It’s a normal Friday evening and the doors of La Mesa Turquesa community center are open. The room is full of people and of laughter. Tea is poured, coffee is brewing, and various cookies and sweet treats are on platters on the giant turquoise table that is the centerpiece of the room. The table is crowded tonight and every chair in the center is full.
There is a group of teens playing Uno at one end of the table. All are immigrants to Spain. One is from Poland, one from England, one from Brazil, and one from the USA (Sarah). Two of them are recent transplants within the last two months. Just a few weeks ago, they started a new school year in a new country - no friends and no Spanish, no one to sit with at recess, no one to make plans with on the weekend. Sarah invited them to hang out at La Mesa Turquesa and play games, meet other immigrants and community members, and just relax and have fun. Their language skills are slowly improving, and they are bonding to each other and to the center. Watching them laugh together as they play games is heartwarming. Building community and friendships… this is why we are here.
There are two women who join the teen’s Uno game. They sport full head-coverings (hijab), as is customary in their cultures. *Nahla only recently came to Spain and still speaks very little Spanish. Timid and embarrassed by her language skills, she would never respond to invitations to come to the center. That was until our friend *Amira went to here. Amira is from the same country as Nahla and speaks her native Arabic. Amira began bringing Nahla to La Mesa in September. Little by little, Nahla has begun to open up and relax and enjoy the community in the center. She regularly thanks us for having the center and for inviting her. Just yesterday, she threw her arms around me and gave me a huge hug and said, “Te Quiero” (I love you). This morning, she saw me on the street in town and ran to hug me. Feeling welcome and loved… this is why we are here.
At the other end of the table, a rousing game of cards is happening. I’m not sure what the name of the card game is. *Oumar is teaching everyone how to play a popular game from his native Burkina Faso – a war-torn country in western Africa. Also playing are *Shayla (Venezuela),*Ami (Ghana), and Billy. Lots of laughter happening at that end of the table as they try to understand Oumar and the rules of the game. Laughter… this is why we are here.
Sitting on a sofa off to the side is *Hassan (Syria). He comes in each day to practice Spanish and use the free internet the La Mesa provides. He makes himself at home when he arrives each day, going straight to the coffee and tea bar and making himself a warm drink and picking up a couple of soft cookies. He speaks some English, so we have conversations in both English and his new Spanish. Hassan is a survivor. His body bears witness to the unspeakable things that have happened to him over the past couple of years. Most of his family did not make it out alive. Today, he is glued to the news as he watches the unfolding events of more war and a Turkish invasion in his native homeland. He isn’t interested in games today. He just needs a place to be connected and a place that feels safe when his homeland is not. He needs comfort. This is why we are here.
There is a deeply intense game of chess happening at a small side table between Ryan and *Jack (England). Another side table is rolling dice and moving Parchisi pieces around the board and playfully arguing about which country’s game rules they are following, because each country seems to have different rules for the same game. Puerto Rico and Slovenia and Spain and Georgia are all battling it out for game board domination. Kat and I are playing with children and holding babies so their parents can enjoy a couple of hours of adult conversation and fun. The youngest in the room tonight are 6-month old twins, born here in Spain after their mother fled political unrest in her country to protect her unborn babies a year ago. Suddenly, a cake arrives, and everyone erupts in an impromptu singing of Happy Birthday for a young man from Brazil who is turning 19 today. A small birthday party spontaneously ensues, and everyone shares in cake and festivities. Several versions of birthday songs are sung in various languages.
As I look around the room and scan the faces, I reflect on their stories. Each one comes to the table with their own tales, their own difficulties and heartbreak and struggles. But tonight, for these few hours, they are safe and warm and with “family”. They are known and cared for and loved. They are ‘at home’ at La Mesa Turquesa. Home… that is why we are here!
In my USA life, I was a teacher in Texas for 15 years. I was also a professional photographer, a soccer mom, a horsewoman, and the neighborhood hospitality queen. I did "Joanna Gaines farmhouse style" before Chip and JoJo were even a thing - we restored an 1884 Victorian farmhouse in small town Texas and did shiplap walls until I thought I'd go crazy. I taught at NASA, scuba dived with astronauts in training, and studied animals at Sea World for educational purposes. I've tried just about everything, because I have an insatiable need to know if I can do it! Never underestimate a Texas girl in cowboy boots!
In 2006, my husband Billy and I became cross-cultural workers (CCWs) with TMS Global. For five years, we served in three rural Quechua Wanca villages in the Andes of Peru. And when I say rural, I mean RURAL - like no potty! I spent my days in Peru learning to live a Quechua lifestyle in a rustic adobe house - cooking Peruvian foods, sewing with Quechua women, raising my chickens and goats and pigs, and planting my gardens. Now I live my life in small town Spain, serving other cross-cultural workers via teaching and training and care, and helping displaced people to navigate their new reality in Europe.
I'm passionate about fostering personal growth, growth in community, and growth in The Kingdom. Walking alongside others and helping them to use their unique design, their gifts and strengths and maximize their abilities to fulfill their God-given purpose - that's what makes my heart sing!