Nervousness and excitement competed for prominence in my mind as I arrived for my first day of classes. The school, in the small town of Chicxulub in Mexico, had an open-air courtyard with classrooms around the perimeter. It was nothing like the modern schools we have in Canada.
I waited outside for a few minutes and entered together with my fellow teaching volunteers. The crowded room was set up with six tables. Each could seat four students and two teachers.
Before the children arrived, we spent thirty minutes getting acquainted, reviewing the lesson plan and distributing supplies for the day.
The students were led from their regular classroom into our room. They entered to our greeting of, “Good Afternoon” and chose where they wanted to sit. Of the 28 registered in the class, only 17 were present that day; 5 boys and 12 girls. This number varied from week to week and we never had a full class.
The first task was for the students to make nametags. They wrote, I am and their name on a card that was placed in a lanyard around their necks. Along with the students and other teachers I stood in turn, held up my nametag and said, “I am Tandy.” This was our first lesson and the way each class would start.
The children were polite and extremely reserved. It was a challenge to get them to speak loudly enough to be heard. Over the next two months, this shyness persisted for most of them.
Each component of the lesson plan was explained in English and Spanish from the front of the room. Some phrases were written on a white board so they could be referred to.
Then we would work with the students at our table to help them learn necessary words in this foreign language. Over the weeks we taught them through the use of flash cards with words and pictures. They learned: I am, I have, I want and I need. As we added: I am not, I do not have, I do not want and I do not need they were able to form simple sentences with the flash cards. Colours, people, animals and simple objects were incorporated into these sentences. To understand the correct meaning of the words and sentences they formed was quite an accomplishment.
Numbers were also taught. They knew the numerals, but the English words for them proved difficult. We played games to make it enjoyable. In some cases, like when we played Snakes and Ladders, they were having so much fun, it didn’t seem like learning!
Our hour-long classes passed quickly. Each week, the happy students would line up, a table at a time to leave the classroom. They were handed a simple snack and would say, “Thank you” to which a reply of, “You are welcome” was given. As well as a treat, this provided another opportunity to practice English words.
After two months we came to our last class. These students were in grade 6 and this is the final mandatory year for attending school. Most would not continue their education. We were in an economically challenged area and families could not afford to keep their children in school. We hoped the little we’d been able to teach them would be of benefit to them in the future.
As the class ended, the children surprised each teacher with handmade cards of thanks. Some even contained a few of the English phrases learned. I received my cards and hugs of thanks with tears of gratitude. The opportunity to have been part of this important program was a highlight of my time in Mexico. I look forward to returning to volunteer again next year.
Have you ever found something that seemed to be just what you needed when you didn’t even know you were looking for anything?
That’s what happened to me when I read the social media post.
A call for volunteers touched a chord deep within and I was compelled to respond. Emails were exchanged, information given, a questionnaire completed and I was accepted as part of a team to teach English to Mexican students.
We were divided into groups and I was one of those placed with a grade six class.
An orientation was held the week prior to starting. This answered questions and gave us valuable information on the school and the students we’d be working with.
The school system here houses two separate schools in the same building. One has classes in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Each have their own teachers and principal. We’d be in the afternoon school for one hour a week.
We were told that the school was in an extremely poor area and the majority of the students came from homes with no electricity.
Grade six is the last mandatory grade and very few would carry on with their education past this level. The children had little hope for the future, and were resigned to their lot in life.
Our job was to give them some basic language skills and to make it enjoyable. Fun for both the students and teachers was important to this program.
We would also take turns providing a snack for the students. This would be handed out as the students lined up to leave the room at the end of the class. Many would take this snack home to share with younger siblings.
That evening as I sat under electric lights with plenty of food in my fridge and cupboards, I reflected on the vastly different lifestyle, only a few kilometers away. I prayed that I would use the abundance I’ve been given to ease another’s burden and not take for granted what I have.
Although I wouldn’t meet the students for another week, I knew they had already impacted my life.
At the time of this writing, I’ve been doing an online, self-paced Spanish course for 270 days.
In order to move to the next level of learning I have to reach a certain ranking for the week. Sometimes it takes a few weeks to score enough points to move ahead. Too few points and I could be demoted to the previous level.
A few times I didn’t put in enough effort and barely maintained my standing. This bothered me so I now strive to remain in the top twelve.
