About 25 years ago in La Paz, Bolivia, I gave a class in a Friends Women’s Conference that has haunted me down through the years. I taught the class in Aymara, thanks to the patience of my language teacher and hours of practicing the lovely raspy sounds. Knowing the Aymara’s love for their own animal stories (the rascally fox, the astute humming bird, the deceitful condor), I chose to tell the American folk tale of the hard working little red hen who tried in vain to get the other barnyard animals to help her with her work that went from sowing the wheat to baking the bread.
As I mimicked the sounds of the cow, the sheep, the pig and the llama coming up with all sorts of excuses, the ladies laughed until they cried. Their reactions surprised me. Then I related the story to us women in the church and the need to be hard-working (another Aymara value) like the little red hen, not lazy like the other animals. I went on to teach about spiritual gifts and the Spirit’s help as we do God’s will.
I gave that class several times in different areas of the country, accompanied by a flip chart with my silly animal drawings, and always with the same enthusiastic result. It was the most fun I’ve ever had teaching a class.
Much time has passed since then. Recently we find ourselves visiting La Paz several times a year on different assignments. What has amazed both Hal and me is how many old ladies come up to me and tell me their memories of the little red hen. (I taught lots of other classes on biblical women, on the Christian family, etc., etc., etc. No one mentions—or probably remembers—those. What is it about that hen?)
It happened again last week. Our old friends Ildefonso and Brígida invited us to their home, and we had lunch with them, two of their five kids, and Brígida’s parents who have come to live with them. As we were sharing memories of experiences our families shared together, the Grandmother piped up in Aymara and began talking about the little red hen. She not only remembered details of the story, she summarized the lesson about working hard for Jesus in the church. That was 25 years ago.
It’s wonderful when cross-cultural communication works. I’m always amazed. And I continue to wonder—what is it about that chicken?