OTHER PERSON: "Pleezed
tew meet you Scwat. My name is Tzurikfalaham Dresslewani."
YOU: (stare silent,
with mouth hanging open and puzzled look, trying to piece together
the consonants of this guy's name.)
Hey... uh... Tzurkey Dressing...(botched name comes out sounding
like the results of George W. Bush trying to sound out the names of
foreign leaders during the State Of The Union Address) I take it
that you aren't from the states."
OTHER PERSON: "Pleez.
Call me Joe."
And so it goes. This poor guy
from a foreign land no longer goes by the name he was given, but
instead, asks to be called something new. Sure... in most
cases it makes life easier on both people. You don't have to
attempt a correct pronunciation, butchering his name 76 times in the
process... and he doesn't have to repeat himself a squillion times
trying to be polite. It's a fair trade.
For me, growing up with a last name
like "Dannemiller" presented a few problems. First
off, I was always the LAST one to finish my penmanship assignments
in first grade. I secretly resented kids like Eric Gray, Joel
Hayes and Gabby Kubo who had a distinct advantage in the "length
of name" department. To this day, I will argue that the
reason I was always picked last for kickball was because I was late
getting to recess trying to polish off the final "miller"
while the rest of the kids had long since hauled their stale-milk-scented
carcasses off to the playground. But... I digress.
The other disadvantage of being
"Dannemiller" is that people have a hard time believing
that it is a SINGLE LAST NAME!
HOSTESS: The wait will be
twenty minutes. Can I have the name of your party?
ME: "My last name is
HOSTESS: "Dan. E.
Miller? OK Mister Miller, we'll call you when a table is avai..."
ME: "Uh... Dannemiller
is the whole last name"
Miller? Wow... Dayna... that's an interesting name for a
man? Is it a family name? I'll bet you got picked on a
lot as a kid."
ME: "Please... just call
(Uh, Gabby here. Let me tell
you, going from a simple, easy-to-spell, 4 letter last name
ah, the days gone by- to an 11-letter monster has forced me to stop
using my given name as well. Forevermore I will be
"Gabby" on all things not-legal. Email addresses,
applications for employment, and when admitting ownership to pets
etc.. I also really like me new spelling "D'miller".
Feel free to use it anytime on Xmas cards and the like, but don't
tell Scott I started it.) Man, the things you'll do for love.
(Scott here... Let's get back to
the story.) For this reason, I've learned to lead with
"Scott" in the dance of mispronunciation. It
shortens the game and avoids the pain. However, in Guatemala,
all bets are off. The name "Scott" is my new worst
It started when we arrived.
Our first meeting with Guatemalans started with the obligatory
introductions. When people would come up to me and shake my
hand I would say, "Hello, pleased to meet you. My name is
My words were met with fuzzy looks
and blank stares. Finally... they would say, "Otra vez,
por favor?" (One more time, please). So, I would
repeat myself. Then, the Guatemalan would take a stab at
it. "Oscar?" they would ask. (The
response actually sounded more like Oz-Care). After three
tries, they would finally get a little warmer.
This was close enough for me.
The hand shaking would stop, and they would move on to the next
person in line, satisfied that they had figured out the gringo's
name. The only problem was... 20 seconds later, they would
forget their near pronunciation and we'd be back to square one
again. Everywhere we went, I encountered the same
problem. In fact, at one church, we were asked to introduce
ourselves in front of the whole congregation. I introduced
myself as "Oscar Dannemiller" just to speed the process
along and start one step ahead.
After running into this problem for
two weeks straight, it was evident that I would have to make a
change for sanity's sake. It was then that I realized how
attached I am to my name. Changing it would not be an easy
thing for me to accept. First I thought of the poor East
Indian man we talked about earlier... remember good ol'
"Joe?" Next, I thought of my lovely wife who went
from her "Express Line" name of Gabby Kubo to the
"Slow Lane In Boca Raton Florida During The Wintertime"
name of Gabriele Dannemiller. What a sacrifice!
If she can do it, so can I. Still, for me this would be a
change of Biblical Proportions.
Even though my job title is now
something akin to "missionary," I am not what you
probably think of when you hear someone is a missionary.
Unlike traditional images of missionaries in the past, I am not in
Guatemala to SAVE ALL OF THE HEATHEN NATIVES! I'm also not one
of those guys who can quote Bible verses off the top of his
head. The only time I can hit the nail on the head is with
John 3:16, and that's probably because it's always featured on a big
poster-board sign held by some bare-chested, beer-swilling slob at
major league sporting events. In fact, so long as we're
confessing sins, I have a laundry list for ya'.
