Monday, May 21, 2018

Speak English! This is America!

In the past few days I’ve had conversations with a few people about the ugly incident with the New York attorney, an absolutely horrible person by all accounts, who complained obnoxiously about two workers in a restaurant who were speaking Spanish to each other.  He threatened to call immigration authorities on them because they were not speaking English.
“People who come to America should learn English,” a couple of people said to me while we were on the subject.
I agree.  But probably not for the reason they think people should learn English.  People who live in this country should learn English because it makes their life here much easier than if they don’t.  Speaking English doesn’t make you a better American or a smarter person.  A lot of very stupid people speak English (and nothing else).  And no, English is not the official language of the United States.  There isn’t one.
I’d like to point out that NOT ONE of the people who said to me, “People who come to America should learn English,” speaks another language besides English.  And they don’t have to.  They live in America where they can get by just fine in English.  And to a person, NOT ONE of these people has lived outside the USA.  And they don’t have to do that either.

A couple of things you need to remember.  Just because you hear two people speaking Spanish or Chinese or Swahili, doesn't mean they can't speak English.  They may just be more comfortable speaking their native language, just like you would be.  And I've never met an immigrant to this country who didn't want to learn English
BUT what all of thes "they must learn English" people probably fail to realize is how difficult it is to learn another language.  I know.  I've tried.  Twice, seriously.  It is hard.  So hard.  It is gut wrenching.  If you want to see a grown man cry, go to a language school where is seriously trying to learn a new language.  I've seen it happen many times.  I might have even been the grown man crying more than once.
 But even more than hard work of learning and memorizing new words and rules, it takes daily, meaningful interaction with people who speak the language you’re trying to learn.  Without that it will never happen.  And that's where empathy and compassion should come into the picture.
Has anyone thought about how hard that is?  You’re in a new place and you just really need people to talk to in your new language.  Been there.  Done there.  Hated it.  Most people don’t have time and don’t want to make the time to talk to you.
So if you’re one of those people who says, “Well, I DO think they need to learn English,” then how about this?  Find some of them.  It won’t be hard to do.  I promise.  If you look, you’ll find an immigrant longing to become more a part of the community but with no idea how to start.  Invite them to your house for a meal.  They will probably bring something to eat that will change your life.  Invite them to a party, to church, to a ballgame.
It will enrich your world and change someone’s life forever.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

How Far Are You Willing to Go?

There is so much talk, especially on social media, such, let me say, bravado. And I confess I have played no small part in it. But I want us to think about a few things. Maybe if we think in advance, we will equip ourselves to do the right thing.

If you know me at all, you know my obsession with genocide, particularly what we call The Holocaust, but also Cambodia (I had friends in college who lived through it.) Rwanda. Serbia. I have read more about The Holocaust because there is just more to read. I bet I've read more than you. If you think you've read more than I, we need to talk.

When injustice presents itself, it is pretty easy to see myself, and I bet it is for you as well to see yourself NOT as an active perpetrator. For example, there was the story out of Rwanda of the Seventh Day Adventist bishop. A group of Tutsi pastors and their families was holding up in a hospital. They sent a letter to their bishop whom I will not give the honor of naming. The pastors sent him a letter that said in part, "We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families." They were begging for him to intervene. What they didn't realize is that he was actually the mastermind planning their murders. [You can read the book by Philip Gourevitch]

Yeah, most of us know we aren't that person. We aren't going to plan any murders nor are we going to actively set out to hurt a people or a person. 

But what about walking down the street in early 1930s Germany and seeing thugs mistreating an orthodox Jewish man, pulling out his beard or ear locks or pushing him into the muddy, streets, at that time still filled with horse shit? What would you do? Early on, it didn't appear to get someone into too much trouble for telling the thugs to stop. They were in the early stages of thugness. What would have happened if the public had just let it be known that they wouldn't put up with it?

What are we doing?

What about when they painted "Jude" on the front window on the shop where you went every day. When the brown shirts asked people to boycott them, most appear to have obeyed. But I've read quite a number of stories where people went right on shopping in these stores and suffered nothing.

