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Culture of Encounter

Buenos Dias! This is Natalie here, coming to you live from Benque (but not super live, because Wifi is not abundant). I am originally from the Philadelphia area, but go to school at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and I love anything that involves new friends, good food, and beautiful views.

Favorite things of Belize so far: Coke served in a plastic bag with a straw, red Fanta, homemade tortillas, chocolate-covered frozen bananas… Okay, I promise they’re not all food. But we do eat a lot of delicious things and we enjoy them deeply. In between meals and snacks, we have been doing a lot of cool things. So here is a quick summary of some of the most wonderful…

Things I’ve learned: If you want to get somewhere efficiently, don’t drive with Father Mark in Benque. He knows everyone. And every time we pass by someone he knows, the van stops and the catching up starts. So we’re hardly ever on time, in true Belizean fashion, and it’s because of true encounter and deep relationship. On Monday, Fr. Mark called out to a man sitting outside his home and when the man realized who it was, he leapt up and immediately ran to him to give him a hug. There is no reason to worry about being late when you get to witness a coming home.

Things that are hard: This week, we split up into two groups for catechesis at two nearby primary schools, Calla Creek and Arenal. I was with the group who went to Arenal and we prepared to teach different parables to kids ages 5 to 14. The first day was AWFUL. Well, not totally awful. Just a little awful. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t silence. We had prepared games and skits and jokes… and every delivery was met with complete silence. Hardly a giggle. I was with the students in Standard 6, which is the equivalent of 8th grade, and I thought it would be difficult because they would be sassy or disrespectful or particularly teenagery. But even simple questions (we’re talking “what is your name?” here) were not answered, and with extra encouragement I would MAYBE get a whisper. Let me tell you, planning a lesson based on questions and answers does not work when the kids don’t hold up their end of the deal--the answering. Cue nervous talking, extra sweating on top of the already copious amounts from the heat, and desperately trying to think of ANYTHING that could make them want to talk to me.

So, rough day. Day two was much better. And day three even more. The kids definitely opened up and loved the songs we taught them (I think I’ve sung “Trading My Sorrows” more than 30 times in these three days). At one moment, I knelt down for a picture with some of the kids, and all of a sudden I’m pretty sure all 150 kids were on top of me, with little hands grabbing and pushing and hugging and loving. A Belizean ambush is something I never thought I would enjoy.

I had a lot of worries and anxieties about teaching kids that didn’t speak the same language as me, and maybe who weren’t used to hearing the simple message that Jesus loves them, truly and deeply. Day One played right into my fears. But instead of choosing to back down, God refueled us and allowed us to desire the hearts of his beautiful children and encounter them with just a few pieces of chalk, some bubbles, and poorly acted skits. I realized that even if the kids didn’t answer my questions or understand me at all, they had heard that Jesus loves them, and that is good.

Each day, when we share our “high” and “low” of the day with each other, our catechesis always makes several appearances. The kids have truly touched us, stretched us, and received us. And this is the beauty of the gospel! The love and joy we wish to give by sharing it is exactly what we receive in return.

Be back soon! And yes, Mom, I’m doing just fine (:

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