So you are going on a short term missions trip and you're beginning to ask the question, "Should I work at learning the language before I go?"
It is a question everyone seems to ask for which there is but one answer . . . .
YES! Yes you should!
But . . .
The missionary anthropologist Charles H. Kraft was recently asked, "How much time should one who goes to serve as a two month short-term missionary spend in language learning?"
Charles Kraft holds a high value on learning the local language. Learning the local language is often seen as little more than a means to an end. The end for most followers of Jesus is the proclamation of the gospel.
And yes, this is essential! This is why we go.
But it too often reduces to the local language to nothing more than a tool. This is unfortunate because language is always so much more than just a tool. Language is the carrier of culture and worldviews, of relationships, of love and joy and pain and fear and hope.
When we reduce language to merely a tool, we often come to the conclusion that we need not bother learning any of that language when we travel as part of a short term mission trip.
This is unfortunate for a number of reasons.
Practically speaking, language is important to survive. At the very least we can all understand just how important it might be to be able to say, "Do you know where the bathroom is?" Learning 10 - 20 survival phrases will go along way to saving you from the embarrassment of being lost or unable to find the nearest bathroom.
Relationally speaking, our efforts to posture ourselves as learners of the language and culture communicate fundamentally important respect and honor for the people to whom we have gone to serve. Nothing says that you actually care about the person in front of you quite as powerfully as stepping into the humble place of a language learner. In doing so, by taking on the role of the learner, of the one without the power, you invite your host to in effect, take you by the hand lead you.
This is an act of kindness. This is laying down our rights. This is love.
I want to encourage you to take a few minutes to read a four page essay written by Thomas and Elizabeth Brewster. They were at the forefront of helping generations of missionaries learn the languages of the people they were going to serve. The Charles Kraft quote above comes from this powerful essay.
You can read it here: Language Learning is Communication -- Is Ministry
So you have a trip on the horizon. You are a few weeks away from departure or perhaps you have many months to prepare. Regardless of how much time you have, here are a few things you can do to begin learning the language. These are the things I'm doing to learn French for an upcoming trip to West Africa.
Sign up for Duolingo: Ten minutes a day will give you a beginning in the language and get you started with a foundation of vocabulary and basic grammar structures. You can find it on the app store for your smart phone or you can access it on your computer. (learn more here)
Begin Listening to Worship Music: For the past month or so I've had a French worship mix from Hilllsong playing in the background while I work during the day. In a way, what I am doing is training my ear to hear and distinguish sounds, intonation and rhythms of the French language. You can find worship music by searching for it on Youtube. For example, by searching on Youtube for "French Worship", I found this mix of French worship songs.
Listen to a Gospel: Chose one of the gospels and begin listening to a chapter or two every day. When you finish, start over from the beginning. You'll be surprised how much you begin to understand. You can find many languages available on the Youversion app or the Bible.is app.
Memorize Phrases: Find and memorize 10 - 20 important phrases in the language. Make sure that one of those phrases is, "Can you help me learn your language?"
Here are 25 phrases I'll be starting to learn in French.
Keep Learning: While in the country take every opportunity to practice with your local hosts. Keep learning. Ask questions. Boldly step into the role of being the town clown! Yes, people will be entertained by your language foibles, but it is worth it!
A language mentor of mine used to say that "it takes a million mistakes to learn another language --- So get started!"
Don't Miss Out
Investing as much time and energy as you can in learning the language will do much to make your trip more meaningful and transformational. We all have different capacities and time constraints but we can all do something. It is what you'd want someone to do for you if they were coming to visit you. Jesus tells us to "do to others as you'd have them do to you."
Learning the language then is an act of obedience to Jesus.
Don't miss out.
My Language Learning Story
In a past iteration of life, I was a language coach, helping everyday, ordinary people be more effective, more efficient and have more fun with the language learning journey. I created a number of resources that I'd love to be able to pass on to you if you would find them helpful. I have a number of ebooks as well as a series of videos. You can watch the language learning tips videos HERE. If you would like to have any of the ebooks, leave a comment below.
Below is one of those language learning tip videos. Enjoy!
I first met Any McCullough at an international church in Central Asia. He was on an short trip preparing to move to our city and we had the privilege of taking them out to eat that day. As a language coach and a friend, I got to have a bit of a front row seat to the settling of his family and team into the cross cultural context of ministry. What I observed impressed me in so many ways and so when I saw he had written a book on how we should enter into new cultures, I was excited.
Global Humility: Attitudes for Mission is powerful, insightful and a must read for anyone interested in cross-cultural ministry. Broken into six different sections, Andy explores all facets of cross cultural work through the lens of what he believes is the most important aspect of this work: humility. Filled with first hand experience, personal stories, Biblical insight and sharp observation, Global Humility is a must read for anyone interested in learning from the global church and in moving cross-culturally as an ambassador of Christ. We will certainly be incorporating some of the lessons into the Becoming a Cross Cultural Ambassodor session of E2E.
