It is amazing how words become powerless in foreign lands. Outside of his home country, an eloquent speaker can suddenly become a clumsy buffoon in places where his words mean nothing. This is often how we felt during our first week at camp here in São Paulo, Brazil. Quickly after arriving, we encountered the difficulties of our language barrier as we tried to communicate with our fellow Brazilian staff members. Some of them spoke English, though most only spoke a little. We quickly found ourselves wishing we spoke Portuguese, and our actions seemed to become magnified.
Even with this language barrier, however, we managed to find ways to communicate. Our Brazilian counterparts, beautifully modeled how to do this for us, for they are masters of it. When we arrived on Monday, we received a warm welcome of great food and dancing to various songs they loved. It seems that all Brazilians are good at dancing, or at least competent at it. We Fellows often stood clumsily by watching them dance and occasionally tried to join in (some more successfully than others). It was truly stunning to me how welcomed we felt with few words. Smiles and open hearts built connections. Where words are few, but connection is desired, actions, emotions, and ultimately, God become the central connecting factors.
On Tuesday, the campers arrived and the camp staff danced for four hours welcoming each camper individually with dancing and joyous chants. This displayed to us how deeply the camp counselors cared for the kids coming. A simple, “Welcome,” would have gone nowhere without a genuine excitement about it and eagerness for it to be felt. This staff meant what they said.
Day after day they displayed this — whether it was to us, or to the campers around us. The love the staff had for us was obvious in how they treated us. They eagerly tried to communicate no matter how frustrating it felt, and they sought to bring us into the community though we were foreign. Their love for the campers was obvious as well. There were many hugs, laughs, dances, shouts, chants, and more among them, all done out of love and a passion to show it.
Living amongst fellow Brazilian believers can teach us all something about love — we should not just love God and our neighbors through our words, but also our actions. Dancing is something that is a cultural norm in Brazil. But for Brazilian believers, it is something deeper because they actually have something to dance for.
One week of camp has passed and we have found ways to connect. In fact, I have found that it is often those speechless moments here that are the most powerful — playing sports, dancing, singing, laughing, or crying. But the most powerful moments are the moments where we are united in Spirit and truth under Christ Jesus our Lord. No language binds our God, and no barrier can keep his children from connecting, for He is our ultimate connector. Praise Him.
– Michael Heard for the São Paulo team