Tonight was the student led Christmas party. We rushed out the door because we didn't want to be late since Eric was giving the devotional during the worship session preceding the gift exchange. Forgetting the fact that Micronesians are notoriously extremely late (up to two hours), we arrived at 6:00 and were the ONLY ones in the beautifully decorated meeting room. We were told the students were still cooking the meal and wrapping presents. However, this gave us time to take pictures of their decorations. Notice the front of the podium. It is decorated with hand-picked flora located around campus. The same is true with the tables. Micronesians are so creative using growing things to decorate. At about 7:15 p.m., the students began to wander in bringing their gifts, and within a few minutes a time of worship began. A prayer led us to the evening meal (lots of barbequed meat: brisket, pork, and chicken, a mountain of rice, kimchi, pancit, and goodies), and then the party began! Each student had drawn a fellow student's name. The gift giver was the "angel," and the recipient was the "mortal." Although the entire night was in English, it might as well have been in Chuukese, Yapese, or Palauan, because the humor was DEFINITELY Micronesian. The students were roaring with laughter over things we simply didn't get. I have NEVER seen a group of people laugh harder in my life! We think what was so funny to them was when an angel and mortal were of opposite sexes, as the gift was handed over, the recipient would often hug the giver. This is no-no in Chuukese culture (men don't EVER touch women in public). The students thought it was so funny to be breaking this rule. There were also a LOT of comments from the audience about getting married and proposing, not to mention frequent cat-calls. It was extremely entertaining just to watch the students in hysterics, even though we had no real understanding of WHAT was so funny.
On this night, our family made a presentation to the students of a new volleyball net. Their existing net is ridden with holes. I have to give you a little history here. There are two things about Micronesian culture: 1) Boys don't touch girls, 2) If you want to give praise (which I don't think happens much) you must praise the whole group--not the individual. Well, of course, me, the bumbling, loud, energetic, excitable American, comes onto the volleyball court and when I see a great spike, I run up to the spiker and to their horror (especially when it's a guy) I yell, "Great spike!" while putting my hands up for a high five. They look at my hands and have no idea what to do. Obviously this high-fiving must be an American tradition. Then, to be respectful of me (since I'm an "elder") they tentatively and uncomfortably touch their hands to mine. Then, I'll hear the students talking in Chuukese, probably saying how crazy I am. Once that happens, I'll remember, "Oh yeah, they don't do that here." But after some time has passed, there will be another great play, I'll forget and I'll run over yelling, "Great dig!" with a high ten. The students revert back and forth between being stunned that I "high-fived" them and looking at their comrades and busting out laughing and giggling and speaking in Chuukese. Okay, now that you have the background, I'll proceed with the story. During the presentation of the gift, I told the students how much fun our family has had playing volleyball with them (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights). I told them how AMAZING they are with our girls (8 and 11), ALWAYS including them and encouraging them, no matter how competitive a game is or how poorly our girls are playing. I thanked them for this and told them this would NEVER happen in the States. Then, as a joke, I told them there was one thing they didn't do very well and needed to work on. At that point, Eric and I gave each other a high ten followed by a low hand clap, we then turned and did the same thing with our girls. The students all burst out laughing. The students were UNBELIEVABLY grateful for the new net, and it obviously meant a LOT to them that we gave them this gift. Giving is of HUGE importance and significance in this culture.
Following the party, the students went out on the court to play volleyball. As I played with them that night, EVERY time, someone did anything (even an error), the ENTIRE team approached EACH person on the team giving high tens and then the low hand clap. It was obvious that they thought this was the most ridiculous thing, and yet they were determined to try to integrate this into their play. It touched me in a profound way. They didn't "get" the concept of high-fiving the individual who had just accomplished some great play for the team; for them all were to be congratulated. And yet, I think they didn't realize that when I gave them the gift of the net, I was just teasing them about not being good at "high-fiving!" And they were trying, as best they could in their culture, to "please me" by giving high fives even though they gave them at the wrong time and they gave them to the group not the individual. They were laughing so hard as they high fived each other and you could tell they thought it was the silliest thing in the world and yet, they were "loving me" in my "bizarre" American culture. How precious that they, in the best way they could, tried to "love me in my silly/weird culture!" I hope I will be able to love them half as much and thus show the love of Christ.