In Mexico we often reply to a “thank-you” with a “de nada” or “por nada”…which basically in our American culture and language equates to something pretty similar to saying…”It’s nothing…don’t make anything of it…not a problem.” Actually, there are more meaningful ways to say “you’re welcome,” but I’m not that great at expressing myself in Spanish so “de nada” is usually the first thing that comes out of my mouth.
I was just thinking about this because I left some good friends today by saying “de nada” after being thanked for a small thing. Every Monday (starting last Monday) I teach English to a Mexican family of four. Yes, all four of them…Dad, Mom and two pre-teen kids. They’re such a sweet family that I can’t help but look forward to meeting with them and enjoying upwards of two hours with them trying to explain as best I can how to begin to understand our quirky language.
At this point, I’m probably breaking all sorts of rules for teaching ESL…using a lot of Spanish to explain things…just trying to give them some neural connections with what they know grammatically in Spanish and relating those to English. That won’t last a lot longer I’m sure.
The parents love learning vocabulary…just raw vocabulary…I can’t seem to feed them enough words to write down for every kind of thing that exists.
I think the kids would rather spend more time on just learning how to speak and converse in English. Not that they’re big talkers from what I can tell, but when you’re over 40 years old like I am, sometimes catching a teenager or pre-teen in talk mode is sort of like catching a glimpse of a rare bird species doing some sort of unusual ritual that bird watchers have all heard about but few if any have ever witnessed. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen of course.
So, after about 2 hours with them today, I was feeling like the session wasn’t exactly what I thought it should have been…maybe I let them down. Maybe it was too tedious or just plain boring. I suggested that perhaps next week we’ll take a walk around Camp Koinonia where they live and just get a handle on some nature- related vocabulary and integrate that in with some verb usage on which we’re working. If nothing else, we’ll get some good exercise!
Surprisingly, as I left our classroom the dad said to me, “Well, that’d be OK to walk and talk, but I’m happy with learning exactly like we did it today. I’ve had a number of English classes and teachers over the years but they were all boring and didn’t help me much. This was the best class I’ve ever had. Thanks so much for coming and teaching us!”
Of course, this startled me to hear him say that and I wasn’t sure what to say given I was not feeling too well about the class session at that moment. So I said the first thing that usually comes to mind when someone thanks me for something, “de nada.” It’s nothing.
But you know…his thanks was worth a lot more than nothing.
It’s a tremendous privilege to help this family with learning English. They sacrificed a great pastoral ministry in Puebla to come and minister the Gospel to the rural poor here in central Mexico. They’ve pulled their kids out of private schools and are homeschooling them the best they can with very little in the way of resources. They live in a borrowed RV from one of our CAM co-workers. The camp is muddy throughout rainy season, dusty through dry season and just plain cold about half the year there at 9,000 feet.
Since arriving in January, they’ve shared the Gospel with neighbors for miles around and have led at least 10 of them in trusting Jesus as their Savior. They’ve been threatened for doing so: they had their tires slashed; one man tried to ram their truck head-on in a drunken rage as they returned from a Bible study with neighbors; they had the road sabotaged with boulders to trap them after giving a Bible study one night and to intimidate them from continuing with the Bible studies they give all week long to dozens of neighboring families. They’ve risked an awful lot to follow Jesus and to proclaim His Good News of grace, mercy, peace and love. And they’ve often been met with anything but those things.
I consider them heroes of the faith and choice servants of God.
From this perspective I must conclude that if by receiving thanks for a few hours of my time that I say “it’s nothing” and only mean that it was my time and my effort that was of little worth in comparison to whom I’m giving those things, then I really mean that.
But if by receiving thanks in serving some of the most precious believers I’ve ever met and had the privilege of serving I say “it’s nothing” as if those receiving it were of little value, then that is truly a lie. It is far more than nothing. The glory that Christ receives through the service and sacrifice of their lives is eternal. In serving this family I believe there is even more glory given to Christ, like a washing of feet or a cup of water given to the thirsty or a piece of bread given to the hungry or perhaps even an English lesson given to servant-heroes. No…this is NOT nothing…this is something sweet, something valuable and something eternal. I am humbled and honored to give it.
If my brother should say to me next week “Gracias,” I will not say “de nada.” No, I will say from the depths of my heart “Al contrario hermano, gracias a ti y gracias a Dios”…”To the contrary brother, thanks to you and thanks to God.”