I was recently thinking about something Hodge said during one of our church group meetings. We were very honored to receive and host the father of one of our close friends. This man is a practicing Catholic, which means he attends mass regularly. At one point in the midst of conversation, Hodge posed this simple question to him, “Can you show me that in the Bible?”
I think one of the reasons we love our city in Portugal so much is because it holds a lot of similar characteristics to Hawaii. There is a certain relaxed way of living, where value is founded not in work but in relationships and where endless hours are passed with family and friends instead of in front of the television. It could be because of these characteristics that every time we have friends from Hawaii visit us, they just seem to fall right into place when it comes to culture and ministry.
Last year, shortly after arriving back to Portugal, I had one of the most exciting and interesting conversations that I have had since living here. This conversation happened while sitting across from a friend at a local cafe. There is not much else that I enjoy more than good coffee and good conversation, especially when that conversation is spentcatching up with a friend that I hadn't seen in over 10 months.
For most people in the States, Christmas Eve is a night full of busy preparations, anxious waiting, and hopeful dreaming. As the night ends and Christmas morning arrives, so also arrives is a day full of family, food, gifts, and celebration. In Portugal, however, as I’m told and as I have now experienced, the real magic of Christmas happens on the evening before Christmas day. Not only is it a night of good food and family time, but it is one for the kids as Santa Claus delivers gifts at the stroke of midnight.
I remember the moment clearly. The morning that we were leaving to board a plane back to Portugal. We were in our temporary room, gathering the last of our things. Suddenly, I see tears filling Hodge’s eyes as you walks towards me and takes me in his arms. My worry quickly subsides as he explains his sudden reaction. “It’s happening,” he said. And with those two words, I knew everything that was taking place in his heart and in his mind, because the same thing was happening in my own heart and mind.
I do not see you as someone to be won over by my persuasive arguments to believe in the Bible and in Jesus. I do not befriend you in order to trick you into believing in what I believe, and my goal is not to convert you. I do not sit at home thinking about ways that I can preach to you, and you will never find me shoving my beliefs down your throat.
Without skipping a beat, we describe Portugal as being a "hidden gem". It is a country vastly decorated with beautiful sites, delicious foods, and some of the most kind-hearted people that you will ever meet. And while it is a country often overshadowed by its Spanish neighbor (in fact, 60% of Americans think that Portugal is a province of Spain), Portugal has quite an impressive history.
Learning another language through interaction has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of living in another culture, as well as one of the most challenging. But the more I learn, the more I realize just how beautiful the Portuguese language is. And the more I learn, the more and more my own language continues to fail me at times.
The Portuguese have a word that is said to have no direct translation in the English language. This word, "saudade", is often used to describe a deep longing for something that once was. It originated from the time when men went out to sea (many of whom died and never returned), and the wives left behind had these feelings that went beyond simply missing their husbands.
Because Portugal is a smaller country and rarely talked about in world news, it is often misplaced on the globe. And then when it is found on its correct continent, it is often misrepresented because of its proximity to Spain. But Portugal is very different from Spain, not only in language but in its way of life. So, this is our attempt at informing some about this beautiful country and unique culture.
(from May 7, 2013)
Last week, one of our colleagues posed the question: "Do you feel at home, here in Portugal?" The answer practically fell out of my mouth. "Yes!" I then gave a rapid answer to my rapid response. But now as I sit at a cafe in a small town that isn't really "home," I reflect on why I did give such a rapid response.
My reasoning does not lie in the fact that I love this place. I mean, I do love this place. The people are wonderful, our little community has been very welcoming, and while the language can be difficult, I actually find it quite enjoyable overall, and... well... Do I really need to say it? We live 50 yards from the beach! As I count all these appealing factors on one hand, I then look to the other hand. The hand that holds those days when I don't want to hear another word of Portuguese. Those days I would rather stay in, watch American TV while I eat my American burger with American mac and cheese and dream about all the places I want to go once I am back on American soil. Some days, the culture and "the way things are done" here drive me crazy.
So, I look at both of my hands. But then I see bigger hands. I see the hands that have put us in this specific place at this specific time. I see the hands that have shaped my life and my heart and have brought me to this moment. To this season in life. I see the hands of a God so powerful and so perfect and so generous as to allow me to share in His work here.
I am not here because I want to be away from family, friends, English, comfort, or convenience.
I am here because God has called us here, and I am here because I believe He has made us for this.
And the reason I answered so rapidly is just this: I feel so "at home" because I have never felt so close to the Lord. I have shed tears over missed relationships, and I have panicked over doing things that would be so simple in the States, yet requires so much effort in a foreign country. But in the midst of it all, in my very vulnerable state, He has allowed me to see more clearly my need and my desire for Him. I feel as if He has awakened my spirit by first bringing me through a state of desperation for the things I once thought I needed and into a state of complete contentment and joy in Him alone. He has brought me to my knees and to His Word. And while there are still days that I fail to completely trust Him and I remain as sinful as ever, God continues to displays his unconditional love for me in many ways, but mostly in the fact that He continues to teach me and allow me to grow in my faith.
"For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven... And knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord - for we walk by faith, not by sight."
1 Corinthians 5:1-2, 6-7
And so, my feet go forward in faith, and my heart is at home because I am walking with the Lord, and that is the closest thing to "home" that I am going to get on this earth.
