This post is an installment in the How to Make a Missionary series. Click the series link to read them all.
We moved to Paraguay with the two bags, one carry-on, one personal item and as much clothing as you could wear and still fit in your seat, the limit allowed by the airline for each of us. It turns out that a stove, refrigerator, microwave, washing machine and various other items all exceeded the size and weight limit for our baggage. So the second day we were in Paraguay, we made the trip back to Asuncion to find some of these items.
Because we like food and living and the two kind of go together, we purchased a stove. It was an LP gas unit. Despite that most of our neighbors cooked over fires in the yard, we opted for the gas stove. Our limited yard-fire cooking menu would have had us eating hotdogs and smores for every meal. Remember, I said we like living.
These gas stoves use a tank like the one for a gas grill. It didn’t come with the stove so I needed to go buy one. Here’s where the real adventure started for me in Paraguay. I hopped into the Mission Mobile and headed to the nearest town. I had designs on a hot cooked meal for lunch so there was no time to waste. Little did I know that my horrid Spanish, coupled with my cultural ignorance, would delay my mid-day meal indefinitely.
It took me four hours to buy a tank and gas. No, I’m not kidding. Even then I didn’t buy it–I kind of stole it. Legally.
I never considered that different cultures use different words for the same thing. I went to the first place and asked for gas. They told me they couldn’t give me any because I didn’t have anything to put it in. (Insert sarcastic but ineffective comeback in broken Spanish here.) I asked to buy a tank and they told me they didn’t sell them.
I went to the next place and asked. They would trade me an empty for a full one but I didn’t have an empty, so they couldn’t help me. On it went. On I went. Keep in mind that each place I went to had stacks of these things sitting around pleading to fuel all manner of meals at my house.
The next locale yielded the same results. I was using every word I could think of to describe what I wanted but I couldn’t get it across. I tried the Spanish word for tank, container, bottle, can and metal tube. I even went as far as pointing and saying “this thing,” to which one guy replied “It’s for holding gas.” Thanks for that, Amigo.
In the end, I went into a tiny little store with four tanks stacked to the side. After I exhausted my list of not-gas-tank words; after I received the requisite look of total confusion, I asked what the gas cost. The grandma told me for the 5th time 50,000 guaranies for an exchange. Suddenly God breathed the answer to me, “Steal it.”
So I asked her, “If someone came in here and stole this full tank of gas what would they owe you? They would owe you Gs 50,000 for the gas plus what for the metal thing?”
She said, “Carafe. It’s called a carafe, and it costs 75,000 guaranies.”
Without saying a word I tossed Gs 125,000 on the counter, grabbed the first tank I came to and bee-lined for my truck. Some weeks later I went in to buy something from her and she said “Why didn’t you just ask, I would have sold it to you with no problem?”
“Why didn’t I just ask?” she says.
I had been asking all over town for four hours. What I was saying and what they were hearing were not the same thing. If I can’t even buy a gas tank, how can I share Jesus? If I am to have any chance of reaching people for Christ, then I must be able to communicate with them. I have to be able to put a life with Christ in terms they can understand.
Oh, yeah, did I mention that when I got home we still couldn’t cook because I had forgotten to buy the hose and regulator to go with the tank?
Carafe…and now I have gas.
How well do you communicate Jesus to non-churched people? Do you have gas?