“What’s the most random way languages have helped you?”

So I’m scrolling through Facebook and I see this question:

“What’s the most random way your language skills have helped you?”

Huh. Well, do I have a story for you.

A couple years ago, way back in the sixth grade, my friend and I were on obsessed with two things: Spanish and Christianity. One day in class, my best friend wrote a poem that she shared with us about a basket. “Baskets couldn’t function without all the different little strands woven together,” she said, albeit more poetically. “Just like the basket has to have all those different strands, God weaves all of our different talents and gifts together to make something… well, functional.”

Of course, that was the coolest thing EVER at the time. So the word “canasta” (basket in Spanish) became the code word my friend and I used to communicate anything we felt God’s hand in doing. Something we were thankful for? Canasta. A crazy coincidence that worked out for something great? Canasta.

So there I was, sixth months later, sitting in the heat of June and working at a free carwash at a service summer camp. Most of my friends had been assigned the wet job of washing the cars, but somehow I got stuck standing alongside the busy road screaming “Carwash! Carwash! Freeeeee!” at the top of my lungs.

Just as I was about to officially quit my little job, I vaguely saw a bright sign in the distance.


I peered again at the sign to make sure I was reading it right. Lying behind it was a tiny little supermarket with beaten-down walls and chipping paint, a giant basket filled with fruits painted on the side. I’m not sure how to explain it, but as I read that code word painted onto the towering sign, something in my chest couldn’t let me look away. So I grabbed one of the group leaders and carefully crossed the street over to the other side.

We opened the dingy door and a little bell rung. In an instant, it seemed like I was transported to some other time and place. Yellowing life-sized cutouts of NASCAR drivers and the Dos Equis Man littered the tiny store, and every square inch was filled with shelves upon shelves of different Hispanic foods. The radio blared a talk show in Spanish. My pale skin and minimal Spanish seemed more out of place than they’d ever been.

After a few minutes of culture shock, I finally worked up the nerve to walk up to the cashier and introduce myself. My Spanish was so broken, it’s a wonder she understood at all. But I managed to get out that my name is Sydney, I’m from the Vineyard Church, and “Would you like me to pray with one of you?”

The lady working politely declined, but another woman restocking shelves next to her instantly asked if we would pray for her. Of course, I said yes. My leader and I walked over to one of the short little tables and sat down on a set of stools.

She started talking about her life… how she’d left her family in Guatemala to come here… how she was living with her aunt… how her job wasn’t making her enough money to go back and bring her kids here. My heart broke at every word she spoke. We prayed over her, bought some Mexican onion straws, and left the store. But I guess my heart is still there.

It’s crazy all the situations you find yourself in when you can speak another language. Your world opens up entirely. You can go from a carwash in a Home Depot parking lot to an entirely different culture in a matter of minutes! Sure, my language skills have helped me a lot when taking standardized tests or cinching a good GPA (marks). But it’s the random encounters that really make you thankful for what languages have to offer for your life.

Sydney Sauer • November 29, 2015

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