Universal Languages: The Gospel and a ball

Two quarters of college Spanish in 1985 helped a little. As I have traveled, language is often a barrier in communication. I wish I spoke Finnish. I wish I spoke Icelandic. In Guatemala, I learned how a bright orange soccer ball transcends languages. A ball speaks volumes: to a two-year-old who pats it happily as he is held in his mother’s arms, to a spunky seven-year-old girl with more energy than she knows what to do with to a 30-something-year-old dad who still thinks he’s got game.

Having filled two suitcases with as many flattened soccer balls and basketballs as I could fit, I had visions of giving balls out to children in school settings. No one was more surprised than me when the opportunity presented itself to hit the court with the women on retreat from their families and homes. These were women ranging from ages 17-60, several toting babies in blankets. The skirts and the sweat did not stop us from bonding through a ball. Each of the 16 left with a pink striped basketball and a smile.

From Guatemala City of seven million people to the northwest rural Cooperativa Maya Itza, the balls were a hit. They brought joy. They allowed for play, and interaction that may not have otherwise happened. 

Hoping to leave all of the balls in Guatemala, Maya Itza was the last stop. “How many balls do you have left?” Pastor Karen asked. “Twelve.” She smiled. “There are twelve families in this church. There will be one for each family. You had the right number.”  Recalling a phrase from deep in the caverns of my brain, I smiled at Pastor Karen and said with a hint of sarcasm, “Que coincidencia!” (What a coincidence!) She smiled.

There are times when you know that there is more at work in life than random chance and coincidence. While you cannot explain it, you know that it is Holy.