Which would you be? Which would I be?

What would have happened on  Kristallnacht if neighbors had flooded the streets to resist. It appears most stayed in their homes peeking through the slit in the curtains. What if? When it happens, and it will, if you are there, will you risk it? Will I?

What about when it gets more intense? What about when the stakes are higher? When the mother and father come to you and ask you to take in their child before they are deported, it sounds reasonable enough. How could you not? But what do you do when you find out that if you are caught, you will be killed. "Fair enough," maybe you you think, "It is he right thing to do." But that's not all. They will not only kill you but your entire family and sometimes even your entire village? What then? I don't know. 

Certainly more people in occupied Europe turned their backs. There are great stories of those who risked their lives to save people. Often when they are asked why they did it, it is like they don't understand the question. Because it was the right thing to do. Oh I hope I could be those people.

What if you are a soldier? What if you're supposed to obey orders and the order today is to shoot innocent civilians into a mass grave and not to waste a bullet on the children, just throw them in. You know it is wrong. Everything you've ever known tells you this is wrong. But if you disobey, you end up in the pit too.

All of these genocides are mass murders, or course. But at the same time each murder was an individual murder. At some point individuals made decisions. It was a human being deciding to do the wrong thing. 

To pass by on the other side of the street when someone is being mistreated. To choose not to get involved. To close the door when the refugee comes knocking, and you can year the wolves at their heals. When a hand with a tin cup reaches through the cattle car slats and asks for water, the SS man says "No!" Will you risk it? Will I?

Millions of decisions were made in the moment. Most chose to obey. Most chose to do that which they knew was wrong.

How far are you willing to go? I ask myself this question. Am I willing to believe that there are things worse than my own death. I often wonder about those perpetrators that went on to live long lives. And I wonder if in their nightmares, if they thought their lives would have been better cut short by doing the right thing.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Happy Holidays! Merry Xmas!

Bah! Humbug!

I'm getting tired of Christians at Christmas. Just this week I saw a post on FaceBook, a picture of a nativity scene, with the caption that FaceBook had banned such pictures. Never mind that the post was not removed. That one comes around every year and has been proven time and again to be untrue.

I'm not sure where this obsession with wanting to feel persecuted for one's faith comes from. But come on! It isn't happening. There is no war on Xmas. Xmas is alive and well in all its glory, sacred and secular.

I'm going to get mail because I used X in place of Christ even though the use of X for Christ goes back long before the word Christmas was born.

So some people prefer for you to say, "Happy Holidays!" instead of "Merry Xmas!" So what! "Happy holidays" is quite useful, killing two turtle doves with one stone.

If you worked where I work, it just doesn't feel right to say, "Merry Christmas!" to an observant Jew, not that any of them I know would truly take offense.

And what his "holiday" anyway? It's a holy day. So you could say that when someone wishes you a happy holiday, they are recognizing that you are celebrating something holy.

But I don't know. Maybe it just makes people feel more devout if they think they are being persecuted.

I hear too many sermons this time of year on recapturing the true meaning of Christmas. Many of these inevitably turn into a rant on commercialism and the fact that someone somewhere called the tree a holiday tree.

It seems like a wasted opportunity to me. While wasting words on how we are approaching the end of Christendom as we know it, they might instead be truly telling a story of hope and redemption, a story that God came down.  Someone might be waiting to hear such a story.

I don't think God cares if you say "Happy Holidays." I don't know. He didn't tell me that. I don't think Jesus cares if you celebrate his birthday or not. He honestly doesn't seem so much a birthday kind of guy. I mean he did seem to like a good party but in the end, I don't think he'd give a rat's, eh, wait, maybe I'm starting to rant. From all I see of Jesus, he wouldn't have been preaching about how the nation was going to hell in a hand basket because people aren't allowed their nativity scenes in public spaces. In fact, he'd be more likely to come into your church building and turn over your American flags, Xmas trees and offering plates and yell, "What do you think this is all about?"

