After a long day of ESL graduation and preparation for La Posada, I arrived late to headquarters, stressed and worried, only to realize I'd forgotten the necessary chord for my slideshow. As Jon and I sped through a conversation regarding who would teach the traditional peregrinos song in the absence of a music leader, we decided he'd teach both groups while I frantically rushed home. Running back in, missing chord in tow, I was delighted by the scene. While the River City Community had gathered downstairs with Jon, the ESL students and their families were upstairs and one woman I didn't recognizewas leading in teaching and singing the song. Her energy and fervor displayed an excitement and connection with the song I could never have mustered. God had provided that music leader we were missing (and she was far better than anyone on our team.)
After 13 weeks of classes, the ESL program has closed its doors for the semester. And as the highlight of our end-of-year celebration, we hosted La Posada, a celebration with ESL students and their families, our volunteer teachers, and the River City community. La Posada is a Mexican Christmas tradition that remembers Mary and Joseph's search for a place to give birth to Jesus. Though many variations exist, children and their families typically process from door to door acting as Mary and Joseph searching for lodging, lit candles in hand. While initially rejected and unrecognized, the procession is finally welcomed into a home where everyone joins in to sing the song of the peregrinos (pilgrims) and then hold a posada (inn) party with prayer time, and eventually, dancing, celebration, and a pinata
for the children!
River City's version of La Posada did not disappoint. Seeing the River City Church family and the families of our ESL students unite to learn and experience a tradition together was a highlight for me. Earlier in the night, before the piñata began, I caught four of the young boys eagerly sitting next to the Spiderman piñata, waiting for the fun to begin. Their excitement was unmatched. Even the smallest children attacked the piñata with all of their might. The rush of joy that they get when the piñata finally cracks open and the can rush to retrieve their candy was evident on all of their faces. I even caught Juanito, the son of one of our students, holding the shell of the remains of what was once a jukebox piñata to search for anything remaining.
The kids were not the only ones with energetic competitive spirits. In our musical chairs competition, Joel and Ana Maria proved themselves stars. Joel is a mentor for our level 2 teachers, having been with the ESL program since its inception around 8 years ago, and Ana Maria is a new student this semester. She is 80 years old, but with her passion and energy you'd never guess it! When it was down to just three contestants and two chairs left, Joel just beat Ana Maria to the chair, but that didn't stop her from trying to push him off and sit in his lap. Though Joel reigned victorious, Ana Maria put up an impressive fight.
In addition to all of the fun and excitement of La Posada, it was a time of reflection. For our ESL program, it is, in some ways, an end. Though many of the students and teachers will return back to ESL next semester, this was goodbye for some. Rosanna, one of our level 3 students, is returning to Mexico this week. At the Posada, she handed each of her teachers a card with her contact information, inviting us to stay with her in Mexico. To me, this is living proof of the community we've striven to establish.
As I reflect on Jesus and Mary’s journey to seek shelter, I am reminded of the stories of so many of our students who have come to the United States seeking shelter, whether that be actual physical shelter or simply the emotional “shelter” of having a community of loved ones. The chorus of the traditional peregrinos song, printed below, reminisces of how the inn keeper took Mary in and and, though all he had to offer was a simple manger, it was offered with all of his heart.
|Entren, Santos Peregrinos Reciban este rincón Que aunqe es pobre la morada Os la doy de corazón||Enter, holy pilgrims Receive this corner For though this dwelling is poor I offer it with all my heart|
This song reminds me that it is not just the peregrinos seeking shelter, but all of us. At ESL, we believe our program is to work with students, not for them. In working together, we recognize that we both have needs, though they may look different. As a volunteer in the program, I can’t solve all the problems of my students, but I can walk alongside them. In doing so, I have discovered so much more of my own need for God and have experienced the joy He as given me with the provision of this ESL community. He has taught me to let go of my desire to control and to let his plans unfold. And they do, in ways far more beautiful than I could have ever done on my own. I am so thankful for our community and so delighted to see what surprises God has in store for all of us, beyond just a provision of someone to teach the La Posada song.