A few years ago, a local (Ecuadorian, Deaf) buddy of mine invited me to a big anniversary party up in Riobamba. The Deaf association was having a huge soiree and the entry fee was only $2. I had a car, a free Saturday, and $2 I could live without, so I went.
The event that day consisted of three main events: drinking, talking, and bull fighting.
The drinking didn’t interest me, of course.
The talking – well, that’s the national Deaf hobby so how could I not participate? In reality, it was pretty hard for me to engage them. I had only been in the country nine months, and I had never been to Riobamba before. I was the new guy in a community of people that had grown up together. So while I tried, a conversational connection remained out of reach.
Bull fighting, though…oh my.
This wasn’t the kind of spectacle that ends with blood and swords and a dead bovine. Instead, the men and women in the stands hopped into the arena and played dodgebull. The ring had a wooden fence border behind which the fleeing participants hid from 1,000 pounds of anger. The bull brought his natural aggressiveness and went after anyone in the ring. It was really a lot of fun.
Fun right up until I got hit – hard – by the fastest hamburger I’d ever seen.
I was fascinated by the scene, and hopped the fence easily. I really wasn’t worried about hoofprints on my shirt. My paternal grandfather had bigger bulls and cows at his place in Arkansas when I was a kid. While intimidating, most of them were pretty slow. Here in Ecuador, where everything except the mountains comes in miniature form, how bad could these bulls be?
By the time I realized I was too far from the fence, everyone else had vacated the ring, leaving me as the only target.
By the time I managed to get up off the ground, Texas Tech cap in hand, friends and strangers were streaming over the wall in order to distract the bull from the idiot white guy.
I thought I was unscathed until my elbow started leaking on my pants. As I was taking care of it, Eduardo from Latacunga was helped over the fence in front of me by a well-aimed horn and I laughed involuntarily. Ouch. Apparently, I had a bruised torso – the whole thing. My biggest surprise, though, came in the form of a neat, curved scratch that formed a wide U-shape on my stomach and chest.
The neatest thing is that I met more people who wanted to see how Big Ugly survived his encounter. I got more attention, shook more hands, and laughed with more folks after being bulled and bullied.
Fast forward to March 2013. The national Deaf federation was planning a party for their 27th anniversary. Being more well-known than in years past, I volunteered to help plan the event. Want to guess what we decided to do?
A bull fight.
As we sat around the table and talked (signed), the biggest issue was who would be handling which part of the event. Orlando said, “Hey, Jeremy’s got some good experience with bulls. Let him stay in the ring with the handlers and help out.” Sure, if you call nightmares involving a train shaped like a T-bone steak “experience,” then yeah, I’ve got plenty.
So I was the master of ceremonies for the festivities.
The see-saw game was fun: two guys standing at opposite ends of a pole resting on a vertical pillar. When the bull charges the man on the left, his buddy pulls down on the pole, lifting the endangered guy to safety. Back and forth it goes. Our oldest, Preston (above), was on the men’s bull soccer team, a game that requires you to score by enticing a large angry quadruped to chase you through a goal. Stacy, after swearing for weeks that No One was getting in the ring with the bulls, was on the winning team for the ladies. I came in second in the “I hope he doesn’t see me” contest which required contestants to stand on beer crates and wish themselves into invisibility.
Zachary (son) sold hot dogs with the wife of the president of a Deaf student’s association. Emily (age 9) won the sack race and gave Orlando (a deaf seeker) a peck on the check in exchange for her trophy. We visited and laughed and took pictures with friends old and new. We swapped phone numbers for sending text messages and invited folks to the Friday night Bible study. I garnered an invitation to another association’s anniversary celebration later this month. A third association asked me to help with their indoor soccer championship in August. A guy from the coast made sure I knew about their annual party, which I attended a few weeks ago. I somehow ended up as goalie for a really bad soccer team in the tournament while there.
All because I got hit by a bull in Riobamba.
Paul talked about being all things for all people. Of course, he was referring to Jews and Gentiles and practices and philosophy. Down here, it means doing as they do, being where they are, eating what they eat. (Except for coconut; no one needs that. Give it to me and I’ll throw it out the window. Trust me – I’ve done it before.)
I eat fish soup for breakfast on the coast. Guinea pig is on the menu in the mountains. I play soccer in the rain in Puyo, nestled among the jungles. Running from bulls in Latacunga. Sitting in the sweaty shade in Portoviejo while drinking fresh lemonade. And of course, talking constantly.
Teaching the gospel via examples from their contexts using language from their heritage while eating what they enjoy in places where they are comfortable. In other words: missions.
So get out there, folks, and let a bull run you down. You’ll never know what doors bloody elbows and concave sternums can open.