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Each of us is on a journey through mortality, and our mission is to find peace within ourselves and within the people around us, in our immediate families and circles to the community as a whole.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Teaching Sunday School in Spanish

One of the issues I struggle with at church is feeling useful to the ward.  What probably started as a joke ended up with me volunteering to teach a Sunday School lesson for the YSA group. Our regular instructor has been in Trujillo, Peru on vacation. Two weeks ago,  Daniel, one of my YSA friends, joked with Jorge (who speaks English), that I should teach a class.

"Me," I responded in shock, "In Spanish?"

They nodded affirmatively.

I replied, "No, no puedo.." (I can't).

Later that week, I thought about that exchange, I felt I should go ahead and tell Daniel and Jorge that I would teach a class.

I wrote them a message on Facebook. Daniel wrote back and said I could teach the class the week after stake conference. I opened my Doctrine and Covenants Class Member Study Guide, and saw my lesson - "The Field is White Already to Harvest."  Great. Missionary work. A topic I can confidently speak about. Yeah right. I never served a mission, nor am I a great missionary.

During the last two weeks, I had a vague notion in my mind to sit down and start preparing the lesson. Yet, even though time seemed to crawl as slow as a snail in January, time also vanished quickly, and I found myself yesterday afternoon finally sitting down to prepare.

After a short nap,I sat on my sagging twin bed as I poured over my Spanish triple, my Kindle with the English version of the scriptures, the study guide, and my notebook.

First, I had to translate the lesson questions into English. Then I read the scriptures in English and Spanish as I tried to narrow down the material I wanted to cover and put it in a logical order. I have to say I am grateful that the church has placed all course materials in Spanish and English online for me.

Though, I started to feel overwhelmed with all the course material.

What was key to include? How would I arrange it? How would I structure the class? Would I use class discussions? Small groups? Activities? Writing on the board? Of course, class discussions would be hard, how could I as the facilitator, give encouragement- in a language that I am functionally illiterate in understanding?

How would I handle ad-hoc questions that I had or the class members had during class? Not only did I need to translate the discussion questions in to English so I understood them, but I had to read  the scriptures in both languages too.  I wrote the English translations on sticky notes and put them on the pages next to the scriptures I wanted to use.

After a movie and popcorn night, I went back to work and revise. Yet, as the night progressed into the midnight hour, I started getting really nervous.

"How could I do this? I can't speak Spanish. I can't teach a lesson in another language. I'm so stupid for doing this, " I thought to myself.

Then I came across Doctrine and Covenants 33:10, "....yea, open your mouths and they shall be filled."

I hoped that would be the case on Sunday morning.

Sunday morning, I woke up at 7 am to no electricity. I continued revising my lesson and kept translating questions and instructions into Spanish.  As I got nervous and stressed about the order of logistics of my lesson,  I reviewed my scriptures again and landed on Doctrine and Covenants 31:13, where Jesus teaches us to ..."be faithful unto the end, and lo, I am with you."

It was delightful to have a ice cold shower and showing up to church with wet hair. There was no power at the church either. Thankfully, I sit by a window, and a cool breeze came through occasionally, but people were sweating, especially the men in their long-sleeved white shirts. I hoped that maybe after Sacrament meeting, the rest of the services would be cancelled.

I prayed, reviewed, and planned how the class would go in my mind during the talks. I prayed for the Spirit to be with me during the passing of the Sacrament.

The bishop was the closing speaker and he ran over time, I felt that was good. I went to the YSA classroom, helped set up chairs, and sat down. After most everyone showed up, an opening prayer, announcements, a scripture, finally, Juan, the JAS (YSA) leader opened the manual and started to begin the lesson!

Daniel and Jorge looked surprised and Jorge whispered, " hey aren't you supposed to teach the lesson?"

I had an out! I could simply say it was no big deal if Juan taught the lesson, maybe I could teach next week.

"Yes, I had planned to do the lesson today." I responded.  It was 10:28 and class was over at 11 am.  Jorge told Juan I was going to teach, much to the surprise of the class. They were especially surprised when Jorge confirmed I would teach in Spanish.  I told Daniel I needed chalk so he went to get it.

My heart was racing.  When Daniel returned, I went up to the front of the small classroom, where we all were plenty cozy.  A member of the bishopric had stopped in to speak to the group, so I was in front waiting.  Finally, it was show time.

I stumbled, I mispronounced almost every word I said. I defaulted at times into Spanglish. I think I slaughtered the Spanish language. I got flustered, nervous, lost and scattered. I had planned to break the class into 3 groups and have them read a scripture one at a time and then discuss each verse with them, but I didn't explain it well, and they read all of their verses at once, which I didn't know until Jorge told me. I tried writing on the board but I didn't know how to spell some of the words. When class members responded to questions, I didn't quite understand all of them. It was frustrating not being able to communicate what I wanted to say. I tried to prepare all the questions, thoughts, and instructions in Spanish but as the class progressed, more came to mind. Thankfully, Jorge helped with translation to ease the confusion.

 My mind went blank and I stood up in the front looking at the class members just thinking, okay, now what are we going to do? What is next? What was I going to say? My mind felt like mush. How do I say this or that word?  Where was I in the lesson? What about those sticky notes in my scriptures? How much time did I have left?

I felt prompted to talk about ways to be missionaries... and they came up with most of what I had and more.

  1. Be an example
  2. Service
  3. Share your testimony
  4. Invite friends to church and activities
  5. Visit less active members
  6. Stand up for truth
  7. Use social media to share the gospel

Other parting messages I shared included the following:

  • We make excuses why we don't do missionary work. We have the truth and we should go and share it. With God, we can't have fear. 
  • We never know how our efforts can affect eternity. 
  • You may be the only Book of Mormon a person ever reads (quoted from my mom). 

Lastly, I said there were five things to remember about missionary work:

  1. Have desire (to do missionary work)
  2. Develop the attributes of Christ (charity, faith, hope)
  3. Pray for inspiration
  4. Seek the Spirit
  5.  Act upon it.

As someone that is so shy and afraid of approaching people, this was a good lesson for me to study.  I passed out the Starburst jelly beans to the class which they totally loved. I bore my testimony but got flustered and lost, so who knows what I really said.

I don't know how the class went, I left church feeling like I failed.  I felt it was rough, rocky, and chaotic.  I should have prepared more and practiced speaking more. Maybe it was prideful of me to think that I could succeed in this fool's errand? Trying to teach in another language you're not even halfway fluent in is a gigantic undertaking.

I hope the Spirit helped smooth out the rough edges and I didn't embarrass myself too much. I hope the Lord knows that I did really try my best. I hope the main messages I felt inspired to share made sense. I hope that the group could take something away with them that touched their heart. I wish I could have been more polished and pulled together. It sure was a lot harder to prepare and teach a lesson when it wasn't in my native tongue. It makes teaching English feel like a breeze, since I conduct my classes in English with my students. Yet, despite my own shortcomings and inadequacies, I know the Spirit speaks all languages through the language of the heart.

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