Life here in Colombia has been moving rapidly for the past several months. Our kids started school in early July, midway through their calendar-based school year. School ended this past Friday November 15th marking a significant milestone for our family. We have been in Colombia for five months and now begin our 2-month break until the next school year starts in late January. As we debrief on the school year which just ended, DeeDee and I are extremely proud of the many ways our kids are adjusting to life here, learning and growing in their own ways.
Kellen gets the adaptability award as he faced the biggest hurdles starting his full-day school experience in another language. While his language-learning has been the slowest, his attitude and willingness to try has been admirable. Even though he struggles to communicate, he interacts with many students his age and some that are older. It has been a blast watching Kellen learn to engage with others. He has become a master at the Colombian non-verbals and is starting to use more Spanish words every day. A couple months ago we figured out that he wasn’t being given all of the same work assignments in class. Once DeeDee asked for him to get all of the assignments, he has found a new passion…. homework! Kellen usually gets his homework out before we even order our lunch. He is writing, doing math, and starting to read, all in Spanish. He will miss the routines of the school day over these next two months, but we’ll find other ways to challenge him. Kellen’s grade is referred to as Transicion, and he gets to go through a formal graduation ceremony since he officially transitions into first grade. This should be an exciting end to the school year for him.
Taylor gets the social butterfly award. No surprise there! From day one, she was super comfortable initiating conversation and activities with others. It didn’t take her long to make friends, engage in jump roping games, and begin singing songs in Spanish on Sunday mornings. She enjoys going to school and has pushed herself to learn many new things. Taylor has already given two presentations in front of her class and was part of an all-school drama. She ended the 3rd grade and will start out in the 4th grade when we go back to school in January. On a sad note, her best friend will be moving soon as her father took a new job about 90 minutes away. Taylor has become close with a little girl named Jade (pronounced ah-day). She has been to our house a couple times, out to eat with us, and was the only girl her age Taylor had at her birthday party a couple weeks ago. Things have become comfortable which normally happens with good friendships. They even talk on the phone together. Taylor is heart-broken knowing Jade won’t be in school when we start back up. Tay will bounce back though, as she always does, and will find new friends as school; however, this is going to hurt Taylor not having Jade around.
Kason gets two awards – the rapid learner and the emotional roller-coaster award. We expected the former, but did not expect his wider swing of emotions. Things have since settled down for him, but the first 2-3 months were more challenging than anticipated as he struggled to find contentment at times during daily life. He continues to miss friends and life in Hesston and at the same time is gaining many new learnings and appreciations here in Colombia. During the 45-minute all school recess time, Kason leans on us much more than the other two. Some days we have to force him to get out and socialize with others. He does have friends and is the most capable of our three kids speaking in Spanish, but sometimes only wants to hang with mom and dad. That said, Kason continues to rise to the occasion when needed. He is doing great with his school work and becoming more comfortable every day in his communication. For the past couple months, we have allowed Kason to travel alone on public transportation (to and from sport practices) and also visit our local tienda (small store) where he likes to talk to the owners of the store. He also likes to buy drinks and candy with his “good behavior money” while he’s there! It has been neat to see his independence grow and also confidence in his ability to communicate in Spanish without needing his parents.
DeeDee and I settled into a routine at school after the first month. We mostly worked with the 4-5 year olds in Kinder (pre-school equivalent) who were learning letters, numbers, word sounds, and some simple math. The teacher in that class is very organized and was able to use us well. It’s a group of students who can frustrate you to no end one minute and have you eating out of their hand in the next. The good far outweighed the bad because even when we needed to disciple them, they had short memories and were hugging us at the end of the class period.
One day a week we travel to a rural school 35-40 minutes away with our pastor where we taught English and he taught Bible. Getting to know this small group of students was one of my highlights during the school year. This is a poorer area and has become a steady outreach ministry of the church. The school provides only the basics; however, students seem quite content every time we are there. It’s refreshing to see kids not longing (or begging) for the next shinny thing out there.
Our church in La Mesa continues to be a positive experience. We are understanding more and more of the worship songs we sing and the other parts of the service. We have communion on the first Sunday of the month, and the kids stay in church the whole time during that service. There is a Sunday School for the children on the other Sundays during the sermon. The church is located right next to the school, so this is a very familiar part of town for our family. We are getting to know more people on a personal level through a variety of activities, including the English class we teach on Thursday nights. We spend many of our Saturday nights engaging with youth group. This is a fun group to engage, and we even led an evening about priorities and values a couple of weeks ago.
We also enjoy Sundays when we get to visit other churches. We’ve been fortunate to visit a Mennonite church in Bogotá and also in a much smaller town near us (Cachipay) where the Mennonites planted the first church in Colombia in 1947.
We have some responsibilities with the school over the next couple of weeks, but that will wind down quickly. The next school year doesn’t start until January 27th, so we have at least two months of break. We have many exciting things planned during this time, including:
- Visiting other Mennonite churches and possibly finding service projects in their area.
- Traveling to northern coast of Colombia to serve a week in Riohacha with an organization who houses/feeds older at-risk residents and many refugees from Venezuela (this is close to the border between Colombia and Venezuela) – we’re hoping this will be an impactful experience.
- We’ll also be doing a week of vacation while we’re up north along the coast. The kids are looking forward to seeing the ocean!
- More language learning – we need to be disciplined with this so we start the next school year being more confident with our Spanish than we are now.
- We also will have the privilege of hosting both DeeDee’s and my parents who are traveling here to see our life in Colombia. The kids are soooo excited for these visits. It’s neat to see how our family has become proud of this place where we live and looks forward to showing it off to our visitors!
We didn’t have a good sense when we arrived with how many people from the U.S we’d encounter here. We’ve been blessed to get to know a special couple from the Goshen, IN area (Eric and Kelly Frey-Martin) who just completed a 3-year term in Colombia with Mennonite Mission Network. They’ve been huge for us in so many ways. We also get to connect with several of the individuals and families with Mennonite Central Committee who are serving in Colombia. Within the last couple weeks, we met two pastors from Lancaster, PA (Ron and Judy Zook) who were spending some time here toward the end of their sabbatical. They were a huge encouragement to us and it felt as if God knew just what we needed when our paths recently crossed.
The kids don’t talk too much about what they miss or don’t have here. It certainly comes up some, but overall it feels as if we’re content with life in Colombia. That’s a huge blessing in itself! We do miss watching sports a bit since we don’t have TV, but we can still follow things online. Well, this is probably me that misses this the most, particularly Ohio State football, NFL and with college basketball getting going now. When I started writing this, I saw that unranked (and unknown) Evansville beat #1 Kentucky…. something that I love about college basketball!
We appreciate the continued thoughts and prayers as our family transitions into this next phase between the two school years. One worry I have is how we handle having less structure to our days. This has been a big change for me being here and spending so much time together as a family. The kids would probably say this is a blessing and a curse having dad around this much more! Our needs continue to be met in ways cannot predict, and it feels as if the kids are becoming more and more grateful for the opportunity of each new day in Colombia.