when being meets doing


This was not the greeting I was expecting as I strolled through the door after a great workout. I searched my host brother’s face. What did he mean that I couldn’t leave today?

My host mom stepped into the conversation: My host dad’s cousin had passed away. She and my host aunt were heading to this cousin’s mom’s house for the rest of the day. The reason I needed to stay was that we were also hosting another cousin, the energetic 8-year-old Dayana*. There was no way my host brother and Dayana could be left together unsupervised.

Sure, I said, getting myself into babysitter mode.

It was the longest day of my life. It went something like this:

kids get tired
freeze tag
kids get tired
kids bicker
UNO (to ease tensions)
kids start cat-fighting, leaving Dayana in tears and my host brother in exasperation
freeze tag (Sophia gets so competitive she falls off couch)
sardines (because Sophia is now limping)
kids get bored
go to the park
ADULTS COME HOME *praise hands*

And yet I was sad to hug Dayana goodbye the next day.


Sometimes being present means getting really excited about my host brother’s school supplies.

Spending time with Dayana reminded me of why I came to Colombia: the ministry of presenceIn a brief moment of clarity during that chaotic day, it occurred to me that I was exactly where I needed to be.

If I hadn’t been living with this family, they would’ve had to work out a different arrangement: my host mom would’ve had to stay with the kids instead of accompanying her grieving sister-in-law, or they would’ve had to drag the kids along. My availability provided support to my host family.

A few weeks ago my host dad’s older sister María* suffered a heart attack. Everyone’s schedules were disrupted with hospital visits and heavy hearts. Thankfully, her bypass surgery went well, and she is recovering.

Watching my host family care for María has convinced me of the ministry of presence. They can’t do anything to make her better, but they’re doing all they can to make her feel better. They’ve spent hours by her side, visiting her after a long day at work, staying overnight at the hospital. They attend to her needs, give her massages, pray for her… They spend time with her.

And she feels the love.

And once again I’m seeing God use my availability to help my host family.

This week my host aunt is spending a lot of time with María, who is her sister. My host aunt is in charge of sweeping & mopping (morning chores) and washing pots & pans (evening chore). Because she spends basically the whole day with María, it’s hard for her to do her daily chores.


Sometimes being present means not being part of a conversation and just enjoying the company.

That’s where I come in.

In this case, I’m doing rather than simply being. But the chores take on new significance. I sweep because I care about María and my host aunt. I wash the dishes so that my host aunt can be with her sister. Contrary to my nature, I don’t try to beat the clock when I do these chores. I let myself be present to each movement. I’m being even as I’m doing.

The ministry of presence is not limited to a particular space. It is not merely a model for working with children or for listening to the stories of displaced people. It is certainly not an excuse to get out of chores. It is a way of life.


* names changed to protect individuals’ privacy


to drink or not to drink?

THAT IS THE question. Every time someone starts pouring cups of Coke or Postobon, my conscience has an internal battle: do I accept this sugary substance at the expense of my health, or do I stick to my convictions at the expense of politeness?

The same thing happens when I’m offered deep fried flour for breakfast or the choice between a hamburger and a hotdog when what I really want is kale.

If I was like the rest of the world — i.e. normal people who joyfully consume sugar and grease, I wouldn’t be having existential crises every time I go to a party. Funny enough, though, these trifles have led me to see what I hadn’t before:

I am a guest.

thumb_IMG_1084_1024Growing up in two cultures, I thought I’d arrived at superstarguestdom. For my White hosts, being a good guest typically meant arriving at six on the dot, not eating too much or too fast, and commenting on house decor. For my Asian hosts, being a good guest usually meant arriving half an hour late (or intentionally arriving early to help or chat), helping myself to three servings while not taking the last portion, and offering to do the dishes. And when norms weren’t clear, I knew how to adapt.

In Barranquilla, hospitality is on a whole other level. When they say make yourself at home, they mean it. Instead of putting apps on a table, they bring them out on a tray and serve guests one-by-one.

I’m slowly learning that being a good guest here means accepting whatever is offered you, and when you’re absolutely not feeling it, you can say no without making a fuss. You follow the overall conversation without having too many side convos. It’s completely acceptable to ask your host to bring you something or to take your plate. You can help if you want, but you really should just sit, relax and enjoy the company.

