This evening at our team debriefing, we all became infected with uncontrollable laughter: sweat and tears, side-aches, shortness of breath, and giggles that make the snorts of others even funnier than whatever started it.

It may have started earlier in the day when we played for a second time with the teens one particular game that we learned as part of one cultural exchange. We had taught them Spoons and in turn they taught us Manotaso. This new game is faster, more focused, requires no spoons, but still operates on the premise of punishing the person who loses focus. Everyone takes a turn counting aloud one by one to thirteen,  flipping one card face up, and depositing it on the central discard pile. When the count matches the number on the card, it is a frantic race to slap the pile. The slowest person with their hand on the top of the pile gains all those cards, but the objective is to get rid of all your cards. In Manotaso, your “mano” (hand) can get a good slap, nail, or finger jamb, or all three at once, which is somehow really funny. With each manotaso of hands, an enormous eruption of laughter and sometimes pain filled the afternoon with joyful noise.

We’ve all really enjoyed our time with the Pueblo de Esperanza teens, and we are sad this Friday will be our last time together. Each day this week  after the VBS, the teens come and we have lunch, play table games, followed by a more focused activity (soccer, paint ball, more games). After a while, two teens, one from the US and one from Mexico share their testimonies. A recurring theme from the testimonies seems to be loneliness and doubt stemming from a strong hunger for Christian friends and families. But as Tim has preached after the testimonies each day, that we have to ask ourselves who we want to be for God in these tough situations, and how God can use us even in positions of hardship. I spoke with a few young adults  who so appreciated our friendship this week because there is such a common pressure to party with drugs and alcohol. We are all “en la misma barca” (in the same boat) and need spaces to develop Christian friendships. Please pray that our time together this week will strengthen the bonds for a Pueblo de Esperanza youth group. Our time together has certainly strengthened us to the point we can lose it together.

However, I have to admit, Wednesday and Thursday have been difficult for some. Exhaustion is setting in and some are being afflicted with poor sleep and faltering health, but you couldn’t tell.  Our teens are persevering and doing a fantastic job during the Escuelita Biblica. We are getting to know children, and the children are getting to know us. I think these memories will continue to serve us all for years to come.

We are pushing through our language barriers and learning new words every. At the end of one Escuelita Biblica section when children were waiting to go home, I had an interesting conversation with Nina, the six-year-old I mentioned last time. I asked about her drawing of four animals. In an effort to understand the new names of animals, I asked what one animal said. None of the animals made any sounds, she said, so this four-legged creature turned out to be some sort of creepy-crawly creature in the dirt. Sometimes understanding only comes in phases. In another part of her drawing off to the side and down in the corner,  she had drawn a tablet (computer) screen with a mother holding a child on the screen. The mother and child had no names, no family, no cousins, siblings, or parents. Just this mother and baby, alone. We talked about what this mother would do to survive, and our conversation is one I will always remember and hold close to my heart.  At the end of our conversation, Nina started to sing about going down to the river, one of our same VBS songs, in Spanish, that we’ve been singing all week.

As you may know, family is very important in the Mexican culture, but aloneness is captured in the drawing of a child and our conversation about it. I cannot but help think about the loneliness and persecution facing many of our teens and young adults, and maybe even the children.

 A somewhat common girl’s name here happens to be Vale, perhaps short for Valerie, but it reminds me of the Spanish phrase, “vale la pena” which literally translates “it is worth the pain.” With the “ánimo” Jesus encouraged us with, knowing we are in the same boat on a common journey, it is all “vale la pena,” with all our brothers and sisters, especially reflecting on the memories that bring tears of laughter and joy to the family.