Becoming…The Journey to Lose Myself in an Amazon Village
(Please excuse the rambling, and lack of editing in this post. I am still exhausted, so my writing is not up to par and this is much longer than it should be, but I know some of you are eagerly waiting for ACL evaluation news, so want to share it before heading out for a morning of errands).
Our ACL evaluations are over! Last night I went to bed early – mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted, although thankful that the last three days went well, and relieved that they were finally over.
Despite leaving us exhausted, these days were very good, positive days which included laughter and memorable moments, as we enjoyed time with our friends who came from the village specifically for our evaluations. As Sergio told them, although he prefers to visit missionaries in the village, when necessary, it works just as well to do their ACL evaluations in the city. The deciding factor is whether native language speakers are able to come to the city as well. Without Xibu and her husband’s help, there would have been no way he could have evaluated our language levels.
Since arriving in the city on Saturday, from early morning until bedtime, in between other activities, I spent as many hours as possible reviewing vocabulary, talking aloud in the language for practice (alone in my apartment), listening to audio recordings, and reading over culture observations. Oh, and running next door to bug the missionaries who are fluent in the sister language with questions about grammar. They were so gracious, helpful and encouraging!
Although I certainly wasn’t able to review all the linguistic data collected (nearly two years spent in the village, after all!) the intense, focused studying helped a lot in keeping more words and sentence structures and information fresh in my mind. Since Bible college days, intense, this strategy has always been productive for me. The big difference since then is that I now stop studying at my normal bedtime instead of continuing late into the night.
Besides being helpful in preparation for the evaluation itself, these private study sessions revealed areas that I need to practice more with language helpers too, providing plenty of ideas for our study sessions back in the village the next couple months.
While here in the city, I had really wanted to make pizza as a special treat for Xibu and her family, Sergio, Denize (Okay, okay, also as a treat for me! Not gonna pretend I don’t love pizza and have been wanting it for months), and that plan worked out well. Everyone enjoyed the pizza, and since I love cooking and feeding people (at least in places with a refrigerator, air conditioning and access to grocery stores), it was a fun, relaxing way to spend an afternoon, and a break from language review.
So, are you wondering what an ACL evaluation really looks like? Well, I had been wondering, and now I know. While each church planting team and each ACL evaluation is different, ours went like this:
Morning: planning session – Sergio, Denize and I
Denize’s one-on-one meeting with Sergio
Afternoon: Denize’s language eval with Xibu and Iteran. She has been here only four months. Since the first level (Basic) of ACL focuses on learning words, Denize’s evaluation consisted mainly of vocabulary. “Name 15 types of fish.” “15 different birds,” etcetera. Also “survival phrases”, including greetings, simple questions, etcetera.
Early evening: Pizza break!
Evening: Denize’s culture evaluation with Sergio.
Morning: my one-on-one meeting with Sergio (8 AM – 10 AM)
My language evalulation with Xibu, Iteran, and Sergio. Sergio gave me communication tasks, setting up the scenario to include one of my friends. I was supposed to do most of the talking, but they ended up interacting a lot too, which worked out quite well. He recorded these conversations with a voice recorder. Yikes! Nothing quite like the pressure of speaking in another language when your every word (including all the wrong words you know you’ll say) is recorded.
- Sergio had come for a visit and Iteran asked me who he was. I told hiim about Sergio’s family and work.
- I went to Xibu’s house and after a few pleasantries, she asked me about my family. I told her about my parents, siblings, nieces and nephews and some information about each one.
- Iteran asked if it were true that my family lives far away in the USA and wanted to know what it is like there. (The purpose of this exercise is to show if the language learner is able to compare and contrast). So I talked about the weather, squirrels, snakes, cows, and corn, comparing and constrasting details with how things are here. For instance, “American squirrels are small and have bushy tails, just like the jungle squirrels.” And, “There, if the snakes bite us, they don’t harm us, so we’re not afraid of snakes there. Here in the jungle, we are very afraid of snakes, because their bite is dangerous.”
- Explain the process of how to make something simple. First Sergio suggested cake, but I wanted to do something from their culture, not from Brasilian culture, so asked if I could talk about how to make the traditional manioc root drink. My friend Xibu liked that idea better too.