I think it is easy for the church to take the easy road. It's easier to talk about the meaning of Xmas and lament its demise. It is an easy sermon to preach. 

What's hard is to do what Jesus did. If you believe the narrative, he got pretty humbled. From the throne of heaven to a stable in Bethlehem, born to a poor family, and you know the rest of the story. It was quite a come down. We Americans aren't good at that.

Even if it should turn out to be that Christians in America are persecuted, should that surprise? Christians should be surprised that they aren't. And if they are not feeling the scorn of the world, they should wonder what they are doing wrong. 

So far I don't see it. Not here. There are Christians in the world severely persecuted even today in the 21st century. Some say more there are more people killed for their faith today than ever before. It's just what I heard. You can research it.

Bing Crosby surely started the war back in 1942 in the Xmas classic film Holiday Inn when he sang, "Happy Holidays" instead of Merry Christmas, darling. Maybe that's where we started on the slippery slope down Mount Crumpet.

I think that people spend their time ranting about the war on Xmas have a problem with the meaning of these tidings of great joy. I don't think they believe it enough. Somehow, they think this two-thousand year-old story is going to be lost. 

Maybe they are right. It is being lost. It is being lost to those who might hear the story of heaven come down to earth, Emmanuel, God with us. Instead they hear that Xmas is being taken away because some don't want a nativity scene on the courthouse lawn or some store employees are asked to say, "Happy Holidays."

If concern about how people don't celebrate an ancient birthday the way you think they should is the biggest thing you have to concern yourself with at this time of year, I'd say you need to get out more.

Turn off the noise. When people start talking about the war on Christmas, turn them off. The true message is cheapened. It is making good news bad news. If it bothers you that Christmas is being lost, then I suggest you turn off CNN, FoxNews and the Kardashians and get out and be meaning of Christmas.

It was Jesus himself who said why he came. It was Jesus himself who said why he came, " proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free." St. Luke 4:18

Good grief people! Where have you been? No one can keep Christmas from coming. Haven't you seen Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas? It came! It came just the same.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

World AIDS Day 2015

If you know me at all, you know I have an obsession with genocide. I have read volumes and volumes about the Holocaust. But I've also read much about Rwanda, Cambodia, and Bosnia as well as Stalin's Soviet Union and Mao's China. If I can come up with on reason I'm so interested in these morbid events, it would come down to trying to understand how the world let it happen.
And on this World AIDS Day, I'm reminded of a holocaust that happened right here in America in my lifetime.
Again I'm left wondering, "How did we let this happen?" Yes, it was a little different. This was a terrible disease killing people instead of madmen.
I'm always most particularly interested how the Christian church responded to all of these holocausts. I can only read about all of these massive human slaughters. But this one I lived through. And during the height of the AIDS epidemic of the 80s and 90s, I had the vantage point of viewing it as a closeted gay man from inside the evangelical world.
When AIDS hit, I was just out of high school. I entered a conservative, evangelical seminary to train for ministry. This was in 1983. I spent the next ten years at evangelical colleges, as a student, undergraduate, graduate and then as an employee of a parachurch organization with offices on some of these conservative colleges.
AIDS was huge news in those years. Not on our Christian college campuses. We had chapel twice a week. I rarely missed. I don't ever remember AIDS being a topic of any chapel session. I don't remember it ever being talked about in class. Well, wait, it was mentioned a few times, the gist being the "reap what you sow" line.
It was a fearful time. Huge numbers of Americans polled in the early years believed that people with AIDS should be tattooed or put into special camps. I get it. It was a terrifying disease and so little was known about or how contagious it might be.
Still, the American churches did so little to help. Oh yes, you can find a handful wonderful examples of Christians and churches here and there who developed wonderful ministries to help people with AIDS. But I was on the inside and I, too, stood by, afraid of everything, especially myself.
Indeed even this very day, a Christian minister friend posted the "reap what you sow" passage from Galatians. I don't know if this is coincidental on World AIDS Day or not.  I’m not saying “reap what you sow” isn’t a true maxim.  Of course, it is.
The church did not lead. The American evangelical church was happy to let the government deal with it. The problem was that the Reagan administration was doing practically nothing. Indeed it took Reagan years to even publicly utter the word AIDS after over 20,000 people had died.
Gay communities all over the country took the lead to take care of the dying when often even the suffering ones’ own families refused.  And they did a remarkable job. The organizations started in the homes of dying people to care of other dying people have become benchmarks for how to do it for all kinds of charities. And it brought LGBT people together like never before.
But where were the evangelical churches? I think I know. AIDS proved them right in their minds. Those people were getting what they deserved. It was solving a pesky problem. Indeed the only thing I heard in my circles in those years went along the lines of "They brought his on themselves."
Even if that were true, it isn't how Jesus taught his followers to love.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Big, Bad City

