on December 12, 2011 at 6:00 AM, updated
The woman who led Ken to Christ on the campus of the University of Ottawa also ran a rehabilitation center for addicts. Ken volunteered to work at the center. As the summer drew to a close, Ken learned of a request for missionaries to evangelize in the prisons of Puerto Rico.
Instead of returning to college, Ken traveled to Puerto Rico. He worked at a school during the day and evangelized during his free time. During his time in Puerto Rico, he discovered a love for teaching and read extensively about education. The following year, the missionaries suggested Ken apply for a home-schooling job with a group of musicians. The group of fifty-six musicians were in Puerto Rico recording Musica Con Sentido (Music With Meaning). They were on the way to Peru to record authentic Latin American music and needed a tutor for their twenty-six children.
Ken applied for the job, but the musicians were reluctant to hire him. He had studied education but did not have a degree. They questioned his ability to teach the first through seventh grade in a one-room setting. Ken explained the difficulty of teaching various grade levels simultaneously and then offered his solution. He would teach the older children how to teach the children in the grade below them guaranteeing individual instruction. The musicians were impressed with Ken’s solution and hired him.
“I loved teaching their children,” said Ken. When the job ended, I obtained a position at a school sponsored by Alejandro. In Peru, the people are extremely poor or extremely wealthy. Alejandro was extremely wealthy. God used him to change the course of my life.”
After watching Ken play games with students that them taught math and spelling, Alejandro approached Ken with an odd request. “I’d like you to run my kid’s Birthday party.”
Birthday parties are a significant event in Peru often including clowns, magicians and bands. Ken had confidence in his ability to teach but was not sure about performing. “What do you want me to do?”
“Just do those games I see you playing with the kids.”
Two weeks before the party, Alejandro approached Ken again. “Did I fail to mention that I want you to come as a clown?”
“Yes, you did,” said Ken. “I’ve never been a clown. That is not an easy thing to do, just transform into a clown. I don’t think I can do that.”
“Ken, with God all things are possible.” Alejandro scribbled on a card. “This is the address to my seamstress. She will make you a costume.”
Ken reluctantly took the card. “What am I suppose to do as a clown?”
“You are a smart man. You will figure it out,” said Alejandro as he walked away.
Ken had his costume, but he spoke limited Spanish and did not have clown make-up, books on clowning or even a clue where to find a magic store. His girlfriend solved the make-up problem with a tube of Desitin Diaper Rash Cream and her red lipstick. Ken covered his face with the bright white cream, accented his lips and eyes with the lipstick and presented himself to Alejandro for approval.
“I don’t want your first performance to be at my birthday party,” said Alejandro. “An orphanage I sponsor is having a Christmas party. You can practice there first.”
Ken walked onto the stage at the orphanage with his Desitin covered face and heard kids shout, “You are the ugliest clown in the world.” Taken back by that first comment, Ken realized he had a “fight on his hands” to win their affections. With enthusiasm and some hilarious “monkey business”, Ken won their hearts.
The next day, Alejandro asked Ken to emcee the orphanages Christmas presentation at a shopping mall. Alejandro had hired an opera singer from Argentina to teach the children how to sing and invited the Minister of Peru to attend. “You did great at the Christmas party,” said Alejandro. “I want you to open with your act, and then emcee the show. They will get a kick out of a gringo who can hardly speak Spanish dressed as a clown. It will be great.”
Two thousand people attended the orphanages presentation. Ken opened the show with what he thought was an appropriate greeting. “Hola Todos” he shouted with bad pronunciation. The crowd was strangely silent. Ken saw a red-faced Alejandro running toward the stage.
“How dare you? That is not funny.”
Perplexed by Alejandro’s anger, Ken exclaimed, “All I said was, ‘Hi, everybody.'”
“No, you said, ‘Hi, you bunch of Indians.'”
Ken leaned forward in his chair and explained to me why Alejandro was angry. “The people in the mall were not Indians. My mispronunciation turned my friendly greeting into a racial slur. Alejandro realized my faulty Spanish was to blame and let me continue. At the end of the show, he told me that I was ready to do his kid’s birthday party.”
The parents loved Ken as much as their children did and gathered around after the party.
“Do you have a business card,” said one of the women.
“No, I don’t do this,” said Ken.
“But you were great,” said another woman. “I would hire you for my party.”
“I don’t do this,” Ken repeated. “I’m a teacher, not a clown.”
“I will pay you $100 an hour.”
Ken had been telling me his story for more than an hour. I handed him a bottle of water. He took a sip and set it on my table. “I was way out in the jungles of Peru where people made $80 a month. I could do one party a month and live comfortably. The offer was too good to turn down.”
Alejandro’s party created a lucrative side business for Ken. To meet the commitments of his flourishing side business he partnered with David, a teacher from the school. David witnessed a impressive performance by a magician at a small circus in the jungle. Believing magic would add another venue to make money, he asked the magician if he gave magic lessons. At one time, the magician had been world famous but lost his career to alcoholism. He told David to bring $100 and a lot of alcohol to his home in Lima, and he would teach them.
Ken and David arrived as excited as two kids attending their first Saints game to discover the magician was drunk. They politely sat in the living room for their first lesson. The magician instructed Ken to cut a piece of rope in half. He then took the rope from Ken and tied it together. “Just like God heals us, I’m going to heal this rope,” said the magician. He wrapped the rope around his hand and blew on it. “You are healed.” The magician unwrapped the rope from his hand; it was still knotted together. Ken frowned at his partner, disappointed by the magician’s performance.
“I’m sorry,” said the magician. “I didn’t say the right words. Give me another chance. “In Jesus name you are healed.” This time the rope was whole. Missing the trick was part of the magicians act, but he did it so well Ken and David thought they had been duped.
The blue-eyed gringo clown who did magic became a phenomenon. Ken traveled all over South America performing for corporations and making commercials. He still uses the rope trick and lipstick. The Desitin Diaper Rash Cream has been replaced.
Ken Landriault is a missionary who works professionally as a clown and magician. He is the co-founder of Cheer Up Missions, which delivers medical supplies to impoverished nations. Email: email@example.com
Teena L Myers is a freelance writer, editor of NOLA.com’s Faith, Beliefs and Spirituality blog, contributor to Gatherings Magazine and credentialed minister with the Assemblies of God. She lives on the westbank of New Orleans and attends Hosanna Church with her husband who has ministered to children for thirty years. To learn more about Teena and read some of her longer teaching works visit teenalmyers.com