In Andy’s own words, he hopes that this book will stimulate, provoke and challenge you and cause you to pray more, cause you to think about the world in a humbler way with a broader perspective.
Global Humility does just that.
Andy writes in an easy to read way that is engaging and insightful. There are so many nuggets of wisdom in this book and so here are some those nuggets that I found as I read: one from each chapter. I hope this will give you a taste of what the book is all about and motivate you to order your own today.
Click Here to Get Global Humility*
Section 1 - Moral Humility: Thinking About Sin
Chapter 1 - Tamar: Voice from the Margins
One of the great sins of those who cross cultures, particularly those who travel from the powerful to the powerless, is the sin of judging. The centre judges the margins. The strong judge the weak. The missionary judges the heathen. The Christian judges the non-Christian.
Chapter 2 - The Sins of Jonah
Humility is reading scripture and identifying with its weak characters. If Jonah had such gaping flaws, the chances are we do too. Jonah does not have much to teach us about strategy, but a whole load to teach us about our hearts.
Chapter 3 - The Men from James
The word of the gospel is able to keep and build the believers. All of the tree is in the seed. Everything is an enormous mature tree was originally in the seed; all the DNA necessary. A seed needs planting and watering and needs space clearing out for it to grow (James 1:21), but does not need adding to. So with the gospel of the grace of God in Christ!
Chapter 4 - Softening Your Certainty
Our greatest theologians have only read the first line of the first page of an infinite library which is the knowledge of God. May our speech, our self-perception and our approach to God and others be softer!
Chapter 5 - Humanity as Victim
We must not forget that Sin as Tyrant is as big a theme in the biblical witness as Sin as Choice. The latter is still true, and the Christian formulation of sin includes both, but one of the things that makes Christianity unique as a world religion is the picture of sin as a power oppressing humankind and hence, necessitating a Savior. Islam, for instance, would teach Sin as Choice but not Sin as Tyrant. We, however, have a Savior who came not to judge but to save the world! If we can see people in this way, then instead of blaming we will serve and instead of judging we will empathise.
Section 2 - Public Humility: Thinking About the World
Chapter 6 - Whose Story?
The geographical heartlands of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam are still where they have always been, and the faithful go their on pilgrimage. Not so with Christianity.
Chapter 7 - On Memory
When introducing yourself to someone from a high-context culture, they don’t just want to know who you are as an individual, but who your father and grandfather were, where your people come from originally, where your village is. Third generation urban migrants still talk about their village, even if they have never been there. One of the major differences between identity in the East and the West is the role of memory.
Section 3 - Semantic Humility: Thinking About Language
Chapter 8 - Nimrod Versus Abram
That is why Christian mission must be dominated by an Abrahamic ‘go’ rather than a Nimrodian ‘come’. In multicultural cities and towns of Europe the same dynamic is true. There are many in your town who can never come to your church, the geographic, linguistic, cultural barriers are too many. You may think your church is accessible because it has a good website and a wheelchair ramp, but what about emotional and cultural accessibility? Instead, you must go to them!
Chapter 9 - Heart Language
In any cross-cultural relationship, language is an invisible power differential. If our whole desire is to see local responsibility, local leadership, local ownership in the Church, one of the most decisive ways to achieve this is local language.
Chapter 10 - Translatability
One of the most important things about Christianity is its translatability. I can talk to God in my own heart language. God can speak to me (through the scriptures) in my own mother tongue. I don’t have to learn a sacred language - the gospel invades my language and renders it sacred!
Section 4 - Intercultural Humility: Thinking About Differences
Chapter 11 - Whose Reason?
Have you ever noticed that in the Old Testament there are very few ‘photographic’ descriptions of appearance, whether of people or of buildings? But there is an obsession with the process of building. This because in the East, verbs are more important than nouns. For the biblical writers, describing what the temple looked like was not as important as describing how it was made.
Chapter 12 - I Am Because We Are
We have learned that when Westerners talk about church as ‘family’ they mean something very different to what Easterners expect. If you are going to use that word, are you prepared to live up to the implications? Family pool financial resources to send a nephew to university, or to buy a married couple a house. Family find jobs for each other. Family is invasive, comments on everything, admits no no-go areas.
Chapter 13 - Honour Motivation
There is a Turkish proverb, ‘A stone is weighty in its place.’ Where you are from, where you are known, you have weight.
Chapter 14 - Multisense
… if we discount all form and ritual, then we are making informality a gospel essential, when it is only a cultural preference. We must learn to contextualize to high-context cultures!
Section 5 - Incarnational Humility: Thinking About Leadership
Chapter 15 - Contextualize Yourself!