One night in Caracas, a young man rang our door bell.

He was about our age and gave us a real sob story, the details of which I don’t remember. He was friendly, overly so as to make him even more suspicious. But I had just cooked dinner, which was rare as eating out was so cheap for us. I remember I had cooked pork chops. So we invited him to stay for dinner. He was definitely a character full of outlandish tales of adventure, all too good to be true and too much for one guy. And he talked about a girlfriend named Nieves who worked at the Holiday Inn Caracas.

I have no memory what he told us his name was but for the purposes of this story, let’s call him José.

José said he needed a place to stay for the night and so, Brent, my co-worker, and I conferred and felt we couldn’t turn him out. I had Brent entertain the guy while I went up stairs and locked up the very few valuables we had. I think we only had two things of any value, one of the very first laptops, a Zenith that had no hard drive and took the original floppy disk and a fax machine, I think, but maybe I’m getting anachronistic. No, it wouldn’t have been a fax machine in 1986. Anyway, we didn’t have much for people who lived in a manse with six or more bathrooms--I’ve lost count. If he wanted to steal something, he’d have been hard-pressed to find anything worth much.

I made up a bed in one of our huge spare rooms for him. I’m quite sure I slept with one eye open that night. At least, I never heard anything and when we woke up the next morning, he was still there. We had breakfast and he went on his way.

We’d seen the last of him.

Our landlady, Carmen, had a son, Victor, who was probably in his early 30s. When he couldn’t take his mother any more, which, knowing her, would be often, he would live in an apartment which was a part of our house but with a completely separate entrance. We rarely saw him.

Late one evening, Brent and I came home from having visited a family in the far suburbs of Caracas to find a desperate Victor waiting for us. He had been in the garage working on his car and a man, our José, was walking around the house and came upon Victor. Looking back, José was looking for a way to get in the house but Victor didn’t seem to notice this at the time because José took him by surprise and told him he was looking for Marty and Brent. So, Victor assumed he was our friend.

José, being the friendly guy he was, convinced Victor that he was “one of us” and then casually drew attention to Victor’s motor cycle, his pride and joy. He asked Victor if he could take his motorcycle around the block for a spin. Victor said, “Sure!”

When we got home and Victor wanted to know where we could find our friend, José. We had only one lead, Nieves at the Holiday Inn. Sure enough, she was real. And she said she didn’t know where José was but that she hoped he was dead.

As far as I know, Victor never saw his motorcycle again. When we told Victor the story and how we came to know José and that he wasn’t really our friend, Victor said, “You guys can’t trust people like that in this city. You have to be careful.”

Sí, Victor. We know that.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Poor indeed

This is a follow-up to my previous post.

Let me start this out by saying that there was a period of a few years when I couldn't tolerate the thought of eating an egg.

Since I didn't find a Venezuelan family to "bond" with in the summer of 1986 by moving in with a family, it was decided that I, along with my co-worker, Brent, should accompany a man in the neighborhood on a trip to his hometown in the interior of Venezuela.

We must have met Chuy during our first couple of days upon arrival in Venezuela. Chuy is the diminutive name in Latin America used for men named Jesus. Chuy was probably close to 60 years-old, a peasant man from the Andean mountain town of Merida. He and his wife were house-sitting in a mansion up the street from ours while the family who lived there were on an extended tour of Europe.

