last weekend, i was in uruguay for especialidades juveniles’ (spanish YS) youth ministry summit. it was my first time in uruguay, and i deeply enjoyed my time with my brothers and sisters. here are a handful of things i noticed and/or learned:
- uruguay is a small country. and, i’ve learned (this was a surprise to me) it’s the most secular of all latin countries. so, tiny church in a small country = small number of youth workers. a missions agency did a comprehensive study of the church in uruguay a couple years ago (i’m told); one of their findings was that there are a total of 700 youth workers in the entire country (remember: youth workers in latin america are rarely paid, so this number includes pretty much all volunteers). yet, the youth worker event i was a part of had 500 youth workers attending. that’s why lucas leys told me it’s especialidades juveniles’ smallest and largest summit.
- traveling alone and not knowing the local language is humbling and isolating. i’ve been to latin america dozens of times, but have often had other gringos with me. on this trip, i was the sole americano. at meals, i would sit with a crew of people who were friendly to me, and occasionally one of them would translate something, or engage me in a bit of english (usually lucas leys); but more often than not, i was in my own little deaf and mute world. i kept having an urge to say something, so people didn’t interpret my silence as stand-off-ish-ness, or a lack of interest. but my attempts to engage were more often than not interruptive.
- you can learn a ton about good and bad communication by watching speakers when you don’t understand the language. rather than sitting in the backstage green room, surrounded by VIPs speaking spanish, i figured i might as well sit in the audience and listen to speakers and bands speaking spanish. but that put me in an interesting space, when the main speakers were on. a 40-minute talk, when you only catch (if you’re really concentrating) about one in twenty words quickly becomes a lab of gibberish, where you can pay attention to vocal tone, volume, body language, eye contact, facial expressions, pauses and audience response. the guy who spoke the opening night was a master communicator, whose variations, whispers, shouts, pacing and crouching, dramatic pauses and character voices was an unintended and natural master class in communication. then, in the closing session, lucas leys offered master class, part 2. in between was a fat old gringo who at least had a beard worth watching.
- drinking uruguayan mate (say that “mah-tay”) is a social behavior, not a solo activity. it’s very strong and tea-like, but tasty. i’d had mate in other countries, but thought i remembered it having sugar in it. i asked my mate pusher if they ever put sugar in it, and he responded, “only argentinians and women put sugar in it.” (yeah, there’s a little rivalry between uruguayans and argentinians – some argentinians told me, “uruguay is really an extension of argentina, but they won’t admit it.”) by the way, doesn’t this pic make me look like i’m smoking a large bavarian pipe?