I use swear words when I stub my
toe. If watching NFL football is "keeping the Sabbath
Holy", then consider me to be a close follower of that
particular commandment! What's more... I often covet my
neighbor's goods... especially the lawn care tools. In short,
I don't expect there will ever be a "Saint Oscar
Dannemiller" canonized anytime soon.
Still, for Gabby and me, this year
is all about following God's call. While I may not walk around
in a white flowing robe healing the sick, I do pay a lot of close
attention to what God tells me to do, and firmly believe that He is
present in my life in many ways. (WARNING: This
may be a bit weird for those of you who know me but haven't heard me
talk much about my spiritual side - which will be a change for you
when you read some of my journal entries this year) I know
this because there are constant reminders in my life. God is
always with me if I only open my eyes and look a little.
So... back to the name thing.
I remembered back to this past spring and a sermon that our pastor
gave (yes... Nancy... you can believe it... we actually pay
attention to what you say on Sundays. It's good
stuff!) Anyhow, Pastor Nancy was talking about how there
were numerous times in the Bible when God gave people new
For example... Abram and Sarai
wanted a son. When Abram was 99, God promised he and Sarai
that they would finally get their wish. Abram laughed at God
and so did Sarai. They were saying things like (and I am
taking some liberties here), "Sure God... I saw on The Tonight
Show how Tony Randall (of "The Odd Couple" fame) fathered a kid when he was almost
80! That was a miracle... but I'm almost into the triple
digits... and so is my wife! Fat Chance!" Still,
God noted the strength of his character and came back to Abram and
asked for his faithfulness as well as the faithfulness of his
wife. To signify that Abram was now a "changed man",
The Father gave him a new name - Abraham. God also changed
Sarai's name to "Sarah." Not long after this, the
couple was hosting numerous baby showers and shopping for cute
outfits at Baby Gap.
And so goes the story of the
apostle Paul, who used to be called Saul when he went around stoning
Christians. Peter, who is now the bouncer at the
pearly gates (get your tickets early... supplies are running out!)
used to be called Simon before God called him into service.
All were given the names of their Father (the big man upstairs) to
signify that they now saw the world through different eyes and had
the spirit of service. Even still, all doubted that God knew
what he was talking about, and their faith was continually
So... fast-forward to 2003 where
some gangly red-headed guy is sitting at a kitchen table in
Guatemala eating "Surprise On A Plate" for the 386th time
in a row and wondering why in the WORLD he would ever give up his
comfortable life in Austin for this experience. "Was this
a huge mistake? How did I ever think I could make a difference
here? How will I ever be able to relate to these people?
Why can't I flush toilet paper down the toilet here? How many
days 'til I can go home?"
And then our new host dad comes to
visit me at our language school. Gabby and I will be living
with him for the rest of the year beginning in October. He has
been talking to the people at our church in Cantel, 20 minutes
outside Quetzaltenango. We'll be doing a lot of work there
this year, so he is prepping all of the congregation for our
arrival. Unfortunately, "Scott" is too hard for them
to pronounce. He tells our boss that "Oscar" doesn't
Note: This conversation did
take place in Spanish, but words have been translated to protect the
idiomatically challenged (namely myself).
"Es-cot... I was wondering if you wouldn't mind changing your
name this year?"
No problem! What did you have in mind?"
Martin: "I have a
cousin whose name is Kenneth. It's easy for me to say, and the
people in church will have no problem with it either. And, I
heard it's your middle name. What do you think?"
Me: "That sounds
perfect to me!"
"Seriously! That would be great! You sure Kenneth
Me: "Kenneth is
perfect. In fact, it's my dad's name."
So... here I am in Guatemala with
all my doubts and fears, faced with big life changes, going by a
name given to me by my father... or Father... but who can be
sure. Coincidence? Maybe. Irony? Not
sure. Message from God? I think so. It's one of
those slap-you-in-the-face kind of signs that my brain understands.
However, you can decide for
Whatever the case, my opinion (not
that you asked for it) is that the world around me is always trying
to tell me something. I just have to look and listen.
The smiles from a kid... the sun on my face... the kindness of a
stranger... the smell of rain on hot summer concrete... a warm cup
of hot chocolate on a cold day. I firmly believe that all of
these things are little signs from God... mini-advertisements for
Heaven... all proof that there is something incredible out there
that is trying to reel us in.
Until next time, this is Kenneth,
signing out with words from a song I remember from church at my
college campus. I'm sure it comes from the Bible somewhere,
but I can't quote the verse. Still, I think it's a fitting
prayer for the day.
May God bless you and keep
you. May the face of God shine upon you and be gracious unto
you. May God with delight touch your life... and give you