The surprised look on their faces didn’t clue me in that they didn’t understand a word I was saying. Often I plop down at a lunchroom table of unsuspecting kids to start a conversation and receive stunned looks. Their expressions seem to say “where is your spaceship?” But in their bewilderment I ask a leading question or two and wait for them to engage in conversation. That was my goal this particular day but after a long awkward pause I followed with “so how do you like your school?” Still no reaction. Crickets. Then one student began to speak. “Spanish” was all he said. Yep, I had settled into a group of six guys who spoke only Spanish. Undeterred I tried fearlessly to communicate. Slow speech. Handsigns. A lot of smiling and nodding. This went on for another few painful minutes but with no success. I was about to give up and just walk away when one of the students found a solution. He found a bi-lingual friend to bridge our divide. And the conversation began.
More often the “language” divide we face with students has more to do with understanding their world and who they are. Frequently our leaders are crossing divides of age, race, personality and faith background. But quite often it’s these barriers that require us to work hard to uncover kids’ stories that will help us better articulate the hope we have in a loving Savior. No two stories are the same. Each life has its’ own hopes, joys and pain. But for each and every young person we meet there is a God who races to meet them right where they are. We are God’s hands and feet in this endeavor.
After I realized my blunder and our interpreter arrived, my conversation with my six new friends revolved around school, sports, and cafeteria food. We laughed, they said “good bye” and they headed off to class. The conversation ended far better than it had first begun. And it dawned on me that no matter how different we are, we are a lot more alike then any of us could have imagined. I am so glad I didn’t give up too early and walk away.