A Menno MInute
The Spice in Spicy
My introduction to the Chin began with wearing the label “The English Teacher.” There had been a call for mentors to walk with the Chin and introduce them to the Mennonite story and faith when they were first exploring membership in MCA. Missing the point, I offered to teach English, instead. This is one of those places where you would say, “And the rest is history!”
I have been involved with the Chin for the past nine years, now, in contexts of: muddling through the English language, grammar checking official documents, preparing for GED, IELTS, CELPIP and citizenship exams, worshipping, celebrating various holidays, mourning at a funeral, blessing new homes, tax and mortgage discussions, sponsorship, a first attempt at cooking a turkey, and even a barbecue assembly. The English class sometimes looks more like a social club, and the open door policy of Peter and Mawite, the hosts, embraces people of any age and stage in life.
As I look back, my memory is filled with faces, names and occasions. Above all else, I see smiles. Contagious smiles. Trevor often commented that if I went to class dragging my feet a bit, I always came home full of energy. The Chin do this to you. I’ve been regaled with descriptions of the mountainous region where they grew up and how childhoods were spent. I’ve learned about Christmas and community traditions, and was particularly captivated by a story of how, in a village with no road access, the first teacher arrived, carried for days on the shoulders (literally) of a community member.
I love teaching English because it sheds light on assumptions that I didn’t know I had. It reveals quirks of Canadian culture that are only seen by fresh eyes. Learning language expands opportunities for education and employment, but it’s also about sharing hopes and dreams. I’ve heard words like, “Maybe this dream isn’t meant for people like me” and wondered what world we’ve structured where these barriers are so overwhelming for some.
Prayer is central in the Chin community. I recall standing in a circle with a small group of women before leaving for Women’s Retreat. Many of them were nervous because it was the first time they’d spent a night away from their children. We all prayed aloud and at the same time (something new for me!) and we were blessed. The blessings of prayer are shared often and I have found myself ministered to and cared for in my own times of loss and struggle.
Vivid colours fill my mind as I think of Chin National Day. The Chin are comprised of a multitude of smaller groups which each have their own traditional clothing. When they are all together, the room is an array of colour and texture. Traditional dances include the weaving of dancers and colours, tests of agility, and occasionally knives or weapons. The Chin put the “spice” in “spicy!” The first time I had Chin salad (salad!) tears flowed down my cheeks because I hadn’t looked closely enough to see what it was made of.
I look forward to worshipping and praying with the Chin on Sunday, March 14 as they celebrate the 10-year anniversary of their church and their new worship home. With gathering restrictions, it won’t be like other times, where the room is filled with the energy and voices of children reciting Bible verses or women singing. But like every time that I’m with the Chin, I know that it will be filled with God’s presence and God’s love. I invite you to hold them in your prayers as God continues to lead them and to call them into fellowship together.