Although it is rare for cross-cultural workers to genuinely ‘become’ local, the effort that you make to expose yourself to the same lifestyle as those you are seeking to reach - your schooling options, accomodation, work hours, food - will go a long way to communicating the compassion of Christ who lived among Jewish men as a Jewish man.
Chapter 16 - Sent Like Jesus
We are servants of the Sent One! Jesus’ incarnation is the model for our incarnation. His vulnerability is the template for our vulnerability. His humility, the prototype for our humility. His pain, the pattern for our pain.
Chapter 17 - Scaffolding
Reaching the unreached requires collaboration between different apostolic spheres, open-handedness and a non-possessive approach.
Chapter 18 - Leadership is Not Like Riding a Bicycle
The science of leadership is one of the most prevalent forms of neo-colonialism around in the Church today.
Section 6 - Theological Humility: Thinking About Thinking
Chapter 19 - Narrative
The goal of missions is indigenous expression of ancient truth. The danger for missionaries is bringing the gospel plus something additional.
Chapter 20 - Parable
Jesus was unafraid to say ‘the kingdom of heaven is like . . .’ In fact, he knew that the only way our tiny human brains could conceive of the divine was through the medium of comparison to the material, everyday world.
Chapter 21 - Theology as a Verb
Theology should be taught as a verb and not as a noun. To theolog-ise. Especially cross-culturally. We must teach people how to think, not what to think.
Chapter 22 - De-Westernising Your Eschatology
Eurocentrism is rarely more evident in Bible interpretation than in the history of the interpretation of Revelation.
Chapter 23 - Apostolic Plurality
If an Indian reads a verse one way, and an Inuit reads it another way, because of cultural lenses affecting their reading, who is right? Who is wrong? And how can these be reconciled? How different should a Middle Eastern theology be from a North American theology? I know this is a mind boggling question, but we have to have the courage to ask it.
Click Here to Get Global Humility*
Take a moment to watch Andy talk about his book below.
* The links to this book are affiliate links.
When my family and I returned from Turkey in 2012, one of the biggest challenges we faced was the level of fear and misunderstanding that we saw in well meaning Christians toward Muslims. We had spent nearly five years building relationships with Muslims who had become our dear friends and it broke our hearts to think that fear, misunderstanding and misinformation were paralyzing the church and preventing them from even saying hello to Muslims here in the U.S. let alone telling them good news about Jesus Christ.
In all honesty, my first response was one of bitterness toward the church but God in his grace soon moved me to compassion and understanding. Our friends didn’t share our experience of loving relationships with wonderful Muslim neighbors and friends. It was at about that same time that a friend told me about the Bridges Study.
The Bridges Study is a six lesson DVD study that can be used with small groups or Sunday school classes. As I’ve helped groups go through the study, I’ve seen it break down fear and remove misunderstanding as participants grow closer to Jesus as they step out in faith. Crescent Project founder, Fouad Masri, hosts the study which includes great teaching, inspiring testimonies and actionable next steps. I think every church should take their members through the Bridges Study.
Here are five reasons why.
The Bridges Study will help you learn about Islam and Muslims through a Biblical/Missional Lens.
Everyone is learning something about Islam and about Muslims. The source of that learning is generally the media or media personalities and the motivations behind those talking is often quite different. Some just want everyone to get along. Others want to warn us of hidden plots to take over America. The Bridges Study however presents great information in six thirty minute lessons through a Biblical lens that believes that God wants to see all Muslims repent and believe and follow Jesus. Participants often report that the Bridges Study lowered their fear, increased their understanding and gave them a heart to begin to pray regularly for Muslims to come to faith and look for opportunities to build relationships.
The Bridges Study will strengthen the faith of those who go through it.
Whenever we step outside of our comfort zones, we have an opportunity to be stretched and see our faith grow. One of the surprising benefits of working to mobilize the church to share the love of Jesus with Muslims was that as people began to explore learning about Islam and about how to share their faith with Muslims, their own faith began to grow.
I’ve seen many who have taken the Bridges Study and met a Muslim suddenly reading their Bibles far more regularly because their new Muslim friends ask them questions they’ve never been asked before. Their prayer lives increase. As God begins to use them, their faith grows.
The Bridges Study will help those who participate to be Christ’s ambassadors.
2 Corinthians 5:20 says that we are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. One of the cornerstone lessons of the Bridges Study is the four attitudes of an ambassador. It is a lesson that is crucial to understand if we are to share Jesus love with Muslims and as so many participants point out, with anyone.
The Bridges Study will invite participants to step out in risk taking obedience to Jesus
together with others.
After each lesson, there is an action step to take. These are designed to get you out of the living room and into a relationship with a new friend. The goal is to give your new Muslim friend an opportunity to respond to the gospel and be connected with a true follower of Christ. It also gives you and your group an opportunity to step out in risk taking obedience to Jesus together. It gives you the chance to run after the things of God together! There is very little that is more exhilarating than step out in faith with a group of friends for the glory of God!
