When I was deciding whether or not to accept this placement in Ecuador, there was one major fear holding me back. I couldn’t speak Spanish! And to me, in my earthly understanding, this felt like a hard stop. So much of nursing, not to mention so much of working with vulnerable populations, is about communication. I am so careful of the words I use and their connotations. I could not imagine working in a different language where I was unfamiliar with the implications of the words I was using. And yet, as God made it clear that he was still opening this door to me despite my utter lack of Spanish skills, I took a breath and changed my focus, though not my underlying assumptions. Instead of saying no because I was unqualified, I prayed to God to make a way. I prayed for what I called “an Acts 2 moment” where the Holy Spirit would come upon me and enable me to speak perfect Spanish. This, I thought, would allow me to do my work in Ecuador well.
That didn’t happen. Instead, my journey with Spanish has been much more mundane. I spent countless hours both before and after arriving in Ecuador studying the language. Bit by bit, I’ve learned an incredible amount of a language that I’m coming to appreciate more and more. But I’m still not fluent in the language. I still don’t know all the connotations or implications of different words. I still can’t communicate in a professional manner and I can’t offer beautiful sounding consolations to someone in pain.
And that bothers me occasionally, but I’m starting to realize that my perspective about Spanish and language barriers has been all wrong. I’ve been looking at language barriers as just that, the barrier that will keep me from doing God’s will for me here in Ecuador. But at our staff meeting the other week, our director said something that transformed my viewpoint. She said, “God, thank you for Julie and her ministry of love.” Not my ministry of health or healing, but my ministry of love.
The more I pondered that phrase, the more my perspective shifted. I love the women of Casa Adalia and their children. I love them so much that I want the very best for them and I want to be able to do my best for them. I want to speak the language perfectly and give them all the right advice and have all the right words to say. But the heart behind those actions is more important than the actions themselves. These women and children have opened their hearts to me, not because I could speak their language or because I had something to offer them, but because I opened my heart to them.
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” 1 Corinthians 13:1
This doesn’t mean that I stop studying Spanish. In fact, I just spent 3 week of quarantine taking daily online Spanish classes! The truth is that I am more effective when I’m working in a language I understand and can communicate in well. But what it does mean is that I spend less time feeling shame over my faults and failures and more time loving as well as I am able. Love transcends language, and ultimately, love is why I’m here.
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples; if you love one another.” John 13:35