(from March 31, 2013)
One aspect of Portuguese culture that I just can't get used to yet is the very typical European-styled greeting. Two kisses on the cheeks, right first and then left, without missing a beat. And the persistence of the Portuguese to keep this practice alive is quite amazing. In a room full of people, a single cheek will make its way around the entire crowd, even if it takes 5 minutes. If you have a personal bubble, forget about it in Portugal.
Well, this is where I am at.
When first meeting someone, I stick out my hand hoping they don't go for my cheeks first. In some instances, it works. In others, I am not quick enough. And as they lean in for the inevitable, half the time I am so uncomfortable that I go too fast and knock cheeks rather than gracefully touching. With many people, I can just tell them I am not quite used to the whole kissing thing yet. Some are understanding and give me my space. Others make sure I get used to the custom real fast.
What makes we wary, as well, is the range of kissing styles. Let me explain. When cheek-kissing someone for the first time, you never know what you are gonna get. With some people, mostly adults and young adults, it is more of a slight touch. No real kissing besides imitating the mouth and making the "pop" sound. With older ladies, it is much more forceful as they pull you down to their height and give you those kisses with no shame. And let's just say the young kids are still learning. Most Sundays, I literally have to hide from one particular little boy at church who seeks out the American missionary to give her two full-blown, sloppy kisses on the cheeks.
So, next time I enter that crowd or meet someone new, I will just imagine Sebastian from The Little Mermaid singing to me:
"There you see them
Standing there across the way
They don't got a lot to say
Cause the language is not the same
And you don't know why
But you wanna run and hide
Instead of kissing the Portuguese
Don't be scared
Their cheeks are all prepared
Go on and kiss the Portuguese
Ain't that sad
It's just two kisses, not that bad
Go on and kiss the Portuguese
You've got to kiss the Portuguese
Why don't you kiss the Portuguese
You gotta kiss the Portuguese
Go on and kiss the Portuguese."
Thank you, Sebastian.
(from March 10, 2013)
It is 7:35 in the morning. As we start the 30 minute walk to the metro, we practice our Portuguese with one another. The walk isn't so bad, really. Even the cobblestones beneath our feet look interesting. That's how I would describe Portugal. Interesting. Around every corner, there seems to be just one more thing that catches our interest... The aged buildings, the people, the numerous fruit stands, the alters at seemingly random places which include statues of saints or an agonized-looking Jesus, the pastry shop windows full of deliciousness. Even the fields of grass and weeds look interesting. Walking, we pass numerous coffee shops that I promise myself to stop in one day. As we get closer to the metro, we pass the same old man who tips his hat to us and responds likewise, as we say, "Bom Dia!"
While waiting for the metro, we make simple conversation in Portuguese and English to Sergio (our friend who works at the metro stop). We then board, find seats, and study until we hear the lady on the intercom announce our stop. Before going to class, we stop by a cafe that we have been frequenting. The lady behind the counter recognizes us now and anticipates our order. The same thing almost everyday... Croissant misto and meia de leite for me, carioca com leite for Hodge. I smile as she gets the order ready because I only used to dream about becoming a "regular". And now in Portugal.
The rest of the morning and early afternoon are spent in language class. Our teachers instruct us in grammar as well as give us the low-down on Portuguese culture and ways. Classes are quite enjoyable, but by the end, we are drained of just about every ounce of energy that we had when the class started. After class, we stop in a mall because we have time before the next metro back to Vila do Conde. This stop often includes visiting "The American Store" (a small shop that carries food products from the states)... where we have also become regulars. No shame... I guess the appropriate phrase here would be, "Proud to be Americans". There, we talk with Sara, the girl who is always behind the counter. Because she speaks no English, our conversations usually end in laughter once we get to that point where we can't understand each other, and we just kind of give up until the next time.
Soon after that, we find ourselves on the metro. Metro rides are mostly quiet with many eyes staring in our direction as we are clearly not from around here. We settle in for the hour ride home, and eventually as the steady movement of the back and forth rocks us, my eyes become increasingly heavy. A ten minute snooze is just enough to give enough energy for the walk that awaits us once we get off the metro. The afternoon walk is generally more pleasant and relaxed, especially when the sun has made an appearance. And this is when we explore. We go into shops we haven't before, while stopping into many of the ones we have to say hello to people we have met. Several of them have agreed to help us with the language, so we take advantage of that.
The afternoons prove themselves low-key, if plans have not been made. We rest our minds from Portuguese for a bit, and at some point, our feet make their way to the beach with an anxious dog. Standing on the sand, breathing in the fresh, salty air, watching the waves crash with the vast ocean behind them. In that moment, it is difficult not to marvel at where God has brought us, both spiritually and physically. A type of spiritual renewal that is desperately needed.
As for evenings, they vary. A couple of nights each week, we go out to one of the restaurants in our little town. Anything to meet people and try new food. And as we return to the places we (and our pockets) enjoy, the people working there recognize us. It is kind of easy to with our light hair, light skin, and English tongues. Plus, we normally arrive about an hour or two before normal Portuguese dinner hour, which is closer to 9 or 10. The people working allow us to practice Portugese with them as we stumble over words and take several minutes to say simple phrases. But it is always a good time, and we are thankful for their patience.
A few evenings have been spent with new friends, and still others have been spent inside with a cozy fire and a cup of tea. And of course, most nights consist of studying. We crawl into bed late, and our eyes close on yet another day. Days that are sometimes tough, days that are often full of lessons on humility, but days that God has given us for a purpose.