So yesterday I awoke at 6am to prepare to drive to Waco to speak at CBF Hispanic Awareness Day at Truett Seminary. No, I have not suddenly become tan and hispanic. But I did take a group of students to Chile in May, and the CBF director wanted me to speak about my experiences there to raise awareness of Mission work in South America. "You'll speak for about 15 minutes with the students and let them ask you question," he said. "No problem," I replied.
As I was driving in the car yesterday morning after about an hour into my trip to Waco I started musing about the day. Okay, I'll speak at 9:30 and I wonder if we'll have lunch... Wait a ticker. 9:30. 9:30. What day is this? Tuesday. 9:30 on a Tuesday.
That's Truett's Chapel Service.
Somewhere in between Chicago the Musical and Regina Spektor, somewhere in between Austin and Temple, I discerned I would be speaking in Chapel.
I started to worry and called my friend JoAnn who works now at Truett in their recruitment office. Hey, JoAnn. So you know how I'm supposed to be speaking to the students at Hispanic Awareness Day? Well, they told me 9:30 and do you guys still have chapel at 9:30 cause if so I haven't prepared anything and well, if you knew of something I'd...
"Yeah girl, I saw you on the program. And there's a song we're doing (she plays the violin in the worship band) where we leave room for testimonials. Maybe that's you."
Hanging out with some students and telling them about my trip suddenly became giving a testimony about Chile in chapel. I began to freak out. I was in jeans and cowboy boots for heaven's sake. Would Paul Powell groupies pull me out of the pulpit? Granted I had a dress shirt on and nice jewelry but he was such a jerk so many years ago, who knows what it's digressed to now.
I arrived at the school and met the CBF director. "Yes, you'll give your testimony," he said. "Three or four minutes."
"Okay great. I've uh just gotta run to my friends office to type something up."
"No no, speak from your heart seniorita. About your trip. A lot of people have criticized me for bringing white people to talk today but I want people to hear from your hearts about how we call all work together as one."
"Yeah, that's super. But I'll be right back."
There was no way in hell I was going to stand up in chapel and speak before all my former professors and give my testimony without writing it down. I need my words, my symbols, my metaphors, my language. It tells my heart. I had a very love/hate relationship with Truett as in some of the people there loved me and some of them hated me. There was no way I would be caught dead in front of them in worship unprepared.
My friend Kate and I (she'd come to drive up with me at the crack of dawn praise Jesus) went to my friend JoAnn's office where I told Kate, "Give me ten minutes of silence." "Okay, I'm timing you she said."
I began shaking and I began writing.
"Ten minutes," she said and I kept typing.
Three minutes later I was done. We went to the bathroom (all that pop drinking to stay awake on the trip up!) and then went to sit down in the chapel.
But things had changed since I'd been there last.
There were instruments on stage. Lots of them. More than just a piano and an organ. Cool, I thought. And there were students. Lots of them. In the chapel. Going to worship. What? What happened to my school? And some of them were, *gasp* dressed in shorts.
Worship started with one of my former professors, Dr. Tucker, welcoming everyone to "community gathering" (guess the language of Chapel left with PaPa) and introduced me and the other guest speakers. Dr. Tuck was now dean of the school. "He used to teach here?" one of the students I spoke with during lunch asked. "Yep, I had him for Hebrew. He gave me a B+."
The main speaker who was sitting next to me, a white guy who'd done work for 13 years in Argentina and spoke great Spanish, leaned over to tell me he knew Roger after Dr. Tucker introduced me. After that he paid much greater attention to me than he had when I was just some little girl talking about a mission trip. It's amazing how who you know can affect how you're perceived. Thank God there are men like Roger who advocate for women in ministry and help them succeed.
The song came and the first verse was sung. That was my cue. With my knees still shaking I went to the pulpit and delivered the following testimony...
"I arrived in Temuco Chile in May of this year with ten students and another sponsor who would serve as our translator. When I spoke with the CBF last year about doing overseas missions, they asked me, “Where do you want to go?” I said, “Well, somewhere that Spanish is spoken.” “Oh great,” they replied, “you speak Spanish.” “No,” I said, “I speak French, but most of my college students speak Spanish, so I want to go where they can work and interact with people linguistically.”
I figured I would supervise. Delegate responsibilities, make sure the fence got painted the floors got mopped, I would chaperone, make sure no one snuck out of their room at night to go into town, you understand. And of course, I had Steve, or Estaban to be my translator.
What I discovered was that I had a whole other calling. Yes, I delegated, yes I chaperoned, but I also met people. I met girls who had been court ordered removed from their homes. I encountered their smiles and their giggles and I became a part of their world and they became a part of mine. They crawled into my arms, they sang me their favorite songs, we played games.
With no common language.
You know why? Because God moves beyond language. God moves beyond racial lines. God is bigger than a theology of mission or the structure of a denomination or a carefully planned out mission trip where 10 American students would work for a Girl’s Home. God is a spirit that moves amongst people of all ages, languages and gender.
I expected to accomplish a lot of things while at the girls home. Get a new fence painted, build a study room for the girls and re-do a storage closet. I wanted tangible results and while I did get that, what I also found were friends. Friends and colleagues in the adults who served at the home. Friends in the teenage girls, working to finish school so they could go to college. Friends in the little darlings crying out “Tia Ann, Tia Ann!” I discovered I had been changed.
I’m wearing a bracelet on my arm given by a child in the home to all twelve of the North Americans. When I told the director of the home that the girl had made each bracelet for each of us. She said, “No. Not her. You’ve confused her with someone else. She’s a hoarder, she always takes and stores and keeps her stuff.” And then the director and I realized that this girl who was usually selfish and stingy with her possessions had been changed too and chose to share her love through giving.
I was changed. My students were changed. The employees of the school were changed and the girls who have had such hard lives at such young ages were changed. Not because of what we did or what we said, but because of Who God Is.
Thanks be to God."
I swallowed and returned to my seat on the pew. Kate squeezed my hand. We sang the second verse and the second testimony began. I was done. I had survived.
Thanks be to God.