Tag Archives: language learning

Without Love this is all Worthless

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I had already been thinking of writing something about 1 Cor. 13 from a missionary point of view when a friend of mine posted this version that she had saved from her language school days. So I decided to save myself some time and just shamelessly share Cindy’s post.  

The point is that without love, missions is pointless.  I think some of us THINK  we have love, but when that emotion is twisted and broken by culture clash, then we realize that what we had was a sort of romanticization of missions.  We loved the IDEA of being missionaries rather than loving Jesus enough to love fallen humans.  

Love isn’t easy.  If you think it’s easy, you aren’t doing it right.  Jesus said even sinners love those who love them, so what’s the big deal if you do the same?  The really hard thing is to love those who don’t love you back, who hate you and your nationality and your skin color, who don’t want you in their country.  Now that’s real, gritty love.

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A GUIDE TO CULTURE (According to 1 Corinthians 13)

If I speak with the tongue of a national, without love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

If I wear the national dress and understand the culture and all forms of etiquette, and if I copy all mannerisms so that I could pass for a national, but have not love, I am nothing.

Love endures long hours of language study, and is kind to those who mock his accent; love does not envy those who stayed home; love does not exalt his home culture; is not proud of his national superiority; does not boast about the way we do it back home; does not seek his own ways; is not easily provoked into telling about the beauty of his home country; does not think evil about this culture.

Love bears all criticisms about his home culture, believes all good things about this new culture, confidently anticipates being at home in this place, endures all inconveniences.

Love never fails, but where there is cultural anthropology, it will fail; where there is contextualization, it will lead to syncretism; where there is linguistics, it will change.

For we know only part of the culture, and we minister to only part.

But when Christ is reproduced in this culture, then our inadequacies will be insignificant.

When I was in America, I spoke as an American, I understood as an American, I thought as an American, but when I left America, I put away American things.

Now we adapt to this culture awkwardly, but we will live in it intimately. Now I speak with a strange accent, but He will speak to the heart.

And now these three remain: cultural adaptation, language study, and love.

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/brandoncwarren/4164759025/”>Brandon Christopher Warren</a> / <a href=”http://foter.com/Love/”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>CC BY-NC</a>

I see you

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I wrote this article last summer for an on-line newsletter about women in ministry.  I was under contract not to publish it anywhere until the newsletter published it first.  Now that they finally used it, I can share this story too.  If you want to see the original page, go here.

I could feel my palms sweat and the index cards in my hands tremble. Taking a deep breath, I slowly recited my Bible verse in Spanish to my conversation partner, Sujen. As a new missionary on the field, three times a week this young Nicaraguan woman would come to my house to teach me how to clean my ceramic floors or how to cook the perfect chicken and rice dinner. And three times a week this introverted missionary would be pushed to my conversational limits by having a Spanish speaker in my house. It was way beyond my comfort zone, but I pushed myself even further.

One day after practicing my Bible verse with Sujen, she casually told me that she was having marital problems. She asked me if I thought prayer would help. I said, “Of course!” With my 3 months of Spanish, I said a simple prayer for Sujen and her husband Jimi. When I opened my eyes, Sujen was crying. I was shocked that the Holy Spirit could do anything with my pitiful little vocabulary – my loaves and fishes’ sack lunch. Right there in my kitchen, I prayed with Sujen to accept Jesus into her heart.

Soon after, Sujen invited my family over to her house for lunch. We followed her directions to the entrance of a little alley where she met us and lead us back through a maze of make-shift houses. Her house consisted of one small living room with a kitchen divided off by a curtain, one bedroom, and a small bathroom with the only running water coming from a pipe shoved through the wall. Her “kitchen sink” was a cold water tap shared by several neighbors just a few steps outside her house. She considered herself fortunate to have running water so “conveniently” placed near her kitchen.

I sat humbly on a stool in her kitchen watching and listening as she taught me to make tortillas by hand. It was such an awesome thing for me to feel the love of God radiating from Sujen towards me. I was the missionary – the one who was supposed to be blessing her – and on that day I felt God shine His love on me through her. There was nothing in her background that could have prepared her to accept a foreigner. Nothing taught her the patience she would need to converse with someone just learning Spanish. No one could have prepared her to be my friend, but God had glued us together somehow, and we were both blessed by the relationship.

I was blessed with her trust when she showed me her wedding photo album. I was blessed with her intimacy when she opened up a well-loved box of photos. With tenderness and a few tears quickly wiped away, Sujen showed me the birth certificates of two baby boys, both stillborn. I saw little faded footprints stamped onto the treasured pieces of paper. I saw a glimpse into her pain. I saw her mother’s heart. I saw her.

After my visit to Sujen’s house, I struggled to put the experience down on paper for my interaction report that week in language school. It was more than just a cultural experience for me. After reading aloud the first few paragraphs, my Spanish disintegrated, and I dissolved into tears under the weight of the kindness I felt from Sujen. I simply lacked the vocabulary to describe it.

In English, I apologized to my teacher. I said, “I just don’t have the words to describe how much it meant to me that she invited me into her home, and that she loves me like that!”

