Language Isn't Everything

I don’t speak Spanish. As a matter of fact, I have never been in a Spanish course my whole life. This fact was clearly about to change, being as I was heading to Quito, Ecuador, to help out a kids camp there and host a vacation bible school for Ecuadorian children.
About a week and a half into the trip, it was time for VBS. I was assigned to the“games” group. This means my best friend Rachel and I were in charge of a group of 50 Ecuadorian children. While I had absolutely zero Spanish skills, Rachel had taken a few years of Spanish, yet her feeble knowledge of common courtesy and kitchen appliances was probably not going to get us very far. Feeling extremely overwhelmed, Rachel and I shared a wide-eyed“what are we supposed to do now?” look with each other, as these 50 kids gave us the excited “what games do you have for us to play!!?!” look.
“Madison” Rachel said, “What are we supposed to do?” If she didn’t know what to say, then I had even less of an idea.
“Ok umm, siéntense aquí por favor ninos!” Rachel instructed the kids to sit down. At this point, I saw Juan Carlos, an intern at our camp, who was fluent in English and Spanish, and I knew he could help.
“Hey Juan Carlos, how do you say duck-duck-goose in Spanish?!”
With a chuckle, he reliped “pato pato ganso!” As soon as the kids heard those words, they started forming a circle, laughing already. I sat down in the circle with them, and they immediately latched on to me. Not in an annoying clingy way, but in such a way that said “I am so thankful for you being here.” Little girls would come up to me, and point to my hair, asking “¿Puedo jugar con tu pelo?” Meaning, can I play with your hair? I would smile, and quickly I would have braids and ponytails all over my head, and barrettes from the small congregation of girls. It amazed me that I was actually somewhat communicating with them by smiling and laughing.
The even more astonishing thing to me came later though. While sitting in the circle, watching the kids play games, laugh, and make silly faces at each other, a realization came to me that literally brought tears to my eyes. Here are children that live in a third world country: I had seen the homes they live in, cement slabs with a cut-out for a door. Their clothing is ragged and worn, while their faces were just plain dirty. They had no idea who I was, where I lived, or what I was even saying for the most part, yet they were the happiest children I had ever seen. It did not matter that our languages were not the same; I could care for them and show them compassion through so many other ways than simply speaking. Since that life-changing trip, I believe that there is no such thing as a language barrier, and “lost in translation” is just a term for people who don’t try hard enough.