As we were driving to the after-school reading program today, I passed a billboard on the freeway. It had a picture of Oprah Winfrey and said "Encouragement" and then underneath "pass it on".
I recently read somewhere that the word encourage literally means "to inspire courage".
I walked in the front door of the reading program. I was instantly greeted by the cheerful Pastor Cesar and his wife Maria, who have recently taken leadership of the reading program.
Pastor Cesar is quite the character--half the time he speaks English and half the time he speaks Spanish, while his wife translates. Seriously, he will be chattering about something in English, when all of a sudden he breaks into Spanish when he can't find the right words to say in English. He is always laughing and joking around and is just a lot of fun to be around. I am almost always smiling when he is around(I just used the word 'around' 3 times in a row). On the other hand, he is quite serious and passionate about the reading program and demands excellence from his volunteers.
Today, a family who just moved from here El Salvador, walked in the doors of the reading program--they did not speak one word of English.
It was a bit daunting.
Thank goodness Pastor Cesar was there. He immediately started talking to them in Spanish, and made them feel at home. He is so good at that.
One of the girls from El Salvador, named Sindy, sat next to me at the table. She looked like she was in junior high. One of the translators helped her fill out some paperwork and then got her a Disney Princess book to flip through. As she sat looking at the pages of the book, she looked so sad. I cannot even begin to imagine how tough it would be, to be transported to a foreign country, without knowing the language.
I was helping another kid at the table. Even though the majority of the kids are from Spanish-speaking homes, most of them can speak English fairly well. But not Sindy. She only speaks Spanish. I smiled at Sindy but had no idea what to say to her--you see, my spanish is a bit rusty.
I took a few years of Spanish in high school...3 years to be exact. There was a point in time where I could speak some Spanish. Sort of. I mean, I couldn't roll my R's and sounded like quite the gringo. My little sister Lindsay used to practice with me for hours "rrrrrrrrruffles have rrrrrrrridges" on and on...but I just could not roll my R's to save my life! However, since I had just taken Spanish, at least some of it was still fresh in my mind.
But now? Notsomuch. Use it or lose it. I have forgotten most of my Spanish vocab, along with the verb tenses and conjugation. Man. I wish I could speak Spanish!
I looked again at Sindy and her sad face. I looked back at the other kid I was helping. I felt kind of torn. I really wanted to say something to Sindy...anything. But what? For a minute, I was tempted to just go back to the kid I was helping and pretend like I was not able to help Sindy.
I could have sat there in my comfort zone. And nobody would have known.
I looked at her mother across the room and I looked back at Sindy, who was listlessly turning the pages of the Princess book. I wondered if she could understand anything. Was she bored? Lonely? I wanted so badly to make her feel loved and welcome. I felt the nudge(most likely by the Lord) to try to speak to her in Spanish, even if I made the biggest fool of myself. I would rather look foolish, than for this girl and her mama to walk out of the doors and think nobody cared about them.
SO. Here goes.
I asked Sindy, "sad to be en Los Estados Unidos?" She kind of looked at me quizzically while Pastor Cesar walked by and quickly translated for me. "She is very sad that she is not in El Salvador", he said. He then patted me on my back and cheered me on. "You atryin' to speak Spanish?" he asked happily...followed by "very good". Then he said to me and Sindy..."you two should teach each other".
Pastor Cesar knows how to encourage. Encourage=to inspire courage. I definitely needed courage to speak Spanish. Pastor Cesar gave me just the nudge I needed.
I then pointed at the Cinderella in the book and said "Cinderella". I felt like the queen of awkward. Pastor Cesar and Sindy told me it was "Cenicienta" in Spanish. Say what?? Come again? They repeated "Cenicienta" and I tried "Cececente", mumbling incoherently.
I pointed at one of Cinderella's mice and said "mouse" and she looked at me with her eye squinting and said "mowsss???" with the funniest look on her face. She then said "raton". I repeated, "raton".
We could barely understand each other's language and kept having to repeat the words. I pointed at The Little Mermaid's red hair and asked,
"Roja hair?" My brain couldn't think of the word for hair in Spanish. And red in Spanish is actually rojo, but whatevs.
"Hayyyyyyer?" she asked me in confusion. I grabbed a piece of Sindy's brown hair and tugged it and said, "yes, hair". She said, "Ohhhh pelo".
Finally I grabbed a piece of paper. I looked at the picture of Ariel and Eric with the fireworks and pointed to the fireworks and said "fireworks"...and then wrote it down for her. She then wrote for me "Fuegos Artifisiales".
Pastor Cesar told me that fuego means fire. Hey that makes sense! Artifisiales means artificial. Fire artificial=fireworks. Not bad. We were getting somewhere.
So I pointed at the "castle" and "prince" and we translated for each other by writing it on the piece of paper. We were laughing and smiling. We ended up having a great afternoon. Thank you Lord. She was learning English and I was learning Spanish.
Even though I may not give much thought to random billboards on the freeway, I do think that encouragement is meant to be passed on. Pastor Cesar passed it on to me and I am excited for my next opportunity to pass it on to someone else!