Tag Archives: Language School

Looking Fear Square in the Eye


I don’t think I have ever been a particularly cowardly person.  As a matter of fact, I’ve done a whole lot of things that have required more courage than I thought I could muster.  Each time I’ve had to reach down deep and search for the courage to do something major, it has become one of the highlights of my life.  When I’m not sure I can actually do something and then I find the will within me to conquer, I feel elated.

For example, I was barely 16 years old when I started college.  I had been away on a missions trip to Guatemala until the day before classes started, so I missed Welcome Week and the campus tour and Freshman Orientation.  I walked onto the campus with my schedule in my hand and didn’t even know where my first hour classroom was located.  I just started asking people for directions.  I opened the door and saw 300 chairs arranged in theater style.  I chose a row at eye level with the speaker on the stage and took the center seat.  Courage.

At home with my collection of college class syllabi spread out in front of me, I spent the next two hours meticulously writing each assignment into my Day Timer Calendar, then backing up a few days or weeks to write a reminder about starting each project.  When I had the due dates for all 6 classes written neatly in my calendar, I cried.  I felt totally overwhelmed at what I was about to do.  I didn’t know if I had what it would take to do college at age 16.  I would need every ounce of courage I could find.

Fast forward many, many years.  The day finally came where we said all our tearful good-byes and walked through the security check point with carry on baggage and two children.  We were leaving for the mission field.  In the next few weeks we would need courage almost hourly.  We landed in a foreign country without knowing a word of Spanish.  The next day we put our kids on a school bus with 5 other missionary kids and off they went to a school that we had never seen in a city where I couldn’t even locate my own apartment in a country where I didn’t speak the language.  “Dear Jesus give me courage!” I prayed.  As we walked the mile from our apartment to our language school, I felt like I would never be able to learn this route.   I was sure I would get lost here.  I needed courage.

And here I am again, staring into the deep, dark well of fear and wondering if I could dredge up some courage again.  I have been hired as the vice principal at our school here in Costa Rica.  My emotions are swinging wildly between the excitement of all my ideas and the deer-in-the-headlights shock of what I’ve just stepped into.  I prayed for this, and now I’m terrified.  Once again, I am digging deep for courage.  I go to Jesus and ask for courage.

A friend and fellow teacher sent me a very encouraging note the other day.  See that word “encouraging”?  What do you see in the middle of it?  COURAGE.  Encouragement gives courage.  How many times did the Lord tell Joshua and the untrained soldiers of Israel, “Be strong and courageous.  Take heart and do not fear.”  The battle is the Lord’s.  I have nothing to fear.  I take courage in the fact that Jesus is my source, a well that will never run dry.  I can ask him for courage and he is glad that I have come to him with empty hands for he is ready to fill them up.  I am more than a conquerer in Christ Jesus.

Without Love this is all Worthless


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.

love you

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>

Moochinaries, Manure Piles, and Bad Missionary Jokes


I’m not sure why the occupation of “missionary” is so funny to some people.  Maybe there are jokesters out there who equate missionaries with the famed “Rabbi, Priest and an Irishman who walked into the bar.”  But maybe it’s more Freudian than that.  I have a friend who told me that once a pastor announced, “here come the moochinaries” in an attempt to humorously (or not) imply that missionaries just ask for money and mooch off of the rest of the hard-working church people.  Apparently he thought he was clever enough to repeat his joke every single time our friends visited his church.  I think I’d rather hear a joke about a missionary walking into a bar.

Then there is the joke we heard at Language School.  I don’t remember the details of the punch to the funny bone, but it went something like this:  Why are missionaries like manure?  If you spread them around they make good things grow, but if you pile them up they just stink.  At the time we were in school  “piled up” with a bunch of missionaries.  We had a lot of strong personalities at the school.  And once the intensity of school and cultural adjustment kicked it, we had some Jerry Springer action on the campus.  I thought that joke was cheeky and more than half-true, but I still did my best to avoid the drama piling up around me.

I have often wondered about the chicken-and-the-egg relationship between the occupation of missionary and people with strong personalities.  I have seen a few cases where a “tough cookie” personality went to a very hard mission field and worked diligently to bust up the dry spiritual ground.  Preparing the soil to receive the seed can take years of dry, dusty toil and it’s not a job for the faint at heart.  But put that tough guy in a regular society and they just become a bulldozer of a person, hard to deal with and damaging to the image of missions.

But my wonderings cause me to ask, is it because they are tough personalities that they CHOOSE hard fields or are they more of a product of their tough environment?  Must you be tough to survive as a missionary?  and does that mean you are unfit for “civilized” life, like a bull in a china shop?

The way I see it, and the way I try to live my life, is that missionaries should be people oriented.  Paul taught us to “be all things to all people that we might win some”, meaning that we must die to our personalities and our personal preferences in order to accommodate and get along with as many different types of people as possible.  And in the process of being flexible and adaptable, we might win some to Jesus.  I don’t have much use for the old battle ax of a missionary who blusters and bullies his way through life either on or off the mission field.  I think there are better ways of getting things done and more important things than finishing a project… relationships are premiere in my taxonomy.  And if anybody is going to be relational, it should be the missionaries.

No Place for Plastic Saints


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)