Open your heart

Laura Beckler, Rachel Kennel, and Stephanie Rheinheimer at a talavera park March 25

Wow, it is hard to believe that we are now in our final weeks of cross-cultural.  As the excitement of returning home starts settling in, I remind myself that I need to continue to be present in the here and now so that I can continue to learn and be blessed by the experiences we continue to have here.  This past week was our first week here in Puebla Mexico, meaning new host families, a new school, and a new city to get accustomed to.  Our days consist of Spanish classes, two hour long conversation sessions, and free time spent in the Zocalo (the city square) or various other places throughout the city.  Here in Mexico, I live with Rachel and Laura in a house with an older woman, and I am constantly amazed at the hospitality we have received and continue to receive on this trip.

Of course, having the three of us in a house together leads to much mischief.  Between our goofy video making, laughter, and moments of confusion about who the random people are visiting our house, it is surprising we find time to do homework (just kidding!).  As our group reflected on our first week here in Mexico, we all found that we are amazed at just how far we have come in our Spanish speaking and comprehension abilities.  Unlike in Guatemala, I find that I can actually form a coherent response to my family’s and teacher’s questions that consist of more than just “si” or “¿que?”  This is not to say however, that embarrassing and funny Spanish mistakes cease to exist.  My second day in Spanish class I was asked if I had ever broken bones before.  The Spanish word for bone is “hueso” but in my answer I accidentally used the word “huevos,” therefore my answer was, “No, I have never broken ‘eggs’ before.”

To add to the craziness of our first week, we also experienced an earthquake our fourth day here, during which I was on the third floor of a museum with my conversation partner.  It is one thing experiencing panic in a language you can understand, but it is something else when everyone around you in speaking in rapid Spanish.  What an experience.  Needless to say, our first week has been packed full of new people, places and experiences.  Our group appreciates your continued thoughts and prayers and we will see you in three weeks!

-Stephanie Rheinheimer

Greetings from Puebla, Mexico’s Fourth Largest City!

A week and a half ago, we met our host families at the bus station. Michael Allen and I live with our host mom, Bertha, who makes sure that we are well fed and cared for each day. Over the past week, we have shared meals together, and accustomed ourselves to a different, yet similar culture, to Guatemala. I appreciate the hospitality that transcends these places. For example, last night, Bertha gave Michael and I Puebla key chains to remember our time here. The gift touched me because we are guests in her home, and we should be expressing our gratitude to her with gifts and words of thanks.

This past Sunday, the pope came to Mexico as many of you may be aware. The Pope’s visit to Guanajuato impacted Puebla in a major way. Friday, when Pope Benedict XVI arrived, church bells throughout Puebla announced his presence. Then, when the Pope conducted Mass on Sunday, I heard Puebla’s main square, the Zocalo, was bustling as people observed Mass from big screens. Bertha does not like places with lots of people, and I wanted to watch the service with someone that I know from Puebla. Bertha and I watched the Mass from the comfort of our home.

The theme of the service was “Abre tu corazon”, translating to “Open your heart”. This theme struck me for the Lenten-Easter season as well as for our cross-cultural. First, I remind myself to open my heart to the work that Christ is doing amongst us, in Puebla, in our cross-cultural group, and back in Harrisonburg, at EMU. Throughout this trip, Don challenges us to pinpoint where we have seen God each week. This practice has been illuminating, as I have seen God particularly in the relationships built between my host families and I. Second, “Open your heart” primes my cross-cultural eyes. Even though we have less than a month left, and focusing on home is easy, I tell myself to open my heart to where I am. I want to absorb and learn about a new culture, a people I have not known, and a new way of being.

Lastly, if everything goes according to plan, our cross-cultural group will travel to Mexico City for Holy Week, and I am eager to experience these celebrations. I want to learn how the Mexican culture celebrates Christ’s return in comparison to how the US does, absorbing aspects that I have not seen emphasized previously.

In the time before we return, I hope everyone is well.

-Nels Åkerson