One of the harsh realities to cross-cultural service is that you have to do it in a language not your own. Unlike the lucky disciples on the day of Pentecost, very few of us get the supernatural anointing of the instantaneous ability to either speak or be understood in the language of our hearers.
Nope, we have to work at learning a new language.
This sad, but true fact doesn’t mean, with the same Spirit’s help and a lot of hard work, we can’t accomplish our goal. The problem for most is running out of steam before we reach the finish line.
This topic comes to mind today, because last night I taught a women’s Bible study in Arabic. This is something I’ve done countless times over the past thirty-odd years, and the experience is often the same.
God picks up the slack where my language misses the mark.
It helps to have a gracious audience, which I did. The women in this small group of our local Arabic Baptist church knew me and loved me. As Christ followers, they know how to make allowances for a forgotten word or mispronunciation. That helps a lot, believe me.
Unfortunately, we don’t always have such a gracious audience, and I will say I’ve been laughed at by Christian and non, alike. Does that stop me from speaking and teaching? No. Why?
Because I’ve learned that God uses my desire to speak their language to reach their hearts.
Sometimes a national will listen to me, as a foreigner, share a truth more than a national believer. Does that mean national believers should not share? Absolutely not! But I have found that in my weakness and in my efforts to learn a hard language for the sake of Christ, hearts hardened to the gospel are pried open. It starts with questions like: “Where are you from?” or “You know how to speak my language?”
Just like anything else in this world, when we make the effort to do a hard thing for the sake of the gospel, people take notice.
- When Christians make the effort to love other members of the Body of Christ, the world sees it.
- When Christians spend their vacation days to go on a mission trip, the world watches.
- When Christians go into the inner cities, the forgotten places, to share the love of Christ, hearts are touched.
Language learning is no different. It can be a hard thing, but it can also be the thing that makes a broken soul want to continue the conversation, even if they don’t understand every word you say.
Your efforts to speak their language can be the bridge God is building to show them his love.
Was my Bible study performed in flawless Arabic? Hardly. Even after thirty years, I can easily get rusty without the daily use I got on the field, but that reality didn’t stop me from stepping up to the challenge.
Are you struggling with your efforts to learn that new language? Press on and don’t be shy to talk, talk, and talk some more…to his glory.
Grace and Peace