I remember with fondness the morning our pastor announced the mission trip to Belize that I was blessed to join. While I cannot exactly recall the date, I know it was mid summer, some six months prior to departure. Feeling this was an answer to a long lived prayer, I immediately committed to be part of the eleven person team from local churches in my area. Only as the impact of what was to come began to set in did the questions surface, questions like where will we stay, what will we eat, what will we do? Peeling back to a more basic question I wondered how we would communicate with these people. They were after all over 1300 miles from us in Central America, which for the most part has Spanish as the predominant language.
I was immediately concerned because the Spanish I know was learned watching Speedy Gonzalez, the rip-roaring mouse from the Bugs Bunny stable of cartoons. I did not want to be the embodiment of the fellow in the hilarious movies where foreigners go to another country and repeat their questions louder in hopes that might bridge the communication gap. Buenas Dias, Casa, Gracias and loco will only get you so far.
Fortunately for me and the other non-spanish speakers in our team, the official language of Belize is English. Of course “official” does not mean that it is necessarily so for every person living in a country. In nearly all our interactions we encountered English speakers. In the situations where needed, our missionary guides had interpreters to make sure we were not trying to order seasoned goat meat instead of telling them about Christ.
The truth that came to me shortly after setting foot in the country is that the love of God is a universal language. Our team went to Belize with the purpose of sharing God with the people we met in the form of shoe box gifts. You know what I mean, the wrapped shoe boxes stuffed full of toiletries, crayons, toys, dolls and other items children can enjoy. This ia ministry I have been committed to for several years. Watching the videos provided by Samaritan’s Purse through their Operation Christmas Child program was enough impetus to make me interested. However, seeing it in person showed me how powerful sharing God’s love language can be. The people we saw love God and know he is there for them whenever they need him. The love they shared with us, giving only their friendship, was as much of a blessing to us as the material items we carried to them.
The other common language I recognized with the children we met in Belize was play. You see all kids love to play, no matter where they live. As adults we feel play is best left to those whose joints don’t scream in terror the moment we move faster than we can safely walk. Building a rapport with a kid means you have to be willing to potentially embarrass yourself by joining in their play.
We did much of this while ministering during the eight days in Belize. We cavorted with the kids at Hopewell International Children’s Home in their large playground. We kicked around a soccer ball with the boys at the More Tomorrow pre-school, played a half-hour of kickball with the older kids at the More Tomorrow Government School and had a lot of fun with various games at the two Tutor Centers. All the kids loved mixing it up with the Americans.
At one of the Tutor Centers we took time to show the boys how to throw, catch and kick an “American” football. Next we divided them up into two teams to play a short game where they could experiment with the new skills. We asked the boys what they wanted to call their teams. One group picked the “jaguars”, not because of the NFL team in Jacksonville, Florida, but because there are some wild cats like this roaming their country. The other team chose the name “the Americans”, which to me signaled we had made a connection.
Communication is a vital part of building any relationship, domestic or foreign. We were blessed to experience so many methods of communication during our visit to this country. I hope the lasting impact of our trip will be to show these children that we are not so different. God loves all of us the same and communication can come in many ways.