It so happened that a few weeks after our arrival, Chuy was going home to Merida for a few days. He didn't speak a lick of English so we'd be forced to communicate with him only in Spanish. We were to go there by bus, about an 18 hour ride.

So we arrived at the bus terminal in Caracas very early in the morning. That's my memory at least. It could have been as late as 9:00 a.m., which I still consider early. The bus to Merida was modern and clean and air-conditioned. We were the first to board and there weren't many people on when we left Caracas. This was the local bus, meaning that it stopped along the way at every city and town along the route.

I was so smart. I decided we should sit in the front because everyone knows the back of the bus can be uncomfortable, especially on bumpy, windy roads. What I didn't know is that the radio speaker was just above our heads and played what I would call Mariachi music for 18 hours straight except for the occasional 70s American pop song, which was always the same song, "ouga chaka, ouga chaka, ouga ouga ouga chaka...I can't fight this feeling" by Blue Swede. I like the song. I like it once every few months. Or years. It seemed to be on an hour loop. But I have to say, at this point, I loved it.

To be honest, I don't remember much about the trip during the day. I remember after dark, we stopped at someplace to eat. It seemed like a truck stop high in the mountains. And it seemed scary to me. But I think it was just that everything was completely unknown. We were given a menu but it quickly became clear that there was only one thing left, some kind of beef. It came served with black beans (caraotas), an arepa and it was delicious. It was like my mom and aunts cook when they cook a cheap cut of meat and slow cook it forever until it falls apart and is served with a rich gravy.

After dinner, the bus slowly emptied out at what seemed to be random stops in the middle of nowhere and there were some empty double seats. I decided to try to curl up and sleep. What I didn't realize is that by now, we were in the Andes. And the roads must have been hairpin, because every time I would get close to sleep, we'd round a curve and I'd practically be thrown out of my seat. It also appeared that the driver probably wanted to get to our destination very soon.

It was midnight by the time we arrived in Merida. Chuy splurged to take a cab to his home. We went up and up and up. And then the cab could go no further and we got out and walked up and up and up another ten or fifteen minutes.

When we arrived at his home, it was clear that Chuy was poorer than we had imagined. It was July but we were high in the mountains and it was cold, very cold, shivering cold, I-didn't-dress-for-this cold. There was no heat. He showed Brent and me to a double bed and we quickly crawled under the covers. It was like going to bed in my grandma's house when I was little. The bedrooms were cold in the winter and you just get under the covers and warm the space you're in and try not to move. But we were tired so we passed out.

In the morning we woke up to an empty house. Chuy was nowhere to be found. I found a bathroom. There was a long pipe sticking out of the wall with water pouring out of it. I wanted to wake up and get rid of my bed head. Without thinking, I stuck my head under it. Whoa! Immediate brain freeze. That water was freezing. I looked out the window and realized we were high in Alpine terrain. That water was coming right out of the mountain.

It had been weeks since I'd had cold, fresh water that hadn't been treated or boiled. So I drank that cold water for a long time. More brain freeze.

I then went to the front of the house and went out onto the front porch. Wow! This was a stunning view of snow peaked mountains as far as you could see. We were basically in a slum with a millionaire's view.

Chuy came home and brought us into the kitchen. He made us fresh arepas and fried eggs. Dread filled me. "Please don't eat with us," I was thinking. He served us each two eggs, very over easy, an arepa with a nice dollop of Underwood Deviled Ham.

Chuy didn't stay to eat with us or make sure that we ate every bite. I offered Brent my eggs and, being one of the nicest guys in the world, he took one. But I just couldn't bear to eat the other. What luck! A cat slinked into the kitchen. I "accidentally" dropped the egg on the floor which the cat made quick work of, with not a trace left. A ate the arepa and deviled ham, which was like ambrosia to me. In fact, I wish I had a can of it to eat right now.

