Well, I didn't see that coming. On our first full day in El Salvador, after attending a local church service and enjoying lunch at a local restaurant, we hurried back to the Mission House for a quick change of clothes and were off to a government run orphanage for teenage boys. Now it was starting to get real.
I had no idea what to expect. I assumed it would be sad and difficult emotionally. I assumed the teenage boys would be angry......or depressed.....or both. Why shouldn't they be? What would I say to them? How could I possibly offer them anything when I can't speak hardly any Spanish? But as our bus pulled up to the gate, I wasn't at all prepared for what I saw. Four or five young boys running to the gate to greet us. Huge smiles on their faces. The emotion? Pure joy.
Wait....what? I guess I didn't need to worry. I had prayed about this very moment........for God to give me the right words and actions when the time came. And, He did. As I walked through the gate, it became obvious what I needed to do. I smiled.....and I put my arms around them. Again and again. They responded. With joy.
We were prepared to play games because that's what teenage boys like to do. We had balls for soccer, volleyball, basketball, baseball and frisbees. I dearly love basketball and played for years as a younger man. I jumped at the chance to help organize a game. It was a little ragged, but fun. Most importantly, connections were made. "Carlos" and "Juan" were on my team. By the time the game was finished, we were buds. After a water break, Carlos picked up the basketball, and though neither of us spoke the other's language, he made it clear he wanted to go back to the court. So we did. Just the two of us. Now Juan wasn't athletically gifted, but he was eager. So, I worked with him a little on his dribbling and showed him how to figure 8 around his legs. He picked it up pretty quickly and loved it. Then, we worked on his shot, and after a few minutes he was routinely making first close in shots, and then a free throw or two. More joy.
Then "Edwin" wandered over. I would describe Edwin as borderline special needs, and physically challenged. But after a few minutes, he was also routinely banking in short shots. He was BEAMING! Here comes that word again. Joy. Not just for them though..........now for me also. Yeah, I really didn't see that coming.
A couple of the young ladies on our mission team are professional hair stylists. Dina and Jessica had the good sense to bring clippers and scissors with them and were giving all the boys that wanted one, a new clip. Gel included. They spent hours. More joy. For the boys, but also for Dina and Jessica. (A quick side note.....one boy had by far the most thick, lustrous, Elvis like hair you have ever seen. It was my bball teammate, the perfectly named Fabio).
So how do I wrap this up? Well, I just completed my first 24 hours of mission work. I had no experience, and I had no idea what to expect. I simply trusted that if I was willing to go, and let the love of Jesus shine through me, that he would empower me when the time came. So here is my now expert technique: smile and then hug somebody. And don't be surprised when you get more out of it than the ones you're there to serve.