“Come on Jon, you have to eat this. These are ‘tacos al pastor’ and you haven’t tried them yet. Please, oh please, come on…”
No matter how delicious this meal looks, I’m having a hard time actually saying “yes”. It’s not that I don’t want to try them — trust me, I do! But it’s 9:30 PM, and I have already eaten supper…twice. I could barely force the second one down. I doubt I’ll mentally be able to ingest yet another meal. But the crowd is begging me. “(Sigh) Oh, ok guys. But seriously, just ONE taco.”
You might be wondering about this reference to tacos, since tacos are non-existent in Paraguay. Turns out I was in the Mexican state of Chihuahua where New Tribes Mission had it’s very first discourse analysis workshop completely in Spanish. Where I live and work in Paraguay, we anticipate having Spanish speaking coworkers someday and want to be able to offer help in every area of our missionary work, including discourse analysis. It’s for that reason that my field sent myself and one other person to Mexico. We participated in this workshop as listeners with the hope of learning how to explain this important subject in Spanish.
The workshop took place at a NTM facility nestled in the beautiful Eastern Sierra Madre mountain range. After having lived in very tropical Paraguay for the last two years, the climate difference for me was profound. It’s pretty hot there, but you don’t feel it do to the area’s 0% humidity. No humidity means that it is also very dry. In fact, it’s a desert area, and has all the great things you’d expect to find in a desert. Cacti, jackrabbits, roadrunners, bobcats, and horny toads were just a few a the visual treats I enjoyed. (I found out the experiential way that horny toads will squirt blood out their eyes if they feel threatened. I know now…)
So yeah Mexico is beautiful and I got squirted by a horny toad, but this was not a tourist trip. This was a trip with the very specific goal of learning how to explain discourse analysis in Spanish. Discourse analysis is just a $5 term meaning “figure out how people talk.” In our mission, we say that all people do ten things when they talk. The trick is learning how to do them in another language.
The workshop was a valuable time to continue furthering my understanding of discourse analysis, and how I would help guide a Spanish speaking missionary to understand the concepts. But what I enjoyed even more than this was the time I got to spend with the Mexican missionaries. NTM has a Bible school and missionary training center in Mexico that have trained many missionaries who are now working in tribal locations. These guys are my new role models for dedication. One completely Mexican team has been working for 8 years to learn a tribal language that has 7 (!) levels of tone. For perspective, that is more tones than Mandarin (4) or Cantonese (6). These guys are still going strong 8 years later, dedicated to bringing the gospel to these linguistically isolated people.
I loved each meal time because it offered me more time with these Mexican missionaries. But also because, well hey, I’m a sucker for Mexican food. This isn’t the stuff you can just pick up at Taco Bell — this is the real deal.
Tonight we are eating a meal that consists of tostadas (a tortilla size chip), refried beans, and tuna salad. You spread the beans on the tostada, and then pour the tuna salad on top. It’s so good that I have eaten way more than my fair share. “Huh? What’s that?” My buddies are daring me to eat another jalapeño. Supper number one is in the books.
Every meal I attempted to get near at least one of these missionaries. I was enriched getting to know people like the girl from an urban Mexico area preparing to go to Papua New Guinea. Or the young indigenous man from Guatemala getting ready to go to the Asia-Pacific region. I met a Mexican man God is leading to a closed country. Also I became acquainted with a Guarahio tribe native-tongue translator. It’s beyond evident that God is raising up people from around the world to carry His gospel to places it has never gone.
After meals, I attempted to continue my fellowship as long as possible. Tonight, after dinner, my friend Edwin from Guatemala asks if I’d like to go with a couple of them to get a hamburger in town. Having just gorged myself at dinner, I am reluctant. I finally decide to go, but I won’t get a hamburger. After we pull up to the roadside stand I realize how weak my willpower is. They have bacon double cheeseburgers. There’s no way I can resist supper number two.
As soon as I get back, I am informed that I’m invited to a going away party for the guy who is preparing to go to a closed country. He wants to learn English before he goes, and is heading for the US in the morning. So, now you know how I got here — sitting at a table with 10 Latinos, trying to get the other half of this taco down my gullet. I feel like a beached whale. But relationships are important. And I don’t know enough about Mexican culture to know how to say no in an appropriate way.
Just because they speak Spanish in Mexico doesn’t mean that the culture is anything like Paraguay. In Paraguay, I greet all female friends with a kiss on each cheek. In Mexico, it’s only one kiss, and I’m still not quite sure when I’m supposed to do it. In Paraguay, food is seasoned primarily with salt. In Mexico, food is flavored with a wide range of condiments including chiles (hot peppers) and avocados. In Paraguay, guaraná is the preferred soft drink flavor. In Mexico, it’s apple. Yes, I’m definitely in another country.
Finally I’ve gotten the taco down, but to my disbelief they ask if I tried the salsa. “No, I didn’t.” They say the consumption of another taco — you know, to try the salsa — is therefore a necessity. Oh well. When in Mexico right?
Supper number 3 is in my stomach, and a very worthwhile experience has been wrapped up. Thanks to the great folks in Mexico for expanding the gospel’s reach!