Passive faith becomes active.
Shallow fellowship become deep.
And God will use your group to share the gospel with Muslims in your community. You’ll be running together!
The Bridges Study will help you to be a part of seeing Muslims come to faith in Christ
and worship Him.
Many of the people I work with struggle to believe that God could use them to introduce a Muslim to a life transforming relationship with Jesus. But as participants begin to step out in faith, God begins to use them, to give them opportunities to share and to love well. Jesus tells us that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few and then he commands us to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out more workers into his harvest fields. The fields are his and he wants to use you to see Muslims come to faith in Christ. He has used people just like you all across the world. The Bridges Study was created first and foremost to help mobilize more harvesters into the harvest among Muslims.
Start a Bridges Study today and join God in his miraculous movement in the Muslim world.
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE BRIDGES STUDY
Click here to watch Session 4 to get of feel for the study
After participating in an Everywhere to Everywhere (E2E) training weekend, many ask the question, "What next?" The Bridges Study can be a great next step as you return to your home church. Invite others to join you in exploring how God might want to use you - and your church - to reach the Muslim world.
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT E2E
All good people agree
And all good people say,
All nice people, like us, are We
And everyone else is They;
But if you cross over a sea,
Instead of over a way,
You may end by (think of it!) looking on We
As only a sort of They!
When my son was six years old, he returned from his Turkish kindergarten class one day singing a new song - it was more of a chant really.
"Ataturk yoktu, dushmen choktu. Ataturk geldi, dushmen yenildi!"
It was a chant celebrating Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey and someone who is reveared in Turkish culture. It was a chant celebrating Ataturk's guidance as a general during the first world war in keeping the Allied forces of Britian, Austalia and New Zealand from conquering Istanbul and gaining control of the Bosphorus Straight.
It was a different view of the history I had learned in school.
The words in essense say, without Ataturk our enemies were many but when Ataturk came he drove them out!
Wait a minute! My home country - the United States - were on the side of the Allies. We weren't the enemies. Were we?
Should I set my son straight? Tell him how history really happened? "We" were the good guys and "They" were the bad guys, right?
If you begin to serve or live cross culturally, you will need to get used to these sorts of interactions. It seems that not everyone in the world views history through the same lense as the American history teachers who wrote my text books growing up.
You'll meet Australian friends who will insist we've been using upside down maps our whole lives.
You'll meet many from the Middle East (why is it the Middle East and not Middle West?) that believe that the Crusades were the work of greedy, blood thirsty crusaders and that the invasion of Iraq in the early 2000s was only about taking control of the oil.
One Sunday morning at our very international church in Istanbul, when one of my American friends bemoaned the loss of influence that the U.S. was having on the world, one of my British friends let out a hearty "AMEN!"
Outside of those that grow up in cross cultural experiences (like my son) , most of us grow up learning about the world through a very particular lens, one that, in general, paints "us" as the good guys and all of history moving toward "our" present reality. It's a narrow lens.
As cross cultural ambassadors for Christ we must be prepared to humble ourselves and let go of our need to defend or promote our version of history.
We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. (2 Corinthians 5:20; NIVUK)
We are Christ's ambassadors and we can leave the ambassadorial work of representing our country to the U.S. diplomatic corp. Humility recognizes that, while I may not see it through the same lens, other people in other cultures might just have another view of things.
There is a pride and an arrognce that tends to have us placing our group at the center of history - or of maps.
Maps made in the U.S. during the cold war always seemed to put the U.S. square in the middle and then cut the U.S.S.R in half, relegting the largest country in the world to the fringes.
Germans made maps for ages that placed them squarely in the center of the page - even though they are 60 degress north of the equator. This required shrinking Africa(20% of the earth's surface) and enlarging Europe (7% of the earth's surface) until they were nearly the same size.
And Australians printed maps that put them front and center at the top of the world!
Is one map right and the others all wrong, or are they just maps of the same earth from very different perspectives?
If we want to be Christ's ambassadors in a lost and broken world, it is helpful walk humbly into these sorts of conversations, recognizing that, right or wrong, everyone has their own perspective and that, when it comes to history, there is a lot more grey than we probably realize.
And that is okay because while I may feel uncomfortable with my son learning a little different version of history than I did, the kingdom of God is not in trouble.
The people you meet will most certainly view the world differently than you do. Will you be ready to hear their story and recognize that there are other perspectives than your own? Are you willing to learn? To place yourself in their shoes?
For the sake of the gospel are you willing to see the world through their eyes?
Philippians 2: 5-11 Discovery Bible Study
Instructions: Read the passage 2 - 3 times and then answer the following questions.
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