By Dan King
About a year ago, pre-pandemic, one of my Guatemalan students invited me to her quinceañera. (For those who may not know, a Hispanic girl’s 15th birthday is an occasion for a no-expenses-spared party to signify her “coming of age.”) It was to be held at her evangelical church. I arrived a few minutes late, assuming the celebration would begin on Spanish time, only to find myself slipping into the back of a crowded, brightly decorated sanctuary, with lively praise music already underway.
I noticed two other Anglos sitting several rows in front of me, friends of mine from another church. Although I am an ADHD type person, I managed the first hour and a half of music, a sermon from the pastor, special music, a second sermon from the pastor, special rituals, prayers for Maria, and testimonials. Then, upon learning that there would be another sermon by someone else, followed by cake and ice cream, I quietly exited.
Several days later I met one of the Anglos, who told me she and her friend had lasted the entire celebration. Then she added, “Jane said she thought she had fallen down a rabbit hole into another world.”
This is the image of much of the Anglo-Hispanic interchange in the Dover-New Philadelphia area. Or to frame it in a more egalitarian (and wintertime) image, we could see it as stepping through the wardrobe in The Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe into a different reality. So much of the lives of Guatemalan immigrants is hidden from the awareness of many in my neighborhood. Passing short, brown-skinned people in the aisles at Walmart. A woman in brightly-colored, typical dress walking the sidewalk with a baby wrapped tightly to her chest. Speeding down I-77 and noticing a soccer game underway nearby, with brightly colored uniforms and cheering spectators on the sidelines.
But anyone who takes a little time, with eyes and ears open, will become aware of so much more! The following quote on my computer desk reminds me often of this truth: “Blessed are those who see beautiful things in humble places where others see nothing.”— Camille Pissarro
Here are some of the things we might see if we keep our eyes open: High school students sitting camouflaged in normality, while working 8-12 hours at night in factories. Sending money back to their families in Guatemala. Trying to stay awake in class and pass tests and homework in their third language. Falling further behind since COVID-19 has required schools to convert to online learning. Multiple families living together in crowded apartments, afraid to confront their landlord about needed repairs on heating, plumbing and electrical, lest they be evicted. A single mother with three young children on the verge of homelessness.
In spite of these and many more challenges within the Hispanic community here, I have seen such beauty, such resilience, such a complete dependence upon God’s grace (and the kindness of English-speakers), that I am both blessed and humbled. I recall the tears of joy I shed several months ago when, after helping a young man prepare for his driver’s license, he passed both written and driving-skills sections with flying colors. Many more stories could be told if space permitted!
I am well aware that God’s call on each of our lives is personal and unique. Yet I wish to encourage all readers to step occasionally into the wardrobe, where you will see “beautiful things in humble places” among our Hispanic neighbors.
Dan King is a member of the Ohio Conference Immigration Resource Team and the Ohio Conference Ministry Development Team. A retired pastor who lives in Tuscarawas County, he works part time as an interpreter in the Dover City Schools, working with high school students.