Last week I checked my score and discovered I was in first place! It was only day one of the week so, while excited, I knew it might not last. The next morning, I had dropped to second place so spent a little longer online and regained my standing.
This is the way it continued for several days. My competitive nature had me spending more and more time each day. Sometimes I went online a second time to check my score and do another quick lesson. I wanted to finish the week as number one and get the virtual rewards that position offered.
With less than two days to go, someone surpassed me by so many points I would have to spend about three hours each day rather than my daily one hour. If I did this there was a good possibility I could win!
The voice of reason asked me what the cost would be. Time with my husband would pay the price, as would many other pleasures.
As if that weren’t bad enough, when I race through lessons, more intent on gathering points than learning, my retention diminishes. Foolish mistakes are made. Was the intent to learn the language or to come first in this level?
I listened to reason. That left time to bake muffins, go for a walk with my husband, email a childhood friend and work on a writing project. Although I didn’t finish in first place, what I spent my time on definitely made me a winner.
The English speaking church we attend in Mexico had an interesting beginning. We have met the Canadian couple who were instrumental in the formation of the church. I enjoyed hearing the story both from their perspective and that of the pastor.
After wintering in the area for several years, this couple could see the need for a church service in English. They learned of a pastor in the area who was bilingual and approached him with their idea.
He could see the merit in this but didn’t feel his language skill were good enough. After more conversation he thought it might be possible. “We can start next year” he said.
The immediate response of, “How about next week?” took him by surprise. Sensing this was God’s will, he agreed. The next Sunday fourteen people were in attendance for the first service in English. That was over ten years ago.
We appreciate the ministry of our Mexican church home. I have been privileged to be in attendance for both multicultural and outreach events with the English and Spanish congregations working side by side.
I am grateful for the pastor who didn’t feel equipped but accepted the challenge. He did not give in to the natural tendency to say, “No” or put off what seems too much to handle. Instead, he stepped out in faith and trusted God to lead the way.
This story has inspired me. I know that God has big plans for each of us. He doesn’t always call those of us who feel equipped. Instead, He calls those who are willing and equips them. When I step out in faith and trust the Lord, there is no limit to what He may enable me to do.
I watched some children playing in the sand. Three were siblings and the other someone they had just met. An elaborate sand castle was being built.
What made this scene special was that three of the children spoke only English while the fourth spoke only French. The fact that they could not communicate with words made little difference to them.
The language they shared was that of working together towards a common goal and having fun. That was all that mattered.
These children reinforced an important lesson for me. When we focus on a common goal, the differences we have are not a concern. It is when we allow ourselves to become distracted by things that aren’t important that we run into problems.
We don’t need to speak the same language as others in order to work, play or get along together. All we need is respect and cooperation. In other words, we need to play nicely with others even though we may not fully understand them.
God has gifted each of us with different talents and abilities. I need to not only share my strengths but also to embrace those of others. In that way everyone will be a winner in the game of life.
To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. (Matthew 25:29 NLT)
My husband and I have just started a beginner Spanish language course. The first class started out with simple phrases such as, “Good morning, how are you?” We could handle this without too much difficulty.
Next we were introduced to the way to say this in the formal manner, for someone you don’t know well, or in the familiar manner for family and friends. The words to both the question and answer change depending on your relationship to the person you’re speaking to. Things were starting to get more complicated.
The next thing to know was the masculine and feminine. I hadn’t realized before that morning was masculine while afternoon and evening were feminine! When the teacher showed us how to conjugate a verb, I started to panic, fearing that I was in over my head.
My goal is to be able to converse with the locals when we vacation in Mexico. I will persevere, but am aware that this will be no easy task.
This made me realize that I need no lessons to be able to communicate with God. The maker of the universe doesn’t require me to speak to him in the formal tense. In fact, he prefers that I be familiar with him. I don’t need to struggle with the correct words as the Bible tells me that the Holy Spirit intercedes for me when I don’t have the necessary words. He knows my heart and that is the truest language there is.
At the same time the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we don’t know how to pray for what we need. But the Spirit intercedes along with our groans that cannot be expressed in words. The one who searches our hearts knows what the Spirit has in mind. The Spirit intercedes for God’s people the way God wants him to. Romans 8:26-27 GWT