Feeling the Warmth

by Jacob Martens

We had been studying about warm and cold cultures before we left on our mission, and now we are experiencing the warmth. It has little to do with the weather; in fact, most days, the temperatures are nearly the same between University Place and Puebla. One warm culture element has impressed me is how much physical human contact there is between people. Men are constantly shaking hands coming and going or even in re-encountering at the same meeting. With total strangers passing on the street, the greeting is a mutual and deliberate “buenos dias,” and space bubbles are definitely smaller. With the kids, the special hand shake is a gentle high five followed by a gentle fist bump. With the ladies at church, it is a hug and a cheek-to-cheek followed by a kissy sound when the cheeks meet. I keep forgetting the kissy sound, and, to make up, I tell myself to make the kissy sound. I find the message gets to my lips about 10 seconds late. I’m working on it, and I hope it isn’t too embarrassing, or if they even notice my lack of or delay in said kissy sound. But I can see how Felina feels like she’s part of the family after only a day or two.

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With my basic Spanish, I have been able to get in the midst with the kids at the VBS and strike up conversations. The first day, I played a game with two eight-year-old boys, Miguel and Andrick. I would describe a person in Spanish and either of them would try to figure out what position they were, and if they knew the word in English, they would try to say it. If they didn’t know the word in English, they would tell me in Spanish. For example, I said in Spanish a person who throws water on fire. Honestly, I had forgotten the word for this official, but the boys reminded me it was a “bombero.” They didn’t know what it was in English, so we said “fireman” together and we had a great time playing this game while learning new words myself.

The second day, I conversed with Andrick and Miguel again. Miguel told me he had been born in China. When we looked it up in my pocket dictionary, he changed his mind and explained how he was really from France. I am not sure which story to follow, but he may just have a good imagination and he’s playing along with the “Travelers” (Viajeros) theme of the VBS. Miguel might of come hungry today. Lunch, which is the Spanish word for “snack” around 10am  consisted of jicama again, only this time there were also sandwiches. Miguel wanted three sandwiches before he even took a bite of the first one. Others have noted that the kids would love to be able to take the crayons home. Tim told us that there are many single parent families, drug addiction problems, and various other abuses and hardships.

One of our new friends is a single mom of two college-aged children, and she’s soon to be a first-time grandmother. Her daughter is due at the end of the month. Yesterday, the matriarch of the family slipped on a wet floor while at the hospital for the baby’s checkup. She broke her arm and came today with it in cast. I am not sure what hardship this will cause for the family, but please pray for them. The soon to be mother would love to help her new daughter learn English, but there are few books, especially few in English, in the local library. As a father who loved to read to his kids, this is so touching to me.

Another element of the warm culture has been the idea that people are more indirect, and no one wants any feelings hurt due to directness. This sensitivity feeds into needing what is considered being in the state of “flexico.” We prepared for some activities before we left, then when we got here we found there was no need for them, and then we found that we were on again after all in about two-minutes, so there has been a lot of improv and being prepared for anything.  For example, we needed a game to entertain the kids while their parents were coming to pick them up. So we had to make up a demonstration on the spot thanks to the  quick-thinking and great humor of Ray, an intern who is called to work as an youth pastor in the states, who helped us tweak an initial “hot-potato game” idea into something fun for the kids. During this impromptu skit, we filled Captain Andrew’s hat one-by-one  with ping-pong balls by sending them down a bucket line–only spoons were our buckets. To make it more complicated, Pirate Kelley occasionally attacked us, reducing our number and sending ping-pong balls bouncing, and the kids loved it. We hammed it up. The smiles on the kids faces and their peals of laughter has been a pure joy that I have trouble capturing in a photo. One of the funniest moments for everyone was the puppet show the Pueblo de Esperanza team put on, which included puppet Noe (Noah) smacking at his ark with his floppy arms to build it, or Adam and Eve sharing the apple, biting it at the same time. I was watching the kids as much as I was watching the puppet show.

As they say about bottling kids’ energy and laughter, there is so much I’d like to bottle and bring back to you. But maybe the warmth of this culture, even with its poverty and hardship, reflects the loving-kindness that we should strive for and will know in the end.