Aren’t you scared to go so far away from family and friends all by yourself? Not just so far away, it’s Colombia we are talking about. Do you know there is violence and drugs? Do you know the only language they speak is Spanish? Do you know how to speak Spanish? These are the questions my friends and family asked me before I came to Colombia about a year ago.
Well, my response was, “I’m not afraid to go and serve in a country where people have been affected by war and violence, am going there to make a difference by participating in their peace processes.” My mind was already made up by that time that I was going to serve as a seeder in Colombia and nothing was going to change that.
The time came when I arrived in Colombia in Feb 2016 and everything changed the moment I stepped outside the airport in Bogota. I heard people speaking Spanish and I was like, “Oh boy, there is trouble in the house,” because I could not understand a single word apart from ‘gracias’, which means thank you.
Honestly, I remembered what my family and friends were saying about language barrier and I felt like I was dumb all the time, in meetings and group discussion. There was a language limitation I felt from deep inside my heart which everyone in the group could not see and it made me feel sad and lonely because I missed home so much. Occasionally, I would ask myself, “What am I doing here?” On the other hand, this made me realize how much I needed to learn Spanish so that I could have the ability to communicate with everyone (Spanish speakers) and I began to learn.
In my opinion, it is usually good practice to mix with people from cultures or countries because everyone brings their own cultural perspectives to the group or community and people get to learn from one another. For example, in our Seed group, we have eight people from different countries, who all have different cultures and languages. It was very difficult at first for me to communicate or speak to a seeder who was a native Spanish speaker because I did not know any Spanish at that time. Nevertheless, I learned with time.
One of the things I have learned in my work with a community that was displaced 17 years ago, a community that suffered so much violence and humiliation from the armed groups, a “traumatized community”, is that when a community is displaced, community members tend to lose trust and confidence in each other. There is also a drastic change in their social and economic life. The poverty levels also increase and the strings of good communication between each other are broken.
I soon came to realize that the community was full traumatized people, some of which I believe were still carrying the heavy burdens of violence in their hearts. I was still figuring out ways and strategies about how I could share my ideas and gifts with the community and the community too was figuring out how to work with me. This time of figuring things out was very hard at first but I had the will to keep going.
Days and months went by as I was overwhelmed in my own little world of stress mainly because of the inability to communicate well.However, me stress levels lowered as I started to get involved in the community processes.. I knew that community work is a gradual process and I had to put my hope and trust in the Lord at that point.
Despite all these challenges I faced in my first Seed year, such as language barriers, differences in cultural and communication, I decided to view these challenges as my training ground as well as looking at them as things that help me to become a better person. I am so glad am part of the Seed Colombia team!