My teacher had such a tender heart. She told me, “But April, we see who you are in your heart. And we can tell that God’s love is there even if you don’t have the right words to say in Spanish.” After that, I began to relax in the knowledge that God’s love was indeed shining out through the cracks in my paltry Spanish and my nervous, introverted social habits.

We don’t need to worry so much about being missionaries who want to save the whole world. Instead we need to see ourselves as women with the love of God in our hearts, just looking for friends with whom to share His love.

 

 

No Place for Plastic Saints

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This is an excerpt from Margaret Register’s book No Place for Plastic Saints: Earthquakes, Chicken Feet and Candid Confessions of a Missionary Wife.  A longer excerpt is posted on Tortilla Press.  When I first read this, I laughed till I cried!  I need the “Been there, done that” T-shirt.

Our first day of language school, Guadalajara, Mexico. April 1968:

“!@##$%%^&**()())_,” said the teacher. Ten of us scared white Americans, with one brown, confident Mexican, were crowded around a table in a small narrow room. Nothing adorned the long, side walls except the plaster, painted white, over adobe bricks. At one end of the room, a window opened to a courtyard. At the other end, a door opened to the patio. The climate was perfect year-round. But our room smelled like sweat. And glistened with tears.

“!@##$%%^&**()())_,” the teacher uttered again as she passed out workbooks.

“!@##$%%^&**()())_,” she said as she opened a workbook and motioned to the drawings of two men walking toward each other, shaking hands, then walking away from each other.

“!@##$%%^&**()())_ ,” she said as she pointed to her mouth and then to our mouths.

She turned to the student on her right, “!@##$%%^&**()())_.”

She gestured to him, “!@##$%%^&**()())_.” He repeated it, haltingly, “..#..#..**)…)_.”  She nodded brusquely.

Next student, “!@##$%%^&**()())_.” He stuttered, “## … $$$ …%%%.”

All the way around the table. “!@##$%%^&**()())_.” Each of us tried and failed miserably to repeat the gibberish.

“!@##$%%^&**()())_ mañana,” she said as she handed each family unit a reel-to-reel tape.

Finally, lunchtime came. Joe went to get Christy from her first grade class; I went upstairs to get Timmy from the nursery. By the time I was back downstairs, Joe had spread our quilt on the grass in front of the main building. All around us the other twenty families were doing the same thing in the open-air cafeteria.

A stubby, stocky toddler named Ralphie went running past, diaper so soaked that it dragged the ground. From our left, I overheard, “I can’t do it.” A deeper voice said, “Yes, you can, Honey, you can learn it.”

We opened our lunch basket: a can of tuna, crackers, and pork ’n beans, again, along with our thermos with purified water, and some bananas.

An hour later, we were all back in our classrooms. Another lady came and motioned to a student to follow her. We learned that she was the accent coach and grammar dragon imported from Costa Rica. Each of us had half an hour a day with her. Repeating, incorrectly, whatever she said. She would hold our jaw, all scrunchy, and make us repeat the word again. She would point to a word with a d in the middle and make us say it like a th. She would roll her r’s and try to get us to do it. Then she would roll her eyes and sigh.

By 5:00 we were exhausted. My jaw hurt from trying to hold it differently. Why didn’t they explain in English what we were “repeating”? We felt so silly mouthing meaningless babble. We felt like children. Worse than children. A three-year-old Mexican knew more Spanish than we did.

We struggled through the second day, the second week. Grown men cried silently, red-eyed, wiping tears with a fist. Grown women cried openly, sobbing as they jumped up and ran out into the patio. We could not learn this. It was impossible.

An upperclassman told us, “Just as a baby repeats what he hears, with no concept of what it means, you have to do the same. You’ll see, it’ll come together.”

Little by little by little we began to recognize one word. Then another. Then one more.

One evening when we arrived home, Joe wanted to show off his Spanish by telling the maid (whose services were included in the rent of the apartment) that he was hungry. But in Spanish you say, “I have hunger.” Hunger is hambre, man is hombre. Joe told her, “I am hombre.” She looked startled, so he just repeated it, louder, “Yo soy hombre.” “I am a man!”

I was proud of my new Spanish, too, as I hurried down our driveway in my housecoat just as a vendor arrived selling jugs of purified water. In Spanish, he asked, “Do you want water?” “No, I want a son,” I replied in Spanish. His eyes flew open and he hurried away, thinking he was being solicited by a crazy gringa, one who didn’t know how to say she was searching for her son.

April 24, 1969, the day of our graduation banquet, we dressed in our finest: Joe in his suit from his Southeastern College quartet days, me in a blue satin sheath dress, a hand-me-down from the rich family in the Beckley church. Joe was class president and graduated at the head of our class. I was close behind him, and we were proud that we could communicate now in Spanish.

Of course, I needed to have my hair and nails done, so that morning I went for my $2.00 do. As my hair was being “teased,” a stylish lady breezed in, talking ninety to nothing. I did not understand one word. She stayed briefly, and when she left, I asked my beautician, “Was she speaking Spanish?” “Oh, , she is from Chile.”

We were leaving for Chile the next day.

