For the past 6-8 weeks, Jason has spent much of his spare time with his face in a mural project. The external wall flanking the school is a lengthening series of murals depicting biblical occupations. Jason is helping complete the series, his theme being “fishers of men.”
I get to watch this process intimately, from the corner yes, but much like a kind of coach, encouraging him on before and after his episodes in the ring. The opponent, if any, would be doubt.
Whether he is in his studio (i.e. the closet) or in front of a canvas, he’s ever boxing the doubt while seeking to birth some vision in his mind. For his “fishers of men,” he’s had moments of discouragement. His style is different, the vision keeps evolving, and his sense of completion is ever ahead of him. And we are working in a christian school, as missionaries. We can’t help but see how little we fit the cultural description of our roles. Fitting a cultural role is the last motive driving us – the struggle comes from our desire to profess a truth and not a culture – and to have people, who’ve been cut by this culture, to see that truth behind it. It’s a struggle of feeling misunderstood and at the same time ever seeking to separate the religion from the faith. It doesn’t help Jason battle the doubt hovering over his art. He wants the truth to come through his work.
And that’s the doubt he was feeling when, one sunny afternoon, Nakiah was released from school early with symptoms of the flu. Which took me out of work to bring her home. All entries and exits to the school are controlled through the guard shack (this being a standard for nearly all homes, buildings, schools in Quito and around Ecuador). As the guard buzzed us out that day, a tall Ecuadorian man stood facing me on the other side of the heavy door. He was clearly waiting for this door to open, perhaps waiting for someone he knows? No. As soon as my foot touched the sidewalk, he was hovering into me, his rapid Spanish beyond my comprehension. We turned right, and I gripped Nakiah’s hand a little tighter.
There is a protocol for approaching people in Ecuador, beginning with an emphasized “Buenos días, ¿Cómo está?” This man was not following it, and I turned the possibilties in my mind of what scheme he might be working…we’ve heard many tactics for robbing people, which one might this be? As we approached the paintings, he slowed and I realized what he was talking about – la pintura. He stopped in front of Jason’s painting. He was asking me if I knew “el pintor.”
He pointed toward the school – he works there?
I answered him with more gestures than words, Yes, I know him. He works there.
And his enthusiasm welled up in his smile and his words. He was gushing in Spanish now, telling me to tell el pintor something. I held up my hand. ¿Dice lo que al pintura? – Tell what to the painter? (They are generous with my bad Spanish.) The man’s shoulders settled and he realized I needed something simple. ¡Que me gusta! ¡Él es mi hermano!
I quickly thought on Jason’s reaction to my own statement of simply saying “I like it.” He looks for better feedback than that, understandably. But the language barrier would afford little else from this man. Still, I made one small effort for more, and all I could think to ask was ¿Por qué?
¿Por qué? – Why? He repeated my question, seemingly surprised I even asked it. ¡Porque es tremendo!
He was satisfied and walked on, leaving Nakiah and I standing in front of Jason’s mural. It was a wonder to me. Any of 1000 different people could have easily walked out of that door at that moment, and he was simply looking for anyone who might happen to know the painter of that one painting, his brother. And it is us, the painter’s own wife and daughter who get to witness this man’s enthusiasm for Jason’s work.
Nakiah looked at me in confusion. “Mom, how does he know who we are?”
As we walked home, I remembered the words of Lois, the woman who interviewed Jason for his position. We sat in our home in Kodiak and talked to her through Skype, and she told him “It takes all types to reach all types.”
I heard this loudly. They weren’t looking for people who fit the cultural paradigm of good little Christians. They were looking for real people who would reach real people.