make hosting a little more complex. But I'm committed to doing my best in Jesus' name. The least I can do is make sure someone's cup is filled.