Yesterday I went to M’s house to have reading class. “Karen! Don’t you know what today is?” she asked me when I arrived at her house. I hadn’t heard the news yet that it was her birthday and that there would be no class since she was getting ready for her birthday party. For a split second I gave myself the option of having a bit of the afternoon off since there was no class- but I want to be M’s friend. I want my time with her to be much more than a class. So I asked her if she needed help. She did in fact need help making tortillas- something way beyond my skill level.
Because I’m terrible at making tortillas, I sat in her living room and we talked as she made them. I learned a lot about her life and felt like we were able to get to know each other a little more. I am in awe that this mother of 5 has been through so much, yet continues to be a great mother to her children. My first time meeting M was very awkward. I felt as though I couldn’t relate, that there was no common ground for a friendship to even form. I realized that we were both immigrants and both going through a similar process to become residents of Costa Rica. Common ground. And from that common ground we have started to build a friendship.
I went back later that evening for the birthday party with Isaac, the Freemans and their children. From far away you could hear the blaring music, and smell the meat she was cooking. The whole neighborhood was there, hovering under the roof because it was pouring rain. But everyone was having a good time- birthdays here are really special.
M’s mom was there, (we’ll call her J) who is the grandmother to almost every child we work with. She has 11 children and between 30-40 grandchildren. And she’s only 46. Her youngest child is 9, and is one of the girls that I tutor throughout the week. Every time I pick up her youngest to tutor, I go to J’s house and talk for a bit. Since I found out how influential she is in her community, I’ve wanted to create a friendship with her. I believe that if she finds God and begins to live for him, the entire community will be changed- because it’s her family, and she is the head.
After having eaten, danced, and played with the kids, I went outside and sat down to J. We made small talk, and laughed at how the kids were dancing and enjoying themselves. I asked the birth order of her children, and was able to understand her family tree a bit more. She asked me if Leslie and I were sisters, and was surprised to find out that we’re not- just friends who work together. She was also surprised to learn that none of my family lives here in Costa Rica- that I am here living on my own working in her community.
Then I had a very unexpected moment with her.
“What religion are you guys?”
“We’re Christians,” I told her.
“Can you explain to me exactly what you believe?
Now it was my turn to be shocked- she wanted to know what we believe. She was asking about God and about Jesus. And so I told her. I told her how God created the world, and how we became separated from Him because of Adam & Eve’s disobedience. I talked her through the Bible, how Jesus came, why he had to die, and what that means for us. She was engaged in conversation with me for almost an hour.
And she responded, “Wow, I really like that.” The opportunity that we have of being close to God is good news .
“But what about Mary?” she asked. “You guys don’t think she’s special, right?”
She told me that she wasn’t of any religion, but her parents had been Catholic. But I know where she was coming from. This is a Catholic nation that reveres Mary, the mother of Jesus.
“Oh we think Mary is really special,” I told her. “Mary was Jesus’ mother. God used her in a really special way, so we think she’s really special. But we also think that Moses is special. God used him too. God also used Abraham and Paul, and…..”
“…And John the Baptist!,” she chimed in. “He’s special too, right!”
We then started naming people from the Bible who God used. And we agreed that they were all special because God had used them.
“Wow Karen,” she told me, “I really like this. This is really good.”
The conversation went on to talk about churches and religions that she had heard of. And then it changed back to the kids and life there in her slum, in her community.
J has seen the Freemans serve her family and her grandchildren for a few years now. She has seen and heard of the short term volunteers that have come and worked with them. I wonder how many times she has thought, “I wonder why they are so interested in helping us?” or “What motivates them to keep coming?”
It’s these unexpected moments where I don’t just get to show God’s love through my actions, but when I am to explain who God is and what He has done for us. The moments when clarity comes about what it means to be close to God, and invitations are given to choose to follow Him.
I love the unexpected moments.