Chuy had come home to Merida for some kind of business. Looking back, it now appears that it was probably some kind of legal issue so he was busy during the day and we were free to roam.

But as we accompanied Chuy from home to the city center, it appeared that this poor peasant must have been the most popular man in town. Everyone knew him and obviously loved him. People came out of their homes and businesses to greet him.

Merida has a cable car, the longest in the world by one way of counting, that takes you high into the Andes, higher than anywhere in the continental U.S. or Europe. Brent and I spent a day up there.

Our Spanish was not terrible for beginners. On one of the cable cars, we happened to be on a car with just two other people, two girls about our age. They assumed we didn't speak Spanish, which was a fairly good assumption and not completely inaccurate. But they were talking about us and how one could have one and one the other. This went on for awhile because the first segment up the mountain is pretty long. When we left them at the next stop, we made sure to say farewell to them in our best Spanish. They were mortified. Needless to say they did not get in the cable car with us for the next segment.

We were not with Chuy during the daytimes so we ate on our own, probably pasta or pizza, always easy to find in Venezuela. But at breakfast and dinner we were with him and it was always the dreaded egg, a freshly fried arepa and some sort of canned meat product. I know that Chuy was giving us the best that he could afford. I wonder if he noticed the cat getting fatter. But I still crave Underwood Deviled Ham on an arepa.

I don't know exactly how long we stayed with Chuy, I think three full days. We met some of his family. If I remember correctly, he had eight children.

Most of the population of Merida lived in the valley. But poor Chuy lived high up on the mountain with a view of the highest peaks of the Andes and fresh mountain air and cold pure water running right into his house. Poor indeed!

On the trip home, which I dreaded terribly, Chuy suggested that we go by taxi. It isn't uncommon in Latin America to hire a taxi to take you very long distances. It was a shorter trip but I'm not sure it was more comfortable. I sat on the hump the entire 700 miles.

Monday, September 3, 2012

My First Kidney Stone

You never forget your first kidney stone. You never plan to because you never intend to have another.

Actually, what I remember as my first kidney stone wasn't actually my first, but I didn't know that at the time.

It was July of 1986. I was twenty-two years-old and had been in Caracas, Venezuela for just under two weeks. There were a dozen of us, mostly Bible college students on a venture to start a new church in this city of over 4 million people. This venture was in some ways my baby. It was to be my internship and was up to me to recruit enough people to make it happen. So I did. I didn't recruit everyone but did recruit about half.

We had spent the previous month in San Jose, Costa Rica learning Spanish. In that month alone, I'd already experienced food-poisoning and amoebas. But hey, I had lost weight so it wasn't that bad. I could use an amoeba right now.

So, we had rented a large house, a mansion or as they call them there, a quinta, in an upper class neighborhood in Caracas where 75% of the people lived in high-rise apartment buildings. Our Quinta was called La Fundación. In Caracas and some other parts of the Caribbean, they don't number houses. They name them. And you can name your house Jacqueline if you want, even if the house next door to you is Jacqueline. And while JFK was President of the United States, he and Jackie made a trip to Venezuela. The Venezuelans loved them. There were Quinta Jacquelines everywhere. Have you ever tried to find a house on a street by name? Well, in Caracas they had a huge, six-inch thick book like the yellow pages that lists every house by name so you can kind of find the house you're looking for. It is very clever. Who ever thought it was better to number them?

It was a two-story house, not counting the basement, which was huge. There were three large bedrooms upstairs and three large rooms downstairs with a maid's quarter. In all there were six bathrooms, the three main bathrooms all had bidets. There were two big mango trees in the backyard. There was no grass. The yard was brick, which I think is ideal. If I ever have a yard, I want it to be brick. But I don't want a mango tree, even though I adore mangoes, but when they fall from high onto the brick yard, they make a terrible mess that attracts bees.

We rented La Fundación from a really tall, eccentric woman named Carmen Pereira who spoke so fast that even her fellow Venezuelans said they couldn't understand her. And she seemed to take joy in telling you something and then asking you what she just said. I got drunk at her house one night but that's a story for later.

