Nora and Anton with his siblings
As it turns out, my broken Spanish wasn’t all that helpful in Manyaya, a mountain village that borders Haiti with mostly Creole-speaking inhabitants. Luckily, they have never seen Americans (from the US) before, so we didn’t have to do all that much to be entertaining. While taking a break from mixing cement and carrying it over in small buckets to the little hut of a home we were working on, we started playing with our younger audience. The bubbles were a huge hit! As we started to play soccer after lunch, more kids came over and it quickly grew to a game of ten-on-one (me) until I asked for some help and recruited one of the ten to come on my side. I later learned that this eight-year-old was, perhaps, the only one of them who understood me, as he was fluent in both Creole and Spanish. It turns out that wasn’t the only time Jose Jr. came to my rescue. He became my official translator in Manyaya.
The next day, Jose Jr. and his friends came over to the chapel as we were working. Their longing eyes and bright smiles were eagerly awaiting to play a game, like we did the day before; without bubbles or a soccer ball, I had to think fast. They proved what quick learners they are as we played “Duck, Duck, Goose” (warning: in the Manyaya version, there’s a lot more running. I couldn’t quite explain how we only run around the circle of those sitting on the ground). Nonetheless, we were having fun and all was going well until this other older friend came around. He was probably around 20 years old. I tried to talk to him when we were sharing our lunch with the Manyaya natives but it was obvious he didn’t speak Spanish. However, I did learn a few things: his name was Anton, he was the cool idol of the young boys and he had a thirst that wasn’t quenched by the food and juice we gave him, or kept giving him as he often came for multiple helpings of whatever we were offering.
I couldn’t understand what conversation Anton was having with the kids but I felt like he was putting on a show for the boys by the way they were giggling. I gathered that he was saying some inappropriate words in Creole and after some investigating, it was confirmed they were “malas palabras.” I told Anton to stop speaking that way. He nodded and walked away from me while smirking. I also noticed that Anton had two bags of potato chips and one of the moms had none. I walked over and told him to share and give the mom a bag of chips. After my second request, he did and then he asked me for more juice. I said “No.” “Oh, no! What’s happening? I don’t want to be in work-mode and be the disciplinarian. I want to be happy missionary-me. What am I doing? I’m here to serve.” As these thoughts raced through my mind, I went over to the cooler, got our bottle of juice and reluctantly poured Anton his third cup. I walked out of the chapel and tried to shake off my anger. As I walked around, I made my way to my prayer partner, Michelle, and shared my worries: “I think Anton is being a bad influence on the boys and I don’t know what to do,” to which she simply replied, “I know. We have to pray for him.” “Aright. I mean, I know, but…” It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. When we mixed cement or painted, I was told precisely what was needed and could concretely see how I was helping these people. Where’s the formula to help the boys? I pensively kicked around some dirt and gave in as I made my way back in the chapel. “Come Holy Spirit, what should I do?” I looked around and found a Spanish bible. Then, I flipped through it and my conclusion was that my Spanish was much too limited to read it, nevertheless explain it to them. Now what? I discovered something else under the bible, a catechism book. Aha! There was something in there about doing a skit. As I tried to picture the complexity of how I’d communicate that, I continued flipping through. When I found the page with simple prayers, I knew this was it. Then I looked up. Who was sitting there on one of the pews? Anton.
So, I sat next to Anton with the catechism book in hand and asked him if he knew the Padre Nuestro. He mildly shook his head no and then in agreement when I asked if he wanted to pray it together. I realized he couldn’t read it so I slowly read two-to-three words at a time and he repeated after me. At the end, I asked if he wanted to pray it again. We began again after he shook his head. This continued over and over again, perhaps eight to ten times. My anger had melted away and I invited the Holy Spirit to guide me to what’s next, so I attempted to explain the parts, starting with Padre Nuestro. I asked Anton if he knew who Padre Nuestro was. I told him “He is Our Lord, Our Father in heaven and that makes us brother and sister.” “Somos hermanos.” I’m not sure he understood my Spanish but I felt as though that thirst he had was being quenched, so I continued. I took the bible and told Anton that this is the Word of God, the daily Bread we beg for. I kissed it and gave it to him and he kissed it. As we were sharing this moment, Stephanie, another missionary came over and sat with us. She gave him her rosary. He put it around his neck immediately. I hope and pray he’ll soon learn the Ave Maria and Gloria so that he can pray the rosary and contemplate the Scriptures with each bead. Maybe next time?
On the way back to Bánica, I asked, “Lord, why am I literate and live in a country where I can read your Word whenever I want, even on my phone and receive Your ‘daily Bread’ in multiple ways: adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, receive Holy Communion and/or the sacrament of reconciliation and read Sacred Scripture through multiple media; and I can receive any of these whenever I choose?” He answered me, “so that you may share It with the least of these, your brothers and sisters.” And then at Holy Hour that evening “He said…, ‘[Nora], do you love me?’…’Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’… ‘Feed my sheep.’” (Jn 21:17)
I’m so grateful to Our Lord for having given me this opportunity to receive these three and many other blessings; and I’m also grateful for having shared these experiences with the eight other missionaries, my American hermanos.
by Nora, CBC Missionary to Bánica, Dominican Republic, Feb. 2017