But when I say I’m a guest, I don’t just mean adopting new manners. It’s more than that.

I am a guest of this culture.

A huge area of growth for me is to observe without judging. So many times I’ve questioned the efficiency of a task or the motive behind a question or statement. One event in particular made me stop and think.

Earlier this month, I went to the beach with a IMG_1073group from my church. An afternoon of laughter and fútbol made me feel so comfortable that I forgot we were speaking Spanish. Yet as I laid in bed that evening, I felt completely drained. Flipping through the day’s events in my mind, I replayed my faux pas, reheard the side comments, relived the embarrassment of not comprehending the words spoken to and around me…

Loudest of all, the words ¡Sophy! ¡Siéntate! ¡Ven! ¡Cuidado! echoed in my memory. Why did they keep commanding me to do stuff? In my confused rebellion I actually refused to sit several times.

Shame came over me as I realized I’d been living as a tourist, one foot in, one foot out. Despite everything I’ve read and experienced about incarnational ministry, I was subconsciously comparing everything to my life in the States and rejecting the parts in Colombia that didn’t match up.

So I went to work. This past month has been about shifting lenses, readjusting steps, peeling back the layers of my North Americanness – all in an attempt to pinpoint and part with my prejudices in order to see Colombia for what it is, in all its facets.

To be a good guest.

It hasn’t been easy. I’ve probably made one inch of progress in this marathon. But that one inch has opened my heart to recognize that being a good guest in Colombia ultimately comes down to this: respect.

Accepting hospitality in all forms
Honoring the values and norms of my hosts
Trusting the precautions of my hosts
Learning how my hosts do things
Offering my opinion without imposing it
Understanding that the constant Asian jokes come in a different context
(that’s a different post altogether)
Even and especially when I disagree

To be clear, respect is not assimilation. It’s not surrendering my personality and beliefs for the sake of blending in. That would rob our relationships of diversity.

Respect is sacrifice. Because I naturally hold myself in highest esteem. Because I am called to always recognize the dignity of others. Because it is a choice, and sometimes that choice means giving up a day without pop/soda/Coke to share in the revelry of your new friends, who are worth so, so much more.

thumb_IMG_1061_1024Interestingly, as my attitude changed, so has my stomach. A few times I’ve found myself craving the very things I avoided!

And let’s be real. As much I’m “sacrificing,” it’s really my hosts who are going out of their way to take care of me, waste time while I try to form a complete sentence, and be friends with me. I am grateful to be their guest.

el buen pastor y las ovejitas

I WISH I had a tape recorder so you could hear how enthusiastic and cute los niños were during class.

Every Tuesday I help out with the children’s program in a neighborhood called Por Fin. So far, I serve as the silent wingwoman, nodding along to the teacher’s lesson, rewarding correct answers with smiles, and attempting to quell deviance with prolonged stares. While we do our thing, a group of women (mostly moms of the kids) have Bible study in the back courtyard with the effervescent Pastora Flor.

This week we learned about el Buen Pastor (thIMG_1158e Good Shepherd). I love that in Spanish the word for “pastor” and “shepherd” are the same. We learned that God, like a good shepherd, protects us, las ovejitas. He knows what his sheep need – apparently his sheep need toys. He leads his sheep to good pastures.

Yesterday my body went to war with itself. Burning with heat, I laid in bed for about 9 hours straight. It took me 15 minutes to call my coworkers to notify them of my absence because I kept falling asleep between each attempt.

I wonder how old you have to be before you stop wanting your mom when you’re sick. Thankfully, my host mom came home after a few hours and helped me out. My host sister also told me to put on more clothes to sweat out the fever – duh! From then on, I was on the road to recovery.

For the whole day I felt so helpless, like a little sheep. But just knowing I was being cared for by my host mom brought so much comfort. The medicine, the clementine, the wet cloths for my forehead, the shoulder rub – these were the green pastures I needed.

By the way, whether you’re in a Chinese-, English- or Spanish-speaking Christian community, you can bet that the go-to Sunday school answers will always be some form of ¡Dios! or ¡Jesús!