Afternoon: continuation of my language evaluation. We listened to the recordings from the morning session, one sentence at a time. I was asked to translate into Portuguese everything my friends said, to check my comprehension. They were asked to translate into Portuguese everything I said, so that Sergio could understand. Then they corrected each mistake, and Sergio would ask if I understood the difference between how I had actually said the phrase, and the correct way to say it. I actually learned some neat things about the grammar of the language during this process, which took over three hours. At the end Sergio asked me to translate phrases and questions from Portuguese into the tribal language.
Early evening: Denize cooked a delicious supper for Sergio and our language helpers, and then their work was finished. Good thing, because it was pretty tiring for them too.
Evening: team planning/strategy session. At this point, we stepped away from the ACL side of things as Sergio talked with us on behalf of the mission leadership team (he is one of 6 members) about situations related to the overall ministry in this village and people group. Lots of helpful information, advice, and strategies for moving forward and acting in a manner that glorifies God and represents our specific mission well, in its goals of church planting, discipleship, and Bible translation.
Late evening: Denize and I were really excited about one of the topics covered in our team strategy session, so we talked for awhile. (I will send a quick e-mail update out today or tomorrow to share that news! Thinking about it kept each one of us up until way after midnight, when normal bedtime for both Denize and I is between 9:00 and 10:30, so you know it’s exciting).
Also, since we had run out of time for Sergio to do an oral check of my understanding of the culture, he gave me a list of cultural topics for self-evaluation. It only took about half an hour, while I ate leftover pizza, at 11 PM, just like a good paulistana (person who lives in the municipality of São Paulo, which is known for its amazing pizza and for eating late at night).
Sergio, poor guy, stayed up most of the night analyzing all the data he had collected, calculating our proficiencies and averaging the totals…this part sounded rather technical and mathematical.
Morning: Sergio met with Denize and I together to share and discuss our language evaluation results. He also spent a lot of time encouraging us in the Lord, reminding us to keep our focus on God and who He is, and that all we are doing is for His glory, and other Biblical truth to help us in our journey.
Then right before lunchtime he got a ride to the bus station and headed back to Manaus. Sergio said that we will hear from him soon via e-mail, with written reports and work plans. During his trip he was planning to finish these reports of our evaluations and generate work plans based on our individual results to help us keep moving forward, in a focused, effective manner for the glory of God.
So, after all that, here are the results! Solid, objective results that show where I am in the ACL journey, provide direction for finishing well, and prove that we serve an awesome God! He really is the God of the Impossible, who uses the weakest of His servants, enabling their brains and ears and mouths for the praise of His glory.
Remember that even though there is one more level not included in the picture (Proficient level), the star marks the level I need to reach in order to teach God’s Word. The smiley face marks the level I am at right now – low Capable level.
Do you see what that means, friends? Only two more sub-levels to go! We are getting so close to the end of this ACL journey! So that WOW is a “Look what God has done!” kind of wow. There are tears of joy in my eyes right now at the privilege of sharing with you what your prayers and support have accomplished here in the work of God. As I have said so many times before, it is not me. Not even a little bit. It is all Jesus!
So will you thank Jesus with me? And will you remember and rejoice that you are part of this accomplishment, this victory that God has brought about? And will you also thank God for Xibu and Iteran and all of our village friends? They are a big part of this accomplishment too. God has is using them to teach Denize and me their language so that we can someday teach them His Word.
By faith, let’s continue praying and believing for that day to come soon! And please pray that we will all stay strong in the Lord and finish this race well!
For by thee I have run through a troop: and by my God have I leaped over a wall. As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the LORD is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in Him. For who is God save the LORD? or who is a rock save our God? It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect. He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet, and setteth me upon my high places.” Psalm 18:29-33
In this situation, I say, using words similar to David’s,
By my God I have run through these language evaluations. By His Spirit and in His strength I have reached the low capable level in this tonal, tribal language. His way and timing is perfect! He protects me and is my shield as I trust in Him. Jesus is amazing! He is the One who gives me strength and brings me step by step, level by level in this ACL journey, giving me beautiful friendships and indescribable joy along the way. He gives me sure footing when I would surely stumble or despair on my own, holding me up and sustaining me through every incredible delight and overwhelming challenge of becoming part of a new culture.