When we arrived on the field (Spain) over thirty-one years ago, we didn’t know a word of Spanish. We didn’t know anything about the culture. We had never tasted so many cold dishes made with fish. We had no cross-cultural experience. We were “dummies.”
We plunged in! We went to language school. At our first lesson, the teacher bounded into the classroom and said, “Yo soy Carlos.” (I am Carlos.) We looked at him and at each other and shrugged our shoulders. He left the room. Soon, he walked in again and said, “Yo soy Carlos.” We had no idea what he meant! He left. Shortly, he came in again and said it again. I understood “Carlos,” grabbed my husband’s arm, and said, “His name is Carlos!” And so it began.
Our co-workers left for a furlough when we had been in Spain only eight months. We couldn’t yet speak in decent sentences. Our Spanish was more point and grunt than actual Spanish. We were left with no other English speakers and the native Spanish pastor. Thankfully, he and his wife were patient and kind, and they helped us with our Spanish errors—constantly, as you can imagine.
I learned about Spanish foods and cooking, and in a year or so, my tortillas—something like a potato omelet—didn’t fall apart. Sometimes, the natives didn’t know who made them. (I took that as a compliment.) I learned a lot about cooking methods from the Spanish pastor’s wife. I’d stand beside her in the kitchen while she cooked, and I’d ask questions. It was a vital part of my education.
I tried so hard to be Spanish that our children had never even tasted such American foods as green beans, hamburgers, and French fries. (They loved olives, though!)
Five years later, we took our first furlough. Reverse culture shock was never so strong! People speaking English! My in-laws treated our family to a meal at MacDonald’s, and our kids only liked the French fries. It was so embarrassing. We went to our mission board’s family week, and our daughter was puzzled with most of the food. It didn’t look like anything she’d ever seen, and it was served cafeteria style. What should she choose? Even a dinner roll was different. Our daughter spoke better Spanish than English, and she spoke English with an accent. People tried to get her to talk, so they could laugh. (She was five and a half.) She refused to speak. It was awful!
We survived furlough, which ended up being a long one for need of more support and a surgery. We had to reapply for visas. By then, we were accustomed to the States and our son was talking in English sentences.
Back to Spain, and we returned to our calling and “our” world. Our son soon picked up Spanish, and our Spanish normality resumed. (We still didn’t eat hamburgers.)
I think we tried too hard.
You see, the natives know we’re not Spanish. Every native knows we’re not Spanish. We don’t look Spanish. We talk with an English accent. We didn’t even understand how to dress Spanish at first.
We found we couldn’t be what we’re not. And, we learned over time that we were losing our own heritage, our own identity.
I’m afraid we do this in the spiritual realm as well.
We try so hard to fit in and to adapt—to whatever is around us—that we lose the most important thing: our own relationship with God. It’s just that the vertical relationship (between us and God) is more important than any horizontal relationship (between us and others). Yet, we let the most important thing slide because of everything and everyone around us.
Just as we tried to be Spanish and couldn’t, we fail when we try to do it all right around us, and we forget the first thing, the most important thing.
Martha is preparing supper. Jesus is there. She knows He’s God, and she trusts Him with all of her being. She loves Jesus, and she’s preparing supper for Him. She goes to a little extra trouble, as He is their most honored Guest.
Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.
Martha asks Jesus to send her sister to help her. (Isn’t it strange she doesn’t say to Mary, “Please come and help me?” Is it because she appeals to Jesus’ authority?)
Jesus replies, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
- Both women are in God’s presence, but one is listening to Him.
- Both women are serving Jesus, but one is worshiping.
- Both know Him well, but one is doing what’s needful.
I wonder if sometimes—many times—we get so involved in adapting, language-learning, and in service to God that we don’t take time to sit at Jesus’ feet and drink in His Words. I don’t mean we don’t entertain Him at all. I mean we don’t bask in His presence. We just don’t worship at His feet.
May we, in this New Year 2016 recover that one thing that’s needful, that good part.
God bless you!
Have a Happy New Year!
(The story of Jesus with Mary and Martha is from John 10:38-42.)