(Excerpt from Margaret Register’s book No Place for Plastic Saints: Earthquakes, Chicken Feet and Candid Confessions of a Missionary Wife)

Kick my Crutches out from under Me

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I’ve heard many times that when a person loses one of their senses the other senses become more sensitive and acute in order to compensate for the loss.

I have been speaking Spanish for 6 years now.  I have “Good Spanish Days” where things flow smoothly and “Bad Spanish Days” where my words are clunky and awkward.  I have days when I can’t understand anything anyone is saying to me.  I have days when I want to hide in my house and not speak Spanish to anyone.  I have days when I dread, I mean dread, going to a meeting or get-together because it’s all going to be in Spanish.  I used to loathe going to church and sitting through a 5 hour Spanish service with my 20 minute attention span.  (Those were the days I would end with a migraine from concentrating so hard.)  When I get nervous or angry, I sound like an babbling idiot.

When we first started learning Spanish I wanted to tell everyone I spoke with, “I know I sound like a 2 year old, but I’m really quiet intelligent in English.”  I was usually a sentence or two behind in any given conversation, and even when I wanted to participate by the time I formulated a reply, the moment of opportunity had long passed.  Having my language abilities drastically limited was like receiving a devastating wound, like losing a limb or losing one of my senses.  I felt handicapped, marginalized, ignored, depressed and frustrated.  It changed me in ways I will never be able to fully explain.

Before we left for the mission field I was a pretty shy person, very private and not inclined to talk much with people I didn’t know.  After 3 years of being immersed in Spanish every day we returned to Minnesota for our first furlough.  I noticed the change in my personality right away.  I couldn’t stop talking to people- total strangers- everywhere I went!  It was like I had 3 years worth of English words bottled up inside of me and someone shook the bottle and popped the top!  I just gleefully exploded on the people in the grocery store line behind me, the kid working the McDonald’s drive thru window, anyone in a coffee shop… And the weird thing was that I knew I was  acting like a lunatic, but I couldn’t stop!  It was like having an out of body experience where I saw myself freaking out all these quiet, Minnesota Scandinavians and inside my head I was telling myself, “Shut up!  These people don’t care that you’ve just moved back from Mexico.”  But it was just so EASY to speak now because it was in English.  I had changed.

Another thing that I noticed about myself was more spiritual.  Because my natural crutch of English had been kicked out from under me I found myself relying more on my spiritual sensitivity, especially in churches and in God-related settings.  When I didn’t understand the words of the song, couldn’t understand what the pastor is saying, didn’t have the Bible verses memorized in this new language I actually could FEEL the Holy Spirit much more quickly and more intensely than in the past.  It was like being blinded, yet suddenly seeing with my heart.  It’s kind of hard to explain, but because I had lost something so vital to me, something that helps me relate to those around me, my spirit was cleared of lots of clutter.  I couldn’t excuse my non-participation by saying “Oh, I don’t like that song” or “This guy is boring to listen to”.  My language crutch was gone and I had to stand alone- and that’s when I noticed God standing beside me and supporting me.  It was a painful and sweet experience.

I still have bad Spanish days.  I’m getting better, but I’m probably the least fluent missionary on my field.  But I would rather feel God close to me than to not.  I’d rather stand with the support of God than to stand on my own and ignore my crutches.  Please God, Kick my crutches out from under me and help me to stand with you.

I die daily

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I have this mental picture of Heaven.  For the first time that we all gather to worship the Lord we are divided into sections in a vast auditorium.  We are divided by language groups, and though when we speak to each other we use a common heavenly language, when we worship we sing in the language of our hearts.  In my mind, every missionary who has ever struggled to learn a language will be honored on that day with a seat in the section of their adopted language.  It makes me cry when I let this image rise up in my mind.  For the honor of worshipping side by side with the people I have given my life to, I die daily to my mother tongue.

It is a daily death, this struggle to learn another language.  I die to my personality which is best expressed in English.  I die to years of education and speak Spanish like a child.  I die to what I want to do and who I want to be.  I die to my image of myself.  I die to my independence.  I die to my pride… over and over again.

If it were not for love, I could not do this.  Yes, I love the Costa Ricans in all their contradictions and “Pura Vida”.  But more than my love for others, I mean I die for the love of God for me.  If it were not for God’s love towards me, I would not try this.  I would not give like this.  I would not hurt like this.  I would not humble myself like this.  If I was not 100% sure of my Father’s love for me, I would’ve stayed home in Minnesota.

But I am compelled.  In the light of His love for me, I am compelled to go, to lay it all down, to die daily to all that was, to share this compelling love with others, to pick up my cross.  I am compelled to love by dying.  I know no other way anymore.  The old life looks dull and flat.  It does not entice me any more.  My all and all hangs on the cross.  The way to my one and only love lies through a valley of death.  I give it all away in order to gain more than I could ever imagine.  “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and then loses his soul?”  When I die, I gain.

I can’t express it any more clearly how painful this death is to me.  It is not a metaphor.  It is real.  And every time I open my mouth to speak Spanish I lay my will down for Jesus.  Not my will, but yours be done.  What I wouldn’t do for this love?  It consumes me.

To live is Christ, to die is gain.