I was living in La Fundación. We weren't supposed to be living there. We were supposed to be “building bridges” by living with Venezuelan families. All but two of us had managed to find a place. I don't know about the other guy, but I didn't look too diligently. I'd just spent a month living with a wonderful Costa Rican family but living on my own in a mansion seemed more appealing. And just let me say right here, “Doug, I'm sorry, I didn't really look for a family to live with.” There. That's off my chest.

So one Friday morning I was showering and, I'm not kidding you, I dropped the soap. I bent to pick it up and a pain shot through my back. No big deal. But the pain didn't go away and over the next half hour, got worse and became unbearable. We say “unbearable,” but most of us who say “unbearable” bore it somehow, so I guess it was just really intense.

Finally, our leader, Doug Lucas, was summoned to my bedside. He asked me what was wrong. I replied, “I'm dying.” And I really thought I was and I think he really believed me too. I had gone through it all my mind already. I had been a major part of organizing this new venture, and I wasn't even going to make it through the first month. I was going to be a martyr. And I didn't even have any major quotes for future generations to quote about me or to grace the back cover of my biography, which would become standard in missions classes. They would name a dormitory after me at a Bible college.

There were already great quotes from the summer, the best being, “It's cool,” spoken by fellow-intern, Jon Spalding. When things didn't go as planned (and things never go as planned), Jon would nonchalantly say, “It's cool.” But that wasn't my quote.

So after Doug, was summoned to my deathbed, he consulted with Leslie Penhollow, who was on our team and was a nurse and who spoke fluent Spanish. It was decided to take me to the hospital. We got into a cab, Leslie, Jim (her husband) and I.. On the way, the pain moved from my back to my front. And a light went on in my head. I said, “I'm having a kidney stone. The pain just moved.” I don't even know how I knew this. I don't ever remember knowing anything about kidney stones.

Well, at least I wasn't going to die.

Leslie confirmed that it sounded like that was what I was happening. Jim confirmed that he had had them before and it sounded like I might not be dying after all.

We got to the hospital. And though my Spanish was pretty good for two years in high school and a month-long crash course in Costa Rica and having listened to tapes of Venezuelan Spanish for almost a year (“Al pasarse la esponga el jabon hace burbujas.”) my hospital Spanish was just not there.

The rest is a blur. They put me on IV liquid and pain killer and in a short while, say, fewer than three hours, the stone had passed and they sent me home. They sent me with pain killer in case it happened again. But they didn't send me with a nice bottle of pills, no. They sent me with syringes and vials of liquid to inject myself with painkiller. I never had to use them and I'm not sure what I would have done had I needed to. Leslie showed how to do it and had me practice on an orange. But I knew that I was not an orange and having always hated shots, I probably was incapable of shooting up. The other option was that I could go to a pharmacy and someone there would inject me.

On this internship, we pretty much did everything by twos. So the next day as everyone went out to pass out brochures about our upcoming evangelistic campaign, “Cruzada de la Familia.” The telephone number of the house was on the brochure so it was decided that someone should always stay at the house if anyone called with questions such as, “Which La Fundación is that?” Not that I would have understood the question nor would I have been able to give a decent answer. Since I had been under the weather, I was elected to stay back that day to man the phone and since were doing things by twos, someone had to stay with me. The person who got the job that day said, “I came here to save souls not to babysit.” He actually said that.

I realized that back in May, a few weeks before I left for Latin America, I had had a kidney stone on a Saturday night at my parents' house. I had terrible back pain and my mother had some kind of pain killer for something or the other and had given it to me and I must have passed the stone in my sleep. Now that I'm practically an expert, it makes sense. Almost all of my stones have come in pairs. The first one must have been a chip off the old block. The other one hung around to give me this wonderful memory.

And for the record, that guy did get to save souls later. Or at least he want back there as a missionary for several years. I'm not sure how many souls he saved. And I guess we'll never know how many were lost because he got stuck babysitting me.