by Nelcy Cárdenas
I arrived in November to be the Resident Assistant for the volunteer house. It was a very hectic time with everyone working to get the guesthouse ready for the grand opening. At the volunteer house, as is tradition, each volunteer has a “welcome” in which they introduce themselves to the group and share why they came to Magdala. As I listened to each introduce themselves, I thought about the hundreds of volunteers who sat at these outdoor dining tables and lived in this house throughout the years. Each coming with expectations and not initially knowing that God would make us grow by stretching out our hearts and testing our limits.
I already knew from my volunteer experience in June 2018 that some of the trials I would face included convincing people to do house chores, to create a family environment, to deal with things breaking down all the time, and the difficulties that come from volunteering in a place like Magdala where the one guarantee is constant change. I knew there would be challenges from working with people from different backgrounds and dealing with individual personalities. I also knew that as in any family, some days we would get along great and other times it would be challenging to like each other.
That first night I felt so overwhelmed after a full day of meeting people, discussing the very long “to do” list, being asked so many questions, and still suffering from jetlag that I just said I came to serve and to see what God has in store for me. I did not reveal that I was very scared. That on my first day, I learned that I would not have any control of my time. That for the first time in my life I lived in a country where I was not the interpreter and needed to humbly ask for help communicating with people who did not speak English or Spanish. That as I met people that day, I quickly learned that vocal tone and body language were not necessarily indicators of what was happening in a conversation. That the definition here of “urgency”, “quickly” or “soon” was very different than mine. That to understand the diversity of the Magdala world, I would need to lose the fear of asking questions or making mistakes and that Google did not have all the answers.
It has now been three months and I am grateful that God gave me the strength and the love to stay. I would be lying if I said that I have any more control of my time than I did that first day or that I have become more patient, but I can say I learned to “see” differently. I still cannot tell when people are arguing or just having a conversation in Hebrew or Arabic, but I know that smiling is universal. Things still keep breaking down giving us many opportunities to make jokes and laugh about it or to dream of a day when everything works. I also know that “soon” could mean months and this gives us chances to think outside the box on what to do until “soon” happens.
Our volunteer house is old and simple but the volunteers that live in it make it an amazing place to live and God gives us the Sea of Galilee as our outdoor view. I am so thankful to have so many people I work with who know so much more than me and who do not get tired of answering my questions or interpreting for me. I love I have the privilege to meet each volunteer as they arrive, see how God transforms their lives and then to listen to their testimonies as they say “farewell” to our family. Each day is different and on the hardest days I look down at the volunteer shirt to remind me of Christ’s invitation “Duc in Altum” (to put out into the deep). And that for me, “the deep,” is opening my heart to love each person I encounter for who they are and to allow God to continue to stretch my heart.